I attended the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention this past weekend in DC. Okay so I’m kind of behind on updating this blog so it was actually over Labor Day Weekend. ISNA is “the” yearly Muslim conference, with thousands congregating to one spot. I’ve only been a couple of times before and wasn’t really even planning on going but usually it’s in Chicago and this year it was in DC. I’ve never been to DC. So there you have it.
I flew in a full day before the conference and planned to leave a day after it was over to pack in as much touristy stuff as possible. I was wiped – 5 nights in DC – 4 museums, a couple of monuments/memorials, a bunch of cafes, and a full spate of lectures at the conference. Somehow, I also fit in a movie screening with a Q&A with the movie’s producer as well. AND are people aware of how hot and humid DC can be?! It reminded me of Karachi and not in a good way.
I had an interesting time at ISNA. Unlike the previous ISNAs I had been to, I didn’t feel as unfulfilled from the conference this year as I did from the previous ISNA conferences I had attended*. There could be several reasons for this:
– I ran into a few people I know from here and there
— I was crossing the street to my hotel when I heard an “I know you!” It was a girl who was in the same Hajj group I was in back in Saudi Arabia last year. She said she recognized me by my walk – I reckon I have a distinctive gait?
— Saw folks who were part of my Spain trip!
– I have been to ISNA twice before and only last time was I aware of the MSA lecture track that was separate from the main and parallel ISNA sessions. This year, I made more of a conscious effort to look at the MSA lectures and integrated them into my schedule since they tend to be more spiritual rather than the more practical ones that make up the ISNA lectures. MSA, or Muslim Student Association, lectures are generally thought to be more catered to college aged students since the MSA is a college type organization so I was a bit self conscious about being an older person in a crowd of young folks.
However, I noticed right off that I was hardly the oldest person there, with aunties and uncles also in attendance too. I have to admit though, I was slightly miffed that whoever put together the lecture schedules made a huge assumption that people would attend one or the other track since the timings for MSA and ISNA sometimes conflicted so that you would have to miss the end of one lecture to get to the other one on time or you would have to miss the beginning of the 2nd lecture. College-aged folks aren’t the only ones that need spiritual guidance.
– This last point revolves around a bit of a confession I have to make: I’ve never really felt like I fit in the desi Muslim community here in the Bay and I have a bit of an issue being around huge crowds. Therefore, being around a ton of desi people can make me feel really awkward (something that no one should take personally, obviously). I’ve come to know myself better over the years and am more “okay” with my identify as a kind of weird person so I’m more comfortable in my own skin that I wasn’t fazed (too much) this time around.
I don’t know if I’ll go to future conventions but I’m glad I went to this one. Besides the aforementioned reasons, I got to experience a city that I’ve never been to. I also realized, after attending the lectures and hearing some incredibly articulate speakers, that there’s a ton of stuff I still don’t know and would still love to learn. Gotta get on that… along with everything else on my mental list of things to do.
*I thought about this and I think it’s because here in the Bay Area, we have a lot of access to lectures and and events already. One could get spoiled!