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Reflections on Muslim Congress 2008

Muslim Congress 2008 was held in Dallas, TexasThroughout the conference, I also got to meet a number of other converts to Shia Islam, including a computer science major at a university in Texas, an insurance salesman, an economics student, and a former drug dealer who gave up his lifestyle of earning $1,000 a day to embrace Islam. Hearing their stories of conversion and their sincerity in their faith was humbling and inspiring for me as a person who takes much of my faith for granted.Muslim Congress 2008 was held in Dallas, TexasLast weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the 4th annual Muslim Congress conference in Dallas. It was my first time at the conference, so I wanted to share my experience of the conference with you all.  

Throughout the conference, there were various speeches and workshops, all given by scholars. For myself, the most memorable speech came on Saturday morning by Maulana Muhammad Baig, who brought down the house with a lecture on “Youth in Islam”. Maulana Baig discussed how youth are referred to as Quwwat, or power, in the Qur’an. Power is a type of energy, a force, but like any force, it needs to be channeled in the right direction to be effective. Unfortunately in too many of our communities, the elders refuse to give up the reins of power and have thus stifled the energy of the youth, and thereby, of the community as a whole. He also made a wonderful analogy to illustrate his point: if Islam as an ideology is a handgun, the scholars are the gun itself, whereas the youth are the bullets that follow and obey the direction of the gun. Neither part is effective without the other, and each group needs the other to be successful. Only then can the gun be considered a powerful weapon.

The speech was memorable not only for its content, but more so for the passion and energy with which Maulana Baig spoke. He riled up the entire audience, and throughout his speech, people responded to his points by emphatically yelling out Labbayk, Takbeer, and  Subhan’Allah, and others yet encouraging him to “Teach us!” Masha’Allah, I have never heard such loud takbirs or salawats in my life. In a nutshell, it was a speech that had the intellectual caliber of an English majlis but with the emotional response (from the audience) of an Urdu majlis.

Another excellent speech was given by Imam Muhammad al-Asi on Imam Khomeini’s role in reviving pure Islam, as well as one by Sayyid Abbas Ayleya on Ijtihad and Taqleed. Workshops lead by the scholars covered topics such as “Islamic Syllabus”, “Racism vs. Islam”, “Mental and Physical Well-Being”, and “Youth and Activism”. Throughout the conference, all the attendees prayed together, and various scholars gave short sermons after Fajr, between Dhuhr and Asr, as well as between Maghrib and Isha prayers. Despite their efforts during the daytime, the scholars also stayed up late at nights with the youth throughout the conference and held informal discussion sessions on problems within our communities and other issues.

The crowd at the conference was incredibly diverse. There were South Asian, Iranian, Arab, black, and white Shias. However, despite the diversity, everyone was incredibly warm and welcoming, and there was a true sense of brotherhood in the air. So many people came up and greeted me, introduced themselves, and asked how I was liking the conference. People always referred to each other with a respectful “brother,” and strangers greeted each other not with handshakes but with hugs. On Sunday night, I got a chance to go out to dinner (to TGI Fridays) with youth from across the country, and again, the warmth and brotherhood was in the air. At our dinner, we had Indians, Pakistans, Khojas, Iranians, some African-Americans, and a white brother, and despite such diversity, we still had wonderful discussion as well as some great laughs.

Another instance of the brotherhood in action came on Sunday. A day prior to the conference, I had a bad outbreak of poison ivy but decided to tolerate it and come to Dallas anyways. I had been putting up with the symptoms, but by Sunday, it was getting worse and slowly unbearable. I approached a brother who was standing at one of the bookstalls in the bazaar and explained the situation to him, asking if he knew of any doctors at the conference who I could see immediately. He right away brought over his friend who was a pharmacist, who took a look at my symptoms and called his friend, a doctor. The doctor advised him to tell me what to do and which medicine to take, and Alhamdullilah, since that time my symptoms have been improving.

Sunday night many of the youth still at the conference had a chance to have an informal discussion session lead by Brother Hashim, who is the leader of the group called “Bilal al-Dawah,” based out of Tampa, Florida. Br. Hashim spoke about racism and prejudice within our own communities, as well as the need for Shias in North America to be more active in da’wah (propagation) efforts like our Sunni brothers and sisters. He spoke passionately and articulately and compared the false supporters of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) to those of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance) today, who call themselves his Shia but are not working for his cause.

“The Yazeedi forces today are very active, very united, very dedicated to their cause,” he said. “Where are the Hussaini soldiers?” As far as I know, his organization is one of the only Shia organizations doing da’wah work in the inner cities in America, and they have already brought many people into Shia Islam. I had a chance to meet many of these humble and sincere convert brothers at the conference. Bilal al-Dawah has put together a video on YouTube which illustrates some of the amazing work they’re doing.

Throughout the conference, I also got to meet a number of other converts to Shia Islam, including a computer science major at a university in Texas, an insurance salesman, an economics student, and a former drug dealer who gave up his lifestyle of earning $1,000 a day to embrace Islam. Hearing their stories of conversion and their sincerity in their faith was humbling and inspiring for me as a person who takes much of my faith for granted.

The conference was incredibly well-organized. All of the speeches and workshops started more or less on time, with at most a 15-minute delay, which is not common with Muslim organizations and conferences. The volunteer team based out of the various Texas Shia communities was also well-staffed and prepared, and throughout the conference, there were volunteers guiding people to the right rooms and standing around to answer any questions that people had.

The cost and venue of the conference were also excellent. It was held at the Hyatt Regency, which is a top-notch hotel, and the cost for the conference was $40, which included the conference as well as meals for two days.

In short, brothers and sisters, I came away from this conference feeling rejuvenated spiritually, socially, politically, and ready to implement some of the ideals of the conference back in my own community. I can honestly say that in my opinion, Muslim Congress is the best thing the Shia community in North America has going for it, and it is my sincere hope that Allah gives each of you the opportunity to attend next year’s conference, which will be in Detroit, Michigan. 

About Shaan Rizvi

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  • Sohail

    Masha Allah…!!!

    This year, I too experienced this spiritual gathering in Kansas City, alhumdolillah.

    It was truly a rewarding experience. Looking forward for the conference 2012 in detroit.

    Below is the personal account of the conference this year (July 2011), by one of the attendees of the conference. I was the eye witness of everything mentioned in below and actually far more than that, which really can’t be described in words, because it was all about tasting the sweetness of faith.!

  • Sohail

    Muslim Congress: A life changing experience.!

    A huge banner of Imam Husain’s shrine in the lobby of a five star hotel in Kansas City. Two of my cousins vowing to take Hijab all their lives, over a 1000 people raising their hands and chanting ‘Labaik Ya Mahdi’ at the top of their voices, hundreds of women in Hijab in downtown Kansas city, hundreds of youths listening to rap poems about the Imam (ATFS) at midnight, youth after youth talking about how Muslim Congress has changed their lives, the entire hotel abuzz with over a thousand men and women raising their fists and chanting “Labaik ya Husain”. (contd…)

  • Sohail

    Over 25 pious Ulema who practice what they preach and are not subservient to taghoots and rich people, talking about the real meaning of freedom. Volunteers running the kitchen of the five star hotel and making hundreds of burgers and food for 1000+ people as the hotel chefs watch in amazement and request to buy food for themselves. Volunteers reciting Nasheeds about Imam Ali (AS) as they boil rice for hundreds of people, Shias from 30 different cities, converts from across America. Ayatullah Jawad-e-Amuli speaking to the audience with a video-recorded message, mesmerizing the audience with his Noor, knowledge and clarity. Ayatullah Sistani’s special envoy addressing the audience, Shiekh Salim YousafAli, a graduate of Stanford and a top student of the Hawza-e-Qom describing how this conference can change your life, a young girl describing how she considers Muslim Congress an annual pilgrimage of reform, people travelling in busses for 12-24 hours to be at the conference. Shiekh Hamza Sodagar jolting the audience with how you can get freedom from your carnal desires, people weeping at the video of the atrocities in Bahrain, people laughing at the play which showed youths texting funny lines during a typical speech of a Molana, audience weeping with fear of Allah (SWT) at an unbelievably impactful drama about akhirat, HI Abbas Aalia, Molana Baig, HI Ghulam Hurr Shabiri, HI Shamshad, HI Agha Mehdi and many others conducting sessions on Indigenous affairs, wave of Islamic Awakening, youth fighting decadence, harmony in family life and many other sessions. Hundreds of youths participating in ‘Heavenly Match’ under the supervision of the Ulema and in accordance with Islamic guidelines. Youths talking about the many camps run by Muslim Congress throughout the year, some of which are attended by over 200 people. (contd…)

  • Sohail

    An opportunity to network with Shia activists around North America, practical guidance on how to reform yourself and put your faith in to action. No one trying to appease taghoots, no effort to gain access to corridors of powers, no effort to hide the truth, non-apologetic approach to Islam, no funding from any government agency, volunteers running every aspect of the conference, entire focus on preparing the grounds for the arrival of Imam (ATFS). A truly life changing experience in every way!

    The next convention of Muslim Congress will be held in Detorit, Michigan Insha Allah. With over 500 people expected to attend from Toronto alone and thousands from different parts of the nation, it will Insha Allah be the largest and the best conference ever put together. Mark your calendars now and help to organize it. As one of the conference attendees put it, the flag of preparing the grounds for the arrival of the Imam (ATFS) has been raised by the pious Ulema, the choice to ignore it or say Labaik to it is YOURS.