At the beginning of September, I attended the annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention in Washington, D.C. The event brings many well-known speakers, a bazaar, art exhibits, the always popular “speed marriage interviews a.k.a. the matrimonials,” and various entertainment acts from across the ISNA, Muslim Students Association (MSA), and Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA) organizations. The convention brings several thousand attendees.
Going into the weekend-long conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. While I’ve attended the conference once before several years ago in Chicago, I have only vague memories of visiting the massive bazaar (and little else). This year’s convention proved to be a thoroughly insightful and inspiring time.
The most memorable and thought-provoking session for me took place the first evening of the conference. (Here’s a link to the convention program that gives brief descriptions of all of the sessions). Professors Seyyed Hossein Nasr and John Esposito, along with Feisal Abdul Rauf, and Zaid Shakir spoke eloquently during the session, “Interweaving Religion & Life in a Moral Society.” Professor Nasr commented throughout his presentation on the interrelationship between humans and nature—an environmental theme that I found refreshingly popped up throughout many of the convention sessions I attended (another favorite session of mine was one on “Caring for the Earth: Conserving its Resources for Future Generations and All Creation,” where the environmental theme was the entire focus).
Professor Nasr highlighted the “[overemphasis of the] human state over the rights of others” and our collective egotism as something to be aware of when considering the society we live in. He reminded us of to be mindful and “consider the sanctity of our creatures” (both human and non-human alike) as they all arise from the same source “al-Quddus”: “We cannot destroy other things without destroying ourselves.” He also reminded us that the “multiplicity of religion is the will of God” and that it is thus imperative for us to be respectful of other faiths: “[There is a] special duty on our shoulders for amity and respect as we are the last religion.” I hope ISNA posts a video of this session online, as I fear I’ve failed to do justice to Professor Nasr’s talk here.
While many of the sessions were moving, and brought speakers—both Muslim and non-Muslim—from a variety of diverse backgrounds, I was disappointed to see that women speakers were not present at any of the large evening sessions. [Read more...]