Here are some ways you can make the most of the Muslim conventions you'll be attending this year.
1. Attend workshops instead of lectures
Workshops are better because:
- they have a smaller audience so,
- you have more access to the speaker
- they are practical. That means you can pick up a skill you can use (e.g. learning how to write a letter to the editor, getting new ideas for your Muslim Students? Association).
Another advantage of workshops is that they are often specialized to a given field or topic. So if you are a social worker, you can meet with others in your field which you could not do in a general session with a large audience and broad subject matter.
2. Take plenty of notes
Make yourself the unofficial recorder of the conference in your Muslim community. In other words, take notes for the brothers and sisters who were not able to attend.
Listen attentively and put the presentations in your own words. This will help you absorb the information better than if you try to write everything down verbatim.
3. Write something about it
When you're at the conference, try your hand at writing short articles for your local community's newsletter, the local paper or your youth newsletter about different sessions at the conference.
Better yet, see if you can find some representatives of Muslim magazines, newspapers and websites at the conference and ask if they will publish what you've written. This could be your first step toward a career in journalism!
4. Diversify your clique
While conventions are often the place to meet the friends you've been in touch with for years, don't be cliquish.
If you meet a fellow Muslim during a lecture or workshop who you really get along with, don't let the conversation end there. Take them out to lunch. Hang out with them. Check out the bazaar together. You'll make a new friend and a contact in another Muslim community.
5. Look out for the lonely
While many people come to conventions with their family or friends, others do not. They may be shy and feel out of place amid the masses. If you see a fellow Muslim alone in the cafeteria a couple of times or in a session, don?t be afraid to approach them and introduce yourself and make them feel more comfortable.
6. Look for an Islamic perspective on your job or field of study
Seek out Muslims who are involved in your profession. Muslim doctors, lawyers, social workers, journalists, etc. will be present at many of these conferences. This is a good time to share ideas about similar challenges and how to handle them. It?s also a way to gain an Islamic perspective on what you do for a living which you may have not thought of developing before. Talk to people who are using their skills and talents to benefit Islam and the Muslim community and see how you can do the same.
7. Talk to people in the news
Look for Muslims from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Palestine, Kashmir and other places that have been in the news lately. From them, get first-hand information about what is going on there. You've heard what numerous pundits and "experts" have had to say about these world "hot spots". Now it's time to find out what is going on from a fellow Muslim who knows the country, its people and the dilemmas and challenges of Muslims living there.
Also, check out the tables of organizations that are dealing with these issues, as well as the booths of relief groups working in parts of the Muslim world that which are currently facing crises.
8. Don't fail to do Dawa
Larger conventions, like ISNA's, tend to attract media attention in the city they are being held in. They also bring Muslims more into the public eye, as beards, Kufis, Thobes, Hijabs, Jilbabs, Shalwar Kameez, etc. become visible indicators of an individual's Muslimness.
That's why you should not be surprised to see locals possibly staring and maybe even gawking. A non-Muslim cashier during the 1994 ISNA convention in Chicago asked a Muslim convention-goer, "How many of you people are there here?"
You should keep plenty of Dawa brochures handy as you move about the hotel, local restaurants, fast food joints and taxis. Don't let a terrified look or ignorant comment discourage you from being polite, smiling, putting the person at ease and striking up a conversation.
At the end of your conversation, hand a Dawa brochure to them with the name and number of a local mosque where they can seek more information.
But remember that the best Dawa is through your actions. We can gab all we want about Islam and hand out endless amounts of eye-catching brochures. But if we aren't honest and polite when paying the cabbie, or leave a mess at the restaurant we've eaten dinner at, the possibility of people being interested in Islam will be overshadowed by rude and unfair behavior.
Another tip for brochures: you can inadvertently leave them in a place where they won't be considered a nuisance (e.g.hospital emergency waiting room which sometimes have magazines to read).
But don't give out fliers at the convention center or hotel, as they just end up creating garbage.
9. A reminder
Follow Islamic Adab! This makes things comfortable for everyone there, including yourself.