In Hartford, Thousands Gather To Celebrate Islam
By MATT BURGARD
Courant Staff Writer
July 6, 2008
A woman wearing a burqa sat on a bench Saturday at the Connecticut
Convention Center in Hartford, the fabric across her face revealing only her
Next to her, a group of children chatted on cellphones and shrieked merrily
over the sound of chanting music calling the assembled masses to prayers.
At the annual Islamic Circle of North America Convention, the traditional mixes
easily with the modern.
"We're just like anyone else, and I think people have a hard time
understanding that," said Sakina Abduss-Salaam, a New Jersey woman who
strolled through the convention Saturday wearing a black-and-gold Islamic hijab
dress and holding a Starbucks iced coffee.
Abduss-Salaam said she converted to Islam 18 years ago when she met her
husband, a Muslim. She said the religion has shaped her life as she and her
husband have raised two children and held full-time jobs in a society that
sometimes views Muslims with distrust.
"It's not about terrorism or hatred. It's about love," she said.
"Being a Muslim is just like being a Christian or a Jewish person. We are
all called to treat each other with respect."
The convention, which has taken place in Hartford for the last four years, is
expected to draw more than 15,000 people by the time it winds down later today,
said Muhammad Rahman, the convention's co-chairman.
He said most of those who have shown up this weekend are Muslims from the East
Coast stretching from New England to the Carolinas, though many have traveled
from Canada and Texas and other far-off points.
"It's become a very popular family event and that's what we
intended," Rahman said. "We want to educate our young people about
the true meaning of Islam, as well as help overcome a lot of misperceptions on
the part of non-Muslims."
In a cavernous hall next to the center's main lobby, hundreds of followers
knelt on the ground at various points in the day to pray. Among them were
teenagers Sydul Choudhury and Daiyan Chowdhury, both of New York, who toyed
with a digital camera before the prayers began.
"It's a lot of fun," said Choudhury, whose family attends the
convention every year. "It can be hard when people find out you're a
Muslim. You have to explain that it's a peaceful religion."
Muhammad Tahir, a photographer from New York hired to take pictures at the
convention, said the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have brought hardships and
understanding for Muslim Americans.
"At first, it was hard because everyone suddenly looked at you
differently," he said. "But since then, I think, more people have
taken the time to learn about Islam, and now more people are educated."
Throughout the convention center, signs of Muslim culture mixing with the
commercialism of American society were everywhere. In the lobby, a large
cartoon camel pronounced the traditional Muslim greeting, "Assalamu
Alaikum," which means, "Peace be upon you." In another large
hall, rows of vendors offered traditional food and clothing of Islamic cultures
beside booths selling compact discs and other modern luxuries.
"I think it's appropriate that we had the convention on the Fourth of July
because we're proud to be Muslim and we're proud to be Americans," Rahman
Contact Matt Burgard at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant