ISNA 2004 by Zeshan Zafar

We started the main day arising out of bed wide awake at Fajr time after only 4 hours sleep; jet lag has its advantages! Whilst getting up we watched the news and reviewed any information that we received during the previous day at the conference.

I decided to start the day in the best of ways: going for a jog in the Gym, I asked Mas’ud and Aftab but they just passed on the offer [Mas’ud: I find gym work so boring!] So, at 6 am in the morning I was alone in the gym struggling on the running machine. A little later we went down for an “American brekkie” which as normal was dished out in enormous quantities. After having breakfast we were joined by Shaykh Hamza and we discussed the issues and problems of the day. It was the first visit to the US for Mas’ud and me, and we were surprised by the hospitality and friendliness of the everyday Americans. We told Shaykh Hamza about how the night before, Aftab and myself tried in futility to catch a taxi from the convention centre, and how a traffic police officer took it upon herself to go to the front of the queue to stop the next taxi for us just because we were visitors from the UK. Unfortunately we paint Americans with the image of their government’s foreign policy. They are ordinary and decent human beings, unlike the stereotypical image that we have of them. The worst that anyone can accuse the American people of is naivety and ignorance of the world and world affairs. I am not just talking about the “War on Terror”, but also the Arms trades, the failure of complying with the Kyoto protocol and neglect of environmental issues, the significant issue and spread of Aids, that is so often highlighted by the Rock Star Bono, but as always brushed under the carpet, for the pursuit of an agenda of  “liberating” countries. If the American people actually knew what was going on in their name they would not stand for it.

A perfect example of American naivety was perfectly illustrated when Aftab Malik, was in a discussion with the Bushlims. A roving news reporter nearby was impressed by the constructive discussion that Aftab had put forward. When the reporter realised that Aftab was not American, she stopped filming. I asked why should it matter if Aftab wasn’t an American, and an American brother (who was standing nearby) and the news reporter jointly stated to me in disbelief that they saw that the issue of Bush being elected, as an American issue, having no relation with the rest of the world! I tried to explain that it was the foreign policy that actually concerned most of the world, and that it was a great concern and issue for people in the West and East. Aftab carried on for another 40 minutes or so… [Mas’ud: we had planned to video tape this discussion but at the time I was elsewhere and only caught the end of it!]

As we trudged our way around the hall with a multitude of stalls (an organiser mentioned that there were around 500 stalls) we noticed the diversity of the stalls, selling everything from books, Islamic music, handicrafts, art, calligraphy, perfume (reminded me of walking through Selfridges just to get to the mens’ section!), clothing, groups advocating political aspirations, justice groups (who coincidentally were opposite the stand for the Department of Justice); stalls promoting various courses, food stalls, hair products [Mas’ud: you didn’t mention who got stopped by the hair products people!] and the list goes on and on!

I felt lucky that I was not married as Mas’ud and Aftab were rushing around tyring to buy gifts for family, if I were married I am sure I would have taken a big hit on my Credit Card!

As an avid bookworm, I still managed to make up for it by buying a load of books and CDs that were as of yet not released in the UK. Some of the interesting texts that I came across was the Muwatta‘ of Imam Muhammed al-Shaybani which, as a Hanafi, pleased me greatly as it has been long overdue and well known that Muslim Hanafis in the West have a had lack of texts in the English language. However this does serve as a motivation to learn Arabic which has been a priority of mine for some time. I pray that I succeed in this task only for the benefit to learn sacred knowledge. I also noticed that there were many other books due to be released within the next year including the translation of Mukhtasar-al-Quduri (to be published by Turath publishers; Nur-ul-Idaah translated by one of our noble teachers Shaykh Faisal Abdul Razzaq and edited by our beloved Noble Master Shaykh Muhammed Al Yaqoubi (May Allah preserve him to continue to carry the light of our sacred sciences) and finally our very own Aftab Malik who, through Amal Press, is working on publishing a translation of the famous Hanafi book of fiqh – Al-Hedaya. So it seems like there are optimistic times ahead for people wishing to learn or improve their knowledge of Hanafi fiqh.

During the course of the day, we met friends and brothers from Zaytuna and, as Masud mentioned in his blog, it was a pleasure to receive their warm hospitality and smiles that were absent amongst the masses of the attendees [Mas’ud: I thought most people were happy, not sure which dark corner Zeshan was frequenting!]. Also, Feraidoon Mojadedi of Rumi Productions entertained us with his anectodes, experiences in America and old Afghani tales here and there. We also came across a familiar face from the UK, Sidi Naeem Abdul Wali (from Bradford) who is, settling in well back in Tuscon, Arizona. As always, he had me in splitting my sides with laughter with his humorous quips and observations. Although it’s a pity that we have lost Sidi Naeem from the UK, it was great to see him reunited with his family and settling in well back in his home country.

As shown on Deenport, we were fortunate enough to meet various teachers and scholars such as Imam Zaid Shakir who had me spellbound with his easy-going nature with people from all backgrounds (as well as his funny jokes). Other notables were Dr Umar Abdullah Farooq Abdullah [], Mufti Abdur Rahman Mangera (of whom I at long last met after years of chatting with on MSN). Unfortunately I kept on missing one of our other beloved Shaykhs of Chicago Shaykh Hussein Sattar ( who is continuing on with his fantastic efforts in Chicago in imparting some of the knowledge that he learned on his travels in Syria and Pakistan.

Continuing into the late afternoon, we were entertained by acts at the Astrolabe stall, by Azhar Usman who finally brought some smiles to some of the attendees (maybe I am exaggerating with the smile issue [Mas’ud: I think you might be, you know what they say, “a brother is a mirror to a brother”, you are what you see!]), as well as a book signing session by Shaykh Hamza for his magnificent new book The Purification of the Heart. I had the responsibility of looking after the queue for this book signing and as Aftab explained, to my amusement (as he was looking after the queue at another stall), the Americans laughed at our terminology, when they told us it was not a “queue” but a “line”. Fauzi from the Zaytuna team found it highly amusing when Aftab then proceeded to tell him that “people were queuing” as if he had invented the whole word up [Mas’ud: So as an experiment I asked around to see if anyone else was familiar with the word “queue” and only people who had been to Britain knew about it] Now this brings me onto the issue that we Brits must be upholding something good here in the West and that is the preservation of the English Language [Mas’ud: Even though Zeshan shows a total disregard for it!].

As the night went on, we sat in on one of the interviews being conducted for the MBC series “Rihlah with Shaykh Hamza” where Shaykh Hamza interviewed a familiar English face, Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad. Although most of the interview was in Arabic it did seem intense and discussed some of the current day issues facing Muslims in the West and East. I am sure everyone will get a glimpse on MBC during the Ramadhan period.

By 8:30 pm we were advised to get our seats in the main hall for Shaykh Hamza’s lecture which is available on I don’t think I need to say anything more on this lecture bar from “listen to it”. Aftab, Masud and myself had the best seats in the house sitting [Mas’ud: in the middle of the hall to one side] next to Dr Umar Abdullah of the Nawawi foundation [Mas’ud: this is why they were the best seats!] who regularly stood up in applause at Shaykh Hamza’s speech. I actually purchased Dr Umar’s 16 CD-set on Famous Women in Islam’ (on CD 2 at the moment) which explores issues such as what is gender, who were the famous women in Islam, the level of discourse and so on. I would advise all to purchase it as it has an interesting academic and scholastic exploration on this topic that Muslims and Non Muslims alike are still trying to understand. It also blows away a lot of myths and clarified for me the importance of social context in the application of Usul-ul-Fiqh.

After Shaykh Hamza’s lecture, which finished at around 11:30 pm, we got together with Feraidoon from Rumi Bookstore, Syed Mubeen from Zaytuna and a few other brothers from Zaytuna to go to what they said were some restaurants around the corner

Mas’ud: “Around the corner” is in a place in the suburbs of Chicago called Diwan. Diwan is an area which is full of Indian subcontinent businessess. I guess it is akin to Bangla town or Southall. Strange thing is that at 1.00am in the morning there were shops that were open that were just selling luggage? I mean come on guys, go home, spend time with your families, what the hell are you doing opeing a luggage shop at 1 am, how is going to buy luggage at that time of the morning. I suppose you never know when you need to go back home!

Zeshan: Obviously with my lack of familiarity of American travel, what was supposed to be around the corner, took us 40 minutes or so! Once again, Alhamdulillah, I am so glad it takes me about 5 mins or so to get to a good few curry houses. We went walking once again (my poor feet are now really suffering!) (Mas’ud: yeah Zeshan decides to look fashionable in moccasins rather than wear sensible shoes) and were delighted once more to see the bright non-alluring neon lights displaying “HALAAL”. After tiredness crept in we decided to go back early (Mas’ud: early!) to sleep off the jet lag for what would be our final full day at the Conference.

So far some of my reflections of American Muslims – Interesting enthusiastic people, have fresh innovative ideas (in case there are some crack pots reading this I re-iterate I do not mean Bid’aah – I mean it in the English literal sense) who share their emotions with everyone i.e. when they hear something they like in a talk it was not uncommon to hear a couple of cowboy yee-haa’s. I have to say though, if they were a community more closer to one another (geographically speaking), the potential of them establishing themselves as an effective cohesive community integrated with an American Muslim identity would be highly likely. I say this in a positive sense. However I still believe the Muslims on this side of the Atlantic have a better grasp of the Islamic thought, although to end with knockout blow on behalf of the Americans, their ideas are more positive and they are more proactive. I mean to say that the “groupism” mentality in America is not so prevalent as in the UK.

ISNA Footage now available on FaithTube

ISNA Footage now available on FaithTube

I took my video camera along to ISNA and did some filming there. I have edited the footage and have made it available on

Currently Available:

? A walk around the Stephen’s Convention Center hours before ISNA gets going.

? A chat with Haji Haji Noor Deen Mi Guangjiang at his ISNA stall

On their way:

? A chat with Dawud Wharnsby Ali

? Interview with the people behind SunniPath

? A chat with Besim Bruncaj of Caravan Saray

? A walk through the Bazaar

? A chat with the supporters of Presidential Candidate John Kerry



ISNA – Heading Down Town by Zeshan Zafar

So off we travelled “downtown” via the American system of transport equivalent to our very own London Tube System. However this system seemed to suffer from fits shaking every passenger from side to side trying its very best to ensure that all passengers suffered at least one type of bruising on their body [Masud: yeah it was like Bucking Bronco, real American Rodeo, oh yeah Aftab kept singing “Downtown” by Petula Clark, everyone has heard this song from the sixties].

So arriving “downtown” the first thing we did was to set about hunting down the most prominent Chicago Pizza restaurant. Chicago Pizzas are quite renowned as some of the finest pizzas outside Italy. Their history is quite interesting in that the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (a pizza with a flaky crust that rises an inch or more above the plate and surrounds a deep pile of toppings) was created by Ike Sewell at his bar and grill. As with everything in America, on ordering our pizza, we realised that the size was something twice as large as the largest pizza that can be found in the UK. We soon set about trying to polish off our pizza, and slowly but surely we got to the stage where three quarters of the way through we were entirely stuffed. Aftab and I decided to be adventurous and have a root beer (which contains no alcohol and is also the favourite drink of the great boxer Muhammed Ali) whilst Masud geared up his techno machinery in preparation to take a million pictures (similar to a Japanese tourist) [Masud: in the end I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked].

So to facilitate our digestion we decided to take a trip up the famous Seers Tower which is the tallest building in Chicago. On arriving to the top through the thankful delights of modern machinery (i.e an elevator) we were able to view the northern side of Chicago as well as reading up on some of the historical facts of Chicago to the present day. The contribution to modern liberal arts, sport, music, politics was quite phenomenal in such a short time. After staying at the top of the tower for over 45 mins we decided to trek our way back down and to our amazement we noticed the contribution of a Muslim architect (Masud: There is a prominent plaque on the way out in honour of Fazul Rahman Khan who was a structural engineer on the Sears tower.

We also bumped into some dear friends Eissa Bougary, Kaswarah al-Khatib and Ahmed Shaghiry from the show Yallah Shabab, they were filming the second Ramadan Special a thirty part Ramadhan series on Muslims in America with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, and our dearest of friends Moez Masoud was also part of the group we bumped into. After meeting them we decided to go onto the hotel that they were all staying at to meet at least one fine ?British” accent that we would be familiar with. So off we went down to the waterfront of Lake Michigan, where to our delight we bumped into the fourth missing musketeer, Haider Ali, who has been working alongside the production crew for the Yallah Shabab: Rihla with Shaykh Hamza programme. To our shock we discovered that our dear Haider had picked up an American twang as well as some American Adab in conversing with any tom, dick or harry who crossed his path. The thought that maybe we needed to go on a chilla in America for forty days too had crossed my mind.

One of the interesting issues that we came across in our first day of walking around Chicago was this concept of meat being Halaal however not Zabihah. On querying a Muslim couple we were shocked to discover that in America they deemed meat prepared and cut by the Ahle-Kitab as halaal. The three of us looked at each other quite bemused and we were thankful Alhamdulillah that in the UK we do not have such issues. Basically in the US you need to be looking for food that is cut in the Zabihah manner, and investigate the bright neon lights that so ambigously state “Halaal food”. Once again I must re-emphasise that I thank Allah subhanna wa ta’ala that we do not have such major issues in the UK.

After a quick respite for my poor blistered feet (obviously I did not realise we were due to walk so far on that day, I decided to wear what the English would call flip flops) we met up with Shaykh Hamza and a few other brothers such as Hassan from Guidance Media, to go for an evening meal at one of the popular Persian restaurants in downtown Chicago called Reza’s. Apart from the company of brothers from Zaytuna, the production team filming A Rihlah with Shaykh Hamza, Moez Masoud and Hassan we were soon joined and entertained by the upcoming comedian Azhar Usman who delighted us with his regular intervals of jokes, stories and general chit chat.

Also at the meal was an inspiration to many of us in the UK, our elder Sidi Nazim Baksh-al Toronto (Mr CBC). As always it was difficult to figure out when talking to Nazim whether he was interviewing me or just having regular conversations. On this occasion as always he was winding me up, and I didn’t even realize it. Now Nazim Baksh can be defined as the stalwart and initiator of this modern day phenomena of Deen Intensives, that have become ever popular and acted as a catalyst for many young Muslims including myself to gain huge benefits. However my greater surprise was seeing and being in shock that Nazim (who genuinely does look like he is in his early thirties) had 3 grown up sons all in their mid-late teens.

After a long day and a fantastic meal we finally called it a day with all three of us falling asleep in the taxi back to our hotel. Obviously our body clocks had not adjusted, and we were in dire need of getting some rest for what realistically was the “main day” at ISNA. Hence we desperately needed our rest for our main priority of the tour which was to actually learn some type of knowledge.