After having gone to bed at about 1.30am on the day of arrival, we were up at 5.00am! I think we were still on UK time (10.00am). After praying Fajr, I couldn’t go to sleep and felt OK. The other boys (Aftab and Zeshan) were up too. After breakfast we headed for the convention centre. Although we were in Chicago we were actually on the outskirts of the city and downtown Chicago (that’s the city centre to us Brits) was about 30 minutes away.
We took a cab, because in the US if you want to go anywhere you take a cab if you don’t have access to a car, people just don’t walk as places are too far apart. The Stephen’s Convention Centre is huge and impressive, it has a number of hotels attached and around it. Going into the convention centre, the forecourt area is where cars pickup and drop off people and is well ordered with police and other officials shepherding cars and people. The lobby is plush, bright and clean, there are ticket booths set up in letter of surname order, they are expecting around 40,000 people to attend this year so they need to be highly organised. There was also a Gem Show going on upstairs which was not part of ISNA.
We took a quick look at the main hall whilst it was empty and it was a sea of seats, the size of a big football pitch if not bigger and there are chairs as far as the eye can see [well almost]. I think there must be at least 20,000 seats in the main hall [somebody said 30,000 +]. Things in the US are on a bigger scale, I don’t think that we have a facility like this in the UK and even if we did we wouldn’t be able to fill it…but that discussion is for another blog entry.
The bazaar area is big too, I couldn’t get a measure of it but I think it was at least as big as the main hall. there were easily 200-300 stalls. The biggest stall was Astrolabe and they had a stage area set up that later Azhar Usman and other performers used for impromptu entertainment. The brothers from Sunni Path were there, as were Shukr, Caravan Saray, Zaytuna, Albambra, Andalusian Arts, Islamica and other recognisable outlets. There was the Muslims For Bush stall as well, I’ll let Aftab tell you about that one! Also there was a stall from the John Kerry camp too.
So we had a quick look around before ISNA officially opened before we headed to Downtown Chicago to see what a big American city was like and we wanted to sample pizza Chicago style!