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!
I went off to ISNA in Chicago with Aftab Malik and Zeshan Zafar. Not having been to the USA before, I was quite apprehensive at the prospect of being hassled by Immigration, Customs, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, CIA , Department of Justice, Secret Service and the American people. Having read about the USA and watched films about its treatment of Muslims, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Although the flight was not particularly great, it seemed like the journey would never end and the food was terrible, the American flight attendants were pleasant and helpful. There was a funny incident when boarding the plane when we were talking about something and suddenly Zeshan said “you know Sidi JIHAD …” my heart sank! Luckily no one took any notice.
Upon arrival on US soil in Atlanta [we needed to catch a connecting flight to Chicago] we did not face any undue attention. The lady at the immigration control, although stern faced, was quite pleasant once we got talking to her and we found this to be the pattern throughout our visit. We were really surprised at how nice and friendly the American people are, really welcoming to strangers and travellers even three brown-skinned, bearded men like us. Alhamdulillah.
After about 23 hours of travelling we finally arrived in Chicago, tired but in good spirits. We were met in the hotel by the friendly and welcoming faces of Zakariyya, Nizam, Fawzi and Fadwa, jazak-Allah khairun for the Pizza Chicago-style, hmmmmmm.
I forgot to mention the chill out session that myself, Aftab Malik [Amal Press], Waheed Rasheed of Alhambra Productions, Haider Ali [Roots Distribution, official distributor of Alhambra Productions’ material], Nabeel Turner [official tour photographer for Shaykh Hamza] had with Omar Tufail of Deen Port and his brothers Usman and Ali. It was nice just to lounge about relax and chat, discuss, exchange ideas, drink tea, shoot pool etc. Usman took some video footage of the discussions some of which will end up on Deen Port no doubt! Aftab, Waheed and I broke out into a rendition of the Burdah Shareef in the Maghribi style, it sounded good to us, but not sure how it sounded to others!
Anyway here are some pictures [from DeenPort]:
Enjoying Good Company
Eating Chips at the Chippy
It would be nice to hook up again some time guys! Insha’Allah.