Nearly two thousand attendees from throughout the West Coast packed the second floor of the Anaheim Hilton on Sunday, December 25th, 2011. After years of waiting, making dua’, and working for it, AlMaghrib’s one-day conference, IlmFest, finally made its way to Southern California. From mini-skirt to niqab, the community came out and represented, attending the nearly 13-hour conference hosted by Qabeelat Haqq, the local AlMaghrib chapter.
“Ilmfest was different than other conferences I have experienced because not only was it a very practical conference teaching us how we can all become better Mu’mins, but it combined a flavor of academia and story time,” said long-time AlMaghrib student, Jasir Soomro, 18. “It was able to enlighten the students of knowledge and others who may not have a huge background in Islamic Studies. Overall it was a great experience to be in,” said Jasir.
Numerous attendees were moved to tears throughout the day while listening to the inspiring and profound lectures. Two students who travelled hundreds of miles to attend the conference shared, “This hit the spot for the hardships we are going through right now. This is just what we needed.”
The theme, “Successful Indeed Are the Believers,” was based on the first 10 verses from Surat Al-Mu’minun, which all speakers used as a foundation for their respected topics.
“If you take those 10 ayahs (verses) and use them as a roadmap to set goals and have an action plan to achieve those goals, then the coming year and also the rest of your life will be the best of your life,” said Shaykh Mohammad Faqih, local Imam and AlMaghrib instructor.
Shaykh Uthman Khan, a world-renowned Qur’an instructor and reciter, opened the program with a beautiful and heart trembling recitation of Surat Al Insan.
Head of the Islamic History department, Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick eloquently briefed the audience with historical lessons and tips on how to be successful, while Shaykh Ahmed AlKurdy discussed vain talk and how to abstain from it.
Shaykh Abdulbary engaged all attendees in a “group activity” well known to the students of AlMaghrib. 1,700 people stood, put their thumbs up, took three deep breaths, and then shook the hotel’s foundation by screaming “YEEEEEEEAAAAAH!” at the top of their lungs. After bringing hype and energy to the room, the Shaykh continued with a powerful illustration on how cleansing one’s body is a necessity to remain pure externally, as perfecting prayer is a necessity to purify the soul. He taught the audience that concentration in prayer is a must and is something to be constantly worked on.
Other topics included maintaining chastity and perfection in prayer, both delivered by the head of the Islamic Law and Theory department, Shaykh Yaser Birjas, a Texas based AlMaghrib instructor.
With his session untraditionally titled, “Embracing Islamophobia,” Shaykh Yasir Qadhi drew parallels from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to present-day issues surrounding Islamophobia. Shaykh Yasir, the dean of academic affairs for AlMaghrib, reminded the audience to refer to Surat Al Sharh, where Allah reminds the believers about our blessings, many of which have been overlooked.
“The surah begins with 3 rhetorical questions and the function of a rhetorical question is to state the obvious that was forgotten,” he shared.
Well known comedian Baba Ali made a surprise visit and delighted the audience with some light hearted humor. He shared with the audience “10 things Muslims should not do during the holidays.” The audience cracked up at hearing things like “Muslims should not stand outside the Masjid after jumu’ah with a jingle bell to collect sadaqah.”
To round off the night humorously after a knowledge-packed day, the esteemed AlMaghrib instructors engaged in a “Shuyookh Showdown,” a light-hearted entertainment session. Let’s just say the highlight of this was Shaykh Yasir Qadhi reading from Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” (or rather “Green Eggs and Lamb”) in a British accent.
Unfortunate for the attendees, Shaykh Waleed Basyouni, Vice President of AlMaghrib Institute, was unable to attend the Southern California conference due to family obligations, but expressed his joy for the success of the conference and appreciation for the hard working volunteers.
Attendees expressed their gratitude towards the high level of professionalism and organization ensued by the volunteers of Qabeelat Haqq. They worked tirelessly for months to ensure the fluidity and success of the program, as well as its overall goal to help students come closer to Allah, feel inspired to improve themselves, and motivated to help their community.
In order to ensure that IlmFest was a family environment, a babysitting program was provided at low-cost, allowing parents to enjoy the all-day conference.
Families and students of all ages browsed the bazaar during breaks and enjoyed halal food sold at in-hotel restaurants Baja Fresh and Sbarro. The restaurants specially ordered halal meat for the event to cater to the massive Muslim audience.
The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a major sponsor of the IlmFest conference, won support from the audience for their new project of opening a women’s shelter. After Shaykh Yasir Qadhi shared inspirational support for their work, speaker Farhan Abdul Azeez mobilized the audience and helped raise more than $100,000 in donations.
Different words attendees used to describe their experience at IlmFest included “inspiring”, “amazing”, “motivational”, and “powerful”. At the end of the day, the Anaheim IlmFest served as a day for the Southern California community to come together. It inspired attendees to see others with the same goal of coming closer to Allah and increasing in knowledge. Although IlmFest traditionally travels to a city only once, Southern California hopes for the conference to return so the impact that IlmFest left can be experienced once again.
AlMaghrib Institute, founded in 2002, is dedicated to teaching Islamic education.
Since its inception, the institute has grown to more than 35 cities across the United
States, Canada, the UK, and Malaysia, and has reached more than 42,000 students worldwide.
(Contributed by: Suzanne Khazaal)