About 20,000 Muslims from Chicago, North America and around the world are in Rosemont this weekend for an annual convention celebrating the faith and its accomplishments
Held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center for the first time in four years, the convention features dozens of speakers and presenters as well as cultural activities, a public bazaar and even a basketball tournament.
"There is such a variety of events going on for old and young alike -- it is really an experience," Hazem Bata, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America, said Friday at the start of the four-day convention. "It's an opportunity for this community to showcase its accomplishments and what it has done throughout the year,"
The theme for the 52nd annual meeting of the Islamic Society of North America is "Stories of resilience: Strengthening the American Muslim Narrative." Azhar Azeez, the president of the group, said the theme was important because by sharing their real experiences, people can educate those who either don't understand Muslims or dislike them.
"We cannot allow xenophobes and extremists to define who we are as a religious community," Azeez said Friday.
Although the Islamic Society is a domestic organization, Bata said it does a lot to help Muslims who need it around the world. He said the group invited 100 Syrian refugees to this year's convention and gave them a prime spot on the convention floor usually reserved for sponsors so they could have an opportunity to shed light on their situation.
"I'm very proud to say it as an American Muslim, we do a lot for those overseas," Bata said.
Tabassum Haleem, the executive director of the Council of Muslim Organizations of Greater Chicago, helped organize the massive convention, which the group says is the largest Muslim gathering in North America.
"It was a privilege to bring together an amazing mosaic of Muslims, as well as our brothers and sisters of other faiths from across North America and around the world," Haleem said. "I wish all the attendees a weekend filled with spiritual growth, strengthening of relationships and of course lots of fun."
Among the many speakers booked for the convention is Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcom X's daughters and author of "Growing Up X." Azeez said it was particularly poignant that Shabazz speak at this year's convention because it is the 50th anniversary of her father's assassination.
The convention runs through Monday.