Staff members of the Islamic Society of North America, one of the largest and oldest Muslim-American organizations, are preparing for what could possibly be the largest gathering of Muslims in the United States.
The convention, scheduled to be held this coming weekend in Chicago, is expected to draw more than 30,000 Muslims from all over the U.S. and other countries around the world.
As early as one month ago, organizers said hotel rooms set aside for convention goers were fully booked. The staff worked quickly to find more rooms, but by this week, all of the additional hotel rooms had completely sold out.
"Now more than ever, people are more conscious and aware of what is happening and there is an excitement among Muslims to get together," said ISNA Secretary General Dr. Sayyid Sayeed.
Until just a few weeks ago, the convention was planned to be the site of angry protestors who wanted to send a message to one of ISNA's invited speakers, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The Malaysian leader has been widely criticized for his treatment of his jailed former deputy Anwar Ibrahim.
ISNA was flooded with complaints about Mahtahir's appearance and many had threatened to protest, but a potentially embarrassing situation was averted when ISNA announced it was withdrawing its invitation.
However, it wasn't the "dozens and dozens" of phone calls that persuaded ISNA to take back the invite, said Dr. Sayeed. "On August 9th, when the Anwar Ibrahim verdict was announced, it became difficult for us to welcome him [Mahtahir]."
Convention organizers say they are still expecting several other Muslim dignitaries, including Bosnian Foreign Minister Husein Z Zivalj and Muslim World League Secretary General Dr. Abdullah Al Obaid.
"This is an opportunity for Muslims to get together...to build business relationships and even matrimonials," said Dr. Sayeed. "These types of events help to shape our overall understanding of involvement in America."
Headquartered in Plainfield, Indiana, ISNA works to serve the diverse needs of Muslims living in the United States and Canada. The organization has been successful in improving Islamic education, and community centers in North America.