The Latino Muslim Voice
The January-March 2004 newsletter features:
Quotes of the Month
The Hajj - The Journey
By Imam Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyyah
By Him whose House the loving pilgrims visit,
At the Ka'bah
Muzdalifah & Mina
The Tawaf of Ifadah/Ziyarah
The Farewell Tawaf
The Importance of Latino Muslim Organizations
By Juan Galvan
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. All praise is due to Allah, we praise Him, seek His aid, and ask His forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah from the evils in ourselves and from the bad consequences of our deeds. Whomever Allah guides, there is none who can lead them astray, and whomever Allah leads astray, there is none who can guide them. I testify that none is worthy of worship except Allah alone, without any partners, and I testify that Muhammad is His last Prophet and Messenger.
A Call to Patience
During his speech, a California Latino Muslim cried as he told the crowd that his family has not accepted Islam. He prays five times a day. He fasts during the holy month of Ramadan. He always looks forward to celebrating Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. He is very proud about having had the opportunity to perform Hajj. As I heard him speak, I couldn't understand why he was crying, but I understand better as time passes. Many of our own family members have not embraced Islam. Why is he still a practicing Muslim for over thirty years now? Whomever Allah guides, there is none who can lead them astray. Why hasn't his family embraced Islam after seeing him practice after all these years? And, whomever Allah leads astray, there is none who can guide them.
I admire the brother's patience and commitment to the Deen regardless of the world occurring around him. We must be gracious and patient servants. Unfortunately, many dawah workers have quit, are quitting, constantly think about quitting, or have indirectly quit by inaction. In Quran 29:2, Allah asks, "Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, 'We believe,' and that they will not be tested?" And, did we actually expect our lives to become perfect after coming to Islam? We Latino Muslims certainly have much work to accomplish. Many Muslims have very high expectations of us Latino Muslims. We are supposed to convert more than 30 million Latinos to Islam overnight. We are supposed to be great speakers, writers, thinkers, etc. We are supposed to be fluent in English, Spanish, and Arabic. We're also supposed to attend every Muslim event. Unfortunately, we can't be everyone, we can't be everywhere, and we can't do everything. We must practice patience to prevent burn out and to avoid becoming mere complainers and blamers. Without patience once something bad happens, we will quit, and how much patience must we have for years of commitment?
New Muslims have a beautiful spirit. They are full of energy and want to accomplish great things. They believe they can be everywhere and do anything. Many new Muslims are very courageous and optimistic because they recently found the courage to leave behind their old ways for something better. New converts are looking forward to better days. We should work to build upon a new Muslim's optimism rather than tearing it down. Much possibility is found in patience, wisdom, and hard work. As Muslims, we must focus on pleasing Allah (swt) rather than on trying to please everyone. We must look for the rewards - pleasing Allah (swt) - and not merely dwell on the worldly outcome of our actions. Some Latino Muslims can't understand why Latinos come to Islam, which simply shows we've forgotten why we converted in the first place. We need to renew that sense of discovery within our own selves that is found in the eyes of new Muslims. We can certainly gain much strength from the optimism, courage, and sense of discovery of new Muslims. We must let our faith be our source of strength and courage.
We can gain much strength by learning about the earliest United States Muslims. Albanian Muslims are recognized for establishing the first effective mosque in the US in Biddeford, Maine in 1915. They built another mosque in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1919. Their organization was one of the first Islamic associations in the US. In 1922 Polish Muslims established "The American Muhammadan Society" in Brooklyn, New York and built a mosque in 1926. An Arab Muslim employee of the Ford Motor Co found a mosque in Highland Park, Michigan in 1921. In 1922, an Islamic association was established in Detroit, Michigan and built a mosque in 1926. In 1928, "The Islamic Propagation Center of America" opened in Brooklyn, New York. In 1929, Syrian Muslim farmers built a mosque in Ross, North Dakota. In 1930, African-American Muslims built a mosque in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After 15 years of renting a building for their mosque, Lebanese Muslims opened the first classically designed, American mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1935. The Muslim community of Cedar Rapids, which began with three brothers in 1885, is generally recognized as the oldest established Muslim community in the United States. And, these are just the best-known early US Muslims.
Although the first mosque was built in the US in 1915, few mosques were built until 1960. Amazingly, 87% of the US mosques were found within the last three decades according to the Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey. Of these mosques, more than 62% were found in the last two decades, or more specifically, 32% in the 1980s and 30% in the 1990s. The growth rate of US mosques between 1990 and 2000 was 42%! Today, more than 1,200 mosques can be found within almost every major city in the United States. We can gain much inspiration by considering the accomplishments of the United States Muslim community. Certainly, many Muslims have strived diligently for the benefit of future American Muslims. Every time we attend a mosque in our own communities, we enjoy the fruits of cooperation and sacrifice among our Muslim brothers and sisters. Truly, we have many reasons to be grateful. Alhamdulila.
We can be thankful to the various American Muslims who have developed organizations as a response to the needs of American Muslims. Across the country, we see many local Muslim organizations answering our Creator's call as they struggle to finance their mosques and organizations. We also see national Muslim organizations struggling to serve the American Muslim community by holding conventions, conferences, and distributing literature. Muslim organizations should exist for the purpose of pleasing Allah (swt) and move forward in suitable ways to serve the various needs of American Muslims. A Muslim organization can only call itself an organization after a group of Muslims finds a purpose for its existence.
A Call to Organize
We generally assume Muslim organizations are primarily religious in nature, but some Muslims have also developed political, charity, professional, cultural, and social organizations. Although an organization may serve various purposes, the primary purpose, or the nature of an organization, determines how it classifies itself. For example, some Muslims have developed political organizations as a response to the discrimination against Muslims and their lack of representation in American politics. Many Muslims join or develop organizations after considering how Islam in America can make the most of their interests, skills, and knowledge. Because Islam is an all-inclusive system, Islam requires people from all fields, such as religion, science, education, medicine, politics, and the social sciences. Because all good comes from Allah (swt), we should use and build upon the truth that is found in every field that benefits us and reject the falsehood.
An organization's purpose determines decisions concerning various aspects of the organization including activities, membership, and leadership. For example, membership, leadership, and activities in political and dawah organizations usually vary because both types of organizations have different purposes. The purpose of a political organization is political whereas the purpose of a dawah organization is dawah. Many Muslims do not understand the difference between political and dawah organizations, because they do not understand the difference between politics and dawah. In Arabic, dawah means "invite" or "invitation," but religious speaking, dawah is our responsibility to "invite" non-Muslims to Islam. Dawah-related activities include regular visits to a mosque, befriending Muslims, distributing Islamic literature, and attending interfaith dialogues, whereas political-related activities include regular visits to the state capital, befriending politicians, distributing political literature, and attending political rallies. A political-related activity includes encouraging your members to educate themselves and others about the history and current events of Muslim political issues. A dawah-related activity includes encouraging Muslims to educate themselves and others about Islam. Talking about Islam is different than talking about politics, because dawah means discussing the oneness of God, Prophethood, and the Day of Judgment.
Although dawah is our responsibility, seeking justice is also our responsibility. Let us respond to Allah's call as mentioned in Quran 4:135, "O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do." Whatever hurts this society hurts us, because we are a part of it. American Muslims are not immune to America's social problems, such as poverty, crime, and drug addiction. We must demonstrate our love and concern toward non-Muslims with good deeds. Indeed, charity and politics have drawn many people into Islam. A question or comment about politics often begins a conversation about Islam. Malcolm X's struggle against racial injustice has brought many Americans to Islam and continues to be an inspiration for both Muslims and non-Muslims. We are much more willing to set aside our differences when faced with the danger of ignoring injustice. Our commonality is often built upon hatred for a particular injustice, which is merely the manifestation of our common human values of love and concern for one another. An important aspect of educating others about injustice is establishing alliances to end it. Without non-Muslim support, for example, we will have difficulty in calling attention to Muslim political interests in the US. Many non-Muslims agree with Muslims about many political issues, and even some non-Muslim magazines draw attention to Muslim political issues.
Although an organization usually classifies itself either as religious, political, charity, professional, cultural, or social, other people may classify the organization differently. For example, people outside the organization tend to classify an organization by its emphasis on certain activities, members, beliefs, and values, which may or may not be consistent with the organization's stated purpose. Because a dawah organization is a type of religious organization, the activities of a dawah organization should be centered on the religion of Islam, or more particularly Islamic education. Dawah organizations understand that non-Muslims won't come to Islam if they know nothing about Islam, and Muslims won't become better Muslims if they don't study Islam. Because religious and political activities are different, political activism can be a disturbance for a dawah organization. Political activism will almost always overshadow dawah work, because political activism can be more controversial, tangible, and entertaining than dawah work. A dawah organization wants to be known primarily for its dawah, whereas a political organization wants to be known primarily for its politics. We need to recognize when our dawah organizations are losing focus of their main objective. Otherwise, the focus of the dawah organization will shift to something else, specifically, political, social, or cultural.
A Call to Islam
Whereas some Muslim organizations serve many purposes, Latino Muslim organizations are primarily dawah organizations. Latino Muslim organizations agree about the importance of a full-fledged dawah effort to Latinos and agree that effective dawah to Latinos includes working with other Latino Muslims. Latino Muslim organizations also address the various needs of Latino Muslims by working to keep them as Muslims and to help them reach their full potential as Muslims. Latino Muslim organizations are a response to the various needs that are not being filled by the general Muslim community. Because Latino Muslims are an underrepresented segment of the Muslim community, the general Muslim population is not aware of many problems of interest to Latino Muslims. Most American Muslim organizations focus on serving the typical Muslim, but a Latino is not the typical Muslim. The dawah of most American Muslim organizations is directed toward the typical potential convert, who generally knows English, but not all Latinos know English. My biggest struggle with Latino Muslim organizations was the idea of Latino Muslim organizations, because I feared contributing to the disunity of the Muslim community. I have come to realize that the best way for me to present Islam to all non-Muslims is to focus my dawah efforts to Latinos within the US, and Latino Muslim organizations are an important aspect of our efforts.
Certainly, all American Muslims can find reasons why dawah to Latinos is needed. As Muslims, we have a responsibility to share Islam with all non-Muslims. In Quran 5:4, Allah (swt) states, "This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion." Because Islam is true, we should desire to present Islam to the masses. As American Muslims, we know that many Latinos live in the United States. According to the 2000 US Census, 32.8 million Hispanics live in the United States. The US Census has even stated that there are now more Latinos in the US than African-Americans. And, the US Latino population continues to grow very fast. The Latino population in the US is expected to grow to 63 million by 2030, and 88 million by 2050. By then, one out of every four Americans will be Latino.
Did you know that the rate of conversion among Latinos is lower than that among Caucasians and African-Americans? According to the 2001 Mosque in America Report, there's an estimated growth of 20,000 Muslim converts nationally each year. Of these converts, 63% of converts are African-American, 27% of converts are White, and 6% are Hispanic. Only 6% converting are Hispanic! There are also few Latino Muslims. Although there are six million US Muslims, only 40,000 are Latino Muslims. Using these figures, Latino Muslims only make up 0.6% of the US Muslim population. Only 0.6% of US Muslims are Hispanic! The Latino Muslim community is not keeping up with other segments of the American Muslim population if the conversion rate among Latino Muslims and the number of Latino Muslims are signs of progress.
A leading barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Spanish Islamic literature because many Latinos only know Spanish. Much Spanish literature, whether printed, audio, or audiovisual, needs to be developed. Although Latinos are the largest minority in the US, few Islamic book companies offer Spanish Islamic literature. As Latino Muslims, we are also more familiar with Latino culture than are non-Latinos. People are often more interested in Islam when it comes from people like themselves. Latino Muslims can change the negative perception of Islam within the Latino community. After all, Latinos are essential and influential within all spheres of American society - political, social, and economic. For example, because Latinos influence the decisions of lawmakers, it's only logical that we Muslims would want more Latinos to support Muslim causes.
As more Latinos embrace Islam, we will see more conversion to Islam from the general American population. Latino Muslims spark a curiosity about Islam. Why are Latinos converting? What is it about that religion? Islam in America strengthens from the additional human and material resources that result when more Americans embrace Islam. As more Americans embrace Islam, we will see more dawah, more activism, and other types of volunteer work. Converts will also help establish and/or strengthen American Muslim institutions such as mosques and universities. We appreciate the various Muslim organizations that have reached out to the emerging Latino Muslim community.
A Call to Unity
All Muslim organizations, including those by Latino Muslims, agree about the importance of dawah and unity. Unity among Muslims is certainly a worthwhile aspiration. In fact, Muslims are those who seek to unify all of God's people by calling them to return to their true nature of worship and belief in one God. Although our paths to Islam may vary, we all believe that Islam is true, and thus, acknowledge the oneness of our Creator and His guidance and mercy onto mankind. In Quran 3:102-103, Allah (swt) advises, "O you who believe, observe your duty to God with right observance, and die not except in a state of submission (to Him). And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of God, and do not separate, and remember God's favor unto you: how you were enemies and He put love between your hearts so that you became as brothers by His grace: and how you were upon the brink of a fire and He saved you from it. Thus God makes clear His revelations unto you so that you may be guided." The rope is the message of Islam, and many Muslims continue to act as distant strangers. New Muslim converts love that Islam is a religion for everyone and everywhere. Indeed, we are now brothers and sisters with Muslims from around the world.
Because Muslims are a community of believers, Latino Muslims and the general Muslim population must not isolate themselves from each other. Some Muslim converts have isolated themselves from the general Muslim population because they feel alienated, lonely, and out of place around Muslims who were raised in Muslim families. Some raised Muslims think Latinos are incapable of becoming 'real' Muslims, but some new Muslims hold similar ideas about raised Muslims. Negative personal experiences have left some Latino Muslims frustrated. Unfortunately, some Latino Muslims believe that we must have our own unique, separate institutions. Some Latino Muslims are frustrated by lack of progress and want to see immediate changes, but they see raised Muslims as the problem rather than as part of the solution. We should not let our struggles lead us away from our Muslim brothers and sisters. I deal with each Muslim as an individual and avoid negative stereotypes and suspicions that endanger our relationship with one another.
American Muslim mosques, organizations, and scholars are our mosques, organizations, and scholars because we are American Muslims, too. Latino Muslim organizations should strive first to incorporate Latino Muslims into the general Muslim community. By separating among ourselves, we lose the strength in numbers that unity provides. Unity can give us access to resources such as people, location, literature, and technology that we wouldn't have otherwise. Working with more Muslims means more skills and knowledge. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, "The believers, in their love, mercy and kindness to one another are like a body: if any part of it is ill, the whole body shares its sleeplessness and fever" (Bukhari 8/40). The haddith illustrates the interdependence among Muslims. If you're sad, I'm sad, too. If you become sad, I become sad, too. If you're happy, I'm happy, too. If you become happy, I become happy, too. The general Muslim community needs us, and we need them. It would be the height of arrogance for the Latino Muslim community to assume we don't need other Muslims.
Many non-Latino Muslims are sympathetic to Latino dawah needs. We must not turn our back on good Muslims willing to lend a hand. In Quran 49:13, Allah states, "O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware." And, indeed the most successful are those with the most taqwa, regardless of color and nationality. Working with people from diverse backgrounds encourages tolerance, appreciation, and a free flow and diverse exchange of ideas. We need to be active in our local mosques and organizations. We should befriend local imams and other Muslim leaders. Working together with mosques and good Muslims also strengthens our iman. If other Muslims see your good deeds, they will encourage you to be even more active and help you as much as possible. We focus on calling non-Muslims to existing mosques rather than calling Latino Muslims to build their own mosques. Mosques will be built but that will be a result of more people coming to Islam.
Whereas similarities encourage unity within an organization, differences within an organization may threaten unity depending on how central the differences are to the organization's main purpose, because every organization seeks to accomplish its main purpose. For example, a Muslim organization, whose main purpose is developing and maintaining unity, will directly or indirectly suppress differing beliefs, certain issues, and dissenting opinions that threaten or prevent unity within the organization. As with any organization, members and leaders, especially leaders, may have to compromise or suppress their beliefs and ideas for the sake of the organization's purpose, because their personal opinions, beliefs, and comments may be interpreted as those of the organization.
Muslim organizations deal with individuals, and each individual is unique, complex, and imperfect. Each person has his or her own personality, emotions, needs, opinions, and thoughts. Each person has been influenced by his or her friends and experiences. People are the most unpredictable and uncontrollable aspect of any organization. We can't control every thought, belief, and intention of each person nor can they control our thoughts, beliefs, and intentions. Each person is more likely to work with certain people more than with others and more willing to overlook the faults of those like themselves. Some people will never be our partners, and others will always be a distraction. We can't make some people happy regardless of what we do. Each person believes they are right. Indeed, an organization is composed of individuals who have organized because they all agree that they are right.
A Call to Truth
If you want any unity among Muslims, compromise is unavoidable because no other Muslim will understand everything about Islam exactly as you do. But how much are you willing to compromise, and how will it affect your organization in the long run? In Quran 3:104, Allah (swt) states, "Let there arise out of you a group designed to carry out God's order in inviting people to what is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. And it is they who are the successful." Dawah organizations cannot invite non-Muslims to Islam if they can't tell non-Muslims their religious beliefs. They must be free to tell non-Muslims what is right and wrong, true and false. The message of Islam is the greatest resource for Muslim organizations. Indeed, the truth has brought us to Islam and continues to be our inspiration.
The various aspects of a dawah organization should be consistent with the purpose of a dawah organization. For example, because the purpose of a dawah organization is to call non-Muslims to Islam, Latino Muslim organizations must reach a common ground concerning acceptable religious belief. We can never change certain religious beliefs, because they are what keep us in Islam. Unlike differences in religious belief, differences in legal understanding don't take you out of Islam. Although we share the same religion, we may have minor differences concerning our common religious belief. Unity of belief is called unity of heart, because unity of belief develops and reinforces tolerance, trust, support, and love for one another. We are one community of believers, because Islam is one religion. Because dawah organizations must emphasize religious belief and education, differences in religious belief and even differences in religious understanding can become a huge source of contention and infighting. People who constantly fight among themselves cannot deal with others outside the organization, and enemies can take advantage of their weaknesses.
Although disagreements are expected and can be a good thing, we should not disagree on the authority of the Quran and Sunnah. Effective dawah and unity require truth, because truth brings about lasting unity. In Quran 103:2-3, Allah (swt) states, "Verily Man is in loss, except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience." Muslims should not fear that they will be accused of division for telling the truth. Lasting unity allows members to have differences and small disputes without destroying the organization. Members should be free to evaluate the organization without fear of destroying it. We cannot reconcile belief systems that are fundamentally different. Because shirk undermines the essence of Islam, it is not in the best interests of the Latino Muslim community to have everyone who considers himself or herself a Muslim to join their dawah efforts. When similar religious beliefs take a secondary role within a dawah organization, political, cultural, or social beliefs become emphasized, and thus, Muslims may end up hating those whom they should love and isolating themselves from those whom they should work with.
Indeed, differences in religious belief can become a threat to unity for dawah organizations, because Muslims and various Muslim organizations will be concerned about the various aspects of the Muslim organization. For example, members want to know what other members teach, about the literature other members distribute, and about the religious beliefs of other members. They will also be concerned about the direction of your organization and try to influence various aspects of your organization, which may be good or bad. Muslim leaders are concerned about what literature is offered alongside their own, and they don't want to speak alongside just any other presenter. Muslims should have standards that are guided by truth, and dawah organizations should strive to uphold these standards.
Dawah organizations need to provide non-Muslims accurate information about Islam. We also should not confuse non-Muslims by offering contradictory religious beliefs. With differing religious beliefs, we will disagree about what literature to distribute. If your organization emphasizes unity, you will feel pressure to distribute non-Sunni Muslim literature. A Muslim organization may even choose not to distribute any religious literature to avoid offending each others religious beliefs. Because Sunni Muslims generally agree about certain basic principles, a Sunni Muslim organization may choose to distribute only literature to non-Muslims limited to the fundamentals of Islam. However, Muslims should not limit their knowledge to the basics. Perhaps, one of the most complex questions for future organizations will continue to be how to manage the demands for truth with the demands for unity. We can begin answering this complex question by considering what is in the best interests of the Muslim community. We must avoid the path that leads to ignorance, and Islam points to the better path.
Latino Muslim organizations will be acceptable to the general Muslim population if their religious beliefs and dawah are consistent with Islam. Latino Muslim organizations shouldn't expect trust and support just because they call themselves a Muslim organization. We will get more support from other Muslims when they know what we believe. If we don't express our religious beliefs, other Muslims will think that our religious beliefs don't matter to us or to our organizations. Latino Muslims, especially those associated with the organization, will also not feel the need or pressure to vigorously express their own religious beliefs. Instead, they can focus their time and energy on dawah activities. We can expect much resistance if we present Islam as something entirely different than Al-Islam. An organization and its leaders should not make dawah work for local Muslims difficult. A local Muslim community may be reluctant to grant its various resources to its Latino Muslims merely because they are associated with your organization. They understand that working with some groups can become a sign of disbelief under the right circumstances. Latino Muslims should not be viewed as a threat because we are not nor should we be. We don't want to jeopardize our credibility and respect.
A Call to Individual Responsibility
While attempting to understand why few Texas Latinos seem to embrace Islam, I soon realized the various reasons were similar across the country. I wanted to develop or join a national Latino Muslim organization to encourage cooperation among US Latinos, especially Texas Latino Muslims. The organization would enhance dawah opportunities to Latinos by encouraging Latino Muslims to work together to fulfill their common needs. Much of my own work has been a result of my desire to fill the need for Latino dawah in Texas and around the US that I still believe exists. Because the organization would give Latino Muslims a sense of direction, they wouldn't feel like a ship without a rudder. The national Latino Muslim organization would help get the credibility and assistance needed to succeed. The organization would help bring more participants into dawah work. Our requests concerning the need for Spanish literature would also more likely be heard. I also figured working with such an organization would help me become a better Muslim. I knew I could learn much from Muslims who were already involved in the work I wanted to do.
After deciding to work with the Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO), I began finding Muslims to work with me by contacting various Latinos from Texas and around the US. LADO was founded in 1997 in New York City. One Latina couldn't believe I wanted to be a part of a national Muslim organization. She sent me an e-mail stating that one brother gives dawah by simply being a good Muslim, and when non-Muslims show an interest in Islam, he gives them an Islamic brochure. She mentioned that one time he gave an older lady a brochure after pumping her gas. She said that Islam is about beauty in small deeds. Indeed, it is easy to trivialize small deeds. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, "Don't consider anything insignificant out of good things, even if it is that you meet your brother with a cheerful countenance" (Muslim 1209). Like many new Muslims, her own journey to Islam was marked with small deeds along the way. She traces her own conversion back to college when a classmate answered her questions about Islam. Her questions led to a discussion about Islam. She was given Islamic literature. She was invited and later driven to a mosque. She was taught how to wear hijab. She took shahada. She learned to pray. She has received and continues to receive many words of encouragement. Most Muslims consider the conversion of each non-Muslim special and beautiful. The Latina was concerned that national Muslim organizations would cheapen that beauty.
After the printing press was invented, Muslims were reluctant to use the printing press in mass-producing the Quran. Muslims believed that that the Quran was too sacred to be printed by a printing press because until that time, Muslims would write each letter of the Quran by hand. The printing press simplifies our dawah responsibilities by making Islamic literature more accessible to all people. Technology is acceptable when it is not contrary to Islam, but technology can only go so far. Although technology offers many benefits, new Muslim converts need the personal assistance of other Muslims. Learning about Islam is usually more enjoyable and understandable when the knowledge comes from a person rather than from a book or computer screen. New Muslim converts also need to befriend other Muslims, because new Muslims often have a difficult time dealing with family and friends. National Muslim organizations think nationally by acting locally, because by helping Muslims in their local dawah efforts, all American Muslims benefit. National Latino Muslim organizations have the capacity to refer Latino non-Muslims to Muslims who can help them on a more personal basis, because they encourage networking among Muslims and non-Muslims around the US. In our efforts to organize Latino Muslims nationally, we must appreciate the important role of local Muslims and their communities. National Latino Muslim organizations encourage mosques to identify Spanish-speaking Muslims, who are not necessarily Latino, who will train non-English speaking Latinos how to pray, to read Qur'an, and to teach them about Islam, in general. Mosques should also have information about local Latino Muslims and about national Latino Muslim organizations to direct Latinos for information and support.
The strategy of Latino Muslim organizations is to increase the level of interaction among Latino Muslims, Latino non-Muslims, and the general Muslim population, because interaction among Muslims and non-Muslims is the primary reason for conversion to Islam in the US. For example, Muslim converts usually began learning about Islam from a spouse, coworker, classmate, friend, or associate. Who is more convincing than the one Muslim who takes the time to discuss Islam with those who are near? We encourage local dawah work because it's easier to work with local Muslims than to work with those across the country and easier to reach non-Muslims within your neighborhood than to reach those in a neighborhood across the country. Muslims who spend all their time dealing with issues miles away cannot deal with issues in their own neighborhood. National Latino Muslim organizations help Latino Muslims establish their local Latino Muslim communities by empowering those Muslim communities with fewer resources. National Latino Muslim organizations also help local Latino Muslims get the recognition they deserve. Because national Latino Muslim organizations encourage Latino Muslims to work locally, local Latino Muslims find satisfaction in helping within their own communities. Latino Muslims with little interaction with other Latino Muslims also feel a sense of hope by being a part of something beyond their own neighborhoods. They know other Latino Muslims are out there who share their concerns and who want to help them.
Although Muslim organizations thrive on truth, a Muslim organization is as strong as its people. Many Muslims agree that dawah begins with you, then your family, neighborhood, city, state, nation, and world. In Quran 66:6, Allah (swt) advises us, "O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is people and stones; over it are angels stern and strong, they do not disobey God in what He commands them, and do as they are commanded." We call others to Islam as we understand it, and we should ensure that we are calling to an appropriate understanding of Islam. We need knowledge to discern between right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Much knowledge is a waste of time because it is baseless. It is true that many people know many untrue things. The greatest problem facing Latino Muslim organizations is the lack of Islamic education. It's not what we know that's holding us back; it's what we don't know. We must become better Muslims. Certainly, dawah organizations need to develop an atmosphere that promotes Islamic religious education.
A Call to Knowledge
We need to raise the status of Islamic education among ourselves. Unless we educate ourselves, we can't expect more Latinos to come to Islam, and the purpose of a dawah organization is to call non-Muslims to Islam. Before educating others about Islam, we must begin by spending our limited time in educating our own selves about Islam. We can't do bigger things without first doing smaller things. Education about Islam comes before all Muslim activities. We can't have successful events, small or big, without knowledgeable Latino Muslims. Muslim study groups are also limited by the knowledge of their members. We will have more Muslim activities, speakers, leaders, and so on after more Latinos come to Islam, but education precedes conversion. Your knowledge and the knowledge of other Muslims determine our potential as a Muslim community. Alhamdulila.
We shouldn't let the number of Latino Muslims within our local Muslim communities prevent us from the work that we know needs to be accomplished. Those cities with the most Latino Muslims are at an advantage. Indeed, your city may be years ahead of my community simply because more Latino Muslims live in your community than in my own. Because different American Muslim communities may have different problems, concerns, and advantages, an approach in one location may not be appropriate or even possible in another. You need a group of local Latino Muslims before starting a weekly group, but even some larger Muslim communities have difficulty putting together such groups. Many Muslims do not necessarily make a dawah organization successful. In addition to knowledge, communication, and cooperation requirements, Latino Muslims may not have the free time to make the needed commitment. Muslim communities with few local Latino Muslims may focus their efforts on literature distribution and networking with Latino Muslims and other Muslims interested in their progress. Even the smallest Muslim communities can make a sincere intention to develop programs for new Muslims. Regardless of limitations, local Muslims know their communities best and should move forward in suitable ways. Dawah regardless of location should be consistent with our religion.
Latino Muslims need the assistance of knowledgeable Muslims who have wisdom and foresight. Oftentimes, new Muslims have more energy than knowledge and wisdom. Dawah efforts need sources of wisdom that consider possible outcomes to our decisions. When we don't know or when we disagree, we need to ask an expert. Many problems and disagreements can also be avoided by first taking the issue to an expert. For dawah organizations, experts are usually people of knowledge. Shura, or consultation, is limited by those we choose to include within the decision-making process. We should not exclude knowledgeable Muslims from our work, because they are the most important voices for a dawah organization. We should not limit our knowledge to Latino Muslim sources. We need to learn to accept knowledge for the sake of truth. We should avoid the dangers of nationalism, which include putting our trust in other Muslims primarily because they are from our race, our nation, or our predecessors. Muslims call people to Islam and not to anything else, be it a nation, organization, sheik, etc. Because the aim of dawah is one of guidance, it is better to work with good non-Latino Muslims than to work with bad Latino Muslims. With competing interests, who will speak for the common good of Muslims? We need the help of Muslims who have the good of the Muslim community at heart. Otherwise, we may always be deceived and led astray.
By seeking knowledge, we will have excellent leaders, because leaders come from among us. We certainly won't be effective leaders if we are ignorant about Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) said, "Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock"¦" (Muslim 1826). You and I are leaders, and we are responsible to others. The Muslim community needs good leaders in every neighborhood, every city, state, and nation. InshAllah, in a few years, qualified Latino Muslim imams will be among the major leaders within the American Muslim community. When we have better educated Latino Muslim leaders, the Latino dawah work of today will look like child's play. We await future Muslims to do what we do better, because we anxiously await any advancement.
A Call to Hope
We can choose to let the problems facing the Latino Muslim community discourage or motivate us. In Quran 3:138-139, Allah advises, "Here is a plain statement to men, a guidance and instruction to those who fear God. So lose not heart, nor fall into despair: For you must gain mastery if you are true in faith." Our problems don't have immediate solutions. Yet we should not despair, and we should not lose hope. Our Creator's true religion will prevail above all other religions. In Quran 2:212, Allah states, "The life of this world is made to appear attractive to those who disbelieve; and they scoff at those who believe. But those who fear God shall be above them on the day of resurrection; and God bestows His gifts on whomsoever He pleases without reckoning." We have to start somewhere, and we can always do something. Why should we not have great hope? Without dreams, we will do nothing. Both small and big things begin with an intention. Indeed, every great achievement begins with a great intention. Certainly, we can find much to strive toward. Any accomplishments are a success for all Muslims, because we Muslims are one Ummah. The measure of success of Latino Muslim organizations won't be if they continue to exist but rather that we've helped others. Knowing we have given the smallest deed for the sake of Allah (swt) is most rewarding.
If I have offended anyone, please forgive me, and may Allah (swt) forgive me. That was not my intention. May Allah forgive us of our shortcomings in our Deen and in our worldly activities. May Allah protect us from the mischief of Shaytan and from Shaytan getting the better of our weaknesses. And may Allah out of His mercy allow those in Islam to live and die as believers. May Allah use us in a way in which He will be pleased on the Day of Judgment. Ameen.
My Hajj Journals
Day 1: January 18, 2004
We're here at the Novotel Hotel in Cairo where we spent three hours sleeping. Originally, we meant to go straight to Jeddah but our entire group missed our flights. Needless to say, this is my first opportunity to write down a few thoughts. It's about 5:30am, and I'm waiting for Brenda to finish getting ready. We just washed and entered into the state of Ihram for Umrah. The rest of the group should be already downstairs eating breakfast. My own flight to London the previous night was calm and without much turbulence, Thank God.
I was seated in an exit seat so my legs feel great. And six hours to London is nothing. Got to Heathrow Airport around 11am and had to wait till 3:15pm for Brenda's plane to get in from LAX. So I basically copped a spot by a terminal and slept on/off. I was waiting by our gate when I saw her hurrying to make our second plane flying to Cairo. I hadn't eaten since that morning so on this next flight, Brenda and I looked like crack heads waiting for the food to be served.
I don't think I've ever eaten airline food with as much gusto as I did that day. Brenda's doing her Rakkats now so I gotta run!
We ate breakfast and just boarded the bus; we're on our way to catch a flight to Jeddah. We're dressed, me in white pants and blue jelbab, Brenda in white pants and beige jelbab. Matching hijabs of course. I met a few of the men and women from our group. Particularly friendly is this couple from California. She's white; and he's an Arab, Palestinian, I think. They used to live in Kuwait but recently moved back to the states. First time doing hajj for both. Karen and Rayad (not sure the spelling). Brenda and I seem to be the only Latinas in our group. There's African, all sorts of Arabs, white, Pakistani, you name it, and no one seems to question anyone being Muslim. We're all interested in each other's conversion stories, but I didn't feel like the woman in the "Inside Mecca" video felt. How she became tired of people questioning her conversion. Despite sleeping only three hours, we're all very alert. We've yet to meet Dr. Omar Khattab, our group leader and organizer, and our guides are trying their best to get us to and from. Nonetheless, I feel a bit lost. Not sure how the others are taking it all. Even our luggage seems to be in limbo.
Alhamdulillah, Brenda and I decided prior to the trip that we'd bring only one piece of luggage and that it would be a carry-on. That way, we could breeze through customs and have our belongings with us.
Detained in Cairo. Brenda and I are stuck at the Cairo Airport along with two other Arab women from another tour group. On our first time out applying for visas, the Saudi government deemed that we were too young to be traveling to their country alone, lest we should stir the desires of the other Hajji men. The tour director resubmitted our applications and assigned us a Mahram from the group itself. Brother Ahmed Rahman, a convert from Thailand, whom Brenda chanced to meet at the groups pre-trip gathering in California. Our Mahram along with a few others from the group landed in Saudi a few days prior to our departure. Egypt could not allow us to fly to Jeddah alone because the Saudi Government would impose a fine on them if they found out that the Egyptian government allowed us to fly to Jeddah unchaperoned. So our group left on the original flight around 8:30am, and Brenda and I were left behind.
The guide assigned to us has been trying fervently to get us through. I suggested he call Omar Khattab, our tour organizer in Saudi, but he said he didn't know who he was. No one has called to inquire about us nor noticed that there are two women missing from the group. We just hope that Imanni, one of the sisters from the group, was able to relay what's going on. Funny thing is, they're holding our passports so we can't walk into the newer part of the airport, nor can we exchange money because we need the passports to do so. Also, we are not allowed to leave the airport. It's a no win situation. I'm trying not to become frustrated because I'm in the state of Ihram. Boy, didn't think I was going to be tested this soon. Alhamdulillah, the other Arab girls in our situation are friendly. Tamara and Maison. Poor Maison. Her elderly mother was already checked in, and their luggage was checked onto the plane when she was told she couldn't go. Regardless, her group along with her mother had to go without her, and she was worried about who would care for her mother.
Here's a funny story for you. One of the Egyptian customs agents saw me and inquired with Tamara about wanting to marry me. I told her to tell him I was in the state of Ihram and couldn't discuss marriage with anyone. Can you believe that? I told the girls jokingly that I'd consider the proposal if he could get us out of here. Lolol. Here we are sitting and waiting for our Mahram to fax over a copy of his passport and airline ticket to prove that he was in the country. Why their computers can't detect that, I have no clue. But whatever.
Hurray!!!!!!!! We just received our fax from the Mahram, Alhamdulillah. The two sisters, however, had to be left behind unfortunately. Their Mahram hadn't faxed over his paperwork. We took down their info, so we can call their travel director as soon as we arrive in Jeddah. But even worse, I think I broke my Ihram. I got into a tiny argument with Brenda, and I guess I'm still learning to holding my tongue. Perhaps it's the pressure of being detained and thinking we weren't going to ever get there. Who knows, but inshallah, Allah (swt) knows what is in our hearts. I showered again and made a new intention.
January 20, 2004
I didn't get a chance to write yesterday because the incredible delay we witnessed. I think the last time I left off we were flying from Cairo to Jeddah after our Mahram's fax came through. The flight was great, and when we landed, amazingly enough, we only spent about forty minutes in customs. Gracias a Dios. We had been told to prepare to spend hours there. Because we were the only two Americans among a group of Egyptians bound for Hajj, they processed us through. One agent singled us out and spoke with the others to get us through. We explained that our own group in Cairo left us behind because of our Mahram situation. Prior to processing, we were all herded into a room that reminded me of a concentration camp. I know that's so bad of me to say, but that's the feeling I got while in there. Brenda and I received many stares. We looked different, and I guess when we pulled out our passports, the others were wondering what we were doing in their midst. After we were moved to another room that contained customs booths, the young man who checked out passports made sure that Brenda and I sat first. When the processing began, they had no choice but to begin with us. Once processed, we went to another counter to pay the Saudi fees with checks. Those agents were very nice to us. They were genuinely happy to see two American converts embarking on Hajj.
They graced us with smiles and warm wishes for our accepted Hajj. The Saudis in the luggage department were quite surprised to find that we had no luggage other than our carry-on. But hey, we know where our stuff is, thank God. Outside the gates, another customs agent named Mohammad greets us, and we explain our story to him. He was very understanding and pleasant to speak with. He'd even been in the US recently. Mohammad guided us outside to the stadium-like area. Giant canopies or tents cover the outside shop area and gates. He solicits a young boy to guide us to an office where they will provide transportation to the visa agency and to our hotel. I guess we weren't allowed to wonder around by ourselves. Lol. But here's where the nightmare begins.
After what seemed like a two-hour wait, we are directed over to a bus where we sit and wait for what seemed like another two hours while they load our bus with luggage. The bus is filled with Afghanis, and we're the only two American's amongst them. The drive to Makkah took over two hours because our bus was old and wasn't able to accelerate to a higher speed. Cars and other buses kept passing us by! Finally, we reach the visa stop, but Brenda and I begin to get anxious and angry because no one is listening to us. We continuously said that we weren't with this group to which the reply was always "okay."
Alhamdulillah, we were taken to the American visa stop. Getting out luggage down from the bus was another story. Because the entire luggage was lumped together, a team of youths was told to look for our two pieces of luggage amongst the many. Around 3:40am, we were escorted to the office. The Saudi officials inside were very kind. They offered us water and tea, gifted us with books and treated us very well. Finally, a guide was sent to escort us to our hotel in Makkah. We reached our room at about 5:00am, just in time for Fajr. Most of our roommates were sleeping. Brenda knows two of them from the California Hajj meeting. We carted ourselves off to breakfast and came back to the room for some major sleeping. We were very exhausted from our "trip"; and we slept straight through to Asr prayer. We were dying to see Masjid Al-Haram, but Brenda and decided to wait till we were ready to do our Umrah. That night at dinner, a brother was kind enough to offer to take us to perform Umrah as the rest of the group had already performed theirs the previous day.
At 10pm, we headed over there that evening and even then, the Masjid was packed. We entered and kept our eyes down because we were told you shouldn't look at the Kabbah till you make a dua. We come upon it, and I feel nothing. It doesn't resonate with me at all. Brenda begins to cry, and I'm more in awe of the masses of white clothes circling. Hoards of people are pushing you, and I wonder how Allah judges that person. I'm fully aware of their attempts to remain linked in order to keep groups together, but at times, it seems they push on purpose.
Brenda and I also linked arms and tried to focus on our dua's and brother Ferris. We didn't want to lose him in the crowd. Prior to going, a sister told us many dead crickets and bugs were on the floor, and so we made a point to walk with socks. At many points during our Tawaf, empty pockets allowed us to walk with relative calm. I tried my best to keep my eyes cast down on the white marble floor because anything can easily divert your attention from your dua's: a pretty hijab, the color-coordinated groups, the Kabbah itself. It wasn't until the third or fourth tawaf, after much supplication, that I began to feel anything at all. My eyes watered as I begged the Almighty for his Mercy and thanked him for his invitation. I begged for any hypocrisy to be removed from my heart and that I my iman increase more and more. I realized at that moment that I shouldn't feel ashamed of my lack of emotion upon seeing the Kabbah. Similarly as Allah (swt) revealed Islam to me slowly and progressively, my Umrah and Hajj might also work the same way.
For the rest of the Tawaf and Sa'I, I supplicated much and through Allah's grace, I was able to remain focused. My main problem has always been my dua's. At times, I don't even make dua' because I'm too ashamed of having committed sin that I feel he won't forgive me. And, that is actually doubting the Almighty's mercy and forgiveness. Once done with Tawaf, we prayed our two Rakat, drank sweet zamzam water, and completed our Sa'i. Again, Allah blessed me with patience and concentration, and I supplicated the entire time I was walking between the two hills. We finished Umrah around 2am and decided to eat some Shwarma. I'm not sure what country this comes from but I think its Pakistani. But it consists of meat that is sort of roasted and then shredded away, mixed with onions and peppers and then put into pita bread. Because our shop ran out of pita bread, they put it in a hot dog bun. The place was grungy and filled with flies but we didn't care. Back at the hotel, I couldn't close my eyes and remained awake until Fajr.
January 20, 2004
We finally made fajr prayer at the Masjid Al-Haram today. We arrived almost an hour and a half early and barely found spots at the entrance. Brenda and I sat and read the Qur'an, tried to make conversation with what seemed like Indian and Malaysian women. Not much was understood except they realized we were converts and so were trying to find out if we'd made our two initial rakats. Perhaps they assumed we were beginners and to tell you the truth, I know after all this, I truly am just beginning, Alhamdulillah. After Fajr, we made Janazah prayer for someone who had died, which I've never done before. I couldn't see far enough to see where the body was held. I wonder whom the person was and how lucky they were to have millions of Muslims praying for their pardon.
After breakfast, we took a short excursion with the group to the mountain of Uhud, Mount Arafat, and drove by the Jamarat. We were blessed to meet a Palestinian who had met and married a Puerto Rican woman. He had lived in Puerto Rico for over 15 years and spoke Spanish just like a Puerto Rican. It was amazing. Back at our hotel room, my roommates and I prayed Zuhr together. It was the first time I heard a woman calling the Iqama and a female voice leading the prayer. At that very moment, those women were my flesh and blood sisters. We were together attempting to fulfill our prayer obligations united in one direction, worshipping the same God. Our racial and social status meant nothing as we prostrated shoulder-to-shoulder, foot-to-foot. It was very empowering as a Muslim, alhamdulillah, and I pray for another such opportunity again.
Of course, we shopped at the mall below our hotel, and then we returned to our room for a huge discussion on hijab. We discussed the exact wording and meaning in the Qur'an and the Haddith in reference to the covering of women. In one haddith, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) points to his hands and face after being asked about the required covering for women who have reached the age of puberty. In the end, some of us agreed about the requirement of hijab, and some of us did not. We all agreed that the hijab couldn't harm us. After sleeping for three hours, we had dinner. I've never been big on catnaps, but boy, I tell you, the flight, being in Makkah, and staying awake after Fajr really does take a toll on you.
January 21, 2004
We headed to the Masjid Al-Haram for Fajr today. Brenda and I found spots but we lost the others. Upon sitting, she reveals that the pregnancy test she took that morning came out positive. A Hajji baby. How 'bout that??? After breakfast, Lynn and I headed back to the masjid to make Tawaf. After we were done, it felt like someone had poured cool water all over me. That's how refreshing and invigorated I felt. By the time we were on our seventh circuit, the sun was peaking through.
Imanni, Lynn, and I headed over to the Tameen Masjid, otherwise known as Aisha's Masjid, but Aisha is not buried there. The masjid is white with many windows. Because the women's section is closed off, we couldn't really see the inside to the main hall. Once we prayed our two Rakat, we stopped by the men's section and sneaked a peak inside. The masjid itself is a Meeqat point for Ihram.
January 22, 2004
We woke up extra early for Fajr, and we copped a much closer spot in view of the Kabbah. Afterward, we had breakfast back at the Sofitel Hotel. Imanni, Lynn, and I headed out again to the Prophet's (PBUH) house where he was born. Unfortunately, it was closed off, and we weren't allowed to go near it. Although we were extremely far from it, this man began yelling at us, shooing us away. At one point, we just stopped to look at it from afar, but he continued to yell at us, even as we looked back while walking away. We think it was closed off because some Saudi official was in the area. While praying on the roof of the Masjid today at Fajr time, Rohanna saw police making room through the crowd for a man near the Kabbah. After the bodyguards moved people out of the way, the official was able to pray right in front of the Kabbah. I guess we are not as equal during the Hajj as the experience means for us to be.
January 24, 2004
I have just settled into bed in our new hotel room at the Movenbeck in Medina. We spent the entire afternoon trying to get here. I was able to make a third Tawaf before I left Makkah. We were able to make Jummah prayer at the Masjid before leaving for Medina. It was my first experience with the pushing and shoving that I've seen on television. Many hajjis were trying to push their way into the Masjid while the majority of the crowd was trying to exit. The crushing of the crowd felt like a sporting event. By the time we got outside, rain began to fall, Subhanna Allah. Many people ran back into the Masjid to make another Tawaf in the rain for maximum blessings, although I've never heard of that, and some people were quoting ahaddith. After waiting for who knows how many hours in the hotel lobby, we boarded our buses for the airport, and our luggage was soaked from the rain. The airport was total confusion, and we had no clue where to put our luggage.
January 25, 2004
Yesterday was our first day in the Movenbeck Hotel, a recently constructed hotel with two towers housing hundreds of guests. Apparently, because the hotel is only two weeks old, they are working out a few kinks. We had no towels. The phone didn't work. No one could call in. All the lanterns did not have actual bulbs. Although there are four of us, we were only given two room keys. To top it all off, our keys don't work! We have to continuously go to the lobby to have our keys reprogrammed. Brenda, Imanni, Karen, and I are sharing this room. Lynn and Rohanna were placed in two other separate rooms with non-English speaking women. The tour director doesn't seem to be aware of who is missing and who is here.
Medina seems more modern and cleaner than Makkah. Whereas Makkah has mostly small authentic looking shops and apartments built on hills, Medina has high-rise hotels and Westernized looking shops. Regardless, Masjid E-Nabwi is a sight too incredible to describe. Almost instantly upon entering, I was overcome with a feeling of emotion. The blue stripping on the ceiling reminded me of the Al-Hambra in Spain. Gold plate decorations and pillars as far as your eye can go. The Masjid contains retractable domes and retractable shades that cover the top of the pillars in the main area where the Prophet's body is located. His burial area is closed off by partitions and the crowd of women was a mob scene. Women have designated times when they can enter that area. Imanni and I didn't even attempt to go near the Prophet's area. People were crying, pushing, and shoving. We both greeted the Prophet (saws) and his companions (ra) from afar and prayed. At that point in the Masjid, Islam seemed much more real to me, much more concrete. Knowing the Prophet's body was near added to the reality of Al-Islam.
Brenda and I in front of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina
on the morning of the first day of Hajj.
January 26, 2004
I am sitting here in the Prophet's Masjid awaiting zhuhr. It's pretty early, but I sit here alone with the desire to be just that, alone. Sometimes the presence of others can have a negative effect on you although it may not seem that way. So today I ventured to the local neighborhood where more of the poorer people live. The flats and stores look more like those of Makkah and the contrast between that area and the surrounding area of the great Masjid contrast greatly. At first glance, I thought Medina looked much more polished and modern than Makkah, but the reality is both of the masjid are rich within their small boundaries. But outside that, the neighborhoods are filled with Souks and dingy buildings. Frankly to be honest, I find that to be more charming and comfortable. Posh hotels and stores that resemble the Las Vegas strip surround the Prophet's Masjid. The Masjid Al-Haram's grandeur, however, ends within its walls.
The day is glorious. Gracias A Dios. Where Makkah was constantly warm, Medina is cool. The mornings are very chilly. You need socks and a nice wrap to keep you warm. The afternoons give off a pleasant breeze in the midst of the glaring sun. And, surrounding marble floor outside the Prophet's Masjid is always cold. Some type of cooling system must be underneath it.
The marble floor outside the Prophet's Mosque is very beautiful. He's buried under the green dome. Lynn is with me in this picture.
I stayed at the Masjid past zhuhr. While exiting, I came across a beautiful site, mashallah. Many African women were sitting or lying down outside the Masjid. I remember speaking with the others about how some Muslims during their entire lives save to come to Hajj. Although they can afford the journey, they cannot afford the lodging, and yet here they are. Who knows how they arrive. Whereas we complain on our cushy planes about late flights, they walk miles to get to their modes of transportation.
The women gather around one of the many lamps outside the masjid. They lay down place mats then eat and talk. Many are wearing colorful clothing and headscarves. And one of them smiles at me during prayers; their beautiful smiles seem to be a Salaam straight from Allah. Most read Arabic, and I feel a little left behind in my Islamic progress. But inshallah, Allah quells those feelings. I know that I go through Islam at my own pace. So I sit outside the Masjid now, capturing this picture with words.
While I'm at it, I am reminded of two instances in the past two days that are noteworthy. On our first day at Fajr in Medina, Imanni, and I were walking into the Prophet's Masjid. The crowd of women was thick. Because we were late, there was no space inside for us. As we walked through rows of women to get outside, one African sister was arguing with security women who wore niqab. The security women stand guard at the women's entrances and check bags for cameras and what not. They argued back and forth about the African women blocking a walking area. I'm unsure who started it, but they began hitting each other, right at the doors of Masjid E-Nabawi. Yesterday for Fajr prayer, Brenda and I sat in front of this much older woman who handed me a brochure that was lying on the floor. Apparently, she assumed it belonged to me. I motioned that the brochure wasn't mine. She realized I wasn't Arabic speaking, and she continued to stare at me. After a small nudge on my shoulder, she hands me some nuts and dried fruit as a present to eat. I thank her adamantly and show Brenda what she gave me. Upon realizing that Brenda was with me, she nudges me again and hands me some more nuts to give to Brenda. Lol.
I am sitting alongside a rail outside Masjid E-Nabawi with my feet sticking out in the sun. A cool breeze combined with the warmth of the sun makes this a wonderful day. Who wants to be inside a stuffy hotel with such beautiful sisters around me enjoying the blessings of Allah. The Masjid itself is a grandiose monument. Not one light bulb is blown out, and I saw a man earlier polishing the gigantic outdoor lamps surrounding it. The lamps are over fifty feet high, and there must be at least fifty or more. Now the rugs are being taken outside, I assume to be cleaned. The women guards are constantly sweeping and mopping. I wonder if they get paid to be there or if they are volunteers.
January 28, 2004
We went to the mountain where the Battle of Uhud took place today. We were told a fascinating story about how the battle wasn't a defeat as some like to think because the enemy retreated after wounding the Prophet (PBUH). After a few hours later, the Prophet assembled an army to follow them. We prayed Surah Al-Fatiha and made du'a for the companions of the Prophets who are buried there. A small one-level building covers their burial area. While the battle was taking place, Tahud would continuously placed himself in front of the Prophet to protect him. At one point, the enemy shot a spear at the Prophet, but Tahud placed his hand in front of the Prophet, and the spear went through his hand. From there, we headed over to the Quba Mosque. I might be confusing it with another masjid. It is here that the Prophet received revelation to change the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Makkah. The frustrating part about these historical places is that because the women's sections are completely closed off, women can't see the original domes or areas where the Prophet once stood. We all pay the same price for this journey, but women seem to get cheated out of the full experience. Thank God we prayed there.
Much later, Lynn, Rohanna, Imanni, Brenda, and I hit a local Shwarma spot. I think we might have been the only women in there. They all kept staring at us, probably realizing we must be from another country to have such gall to eat where the boys hang out. Lol. At dinnertime, our tour director informs all the single women or those traveling without their husbands that we will need to find a man to throw stones for us if we cannot throw the stones at the Jammart for ourselves. I was amazed to hear this, because when we signed up, we were told someone would be available to help us throw the stones. So far, we have been pretty much on our own, and now, what are we supposed to do if we can't get inside the crowds to throw? Most of the men were already throwing for other people. Alhamdulillah, along with some other men, our Mahram has offered to help us throw the stones, inshallah.
January 29, 2004
We are onboard a bus heading to Mina. We're donned in our white Ihram outfits that we bought for 10 bucks in a local shop a block away from our hotel. Our first stop was Ali's well where we made Wudu and our intention for Hajj. The route to the house in Azizaih truly takes us through the desert. Rolling hills made of pure rock. As far as you can see, one small mountain is after another, surrounded by sand, palm trees, and sun-withered shrubs. I imagine our Prophet (pbuh) riding a camel or horse through these very mountains with his caravan of Muslims following. I imagine the mountains probably crying out to have his feet grace their faces. I still don't love him as much as I wished I would love him, and I still don't know him as much as I wished I would know him, but imagining him through this area actually made me cry. I'm sooo confused. Lol. I kick myself for not having spent every single prayer time at his Masjid. May Allah (swt) forgive my laziness and may he liberate me from it.
Our driver is lost in Makkah, and he can't seem to find the visa office. The other buses must have already reached our private house in Aziza'ah. It's difficult not to lose one's temper at the disorganization. I mean, we are all aware that things happen and especially during Hajj. However, being assigned a driver who does not know his way around Makkah is the consequence of our tour director. If we can't stone the Jamarat because of stampedes and the lack of brothers to help us as promise is also not the result of Hajj but that of our tour company. The fact that two women were detained for over ten hours in Cairo because our Mahram was in Saudi is the result of an unreachable, unsympathetic, and unorganized tour company. But I am reminded that this could be a trial from Allah and that I must stick to my Ihram, inshallah. I just thought I would vent my frustrations out on paper. I wonder if that's breaking my Ihram.
January 30, 2004
Good news! Alhamdulillah, our group is bunking together again. Our accommodations at Aziza'ah are strange. It's a privately owned house with many rooms. The house has about four or five rooms on each floor and about five floors. Each room contains about eight to twelve beds covered by the harshest sheets and pillow that I have ever laid upon. The room is completely bare, and there are two bathrooms in our section. We ate downstairs and plopped into bed around 10pm last night. Today we are on our way to Mina.
All six of us along with a few other women we've never met have been assigned to tent 163 of camp 41, or the Pakistani camp, next to the King Khalid Bridge in the tent city. The tent city is actually pretty fabulous with the exception of the bathroom and wudu stations. Additional women consist of three Afghanis and two Pakistanis. Rohanna was talking to them. Our rollout cots are more like extremely thick quilts and are actually pretty comfy. Or perhaps we're just too tired and can't really tell the difference??? Lolol. The sun is beaming with no sign of a breeze. I sure miss Medina's weather. We prayed Zuhr in the tent, and we'll be here overnight. Because our tent is on the other side of a small market and restaurant, we can smell food and hear all the noise of the other Hajjis trying to buy food. This is really camping out. While walking around, all you see is a blanket of white that seems to drain into the horizon.
My roommates and I in our tent which was situated in the Pakistani
section in Mina. I'm in the middle.
I forgot who told us about a secret wudu and bathroom area. Well not really secret, just in another tent area. Because the bathrooms are on the other side of the Wudu station and are sort of hidden, they're not usually packed like our area is. As I was leaving to go wash, I bump right into Tamma, one of the two young women detained along with Brenda and me in Cairo. She was also searching for a place to make Wudu and looked sooo stressed. She goes into her story of her group's journey to Aziza'ah. Their journey took over twenty hours when it should have only taken seven.
When they finally reached their tents, they were told other people had taken the tents. Apparently this is common, and so they were forced to camp in some of the other group's tents. We only have about nine to eleven people in our tent. She has over twenty people in hers, and I can't even imagine where they found the space because the tents aren't that big. In Cairo, it was Tammara who held onto her cheerful disposition and refused to allow anyone to get her angry. But upon seeing her and making wudu with her, she finally broke down. Not only were they stuck in overcrowded tents, their tour organizer had taken another group back to Makkah to do Umrah and Tammara wasn't sure whether they were going to reach Arafat with everyone else. She looked extremely tired, and I have to make sure to pray for her. Her kind face and sweet disposition comforted me greatly in Cairo, and I know she was sent as a blessing from Allah. It's sooooo hard not to become angry. And though I think I'm succeeding at it, I have felt my right eye twitching for days. That means I'm really internalizing my anger. Take it easy sister! Lol.
January 31, 2004
The tent city is quieter now that most people have left for Arafat. From the beginning, we were all designated colored cloth bands to designate us to the buses. The blue team is still waiting for our bus. Brenda, Lynn, Rohanna, and I were given blue bands. Imanni and Karen were given pink. Last night after Isha, Imanni, Lynn, and I set out for the Jamarat. It took about thirty minutes to get there in the breezy clear night. What was even more spectacular was the sight of all the Hajjis who were setting up camp, walking about, praying, and eating. In one area, it looked as if a multitude of white ants were crawling in all directions.
We have just arrived late in Arafat because our bus was one of the last ones to leave the tent city. I think there were three tents; one for women and two for men. Needless to say, the women's tent was packed like sardines, and so Omar finally gave us a portion of the men's side. One of the sheiks making hajj with his wife gave a lecture. Many of the women were a bit rude especially when Imanni was handing out food. I am not sure why. The premise of Hajj is to be different: control your anger, be kind, generous, and seek refuge in Allah. May Allah forgive us all.
Imanni, Rohanna, and I headed out for a small hill in view of the Mount of Mercy, which was covered with moving white. I would have liked to climb it but just like that Jamarat, I refuse to put my life in danger. We all separated from each other. We pulled out our prayer rugs and climbed into our individual worlds with Allah. Amazing, how we as humans are very limited. Although we humans can only talk to one person at a time, Allah listens at once to us all who are supplicating to Him. I took out my list of people who asked me to make dua' for them. Of course, Allah knows what I want to say, but I wanted to officially say to these people that I kept my word through the mercy of Allah.
Here I am at the Mount of Mercy at Arafat before Hajj began.
February 1, 2004
At Magreb, we boarded the bus from Arafat and attempted to go to Muzdalifah. We are still stuck in traffic. I'm not sure if it constitutes spending the night there, but I think we are within its boundaries. We performed our prayers on the bus, and then almost all of us began to venture onto the highway to collect pebbles. Because there was much traffic, we swerved in and out between the other buses to the side of the road to collect stones. Even after collecting all my stones, the buses still had not moved more than a few feet. I mean it sounds funny, but it was scary too.
As soon as we were trying to move in between buses to get to ours, the buses begin to move a little, and some came really close to us. Our boxed lunches were placed below the bus at Arafat hours ago and are being given out now. They were totally inedible. There were stale croissants, deli meats that obviously can't be eaten now, a caramel dessert that requires refrigeration, warm soda, and bruised fruit. I ate chips and drank the soda, but you could probably hear my stomach from a mile away. Lol. Omar finally gave up on reaching Muzdalifah and directed the bus to go back to Aziza'ah.
After resting for a tiny while in Aziza'ah, we are now on our way to stone the Jamarat, which represents the stoning of Shaytan and the fight against our temptations. Afterwards, we will return to Makkah and make Tawaf Ifada, or obligatory Tawaf and Sai'a. We reached the bottom section of the biggest Jamarat, and we could barely see anything. The hoards of people who were trying to push their way around the circle for an opportunity to throw stones was extremely frightening. Our small group attempted to get in, but we were almost toppled to the ground by the crowd that was pushing from many directions. It was a classic mob scene. We were so compacted in the crowd that it felt like my chest would cave in. There was no air, and the looks on people's faces were maddening. Some groups linked arms and rammed their way into the area. Huge men would go in and return sweating, bruised, and quite scared.
After seeing a small pocket, Lynn and I took the chance to go in again. I held her while she threw and then she held me as I threw. I am not even sure if I actually hit the thing because my eyes were fluttering with anticipation of a rock crashing through it. Rocks were flying everywhere. Shoulders were pushing you down. People were screaming. It was complete pandemonium. And no one seemed to stop or think that it was wrong to inflict pain on another human being. The complete disregard for human life was in complete odds with what the hajj stands for. The stoning as a representation of Shaytan was not worth the life of a sister or brother.
We clipped a portion of our hair while on our way out of the Jamarat area. Then, we squeezed into a car where we were charged thirty Riyals, or about seven bucks, each to Makkah. Because the vehicle was a mini-truck type car, he got nine of us in the car and then boarded another five to seven people on the roof. Although traffic was a nightmare, we arrived in Makkah within an hour. Brenda, Lynn, and I completed our Tawaf together but we lost the others immediately after beginning the first circuit. We were not near the Kabbah this time because the area was jammed packed. This Tawaf and Sai'a seemed to last forever. Perhaps because we had been stuck for many hours on a bus the night before to Muzdalifah. Brenda who is pregnant opted out of doing the Sai'a, because she was feeling sick. She went back to the Sofitel Hotel to rest while Lynn and I finished our Sai'a.
This Sai'a was amazing because for almost the entire time, we were compressed between people. Lynn and I linked arms many times to avoid losing one another. I could barely make du'a because I was being crushed most of the time and pushed and shoved for the rest of it. At certain points, I am sure I could have lifted my feet and still been moving along with the crowd. Before entering the masjid, the female security guard found my disposable camera in my bag. I had completely forgotten that I had it. Of course, I just left it on the guard's ledge and told him to throw it away because I had to complete my Tawaf Ifadah. After finishing and washing up at the Sofitel, I decided to return to the entrance. Sure enough, the camera was still there. Alhamdulillah. The roll of film contained my pictures of Masjid E-Nabawi.
We caught another small van back to Aziza'ah. It's said that you must be in Mina by Magreb. Because we were closing in on Magreb, I didn't shower or rest in the house. I just kept walking to the Mina tents alone because the rest of the ladies wanted to shower up. We'd been in our ihram clothes since Arafat, and so our clothes were dirty already. It felt wonderful to walk alone to the Mina tents amongst the crowd of people, all different nationalities, in such a strange land. The entire journey has been adventurous, dangerous, and my loneliness at that very moment was comforting. I almost felt that I was on some wild safari in a way. I repented so much on my way back to the Mina tents for having doubted Allah's invitation. After first submitted our visa applications, Brenda and I were both rejected because apparently we were too young to be wandering around in Saudi. I was devastated and in my sadness, and I took it to be a rejection from Allah. When our applications were resubmitted, I got accepted first and then I was faced with the possibility of going alone without Brenda. Now I repented for thinking that I needed to go to Hajj with anyone. I was there for Allah alone, and He is my ultimate companion, Subhanna Allah. I plan to sleep part of the night in Mina and then go to Azizia'ah to finally shower and partially get out of Ihram.
Hajjis heading toward the tent city in Mina near the Jammart.
I got to the house in Aziza'ah around 1am. It took me that long because I got stuck within groups of people. I felt as if I was at the Jamarat all over again. I assumed that the frenzy of the Hajj rituals would end with there. Apparently, I was wrong. May Allah forgive me but I started getting angry when I couldn't move through the people and was being shoved in all directions. The word 'animals' came to mind but I quickly asked for forgiveness and for Allah to forgive them. The streets were littered with food, containers, dirty diapers, and razor blades that were used to shave men's heads. I'm not sure whether I'm more perplexed by the people's attitudes of me or how wild they were acting and how they could allow themselves to allow even a shred of paper to fall on these holy areas. But then again, how could the Saudi government not do more to contain the frenzy.
Although they have restrictions for many things, they have not implemented a system so that not every hajji acts like they have to kill another brother just to stone. And to the hajji's defense, one must walk a way to find a trash disposal. Because trash bins do not seem to be near the bathrooms, some women are leaving their feminine napkins and other things inside the stalls. It is the one thing that broke my heart many times to witness. We are supposed to be the best nation and look at this. There hasn't been a time that I felt more frightened then walking alone through that crowd. I felt like I could be trampled on at any moment. But Alhamdulillah, Allah alleviated my fears and allowed me to enjoy the walk when I was able to free myself from the clutches of the mob.
February 3, 2004
At 2am this morning, Imanni, Lynn, and I got up from the Mina tents to stone the Jamarat. We were told we could only stone after Fajr. However, because last night we attempted to stone again through that chaotic scene, we prayed that Allah would accept us to stone at an unusual hour. Imanni's husband had to stone for himself as well as for the three of us the night before because it was too dangerous. The longer you stay within the crowd, the more dangerous it is for you. The next day, we decided to stone the Jamarat at 2am because we did not want to put our lives in danger. We were able to stone from the ledge surrounding the pillars, and we each did it ourselves! I even took a picture. Within twenty minutes, we were done, Alhamdulillah.
We returned to Makkah for our farewell Tawaf (Wada). We arrived at Masjid Al-Haram around 3:15am and were able to make Tawaf from the ground floor, a few feet away from the Kabbah. The Tawaf was calm and quick, a beautiful way to end the Hajj. We were able to pray our two rakka on ground level. We even stayed for Fajr prayer. The Imam's voice was so melancholy that I couldn't help from crying during prayer, Alhamdulillah. As we walked out, we saw the dead brother or sister whom we had prayed Janazah prayer for being carried out and covered in green. We said goodbye to the Kabbah, praying to return one day, inshallah.
Visit my website to see more pictures of my Hajj experience.
Sacrifice at Rock Falls
By Yahya Lopez
As the day of Eid ul Adha (Dhul Hijjah 1423/ February 2003) approached, I had been inching closer to making the intention to attempt to sacrifice an animal this year with my very own two hands. Even though I was solely striving towards the intention at that time, the overall implications, nonetheless, created a potent, gut-wrenching dilemma within me that weighed heavily upon my heart and mind.
On the one hand, there was the powerful feeling of duty and compliance. Out of His infinite, unfathomable wisdom, Allah, Most High, had commanded, by way of His Holy Book and Last Messenger Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, the sacrifice of an animal as part of the Hajj observances. This religious duty had been performed by believers since the very institutionalization of the pilgrimage over fourteen hundred years ago. In support of this, my beloved wife had been faithfully reminding me that it was highly recommended for the man of the house to personally carry out the act himself.
Although I truly wanted to please Allah (swt) and comply with this command, I was, on the other hand, repulsed and horrified by the idea, the very thought itself, of physically killing an animal which, by the way, was not the same, in my mind, as setting a mouse trap or placing poison pellets under furniture or in remote corners of rooms. "How," I asked myself, "could a man or anyone for that matter, even entertain the thought of grasping a knife and cut the throat of another creature, thereby taking its life? How could their conscious not be tormented as a result?" It was inconceivable. This, then, was the quandary paralyzing my decision-making process throughout the Hajj season.
In past years I had always opted to let the local Muslim meat merchant to fulfill the task in my family's stead. The option was much more convenient, cleaner, less of a burden on the mind, and, most important, within the parameters specified by our Islamic tradition. As such I avoided the inevitable indefinitely. This year, though, I challenged myself to confront and settle this issue once and for all regardless of the fears, insecurities, or revulsions generated by it.
At one point during this troubling predicament, I had considered the possibility that my early childhood experiences could have left a traumatic imprint on my subconscious. And thus, the idea of slaughtering an animal had now become distasteful and abhorrent. The only relevant memory I could recall was when I had witnessed the killing of pigs back in Lares, Puerto Rico some forty years ago. One incident in particular surfaced instantly without the need of engaging my mind's search engines. It was the day when a large, fattened, black and white, ornery hog was bludgeoned repeatedly atop his massive head with a two-by-four in order to stun him before the death blow was to be applied. The head shots only managed to infuriate the gigantic, squealing, snorting beast sending him into an enraged, uncontrolled rampage.
Before eventually being subdued, the hog had either bit, slobbered on, bruised, knocked down, or trampled over several spectators. It took a handful of neighbors to finally bring him down. While on the ground, one of the more daring young men drove a shinny, long, sharpened knife deep into his throat. The struggling behemoth let out a deafening, gurgling shriek and fought fiercely until his very last breath. In the course of the ferocious battle, his blood had sprayed over everything and everyone. As a result of witnessing this intense, horrific experience, those images remained engraved within me to this very day.
During the last days of the Hajj, while continuing to reflect over this serious issue, I thought about Prophet Ibraheem, peace and blessings be upon him. He had been ordered to do much, much more than what faced me. He was ordered to slay his very own son. The implications of that scenario were simply unimaginable. How could anyone have carried out such an undertaking unless firmly grounded in absolute, unshakable faith? Most people, without exception, would have cowered before such a demand or preferred to give their own lives instead. Although Allah, Most Kind, tells us that He never taxes anyone with burdens they cannot bear, I sincerely believe that this sort of test would have been much too unbearable for me. Yet, Allah knows better.
And consequently, I began to wonder, "What was the lesson to be learned from this powerful example?" One thing was certain. It was obvious that Allah, the All-Knowing, who is aware of the exact computations involved in the trajectory of every falling leaf and of that which stirs underneath dark, murky stones, knew the outcome. He knew how Ibraheem (p) would react, but, Ibraheem (p), being mortal and finite, did not. Therein, lay the answer. It was unquestionably a test whereby he would perchance confront the true dimensions of his faith, obedience, patience, and certainty. It was also possible I speculated that in the fulfillment of the sacrifice my own faith would similarly be proved. Again, only Allah knew best that answer.
In order to further commit myself towards this end, I along with other members of my family subscribed to a local effort by a group of Maghribi Muslims who already had established the yearly tradition of going to farms outside Chicago and killing the animals themselves. The popularity of this event had snowballed over the years to the point where eighty animals were said to have been pre-purchased this year. As time drew closer the pressure created by my commitment began to bear down upon my soul. Would I comply or relent? I agonized deeply over this. Yet, while my confidence and determination waned and oscillated, Allah, Most Generous, sent me words which allowed my mind to analyze this problem from a different perspective.
It was the morning of the day of Eid. As I sat listening to the khutba at the Mosque Foundation, the Imam, Sheikh Jamal Said, stated that the Eid ul Adha, the celebration of the sacrifice, was "the most important" of all Muslim holy days. "The most important", he reiterated several more times. Those words were captured by my radar and masticated for the rest of the morning as I bought my children Eid gifts and as we drove to a friend's house for breakfast. If this holy day was "the most important" then the sacrifice had to also be of equal importance. If so, I had to make a concerted effort to fulfill it, at least one time.
The plan on the morning of the Eid was to meet at a brother's house for breakfast, then drive to the site where the sacrifices would take place. Five families about twenty to twenty five men, women, and children met at his house and had a pleasant, bountiful breakfast, al-hamdu lil Lah. We talked, laughed, exchanged stories, and prayed Zuhr then caravanned in a four vehicle convoy westward on I-88 one hour behind schedule. The ninety five mile drive was to consume over an hour. It was bitterly cold on that 11th day of February and a serious snow storm was forecasted later that evening. But, we were on a mission which neither distances nor elements could deter. It was Eid, our "most important" holy day, and we intended on celebrating it to the fullest as prescribed my Allah, Most Bountiful.
After a long drive we arrived in the small, agricultural town of Rock Falls, Illinois and quickly found the farm. We had arrived more than an hour late. The farm grounds were bulging with an assortment of vehicles and people which had converged upon it, mostly from the Chicago land area. We had to carefully maneuver our way through hastily parked vehicles, playing children, and strolling family groups to find parking. Once everyone had parked and regrouped, the men hurriedly made their way to the slaughter house and found out how the scheduling had been affected by the tardiness.
The older children split in several different directions all at once as they went about the business of burning off all that pent up energy within them. The usual restrictions placed upon them in their homes and during the long drive were lifted. They could now run, jump, skip, hop, or romp freely and unencumbered, and that they did. The smaller children were immediately drawn to the assortment of farm animals that were crowded behind fenced enclosures. They were soon petting, feeding, or being licked by cows, sheep, and goats. Many of the women stayed warm inside a shelter especially designated for them and their babies. Other women walked the grounds in groups while pushing strollers and socializing. Outside the women's shelter area, a small group of men huddled around a large, black Weber grill out of which rose a thick, swirling, plume of smoke. They had apparently completed their sacrifice and were barbequing portions of the meat.
Meanwhile, more vehicles filled with families continued to arrive. There was a definite festive and joyous feel in the air. I felt good being there. It felt like Eid. Upon entering the slaughter house we found a relatively disorganized and chaotic environment. The place was packed mostly with men whom aggressively jockeyed for better positions on the line or argued with organizers over scheduling troubles. There were some, women included, who sat quietly on chairs along the walls and waited patiently while loved ones completed their sacrifices. Others were simply taking shelter here from the bitter cold and biting winds that could be heard howling just outside the walls or whistling through the door cracks.
To gain control of the frenzied situation and to render the room more accessible, the organizers who were referred to as ansars had to ask those not scheduled yet to leave the building until their turn. After approaching one of the main organizers, our group found out that our turn had been rescheduled a half hour later. Because we were very late, this was good news. We went back out into the freezing temperatures and spent some chilly moments with our wives and children. I took this opportunity to document this happy day with photographs and video.
Within minutes an Algerian brother named Hassan informed us that our group was next. Although surprised, we hurried back only to learn that the reigning confusion had generated yet another scheduling error. And so, we returned to our families and the cold and waited. No more than a half hour later we were summoned yet again. This time it was legitimate. Needless to say, my heart jump started and raced when faced with the reality of having to carry out the inevitable. Understandably so, I looked for a way out; a last minute reprieve perhaps. As we walked, I asked a family member, my sister-in-law's husband, if he would be kind enough to do the deed in my stead. He declined graciously and admitted that he also had issues. This was to be his first time as well as the trepidation in his eyes attested.
Once inside we were promptly herded onto a sizeable, relatively organized line. The line meandered through a narrow, congested waiting area where the final stages of the butchering process were carried out. Skinned, steaming carcasses from recent kills were rolled to this sector from the slaughter room on tall, vertical racks and placed next to a large, rectangular, waist high, blood-stained table. At the table, a farm employee and an ansar wearing white, bloodied aprons and large, knee-high, rubber boots systematically dissected them into large sections using loud power saws and industrial size chopping tools. At this final station, an individual would place his quartered chunks of meat onto plastic bags, give away his sadaqa portion to an organizer, and take what remained to his vehicle. The option of cutting the meat into smaller pieces on a smaller table around the corner was also available.
Within moments our group made it to the entrance of the inner room. Just inside this portal, the sacrifices were taking place at a rapid, assembly-line pace. While waiting, someone said that the entire process took only ten minutes. Although I was extremely intimidated and nervous by this new experience, I allowed myself to take quick, measured peeks inside the slaughtering room. The first noticeable effect that struck me while standing at the doorway was the thick, stifling smell of flesh which saturated the air. That strong odor, in fact, lingered on my clothes, skin, hair, and mind for the rest of the day.
This small, ten to twelve foot squared slaughtering chamber was not spared from the congestion and confusion that chocked the waiting room. It was an overcrowded, busy place where everyone inside engaged in one aspect or another of the slaughtering process. Across from the entrance door in the furthest corner of the room was a large, red stain covering most of the concrete floor. It was the killing spot. The blood from previous kills still oozed slowly toward the drain in the center of the room. Along the wall adjacent to this corner was a tall and narrow, wooden fence into which the animals were herded from outside corrals. From these animals we were expected to make our selections.
In front of the corral area, several men stood over two triangular-shaped wooden racks unto which the dead, bleeding animals were lifted and placed on their backs to be skinned. One animal atop this rack was still twitching and had to be given a final coup de grace stroke. Across from them were more of those tall, metal racks where the skinned animals were hung to be gutted by a muscular, young white man who sported his baseball cap backwards and wore blood splattered clothing, apron, and boots. The chill in the air made visible oscillating columns of rising steam from the warm, skinned bodies. It was, in essence, the last remaining signs of life. Positioned underneath these racks were containers intended to catch whatever internal organ matter that poured out from the gutted animals. Other similar containers of assorted sizes were around the young man's feet some of which were filled with guts, heads, and hoofs.
As we waited at the doorway, I observed the reactions and behavior of those ahead of me. Men who were about to make their kill were joking, laughing, and posing for group photos as if oblivious to the solemnity of this sacred moment. Their attitudes for some reason upset me. Although this was Eid, a day of happiness and celebration, their gaiety seemed acutely inappropriate and dreadfully out of place. A life, after all, was about to be taken. Somehow, I had naively expected more somber, sober comportment at least during this portion of the holy day.
The chaos in the room, meanwhile, raged on as the sounds of loud chatter, the buzzing of saws, and banging tools were exacerbated by a heated debate that broke out between organizers and farm employees over discrepancies in the exact number of animals killed so far. Forward progress became dawdling until lists were checked and double checked. When all had been settled, the word went forth that I would be next. Although I anticipated being called, the suddenness with which I was had nonetheless caught me totally unaware. My heart, consequently, began pounding mercilessly within my chest. My head and ears felt hot. They must have had, undoubtedly, turned red. In an unconscious, reflexive effort to abort my self-imposed vow, I quietly re-appealed my sister-in-law's husband to relieve me of the responsibility. "No Yahya!" He said with a smile, "You have to do it yourself!"
The Test of Ibraheem (p)
At this juncture everything began moving much too fast. Like a person circumventing the Ka'ba in a sea of compressed humanity during the Hajj, my movements were dictated by the inertia of the circumstances around me. In short, there was no time to think or even postpone the decisions already set in motion; none that were dignified or face-saving anyway. While being escorted through the hanging carcasses, the laboring employees, the chaos, and stains of blood, I thought about making one last, desperate attempt to abort the mission. This time I thought about asking my escort, an ansar named Zuhair, to do the sacrifice for me. However, before I could even address the brother, I was hurried along to choose a lamb from behind the fenced-in area, and then I was placed into position. After all, deadlines and quotas had to be met; one animal every ten minutes.
When asked to choose from among the three available lambs, I made my selection without looking directly at any of the animals. The feelings of premeditation had, without a doubt, prevented me from doing so. I could only manage to glance in the general vicinity and quickly made a choice based on size. All of these animals, by the way, were supposed to be yearlings as agreed beforehand by both parties. But, out of the three, two were very young and small. These two which resembled the little, white lambs of famed nursery rhymes were far too cute and cuddly for my preconditioned mind to have chosen them. And, that choice without a doubt had been heavily predicated upon by my avoidance of any additional guilt.
Zuhair came to me and asked if this was my first time. Although he asked this of everyone, I wonder if my body language and overall uneasiness and apprehension were really behind his query. I nervously replied, "Yes brother!", as I tried not to appear alarmed. While looking into my eyes, he smiled then handed me a long, heavy, black-handled, sharp, clean, shinny knife and gestured for me to wait in place. Not wanting to let anyone detect the inner trepidation swirling within me, I quickly grasped the knife and inspected the sharpness of the blade as if one having experience in such matters. Two Hispanic farm workers then brought out and wrestled the animal to the ground where they secured its legs and head. The lamb struggled a while but soon quieted down. Zuhair returned and asked me if I knew what to say. I answered, "Yes! Bismillah and Allahu Akbar!" He said, "Okay, when we are ready, just repeat after me!"
While poised to take life, I began addressing Allah, Lord of all the Worlds, Who had caused the life of this helpless creature and mine to intersect in this defining moment. I recall earnestly beseeching Him to forgive what I was about to do and to know that had He not approved of this act, I would have never engaged in it. While locked in this profound moment, the word went out to get ready. I knelt down over the animal and made my intention. Instinctively, I began feeling through the thick, white tufts of wool on the lamb's neck in search of the jugular vein and wind pipe.
In the meantime, my heartbeat and the deafening noise echoing throughout the room prevented me from hearing my own supplications. Extremely intense was the moment that I do not remember hearing or feeling the animal beneath my knee. I waited with the knife firmly gripped in one hand and the animal's throat under the finger tips of my other hand. At this point, there was no turning back. Strangely enough, though, at this point, I did not want to. My only remaining, uncertain issue was whether or not I could administer a clean blow whereby the least amount of pain and suffering would be afflicted upon this hapless creature. This, I was firmly determined to do.
I then repeated word for word a special prayer in the Arabic language dictated to me by Zuhair. At its conclusion, he asked me to dedicate the sacrifice in the name of my family. I did so. After a momentary pause, the okay was given. I immediately began striking upon the neck with tremendous, exaggerated force. Oddly enough, this action also seemed instinctive as if the terrifying potential to kill lay dormant within me all along. After the cutting strokes, I beheld the results of my action. A sudden explosion of dark, red blood burst out from the neck area of the animal and poured onto the floor beneath it. At that instant all the chaos and activity in the background became silent and faded as if having been temporarily erased from existence. There was, though, only the knife at the end of my clenched hand, the lifeless animal, and the red, viscous fluid gushing forth.
Soon after the death stroke I stood up hastily and was gripped with a sudden, overbearing feeling of self-consciousness and flight. I felt compelled to run away, to flee somewhere, anywhere but this place. But, again, the power of the moment and the gauntlet of heavy traffic prevented my escape. Zuhair asked me for the knife while still kneeling over the animal. Apparently, the lamb was still twitching and had to be finished off. He then applied the final stroke with great ease as if spreading butter on a slice of bread. Meanwhile, I raised my hands and continued offering more supplications. I kept repeating the only words available to my mind at the time. "Oh Allah, please forgive me! Had You not commanded it, I would not have done it!"
Seconds later, I was asked to return to the entrance where others awaited their turn. The three brothers in our group received me with smiles, approval, and felicitations. When noticing my nervous, anxious state, my brother-in-law asked if I was alright. My response was emotional, stuttered, embarrassing. He laughed, offered sympathies, and was kind enough not to make fun of me. Nevertheless, being away from the spotlight and within the comfort, safety, and cover of others helped me calm down considerably. The attention shifted to the next brother who stood with knife in hand over his animal.
As mandated by the event's rules, each person had to stay in the room and follow the slaughtering progress to avoid ending up with someone else's animal. To further illustrate this point, two men who had lost track of their animals began arguing civilly about whose animal was whose. My ordeal, therefore, was not over just yet. I had to remain there to monitor my lamb as it passed from station to station being bled, skinned, beheaded, be-hoofed, and gutted hurriedly to make way for the next one.
Meanwhile, other men were called forth to make their sacrifices within clear eyesight of my position. At first, I dare not look in that direction for fear of seeing the actual moment the fatal blow was applied. To me the taking of life was not an easy or pleasant sight to witness no matter the angle. Yet, I reasoned that the best way to confront these embedded fears was to observe the actual slaughter no matter how grisly it may be.
And so, I watched as several people held down a struggling goat while my brother-in-law sliced upon its neck. Without a doubt, the sight was sickening and disturbing. In my mind for some unfathomable reason, the sight came accompanied with the teeth-grinding sounds of sharp, pointy claws scratching the surface of a blackboard. Like the memory of that large hog some forty years ago back in Puerto Rico, this unforgettable incident had subsequently secured its rightful place in the virtual depository of my mind forever to be retrievable with ease and at will.
Shortly thereafter, a short, clean shaven man with thick glasses, an intense, concentrated gaze, and a pride-laden smile walked up to the entrance and prepared himself to be called. A young boy was tightly wrapped in his arms. He must have been nine or ten years old. The smiling man told me with great satisfaction and happiness that this was his son's very first time witnessing the sacrifice. "It is good for him to see this!" He asserted confidently. I then looked down at the boy while his father spoke those bold, confident words for him. The thin, shy boy looked up, forced a smile, and tried his best to project a look of courage. But, it was obvious from his demeanor, however, that he was extremely nervous and afraid. I knew exactly how he felt.
In no time my sacrifice had made its way out of the slaughter room where it was scheduled to be divided. The crowd and noise in the waiting room had not abated in the least. There was still a long line of tightly packed brothers awaiting their turn. On their faces were looks of excitement and great anticipation. While hanging on the rack, my lamb's carcass was quickly cut in half by an employee using an electric cutting tool with sharp, offsetting, jagged teeth. The two halves were subsequently cut into several smaller pieces. After giving the prescribed portion of sadaqa to an awaiting ansar, I put the rest in white, plastic bags and took it to my car. The whole process had taken place in no more than fifteen minutes.
The weather outside, meanwhile, had progressively gotten colder and windier. The children, however, still ran and played as if oblivious to the worsening elements. Some pre-teen boys had gathered around a deer head lying atop some crates and were poking at it with long, thin tree branches. A different group of cold, shivering, young men now crowded around the warmth and smoke of that popular black grill as they waited for their sizzling, charred morsels to finish cooking. On another smoke-emitting, steel-drum grill nearby, women zinged the hair off of goat and lamb heads and feet atop a bed of smoldering charcoals while joyfully retelling stories of similar experiences back home. My wife informed me that those animal body parts were used to make a special, hard to make dish served on special occasions. Young girls and boys curiously observed their mothers' unusual custom and the resulting pleasure. Little did they suspect that a time-honored tradition was being passed on to them.
Although the women seemed unfazed by the horrible smell of burning hair and flesh, my olfactory senses were quite traumatized and sickened by it. I, therefore, retreated expeditiously inside the shelter area; yet, the strong, burning odor followed me around like a loyal friend. Once the women were thoroughly satisfied with their roast, we collectively decided that it was time to head back home. Strong winds had descended upon the area thereby blowing and swirling dust everywhere and making it nearly impossible to be outdoors. The predicted storm was also approaching.
We loaded up the vehicles, made a final head count, and left the farm in a convoy. Our drive out of the farm area was much easier given that the crowd had, by then, thinned considerably. About an hour later, while driving eastward toward Chicago, a fierce snow storm descended upon us bringing with it blinding, white-out conditions. By far, it was the worse storm I had ever seen or driven through. The snow was blowing horizontally across our cars, and we could hardly see the vehicle in front of us. It was so dangerous that we slowed our speeds to about twenty miles an hour.
The blizzard eventually passed over us, but not before dumping several inches of snow and leaving treacherous driving conditions all the way to Chicago. Everyone was exhausted or sleepy by the time we arrived. We all decided to call it a day rather than sharing a cup of tea at one of the family's house as was the original plan. As the day of Eid ul Adha drew to a close there was much learned and much to reflect upon. But, little did I know, my moving experience had not yet ended.
One Final Lesson
A day or two later, the lamb's meat made its way to my dinner table in the form of a tasty Moroccan dish made of meat, potatoes, and green peas called Tajeen. I was about to face the final phase of my test. As everyone awaited this deliciously smelling, appetizing meal, other more pressing thoughts troubled my mind which, consequently, dampened my appetite. There was a relationship, a history if you will, between this morsel of flesh and me. I had ended this creature's life, by Allah's will, and now I had to consume it. For me, that would not be so easy.
Usually, I had no qualms whatsoever about eating meat as long as it met the Islamic requirements for consumption. Actually, I loved eating meat, lots of it, and in just about every meal. Before this Eid we simply visited stores to select desired cuts from neatly arranged rows of meat assortments. The whole process was convenient, tidy, sanitized. There were no vexing, lingering memories to speak of. There were no scratching sounds upon a blackboard then.
And so, I sat there as my wife and children indulged freely, innocently, unencumbered. My wife, may Allah, Most Compassionate, bless her, noticed my discomfort and did not push me to eat. In time, I finally found the courage to reach out for a portion and ate it. The message transmitted to my brain from my taste buds was that the meal tasted good. But I somehow found it most difficult to savor. I may have sampled one or two more pieces before eventually opting not to eat any more of it. All subsequent meals involving this meat resulted in the same reaction. And, this held true until the meat finally finished, which, by the way, I expedited by giving more of it away to friends. What remained was eventually consumed by my family.
As the month of February came to a close, I began to arrive at some conclusions from my overall experience. First of all, I realized that I had taken Allah's blessings for granted. I had consumed meat hundreds of times without giving any serious reflection about the life that had to be extinguished. Apparently, life's distractions and repetitiveness had lulled me into not fully valuing this reality. I also learned that obeying Allah's command would, at times, require difficult and painful sacrifices which most of us would rather not have to face. In addition, I came away from this experience with a newfound respect and appreciation for Prophet Ibraheem (p) and his ultimate example of true faith and obedience.
Allah, Most High, says in His Holy Book that there are things we do not like which are good for us. How true! I definitely did not delight in or enjoy the repugnant and abhorrent task of taking a life. Yet, it was good for me in the sense that, after witnessing and participating in it, I learned a valuable, unforgettable lesson. Allah, Most Merciful, had allowed me this horrid experience for a reason. All life was and is sacred, even those creatures He put under our trusteeship. Animals should not be taken for granted under any circumstance without His justification or permission. May Allah, Most Compassionate, help me never forget this timeless lesson.
Let Us Be Moors: Islam, Race and "Connected Histories"
By Hisham Aidi
Middle East Report
(Hisham Aidi, a research fellow at Columbia University's Middle East Institute, works on the university's Muslim Communities in New York Project, sponsored by the Ford Foundation.)
"Seamos moros!" wrote the Cuban poet and nationalist José Martíí in 1893, in support of the Berber uprising against Spanish rule in northern Morocco. "Let us be Moors...the revolt in the Rif...is not an isolated incident, but an outbreak of the change and realignment that have entered the world. Let us be Moors...we [Cubans] who will probably die by the hand of Spain."  Writing at a time when the scramble for Africa and Asia was at full throttle, Martí was accenting connections between those great power forays and Spanish depredations in Cuba, even as the rebellion of 1895 germinated on his island.
Throughout the past century, particularly during the Cold War, Latin American leaders from Cuba's Fidel Castro to Argentina's Juan Peron would express support for Arab political causes, and call for Arab-Latin solidarity in the face of imperial domination, often highlighting cultural links to the Arab world through Moorish Spain. Castro, in particular, made a philo-Arab pan-Africanism central to his regime's ideology and policy initiatives. In his famous 1959 speech on race, the jefe maximo underlined Cuba's African and Moorish origins. "We all have lighter or darker skin. Lighter skin implies descent from Spaniards who themselves were colonized by the Moors that came from Africa. Those who are more or less dark-skinned came directly from Africa. Moreover, nobody can consider himself as being of pure, much less superior, race." 
With the launching of the "war on terror," and particularly with the invasion of Iraq, political leaders and activists in Latin America have been warning of a new imperial age and again declaring solidarity with the Arab world. Some refer rather quixotically to a Moorish past. Linking the war on Iraq to Plan Colombia and to the Bush administration's alleged support for a coup against him, the erratic Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has repeatedly urged his countrymen to "return to their Arab roots," and attempted to mobilize the country's mestizo and black majority against white supremacy. "They call me the monkey or black," Chavez says of his domestic and international opponents. "They can't stand that someone like me was elected." 
In less contentious terms, Brazil's left-leaning President Lula da Silva will visit the Middle East in early December 2003 to seek "more objective" relations with the Arab world, to call for an "independent, democratic Palestinian state" and to launch a common market with the Arab world as an alternative to the North American market (particularly with many in Arab countries boycotting American products).  Brazil's largest trade union federation strongly denounced post-September 11 US intervention in Colombia, Venezuela and the Middle East, praising the protest movements that have appeared against US and Israeli "militarism" and calling on Brazilian workers to join in the struggle "against Sharon's Nazi-Zionist aggression against the Palestinian people" and in support of the intifada. 
The Other September 11 Effect
In the age of the "war on terror," such expressions from the Western world of affinity with the Arab world are not confined to statements of political solidarity. In Latin America, Europe and the US, for example, there has been a sharp increase in conversion to Islam. At the first world congress of Spanish-speaking Muslims held in Seville in April 2003, the scholar Mansur Escudero, citing "globalization," said that there were 10 to 12 million Spanish speakers among the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.  In the US, researchers note that usually 25,000 people a year become Muslim, but by several accounts that number has quadrupled since September 11.  In Europe, an Islamic center in Holland reported a tenfold increase and the New Muslims Project in England reported a "steady stream" of new converts.  Several analysts have noted that in the United Kingdom, many converts are coming from middle-class and professional backgrounds, not simply through the prison system or ghetto mosques, as is commonly believed.  The Muslim population in Spain is also growing, due to conversion, as well as immigration and intermarriage. 
Different explanations have been advanced to account for this intriguing phenomenon, known as "the other September 11 effect" -- the primary effects being anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant backlash and infringements upon civil liberties. Commenting on how the accused "dirty bomber" José Padilla and the shoe bomber Richard Reid converted to Islam, French scholar Olivier Roy observes, "Twenty years ago such individuals would have joined radical leftist movements, which have now disappeared or become 'bourgeois'.... Now only two Western movements of radical protest claim to be 'internationalist': the anti-globalization movement and radical Islamists. To convert to Islam today is a way for a European rebel to find a cause; it has little to do with theology."  This portrayal of Islam as an outlet for the West's political malcontents ignores the powerful allure of certain aspects of Islamic theology, and begs the question of why for at least a century, even when communism was still in vogue, minorities in the West have seen Islam as a particularly attractive alternative. Roy's formulation also neglects the critical elements of racism and racialization. At least since Malcolm X, internationalist Islam has been seen as a response to Western racism and imperialism.
Though Westerners of different social and ethnic backgrounds are gravitating toward Islam, it is mostly the ethnically marginalized of the West -- historically, mostly black, but nowadays also Latino, native American, Arab and South Asian minorities -- who, often attracted by the purported universalism and colorblindness of Islamic history and theology, are asserting membership in a transnational umma and thereby challenging or "exiting" the white West. Even for white converts, like John Walker Lindh, becoming Muslim involves a process of racialization -- renouncing their whiteness -- because while the West stands for racism and white supremacy on a global scale, Islam is seen to represent tolerance and anti-imperialism. This process of racialization is also occurring in diasporan Muslim communities in the West, which are growing increasingly race-conscious and "black" as anti-Muslim racism increases. To cope, Muslims in the diaspora are absorbing lessons from the African-American freedom movement, including from strains of African-American Islam.
Over the past two years, Islam has provided an anti-imperial idiom and imaginary community of belonging for many subordinate groups in the West, as Islamic culture and art stream into the West through minority and diaspora communities, and often in fusion with African-American art forms, slowly seep into the cultural mainstream. Subsequently, many of the cultural and protest movements -- anti-globalization, anti-imperialist, anti-racist -- in the West today have Islamic and/or African-American undercurrents. At a time of military conflict and extreme ideological polarization between the West and the Muslim world, Islamic culture is permeating political and cultural currents, remaking identities and creating cultural linkages between Westerners and the Muslim world.
Latino Back Channels
Recent journalistic accounts have noted the growing rate of conversion to Islam in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, and the often violent clashes between Christian and Spanish Muslim missionaries proselytizing among the indigenous Mayan community. The Muslim campaign in Chiapas is led by a Spaniard from Granada, Aureliano Perez, member of an international Sufi order called al-Murabitun, though he is contending with a rival missionary, Omar Weston. Particularly interesting about the several hundred Mayan Muslims is the view of some of the converts that, though some of the missionaries are Spanish like the conquistadors, their embrace of Islam is a historic remedy for the Spanish conquest and the consequent oppression. "Five hundred years ago, they came to destroy us," said Anastasio Gomez Gomez, 21, who now goes by Ibrahim. "Five hundred years later, other Spaniards came to return a knowledge that was taken away from us." 
The view of 1492 as a tragic date signaling the end of a glorious era, and the related idea that conversion to Islam entails a reclaiming of that past, is common among the Latino Muslim community in the US. That community, estimated in 2000 at 30,000 to 40,000 members, has grown in the past two years, with Latino Muslim centers and da'wa (proselytizing) organizations in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Fresno and Houston.  The banner hanging at the Alianza Islamica center in the South Bronx celebrates the African and Islamic roots of Latin America: against a red, white and blue backdrop stands a sword-wielding Moor, flanked by a Taino Indian and a black African. The Spanish conquistador is conspicuously absent. Imam (Omar Abduraheem) Ocasio of the Alianza Islamica speaks passionately about the continuity between Moorish Spain and Latin America: "Most of the people who came to Latin America and the Spanish Caribbean were from southern Spain, Andalusia -- they were Moriscos, Moors forcefully converted to Christianity. The leaders, army generals, curas [priests] were white men from northern Spain...sangre azul, as they were called. The southerners, who did the menial jobs, ...servants, artisans, foot soldiers, ...were of mixed Arab and African descent. They were stripped of their religion, culture, brought to the so-called New World where they were enslaved with African slaves.... But the Moriscos never lost their culture...we are the cultural descendants of the Moors."  The Puerto Rican imam writes, "Islamically inspired values were conveyed ever so subtly in the Trojan horse of Spanish heritage throughout the centuries and, after 500 years, Latinos were now ready to return." 
In the past two years, Islam and the Arab-Muslim world seem to have entered even more poignantly into the Latin American imagination, gaining a presence in political discourse and strongly influencing Hispanic popular culture. This Arab cultural invasion of Latin America, which has reverberated in mainstream American culture, is often attributed to the Brazilian telenovela El Clon and Lebanese-Colombian pop icon Shakira.
El Clon, the highest-rated soap opera ever shown on Telemundo, a US Spanish-language channel, reportedly reaches 2.8 million Hispanic households in the US, as well as 85 million people in Brazil and tens of millions across Latin America. The series, which began broadcasting shortly after September 11, tells the story of Jade, a young Brazilian Muslim who returns to her mother's homeland of Morocco after her mother's death in Brazil. There she falls in love and settles down with Lucas, a Christian Brazilian, and adapts to life in an extended family setting in the old city of Fez. Filmed in Rio de Janeiro and Fez, the telenovela offers a profusion of Orientalist imagery -- from veiled belly dancers swaying seductively behind ornate latticework to dazzling shots of Marrakesh and Fez spliced with footage of scantily clad women on Rio's beaches -- and of course, incessant supplications of "Ay, por favor, Allah!" from Jade's neighbors in the medina.The Moroccan ambassador to Brazil, in a letter to a Sao Paolo newspaper, criticized the series for its egregious "cultural errors," "gross falsification" and "mediocre images" promoting stereotypes of Muslim women as submissive and men as polygamists leading lives of "luxury and indolence."
Despite the kitsch, El Clon has triggered what Latin Trade called "Mideast fever" across Latin America. Belly dancing and "Middle Eastern-style jewelry" became "the rage in Rio and Sao Paolo," Brazilians began throwing "A Thousand and One Nights" parties, "Talk to a Sheikh" chat rooms cropped up online and two new agencies opened up to offer package tours to North Africa.(In his letter, the Moroccan ambassador acknowledged that Brazilian tourism to Morocco had increased by 300 percent thanks to El Clon.) A journalist visiting Quito, Ecuador, found viewers of the series "wide-eyed and drop-jawed for all things Arab."  Even in the US, where El Clon's broadcast was almost blocked due to alleged potential controversy, it has exerted cultural influence upon the Latino community and others. In New York, observers note the El Clon-triggered fashion for Arab jewelry and hip scarves, the overflowing belly dancing classes and a recently opened beauty parlor called El Clon in Queens. 
Through the Latino back channel, the impact of Shakira in bringing Arab culture to the MTV audience has also been considerable. The Lebanese-Colombian singer was bombarded with questions by the media about her views "as an Arab" on the September 11 attacks, and advised to drop the belly dancing and the Arabic riffs from her music because it could hurt her album sales, but she refused. "I would have to rip out my heart or my insides in order to be able to please them," said the songstress, and expressed horror at hate crimes against "everything that's Arab, or seems Arab."  During the run-up to the Iraq war, Shakira's performances took on an explicitly political tone, with her dancers wearing masks of Tony Blair, George W. Bush and Fidel Castro. Backdrop screens flashed images of Bush and Saddam Hussein as two puppets playing a sinister game of chess, with the Grim Reaper as the puppeteer. She also undertook a highly publicized tour of the Middle East (though her concerts in Casablanca, Tunis and Beirut were postponed), during which she visited her father's ancestral village in the Bekaa Valley. Viewers across the region were delighted when Shakira appeared on Egyptian television singing the tunes of Fairuz. In Europe, the US, South America and even the Middle East, the belly-dancing star has fostered a reported mania for hip scarves with coins and tassels. In a random check of Cairo nightclubs, Egyptian government officials confiscated 26 Shakira outfits, "weighing no more than 150 grams [5 ounces]," and deemed "scandalous,"  but local filmmakers are currently negotiating with government officials over rights to a film project called Shakira fi al-Munira, about a young Egyptian girl infatuated with the Colombian chanteuse.
While the craze for Arab culture has occurred in the wake of September 11 and the ensuing war on terrorism, it is not necessarily political. Commenting on the popularity of shawarma and hookahs in Quito, one journalist observes that "the new fascination with Arabia comes at a time when there are new reasons for anti-American sentiment" -- the recent policy of currency dollarization -- but adds reassuringly that, "El Clon's following surely won't produce a new sect of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in Latin America."  It is also not clear that conversion to Islam necessarily constitutes political or cultural resistance. Referring to the vogue for Islam and Arabic among Spanish youth, one Catalan journalist wryly observes: "It will take more than teenagers converting to an Islam lite to stop [Spanish Prime Minister José Maria] Aznar's Christian nationalism and Castilian imperialism. We need a civil dialogue about our relations with the Orient."  Belly dancing and learning elementary Arabic may not be acts of resistance, but such activities create important, albeit imaginary cultural linkages which can be activated for political purposes. As Miles Copeland, head of the Mondo Melodia label, who will release a film on the American belly dancing craze in January 2004, told PR Newswire: "Belly dancing is about art, not politics -- but in experiencing the art, you also experience the culture, and that becomes political in and of itself." Interest in Arab culture and conversions are bringing Islam into the imagination of Western youth, feeding powerful movements and cultures of protest.
From Harlem to the Casbah
In No Name in the Street, James Baldwin reflects on the "uneasy" reaction he would get when, while in France in 1948, he would "claim kinship" with the Algerians living there. "The fact that I had never seen the Algerian casbah was of no more relevance...than the fact that the Algerians had never seen Harlem. The Algerian and I were both, alike, victims of this history [of Europe in Africa], and I was still a part of Africa, even though I had been carried out of it nearly 400 years before."  Most French-born Arabs have never been to Harlem but "claim kinship" with African-Americans as they draw inspiration from the black freedom struggle. Numerous French-Arab (Beur) intellectuals and activists have noted their indebtedness to African-American liberation thought,  and the secular pro-integration Beur movement of the early 1980s organized campaigns and marches modeled on the US civil rights struggle. But in the early 1990s, as the impoverished, ethnically segregated banlieues mushroomed around French cities, the discourse of intégration began to give way to talk of self-imposed exclusion and warnings that the children of immigrants "had gone in a separate direction." The region of Lyons, where 100,000 gathered for the famous march for intégration in 1983, is today cited by commentators as evidence of the failure of assimilation. Lyons, by one account, has become a "ghetto of Arabs," and fallen to Islamist influence, boasting six neighborhood boys in the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. 
The generation of black and Arab Muslim youth that came of age in crime-ridden banlieues that periodically explode into car-burning riots, and are monitored by a heavy-handed police force, is in no mood for integration. By some estimates, 50 to 60 percent of the French prison population is Muslim.  French commentators are increasingly wondering if they have developed a "race problem" like that of the US, with the attendant pathologies of ethnic ghettoes, family breakdown, drugs, violence and, of particular concern these days, Islamism. As in the American ghetto, disintegrating family units have been replaced by new organizations -- gangs, posses and religious associations, particularly Islamic groups,  which provide services and patrol the cités, the housing projects where most immigrants live.
The confluence of Islam and urban marginality in France was displayed in a consummately post-colonial moment on October 6, 2001, when France and Algeria met in their first soccer match since the Algerian war of independence. The match was stopped prematurely when thousands of French-born Arab youth, seeing Algeria losing, raided the field chanting "Bin Laden! Bin Laden!" and hurled bottles at two female French ministers.  The ill-fated match, coming on the heels of September 11, led to hysterical warnings of an intifada simmering in the heart of France, an Islamic fifth column, the "unassimilability" of certain immigrants and, again, an American-style "race problem." Like American pundits, the French are concerned about whether Islamic and Muslim organizations which have emerged in the banlieues will keep youths out of trouble or radicalize them.An American writing for the Weekly Standard notes, "It's the Farrakhan problem. Mosques do rescue youths from delinquency, idleness and all sorts of other ills. But in so doing, they become power brokers in areas where almost all disputes are resolved by violence and the most tribal kind of woospeh [respect, in a French accent, supposedly]. And it is that mastery of a violent environment -- not the social service record -- that these groups call on when they make demands on the larger society." 
The French media has shown a keen interest in the rising conversion to Islam in the US and Europe -- and particularly in the overlap of Islam and race, or more specifically, ethnic awareness, mobilization and self-segregation. An exposé in an April 2003 edition of the magazine L'Express opened with the following statement: "Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians...every year, 50,000 to 80,000 [Americans] convert to Islam. Internal enemies, members of the 'axis of evil'?" The French government's attempts to control Islamic mobilization in the banlieues through elections for a national Islamic council (aimed, in the words of the interior minister, at taking Islam out of "cellars and garages") backfired when the conservative Union of Islamic Organizations, inspired by Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood, won 14 out of 41 seats.
Zacarias Moussaoui, the "twentieth hijacker" awaiting trial in the US, in many ways embodies the story of Islam and racial exclusion in France. Although he did not grow up impoverished in the cités, by all accounts, the French-Moroccan harbored a deep racial rage. In his youth, Moussaoui was often ridiculed because of his dark skin and frizzy hair, and repeatedly called négre (nigger), but it was after the 1991 Gulf war that he became politicized. He began to consider himself "black," joining the "Kid Brothers" -- a university group modeled after the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood -- and came back from a stint in London deeply hostile toward whites. "He became a racist, a black racist, and he would use the pejorative African word toubab to describe white people," said his brother.  Moussaoui raged against Western permissiveness and imperialism in Algeria, Palestine and Chechnya. 
Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber," who became radicalized in the same Brixton mosque as Moussaoui, embodies the similarly distressing urban and racial situation in Britain. West Indian and South Asian youth live in benighted "mill and mosque" towns, devastated by capital flight in the late 1980s and 1990s, where the anti-immigrant British National Party is making inroads and race riots erupt frequently. Many of these youth have drifted towards radical Islamist groups. By all accounts, the petty thief and graffiti artist known as ENROL embraced Islam while in Feltham young offenders' institution, to seek solace from racism. His father Robin tried to explain Reid's odyssey to Islam as a result of the difficulty of being of mixed race. "Islam accepts you for who you are," the father told CNN talk show host Larry King. "Even I was a Muslim for a little bit ...because I was fed up with racial discrimination." In an interview with the Guardian, Robin continued: "About ten years ago, I met up with Richard after not seeing him for a few years. He was a little bit downhearted. I suggested to him, 'Why don't you become a Muslim? They treated me all right.'"
The mixing of Islam and racial awareness in Europe is also leading to political mobilization. The Arab European League (AEL), headed by the fiery Lebanese-born Dyab Abou Jahjah, is explicitly modeled on the American civil rights movement, borrowing slogans ("By Any Means Necessary!") and protest techniques from the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, and aiming to mobilize Arab and Muslim youth across Europe to lobby European governments to make Arabic one of the official languages of the European Union and to gain state funding for Islamic schools. Based in Brussels, but with chapters opening in France and Holland, the AEL has launched a cross-border Arab pride movement, and organized marches against the US war in Iraq and in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada. Known as the "Arab Malcolm X," Abou Jahjah, who says he finds the ideas of integration "degrading," admits being inspired by the slain African-American civil rights leader, who "was also against assimilation...fought for civil rights and was also inspired by Islam."  "We're a civil rights movement, not a club of fundamentalist fanatics who want to blow things up," he told the New York Times on March 1, 2003. "In Europe, the immigrant organizations are Uncle Toms. We want to polarize people, to sharpen the discussion, to unmask the myth that the system is democratic for us." The AEL has also organized Black Panther-style "Arab patrols" to "police the police." Groups of unarmed Arab youths dressed in black follow the police around, carrying video cameras and flyers which read, "Bad cops: the AEL is watching you." Fusing African-American, Islamic and Arab elements in its style and rhetoric, the AEL has become a political force to be reckoned with, even prompting the Belgian government to attempting to ban its patrols on the basis of a 1930s law that proscribes private militias.
"Le Respect" and "Les Pitbulls"
Seul le beat aujourd-hui nous lie et nous unit.
Hip-hop has emerged as the idiom for the urban activism of minority youth in Europe. For Muslim youth experiencing the crackdown on immigrants, as well as state withdrawal and welfare cuts, hip-hop offers a chance to express critiques, vent rage, declare solidarity with other marginalized youth (particularly African-Americans) and display cultural pride -- to show, as New York rapper DMX says, "who we be." 
If American rap has been criticized for its materialism, nihilism and political nonchalance, French hip-hop offers trenchant critiques of racism, globalization and imperialism. Numerous groups such as Yazid and La Fonky Family deal explicitly with the challenges of being Arab and Muslim in the West, and relations between Islam and the West. In their hit single, "Je Suis Si Triste" ("I'm So Sad"), the Marseilles-based rap crew 3eme Oeil (Third Eye), made up of the Comorian-born Boss One (Mohammed), Jo Popo (Mohammed) and SaÃ¯d, offer biting social commentary over an infectious, looping bass line. Decrying hate crimes against veiled Muslim women in France, condemning police brutality and mass incarceration (with a special shout out to Mumia Abu Jamal), the rappers focus their lyrical fire on the West's "stranglehold" (la main-mise) on the East.
In addition to verbal release, hip-hop is also used to combat racism and to promote black-white-Arab relations, as in the Urban Peace Festivals and spoken-word poetry events (les slameurs) organized by SOS Racisme. Hip-hop, interestingly, is also being used to counter Islamist influence in the banlieues. The Beurette leader Fadela Amara, who organized the march "Ni putes ni soumises" ("Neither whores nor submissive") -- a march that has now developed into a women's rights organization affiliated with SOS Racisme -- often invites Muslim female rappers to spread a feminist message. "Ni putes, ni soumises" aims to mobilize youth against ghettoes and for equality, but also to counter the Islamist organizations such as the powerful Union of Islamic Organizations, which delivers services in the cités in exchange for veiling. Amara says discrimination and unemployment make many young men feel "excluded from the French project." These youths, she says, often return to Islamic traditions, opposing gender mixing and women's education, and sometimes assaulting women who do not dress according to their idea of modesty.  French Muslim rappers and R&B singers publicly and collectively condemned the September 11 attacks, saying the terrorists were, in the words of Ideal J, a Franco-Haitian convert to Islam, "dishonoring the faith." Al Malik of the New African Poets, a Congolose convert to Islam, noted the importance of rap and Islam to young ghetto dwellers: "Rap has opened a world to us, empowering us young men, and Islam has allowed us to flourish by teaching us respect for 'the other.' [But] the Taliban are instrumentalizing the religion." 
Attempts by some French Islamists to boycott American products -- and market products like Mecca Cola -- are failing since banlieusards remain loyal to American streetwear labels like Fubu and Phat Farm, often claiming that such clothing is an anti-American, but pro-black statement. More recently, local banlieue streetwear clothing lines have appeared with names like Bullrot (a combination of pitbull and rottweiler) and Adedi (an acronym for Association de differences), the latter founded by a Moroccan, a Gabonese and a Senegalese to combat racism, extremism and to celebrate difference. 
8/19/03 French commentators associate hip-hop with Islam, claiming that rap, like Islam, often brings rage, pathology and dysfunction. The anti-immigrant National Front of Jean Le Pen and its splinter, the National Republican Movement, have historically denounced hip-hop. In March 2001, both far-right parties opposed the use of public funds to finance the first Hip-Hop Dance World Cup in Villepinte stating that "hip-hop is a movement belonging to immigrants of African origin installed in France and which constitutes a call to sedition against our institutions."  More recently, however, the National Front has begun to use hip-hop as a way to spread its political message, "win back" French youth and counter Arab and American influence in French culture. The white supremacist rap crew Basic Celto, affiliated with the National Republican Movement, has as its objective to break "immigrants' monopoly" over hip-hop "which diffuses the immigrants' complaints." Basic Celto aims to promote a "national revolutionary" rap with a "Christian identity," and to draw "franÃ§ais d'origine" away from immigrant influence. 
But the allure of Islam, and Islam-inflected cultures like hip-hop and rai, to French youth continues to grow, prompting much editorial pondering. Le Monde ran a story on how Ramadan is increasingly observed in French schools, even by non-Muslims, and there have also been accounts of many non-Muslim girls wearing headscarves in solidarity with Muslim schoolgirls sent home for wearing le foulard.Commenting on Le Pen's remark that hip-hop is a dangerous musical genre which originated in the casbahs of Algeria, rapper Boss One (Mohammed) of 3eme Oeil, said: "For Le Pen, everything bad -- rap, crime, AIDS -- comes from Algeria or Islam.... The more Bush and Chirac attack Islam and say it's bad, the more young people will think it's good, and the more the oppressed will go to Islam and radical preachers. Especially here in America. Because life is hard in France, but we have a social safety net." 
Commentators have also blamed hip-hop for bringing social ills associated with the American ghetto to France. "[French-Arab youth] intentionally imitate belligerent Afro-American lifestyles, down to 'in-your-face' lyrics for booming rap music," moaned one observer.  Some have pointed to the "African-Americanization" of the speech patterns of French youth, noting that their verbal jousting is similar to that of "American rappers from black ghettoes."  Indeed, the culture of France's suburban ghettoes is heavily influenced by the trends of the American inner city -- the urban argot, street codes of conduct and "honor system" are strikingly similar.  In January 2000, a law was passed creating a police unit to monitor the behavior of pitbulls and rottweilers in housing projects where, as in the US, such dogs had become very popular during the 1990s among urban youth.  The slurs used against blacks (négres) and Arabs (in France, bougnoles, in Spain, Moros  and in Belgium, makukas, which means white ape) have become commonly used terms of endearment among Muslim youth, as with the term nigger in the US. But clearly, Muslim European youth have not learned misogyny and rage from hip-hop or from African-Americans. The fact that hip-hop is being used by secular urban movements to counter Islamism and racism is an illustration of the growing racial consciousness of Muslim youth in Europe, the deep resonance of the African-American experience and how imagination can help construct a cultural world to resist state oppression and religious fanaticism.
Keepin' It Halal
Hip-hop's changed, ain't a black thing anymore G
Young kids in Baghdad showing 2 on 3
HollaWest Coast? Nah, West Bank for life
Upside down, holla for my Moros alright
Spit rhymes in Arabic on the same level like Jada
You wouldn't know if you should head bang or belly
I'm that type of sand nigga type of Johnny Cochran yaw
Ya stereotype me, I knock you out like Prince Naseem.
-- 8/19/03 Outlandish, "El Moro"
The hip-hop movement has a powerful oppositional streak that makes it both attractive and troubling to political actors. Hip-hop's ability to jangle the hegemonic discourse was recently seen with Jay-Z's "Leave Iraq Alone" verse and Outkast's anti-war hit "Bombs Over Baghdad," denouncing the first Gulf War, which was yanked off the air by MTV and Clear Channel when bombs began raining on Baghdad in March 2003.  Hip-hop artists have strongly opposed the war, without fear of the social opprobrium visited upon the Dixie Chicks and other white pop stars. As hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons put it, "Rappers don't have to worry about anything. No one likes what they have to say anyway, so they're not afraid to speak up." But when hip-hop is infused with Islamic themes and political allusions, the Establishment press has found it particularly unsettling. Hence the outrage over rapper Paris' recently released -- and rapidly selling -- Sonic Jihad, the cover of which features an airplane flying toward the White House, and the alleged purging of Arabic terms and references to Hussein from Tupac Shakur's recently released Better Dayz (though the slain rapper was referring not to the missing Iraqi dictator, but to Hussein Fatal, a member of his Outlawz posse, which also includes Khadafi, Kastro and Komani). 
In the fall of 2002, accused sniper John Muhammad, formerly of the Nation of Islam, sent notes to the police that referenced lyrics from rappers who are Five Percenters -- a heterodox black Muslim sect. The subsequent media frenzy triggered a soul-searching conversation within the Islamic hip-hop community that was rendered particularly urgent when Muslim hip-hoppers found themselves linked to the war on terror by Niger Innis, chairman of the conservative Congress of Racial Equality. Shortly after the arrest of John Muhammad, Innis met with Department of Justice officials to express concern over "domestic black Muslims as a national security issue" and launched a campaign to counter Islamic recruitment efforts in the nation's prisons and colleges.  Muslim rappers asked themselves:should we be expected to "represent" Islam positively, and avoid the misogynist and materialistic excesses of mainstream hip-hop artists? Or should the aim be to "get paid" and gain wide success even if it means "playing with the haram (illicit)"? Of the US-based Muslim hip-hop crews, Native Deen and Sons of Hagar have been praised for their positive political and religious messages. Native Deen, made up of three African-American rappers who won't perform in venues that allow mixed dancing or serve alcohol, have been profiled in The New Yorker and even received praise from the State Department, but have yet to garner airtime on mainstream radio stations. The Des Moines-based Sons of Hagar, made up of Allahz Sword (Ahmad) and Ramadan Conchus (Abdul), both Arab-Americans, and Keen Intellect (Kareem) and Musa, Irish-American and Korean-American converts to Islam, respectively, have also been praised for socially conscious lyrics. Their poignant single "Insurrection" ("It's the Arab hunting season, and I ain't leavin'/I'm pushin' the conscience button on you people/Where is the reason?"), and their track "Sisterssss" in support of polygamy,  are popular in the underground Muslim-Arab hip-hop scene. But Sons of Hagar have also not achieved mainstream exposure.
The Muslim rap crew that is gaining worldwide notoriety for its lyrical dexterity, stylistic appeal and explicitly positive portrayal of Islam is the Denmark-based trio Outlandish. Made up of a Moroccan, a Pakistani and a Honduran, Outlandish has topped the charts with hits including "Guantanamo" (the chorus: "And I got all my Moros here, Guantanamo") and "Aicha," a remake of Cheb Khaled's 1995 hit. The latter track, which saw heavy rotation on MTV Europe and climbed to fourth on the charts in Germany, has been hailed as the most positive depiction of Muslim women in a music video, with shots of pre-prayer ablution and veiled and unveiled Arab, South Asian and African women. Rather than playing with the haram, Outlandish is about "keepin' it halal (licit)."
American hip-hop commentators note that political, cerebral rap may be popular in Europe, but if it cannot be "bling-blinged," or sexed up, it will not sell in the US. A recent dispute between Simmons and a segment of the African-American Sunni community is illustrative. Though not a Muslim, Simmons has frequently declared his respect for Islam, and the Nation of Islam (NOI) in particular. "I grew up on Farrakhan," he said in one interview. "Where I grew up, there were dope fiends and black Muslims. If Muslims came by, you stood up straight."  He also tried to broker talks between the NOI and American Jewish organizations, denounced the invasion of Iraq, helped organize Musicians United to Win Without War and is currently planning a Middle East youth peace summit. But when a recent issue of his OneWorld magazine ran a cover with female rapper Li'l Kim wearing a "burka-like garment over her face" and "lingerie from the neck down" -- and in the same issue saying, "Fuck Afghanistan" -- Najee Ali, director of the civil rights group Project Islamic Hope, demanded an apology to America's Muslims.As someone active in brokering truces in the hip-hop world, Ali cited his Islamic duty "to the people of hip-hop and humanity," and called on Simmons to apologize for the magazine cover and for the "pornographic female rapper" Foxy Brown, who in her song "Hot Spot," produced by the Simmons-founded Def Jam, says "MCs wanna eat me but it's Ramadan."
The Li'l Kim incident instigated a discussion over other not-so-halal trends in Islamic hip-hop. The cover of XXL magazine showing rapper Nas holding a glass of cognac and wearing prayer beads around his neck outraged many Muslims. "Why he imitatin' the kufar (unbelievers, in Arabic) with the Hail Mary beads?!" fumed one blogger. Many Sunni Muslims have also criticized the style of some female Muslim hip-hoppers of wearing a headscarf (hijab), and then a midriff top and the low-riding jeans popularized by Jennifer Lopez. These sartorially adventurous young Muslim women, known variously as "noochies" (Nubian hoochies), "halal honies" and "bodacious bints"(girls, in Arabic) -- have provoked heated cyber-debates about freedom of expression, female modesty and the future of Islam in America. "Our deen (religion, in Arabic) is not meant to be rocked!" says hip-hop journalist Adisa Banjoko, author of the forthcoming The Light From the East on Islamic influence in hip-hop. "I see these so-called Muslim sistas wearing a hijab and then a bustier, or a hijab with their belly button sticking out. You don't put on a hijab and try to rock it! Or these brothers wearing Allah tattoos, or big medallions with Allah's name -- Allah is not to be bling-blinged!" 
Just as controversial are the Arabic calligraphy tattoos that women, even outside the hip-hop community, have taken to wearing. The words halal, haram and sharmuta (whore in Arabic, but a term of endearment in certain circles these days) are tattooed on shoulders, thighs or lower backs, and worn with bathing suit tops or hip-hugging jeans. Some of these haram trends in Islamic hip-hop are deliberate responses to orthodox or fundamentalist Islamic dress, like the "high-water pants" or "total hijabs" seen in some inner city areas.Among young Muslim males, equally provocative are black T-shirts worn by some Shiite youth, which read in crimson, "Every Day Is Ashura, Every Day Is Karbala" -- references to Shiite rituals commemorating the death of Imam Hussein in the seventh century and the Iraqi plain where he died in battle. Also troubling to some is the growing popularity of martial arts among urban Muslim youth, who say self-defense skills are necessary against gangsters and violent police. If many black Muslims in the 1960s were practicing syncretic forms of martial arts like "Kushite boxing," many of today's young male hip-hoppers are learning "Islamic wrestling." "The Prophet was a grappler," one enthusiast told Middle East Report. "The hadith (saying of the Prophet) teaches us to never hit the face of our opponent and that [Islamic] grappling allows you to win over an opponent without punching them and risking brain damage."
Russell Simmons has said that "the coolest stuff about American culture, be it language, dress or attitude, comes from the underclass -- always has and always will."  If so, then as Islam seeps into the American underclass and as Muslims populate the underclass in Europe, Islamic cultural elements will percolate upward into mainstream culture and society. For many American youth, Islamic hip-hop is their first encounter with Islam, and often leads them to struggle with issues of race, identity and Western imperialism. In Europe, many North African youth are rediscovering Islam and becoming race-conscious through Five Percenter and NOI rap lyrics. For many white hip-hoppers in the US, the sought-after "ghetto pass" -- acceptance in the hip-hop community -- comes only with conversion to Islam, which is seen as a rejection of being white. The white rapper Everlast, formerly Eric Schrody of House of Pain, claims that conversion to Islam and mosque attendance allow him to visit ghetto neighborhoods he could never enter as a non-Muslim white.  Curiously, Everlast's espousal of Islam caused static with the white rapper Eminem who accused him of becoming Muslim to deny that he is a "homosexual white rappin' Irish." One young white Latino youth explained the link between Islam and his street credibility as follows: "In the Bronx, looking like me, you don't get much respect. When I took the shihada (professed Islam), the brothers gave me respect, the white folk got nervous, even the police paid attention." 
Efforts are being made to direct the energy of Islamic hip-hop. In late July 2003, the First Annual Islamic Family Reunion and Muslims in Hip-Hop Conference and Concert was held in Orlando, Florida, with prominent imams from across the country leading three days of workshops on Muslim youth and stressing the importance of deen, family, schooling and organizing. Activities included Islamic spelling bees, Islamic knowledge competitions and performances by "positive lyricists" like Native Deen. The conference also established Hallal Entertainment, Inc. and helped launch the Islamic Crisis Emergency Response System, a Philadelphia-based organization which provides services to needy Muslim and non-Muslim families.  Fusing Islamic themes with the preeminent global youth culture, Islamic hip-hop has emerged as a powerful internationalist subculture for disaffected youth around the world.
"Roaring from the East"
"The specter of a storm is haunting the Western world," wrote the black power poet Askia Muhammad Touré in 1965. "The Great Storm, the coming Black Revolution, is rolling like a tornado; roaring from the East; shaking the moorings of the earth as it passes through countries ruled by oppressive regimes.... Yes, all over this sullen planet, the multi-colored 'hordes' of undernourished millions are on the move like never before in human history."  Touréé was pondering the appeal of "the East" to African-American youth in the aftermath of the 1955 Bandung conference. There President Sukarno of Indonesia had told the representatives of 29 African and Asian nations that they were united "by a common detestation of colonialism in whatever form it appears. We are united by a common detestation of racialism."Those were the days when Malcolm X met with Fidel Castro at the famed Teresa Hotel in Harlem, and when Malcolm, from his perspective of "Islamic internationalism," came to understand the civil rights movement as an instance of the struggle against imperialism, seeing the Vietnam war and the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya as uprisings of the "darker races" and, like the African-American struggle, part of the "tidal wave" against Western imperialism.
Some commentators, pointing to the current anti-war and anti-globalization movement, have suggested that a new era of Afro-Asian-Latin solidarity may be in the offing. In the US, the past two years has seen a political ferment and coalition-building between progressive groups -- in particular between Arab and Muslim American groups and African-American groups -- not seen since the 1960s when the Black Panthers and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee declared solidarity with the PLO, which in turn declared solidarity with Native Americans. September 11 and the subsequent backlash has led many African-American leaders to stand with Muslim and Arab-Americans, not least because African-American Muslims are also targeted in the post-September 11 profiling and detention campaigns. Activists like Al Sharpton are mobilizing against the USA PATRIOT Act "because it is used to profile people of color" and "impacting Muslims everywhere, including Brooklyn and Harlem." 
Given the centrality of Islam and the Arab world to the war on terror, and the presence of kaffiyyas and (regrettably) Bin Laden T-shirts at protests from Porto Alegre to Barcelona, it appears that the new Bandung may have a distinct Arab or Islamic cast. In the past two years, a number of Latin American leaders have called for "concrete action" to establish a Palestinian state. Castro has signed agreements of bilateral cooperation with Algeria and the United Arab Emirates, and continues to rail against "global apartheid" in general and "Israeli apartheid" in particular. Castro has also been accused of building ties with Iran and selling biotechnology in exchange for cheap oil. When he visited Iran in 2001, Castro spoke of his rapport with President Mohammad Khatami and reported that he "had the longest sleep of his life in Tehran." Most recently, he has been accused by the US of jamming the satellite broadcasts of US-based Iranian opposition groups.  Recent articles in right-leaningAmerican newsmagazines claim to have discovered evidence that Venezuela is providing identity papers to suspicious numbers of people from Arab and South Asian "countries of interest" (as well as Colombians and Cubans). One article also features the claim of the former Venezuelan ambassador to Libya, Julio Cesar Pineda, to possess correspondence from Hugo Chavez stating his desire to "solidify" ties between Latin America and the Middle East -- including use of the oil weapon.  Chavez challenged the reporters in question to produce "one single shred of evidence" for their claims. 
These stories of Cuban and Venezuelan ties to Middle Eastern radicals may be little more than partisan puffery, and Chavez's repeated calls for solidarity with the Arab world may be nothing more than petroleum diplomacy or an embattled leader's desperate plea for allies. Yet the Venezuelan leader's appeal to "Arab roots" is indicative of a trend in the West. Among Western subordinate groups and opposition movements that feel victimized or neglected by globalization, the Arabs are seen as bearing the brunt of the worldwide imperial assault in the era of the war on terror. As Western nationalists portray Islam as a threat to freedom and security, and launch wars to bring democracy to the Muslim world, "the multi-colored hordes" of the West are reaching for teachings and precedents (like Moorish Spain) in Islam that they hope will make the West more compassionate and free.
Islam is leaking into the West through conversion, migration and media-driven cultural flows, and to many, the Islamic world is presenting a repertoire of alternative identities. As marginalized Westerners are finding inspiration in Islam, Muslims in the diaspora are inspired by the African-American experience. The cross-fertilization taking place between Islamic, black and Latin cultures is creating fascinating trends and art forms. Many would argue that the fashion for Arabic tattoos, Allah chains, Orientalist soap operas, belly dancing and hip scarves is just that -- fashion. But as the Arab pride movement in Europe and Islamic hip-hop demonstrate, the vibrant cultural intermingling can have significant political implications. Cultural flows can spark forceful challenges to state policies, state-imposed identities and the claims of Western nationalism.
For many of the minority convert communities and the diaspora Muslim communities, Islamic Spain has emerged as an anchor for their identity. Moorish Spain was a place where Islam was in and of the West, and inhabited a Golden Age before the rise of the genocidal, imperial West, a historical moment that disenchanted Westerners can share with Muslims. Neither Muslim nostalgia for nor Western Orientalist romanticism about Andalusia is new, but it is new for different subordinate groups in the West to be yearning for "return" to Moorish Spain's multiracialism. In this worldview, the year 1492 is a historical turning point. On Columbus Day in October, Chavez urged Latin Americans to boycott celebrations of the "discovery," saying that Columbus was "worse than Hitler." That the longing for pre-1492 history is shared by many minorities throughout the West is an indication of their lasting exclusion, and how the stridency of Western nationalism since September 11 has revived memories of centuries-old trauma. As one African-American activist put it recently, "The profiling and brutalizing of African-Americans didn't begin after September 11. It began in 1492."  In a similar spirit, after Moussaoui was arrested in the US and granted the right to represent himself in court, one of his first demands was "the return of Spain to the Moors."
With African-American and Latino converts speaking of the tragedy of 1492, and with Muslim minorities in the West becoming increasingly race-conscious and inspired by black America, the world is witnessing a new fusion between Islam and pan-Africanism. Today, however, this racialized Islamic internationalism contains elements of other cultures and diasporas as well. Islam is at the heart of an emerging global anti-hegemonic culture, which post-colonial critic Robert Young would say incarnates a "tricontinental counter-modernity" that combines diasporic and local cultural elements, and blends Arab, Islamic, black and Hispanic factors to generate "a revolutionary black, Asian and Hispanic globalization, with its own dynamic counter-modernity...constructed in order to fight global imperialism." 
 José Martí, "Espana en Melilla," in Cuba: Letras,
 Quoted in René Dépestre, "Carta de Cuba sobre el
 El País, April 17, 2002.
 Latin American Weekly Report, October 4, 2003.
 CUT National Plenary, Conjuntura Internacional e
 Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 3, 2003.
 New York Times, October 22, 2001; The Economist,
 Times (London), January 7, 2002.
 Evening Standard, March 15, 2002.
 Christian Science Monitor, October 2, 2002. See
 Olivier Roy, "Euro-Islam: The Jihad Within?" The
 Cox News Service, August 11, 2002; see also
 El Diario-La Prensa, October 6, 2001. See also
 Interview with Rahim Ocasio, April 16, 1999.
 Rahim Ocasio, "Latinos, The Invisible: Islam's
 Kimi Eisele, "The Multicultural Power of Soap
 Interview with Rosa Margarita of El Diario-La
 Independent, July 19, 2002.
 AgenceFrance Presse, May 28, 2003.
 Eisele, op cit.
 Interview with Fernando Casado Caneque, September
 James Baldwin, No Name in the Street (New York:
 See, for instance, the interview with Ferida
 Le Monde, February 12, 2003.
 Jerusalem Report, May 6, 2002.
 See LoÃ¯c Wacquant, "Red Belt, Black Belt: Racial
 New York Times, October 16, 2001.
 Weekly Standard, July 15, 2002.
 Times (London), September 29, 2001.
 Abd al-Samad Moussaoui, Zacarias, My Brother: The
 Independent, April 3, 2003.
 See Paul Silverstein, "Why Are We Waiting to
 Le Figaro, June 17, 2003; Le Monde, March 11,
 Le Monde, September 27, 2001.
 L'Expansion, June 11, 2003.
 Independent Race and Refugee News Network, April
 The group's manifesto is online at
 Interview with 3eme Oeil and DJ Rebel, Bronx, New
 Jerusalem Report, May 6, 2002.
 L'Express, March 27, 2003.
 David Lepoutre, Coeur de banlieue: Codes, rites
 Le Figaro, June 3, 2000.
 The Spanish slur Moro has long been a term of
 I am grateful to Zaheer Ali for this point.
 Tupac Shakur's former companion Napoleon, a
 Washington Times, November 13, 2002.
 When told that polygamy is illegal in the US,
 Hisham Aidi, "'Building A New America': A
 Personal communication, August 4, 2003.
 Quoted in John McWhorter, "How Hip-Hop Holds
 Interview with Adisa Banjoko, "Everlast: Taking
 Interview with Columbia's Muslim Communities of
 Sister Kalima A-Quddus, "Verily This Is a Single
 Quoted in Robin Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black
 Village Voice, December 24, 2002.
 Financial Times, July 21, 2003.
 See Martin Arostegui, "From Venezuela, a
 Agence France Presse, October 2, 2003.
 Interview with Columbia's Muslim Communities of
 Robert Young, Postcolonialism: An Historical
Inside Mecca: An Extraordinary Insight on the Hajj
By Kazi Mahmood
Inside Mecca is a nice production depicting the journey of three Muslims from three continents: one from Malaysia, one from the United States and one from South Africa, describing their experiences both before and during the Hajj.
One of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj is required of all who can manage it at least once in a lifetime. Each year, Muslims from all over the world travel to Mecca to praise and give thanks to Allah, to ask pardon for their sins and renew their spiritual commitment through an elaborate series of rites and rituals.
National Geographic gained privileged access to the holy city of Mecca, which allowed it to film three Muslims from different backgrounds as they embarked on an epic five-day reaffirmation of faith and quest for salvation, wrote the National Geographic website in its preview to the show.
The program depicts with great insight what goes on in Mecca during the Hajj, and why 2 million Muslims from all over the world gather in the holiest city in Islam during this month. However, the production by the National Geographic Magazine TV and broadcast on Astro Television in Malaysia on October 27th, failed to respect an important issue in the Islamic world. The one-hour telecast showed paintings of what is supposed to be images of Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) and his family.
While some people may overlook the portraits of Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) and simply enjoy the journey through the holy cities, many Muslims around the world will definitely launch an outcry against this production. Apart from this, it is a brilliant demonstration of the emotions and sacrifices of Muslims performing the Hajj in the name of Allah in the sacrosanct holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Inside Mecca starts with shots of the three individuals: Malaysian Ismail Mahbob, a successful executive; a religious radio commentator from rural South Africa, Khalil Mandhlazi; and an Irish-born college professor from the United States, Fidelma O'Leary. Beginning with their preparations at home, it lead up to the climactic events of the Hajj; where all had to leave their material comforts and family, as well job or business behind for this spiritual journey to Mecca, and from where they would return to their normal lives, but not as the same persons.
Inside Mecca is a rich documentary, describing in great detail the reasons why Muslims embark on such a mission to turn to their Creator, the Almighty Allah, by following the footsteps of the wife of Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) in performing the Sa`i. The documentary is also rich with vivid images on how Muslims circumambulate the House of Allah, the Ka`bah; in the Tawaf which has been performed by so many since Adam (Peace and blessings be upon him) built the Ka`bah itself. It also describes the powerful meaning of throwing stones at the symbols of Satan, which Fidelma said was a strong moment of expiating one's own sins, and that she had no problems with the concept of throwing the stones.
The National Geographic commentator said at the beginning of the program that Hajj as we know it was first performed by Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), whom he referred to as one of the greatest Prophets the world has ever known. The commentator went on to inform the audience that Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him), whom they addressed as Abraham, was the one who instituted the Hajj pilgrimage, whilst it was Adam (peace and blessings be upon him) who built the Ka`bah from a cosmic stone that fell from space.
The program portrays the Ka`bah in some admirable black and white shots and added graphics showing the area before Adam (peace and blessings be upon him) built the Ka`bah and the subsequent rebuilding by Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him), as well as the recent progress made in enhancing the facilities at Mecca.
Obviously the idea of filming the three Muslims performing the Hajj and of putting one Asian, one African and one tall fair "white" lady, who embraced Islam from Christianity, was to show the non-Muslim world another facet of Islam. The program never failed to depict the mental and physical trials the three pilgrims had to go through from day one of their arrival at the airport in Saudi Arabia. It also explained how patient and courageous the three were in facing the constraints and limitations in the city of Mecca, due to the flow of people and for other reasons as well.
Though the journey seemed less troublesome for the Malaysian, Ismail Mahbob, it was a challenge for both Fidelma and Khalil. The latter was refused a place with the South African contingency at Mecca, and struggled to find a group with whom he could associate himself during the Hajj. He finally joined a group of black African Muslims from Malawi who had no problem with him being a black man from South Africa. Khalil insisted that he would not lose his calm and patience as he was in a state of Ihram, and moved on with the Malawi contingency. "God is looking into your heart," says Khalil, who was visiting Mecca for the first time in his life.
Fidelma had to face the queries of many others who wanted to know whether she was a Muslim or not. Her tall figure, covered, as any other Muslim women at the Hajj, did not convince them that she was indeed a Muslim and that stressed her. "I had some women in my group try to tell me what it's like to be a Muslim and ask me, "Are you really Muslim?" said O'Leary. "I think they forgot for a moment that you can only be here if you're Muslim. It gets a little bit tiresome day after day. It can be upsetting." decried the newly converted Muslim lady, who also prayed for a good husband, caring and loving and who would abide to the Islamic principles.
"If Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him) was God, how could he worship God?" asked Fidelma before she embraced Islam. She told the producer that this crucial moment in her life had brought her, for the first time, in front of the Ka`bah; a center point which, like all Muslims, she turns to five times a day for her prayers.
For Ismail, it was a great emotional moment when he sat at Arafat for prayers and asked Allah to let him play a better role with his life. "It all depends how sincere one is when asking Allah for forgiveness," said an emotional Ismail who cried when interviewed by the producer. "Only Allah knows what is in my heart. At times I am alone." he added.
Arafat, where Adam and Hawa (may Allah bless them both) met after being sent to earth, was buzzing with souls coming to expiate their sins and find rewards for their good deeds. "Its judgment day at Arafat," Fidelma commented, showing her deep emotions when she visited the place where Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) made his last sermon. "All reminds you of judgment day, no difference in races, no discrimination," added Khalil.
Inside Mecca remains an extraordinary insight of what happens inside the walls of the strictly guarded holiest city of Islam, where only Muslims are allowed to go. The one-hour film shows to the external world a city full of life that tells the tale of wisdom like no other city could ever tell.
Perhaps the most striking story in "Inside Mecca" is that of O'Leary. A blonde, green-eyed woman with a faint Irish lilt, she hardly looks the part of the stereotypical Muslim. Born in Ireland to a devout Catholic family, O'Leary converted to Islam whilst in college. Dr O'Leary, a divorced mother of two, had to get a certificate from her mosque to say she was a legitimate Muslim, and her son had to write her a letter giving his permission for her to get a visa for the Hajj. "I don't know why anyone would want to go and spend a week with three million sweaty people in the heat of the desert unless they were really doing this for the love of God." She said. Moreover, the love of Allah and of His Prophet was clearly intoned in the production, which also showed the powerful image that Islam is submission to Allah.
Anisa Mehdi, who for over 20 years has reported, written and produced television news and documentary programs, produced "Inside Mecca". As an American Muslim of Arab descent, Mehdi has a vested interest in the area of Middle East conflict resolution and accurate reporting on that part of the world. She is the first American woman to report on the hajj on location in Mecca for U.S. television and was one of the first reporters to cover the blossoming American Muslim political movement.
Perhaps, Mehdi, who is an award-winning reporter and filmmaker, specializing in religion and the arts, could drop the images of Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) to make the movie acceptable to a larger Muslim audience.
Kazi Mahmood is a former BBC radio Africa stringer covering the Indian Ocean Islands. He worked as a journalist for the past 20 years and contributed to several London based political and economic magazines. You can reach him at email@example.com
Despite Difficulties, 5,000 Russian Muslims Perform Hajj
By Damir Ahmad
MOSCOW, January 26 (IslamOnline.net) Up to five thousand Russian Muslims undertake the holy journey to Makkah to perform hajj this year despite high costs.
Many Russian Muslims complained about the highly-priced visa issuance, hajj costs and the hardships faced by pilgrims traveling by buses.
Traveling by road costs about 36,000 Russian rubles ($1300), while by plane around 51,000 ($1800).
According to the Saudi consul in Moscow, Abdal Razek Al-Kashmi, 3500 pilgrims were traveling by road this year.
In sub-zero temperatures, the last 180-strong batch of pilgrims left the capital of Ingushetia Nazran Saturday, January 24, for the holy places in Saudi Arabia.
Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov, the mufti and a number of officials were keen to bid the pilgrims farewell.
The first group of pilgrims flew out of Russian on December 25. The Russian pilgrims will start coming home on February 3 until March 7.
Dagestan makes up the majority of Russian pilgrims this year with 1582 people and followed by Tatarstan with 559.
Russia's foreign ministry had advised hajj road operators to steer clear of the Iraqi territories in making the journey, saying it put the pilgrims' lives at risk given the state of chaos and instability in the occupied country.
Saudi Arabia announced Saturday, January 24, that Eid Al-Adha (Eid of the Sacrifice) falls on Sunday, February 1, and the pilgrims would climb Mount Arafat on Saturday, January 31.
The climax of hajj will see worshippers climb Mount Arafat, the site of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) last sermon 14 centuries ago.
More than two million people perform hajj this year. Some 1.1 million Muslims from around the world have already arrived in Saudi Arabia for the holy ritual.
According to the pilgrimage quota set up by Saudi Arabia and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), one percent of the Muslim population of each country can perform hajj every year.
Saudi Health Minister Dr. Hamad Al-Manie said last week that each pilgrim underwent a medical check at the Kingdom's 24 entry points and received compulsory vaccinations against deadly infectious diseases like meningitis.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can also financially afford the trip must perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, once in their lifetime.
Class Presentation about Eid ul-Adha
Some Tips & Resources on Class Presentation about Eid
Some Thoughts on Eid-ul-Adha
As the Islamic Calendar pages turn with each moon that passes, we are quickly approaching the end of the Islamic year. During the coming days many of our sisters and brothers will be graced with the opportunity of making Hajj to the Holy city of Makkah. Those of us not embarking upon the pilgrimage may be commencing preparations for our Eid ul-Adha celebrations.
The Christmas season fell during our Holy month of Ramadan in December. Now with the approaching of spring, we see the Christian celebration of Easter (April 4 - 5) coming closely upon the heels of Eid ul-Adha.
The extravagant and commercialized methods of exploiting the Christian feasts are often hard to ignore. What is unfortunate is that the ill approach which is taken to 'celebrating' these festivals (equally shunned by true Christians) makes its way easily into the schools where classrooms are a mix of many diverse children from a rainbow of cultures. Knowing that many children may not celebrate or be familiar with the Christian celebrations, a pagan approach is often taken to the festivities involving elements of nature and child-friendly icons children are drawn to - bunnies, flowers, and above all CHOCOLATE! The media and the chocolate manufacturers see that no household is forgotten in their marketing.
For children of Muslim families who may be among minorities in their schools where Easter celebrations are taking place it may be difficult to keep from feeling left out. Alhamdu lillah, Allah has granted mankind two Eids where we are encouraged to celebrate joyously with friends and family. We are reminded not to go to extremes with waste, yet we are encouraged to worship, eat, remember the poor, sing and thank our Creator with joy for His blessings upon us.
The predominant society will also be in a festive mood for Easter around Eid. It is a good idea to ensure that our children do not feel left out. One way we can accomplish this is by reaching out to the classrooms of our children.
Below you will find two letters, which may be customized and sent to your child's teacher. Letter 1 makes an attempt:
(1) to educate school staff about the importance of family life in Islam and
Building upon the request to withdraw children from school during Eid , Letter 2 additionally suggests that parents, children and teachers work together to present a short lesson on the importance of Eid-ul-Adha to their classmates. What better way to enjoy Eid than to make Dawa and invite non-Muslims to enjoy the celebration as well? What better way to help our Muslim children feel a sense of self worth and a feeling of confidence in their faith than to have them share with their friends about the importance of Hajj and the concept of sacrifice.
Suggested ideas for a classroom presentation may include:
Hajj Related Products
Muslim Poems For Children by Mymona Hendricks
Rays Of Truth by Ayesha bint Mahmood
Ibrahim: Friend Of Allah
Adam's World 4: Take Me To The Kaba
Whisper Of Peace by Dawud Wharnsby Ali
Learn Hajj & Umrah
What can you tell us about Hispanic Muslims?
At the 2003 Emmy Awards, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show
He wanted to show the audience how ridiculous real news can be.
The news clips were capped off with
Afterward, Stewart paused then asked,
Who are Hispanic Muslims?