The Latino Muslim Voice

The January-March 2005 newsletter features:

1. Quotes of the Month
2. "My Dua" By Isa Lima
3. "The Rise of Latino Muslims" By Juan Galvan
4. "My Hadjj Experience as a Latina Muslim" By Rocío Martínez-Mendoza
5. "Chicago's Annual Latino Eid Al-Adha Festival" By Ricardo Pena
6. "The Al-Baqi Islamic Center" By Daud S. Ali
7. "Hayy: La Oportunidad del Viaje Único de la Vida" Por de Nímah Ismáil Nawwab
8. "Hajj: The Journey of a Lifetime" By Ni'mah Isma'il Nawwab
9. "Finally, Spanish Schools Teach Islam" By Al-Amin Andalusi
10. "Eastern Europe Muslims Crave for Attention: Activist" By Radwa Hassan

Quotes of the Month

"Surely Abraham was an example, obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for Our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next he will most surely be among the righteous." - Quran 16:120-121.

"And proclaim the Hajj to mankind. They will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways." - Quran 22:27.

Narrated Anas, the Prophet said, "None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself." - Sahih Bukhari 1.2.12.

Narrated Jarir bin 'Abdullah, Allah's Apostle said, "Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to mankind." - Sahih Bukhari 9.93.473.

"Wa Tawfiq illa bil-llah."
"No hay guia sino la de Al-lah."
"And there is no guidance other than by Allah."

My Dua

By Isa Lima

Some people want to live to see old age,
others long for wealth and power that'll never fad,
I just want one thing before I leave this cruel land,
Oh Allah, allow me to die upon Islam.

Everyday I see crowds enter into the deen in success,
as Muslims take it for granted, throw it away, and leave it under
I desire one thing, and that is to leave the best way I can.
Oh Allah, let me die upon Islam.

You ask for spacious houses that can neither save you nor protect you
in the
I build my home in the akhirah with tahmeed, tahleel, and takbir
true peace.
The movement of my lips perhaps appears odd to him who does not
Oh Allah, I beseech you, take my soul upon Islam.

Such pity do I feel for those who waste their lives toiling about,
the fear of joining them makes me tenaciously seek the correct route,
when I reach the end and shaytan tries to confuse me with lies like
of sand,
Oh Allah, cause me to die upon Islam.

The Rise of Latino Muslims

By Juan Galvan

The Message International
November-December 2004

In the Qur'an, Allah (swt) says: "And We did not send any messenger but with the language of his people, so that he might explain to them clearly. Then Allah leaves astray whom He wills, and guides whom He wills. He is the Mighty, the Wise." (14:4) In the verse, language doesn't only mean language in its verbal form. Prophets addressed the concerns, values, beliefs, and needs of the people to whom they were sent. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was born in Arabia and naturally spoke the language of his people. He knew his people and their customs, and was familiar with how they thought.

The Prophet would send companions to invite tribes and kings to Islam. By conveying the message in a manner in which the non-Muslims understood, they were able to clarify the message of Islam. This is why we educate other Latinos about the important role of the Virgin Mary and Jesus (pbuh) in Islam. This is also why all Muslims must seek to make the message of Islam accessible to non-Muslims in their own language. We are Latinos and Muslims, and we, Latino Muslims, want to call others to this beautiful religion of Islam.

We are Latinos. Latinos are generally identified by considering the person's descent. Latinos come from many countries. Some people disagree about whether Latinos are only from Spanish-speaking countries, for some South and Central Americans speak only English or Portuguese. Although Latinos don't always share the same culture, Latinos are generally known for their love of family. All Latinos live in the United States. For example, you will not hear people from Mexico refer to themselves as Latinos or Hispanics. Some Latinos are recent immigrants, while others have had family in the United States for generations. Recent immigrants generally have less command of the English language, whereas those Latinos who have lived here for generations may know little or no Spanish.

We are Muslims. As Muslims, we bear witness that there is no one and nothing worthy of worship except Allah, and we bear witness that Muhammad is His last Prophet and Messenger. We believe in the oneness and uniqueness of Allah, the sole Creator and Sustainer of the universe. We believe that Prophet Muhammad is the best example for humanity. We agree that salvation is gained, with the grace of Allah, through the five daily prayers, fasting the month of Ramadan, giving zakat, and making the pilgrimage to Makkah, if one is capable of doing so. We believe that Allah created the angels and sent honorable Messengers with Divine Books to guide humanity and warn of the Day of Judgment. We believe in Divine Decree, which is the knowledge and consequence of Allah over His creation. We seek perfection in worship, such that we worship Allah as if we see Him, and although we cannot see Him, we undoubtedly believe that He is constantly watching over us.

We are Latino Muslims. In 1997, the American Muslim Council counted approximately 40,000 Hispanic Muslims. Current estimates range from 25,000 up to 75,000. Religious conversion is generally a personal choice. People, places, and events are all significant factors that affect a Latino's decision to embrace Islam. Most Latino Muslims embraced Islam because they believe the religion is true. Many Hispanics think that leaving Catholicism means rejecting their identity. However, defining culture by religion is not very effective, because our ancestors were Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or pagan. If most American Latinos are Muslim 100 years from now, the typical Latino would consider Islam to be inseparable from Latino culture. The Latino culture of today could become the Latino Muslim culture of tomorrow. Islam sets the framework and direction that this Muslim culture will assume. Taking up Islam means rejecting some old ways, accepting some new ways, and adapting when necessary.

By calling non-Muslims to Islam, we are inviting them to join a universal brotherhood and sisterhood in Islam. We thank all Muslims who assist the growing Latino Muslim community. Any accomplishments are a success for all Muslims, because we Muslims are one ummah. The greatest thing that Latino Muslims offer isn't literature, events, or speakers, but rather hope, patience, and truth. And we do this by our invitation to peace through submission to our Creator. Knowing that we have given the smallest deed for the sake of Allah (swt) is most rewarding.

My Hadjj Experience as a Latina Muslim

By Rocío Martínez-Mendoza

I am a Latina Muslim from Mexico City who now lives in west Texas. My husband is Moroccan, and, as a result, home is full of Latin and Arab culture alhamduliAllah. My husband and I have been planning our Hadjj trip but didn't have the chance to do it either because of money, visa, or pregnancy reasons. When we finally thought we were able to do it and started the planning my husband told me that it is inshaAllah going to be a very different kind of trip; it is not a trip for vacation, for leisure, nor for resting. For this same reason we would travel very light, with one bag for both of us. I started preparing myself a couple of months before by reading and trying to memorize Arabic phrases, which I knew were important from the moment we do our intention for Umrah.

Mosque Al-Haram
Mosque Al-Haram in Medina. View from window of our hotel.

We started our trip on January 11th at 5:00 am from our city; we needed to stop in four different cities to make different connections. As I knew from previous readings, from the moment we do our intention in the plane and while already wearing the clothes for ihram, the feeling is different. I wondered several times what all the non-Muslims around us might be thinking - about this bunch of weird people with men wearing two huge towels and everybody is reciting out loud the same words over and over again. We arrived on Jan 13 at the airport of Jeddah around 11 pm. By this time, the long trip really convinced me that this was not a normal trip. Because of the amount of people in the airport and the short number of employees the immigration has, the process was very slow.

We arrived at our hotel in Mecca on Jan 14th at 7 am. AlhamduliAllah we traveled with two other couples, friends of ours. When we went to our hotel, we could see the door of Abdel-Aziz of the Al-Haram Mosque. It was no more than 150 feet from our hotel, which alhamduliAllah was such a big blessing. We were eager to go inside the mosque and perform our Umrah. I cannot explain my feeling while being inside the place where our Prophet and other Prophets prayed and more important to see in person the Kaba. I felt an enormous cold air and a feeling of content. I was for the first time in my life, and maybe the only time, in front of such a sanctified place and toward where all the Muslims pray and have prayed five times daily. I thanked Allah many times while being there for this opportunity and for the ease in which we reached our targeted place. The exhaustion and hunger disappeared, and the only thing I could think of doing was performing my Umrah the way the Prophet did and to make dua' over and over again.

Adjacent streets       Mosque Al-Haram
Adjacent streets of Mosque Al-Haram.       Mosque Al-Haram after Isha prayer.

Between the day we perform Umrah and the day Hadj started was around five days. Five days, in which we prayed our five prayers at the mosque; five days, in which we tried to do tawaf (walking around the Kaba) daily or twice a day. We walked around and saw the city and the people. We made friends and shared experiences. It is such a wonderful and peaceful place because of its importance. The only thing a person thinks about doing is visiting the mosque and praying and praying. We performed alhamduliAllah our Hadjj with no major problems. We tried to be careful with ourselves and with others. Hadjj is a test of patience and kindness all along; from start to finish.

One can perceive the diversity in the Muslim community. There are people from every corner of the world. After listening to comments from people who have performed Hadjj, I can see that the Saudi authorities have made wonderful improvements in their planning and organization. I believe they could improve the whole process by adding more employees in order to make the whole process go faster. Saudi authorities should improve their way of moving people from place to place during hadjj. For example from Mecca to Minna, and then Musdalifa and then to Arafat, and then to Minna and so on. These are very short distances. However, because the majority of the people do it by vehicle, it takes hours and hours to get to each point, and people's lives are put in danger. Sometimes, walking between the smoky, noisy buses and cars is faster. Improved means of transportation would certainly facilitate the hadjj experience. However, alhamduliAllah everybody finds his or her way to get from place to place.

Hill where Prophet did dua' in Arafat.

I was surprised to see that the way of building in Saudi Arabia is very similar to that in Mexico and other Latin American countries as well as in Morocco. The houses are made of brick covered with stucco. The arrangement of streets, green areas, and public spaces within the cities are also similar to a Latin American country and in Morocco. Looking outside my hotel window and seeing the mosque, listening to the adan of the prayers and hearing the noise of people was an experience in itself. I cannot emphasize how important it is to stay close to the mosques rather than having a nice, farther hotel. We could concentrate on our prayers better than if we had stayed in a fancy hotel with fancy meals.

Street vendors are not allowed to sell on the streets. Security cars drive around looking for them and remove their merchandise. Vendors in the streets run to escape from the security and look for more hidden locations at times in the day where security does not show up. I noticed that they were all Saudi women wearing all black with niqab as well as their children. All their products were very inexpensive; such as hijabs, niqabs, toys, prayer rags, clothes, fabrics, miswak, and such. One thing that came to my attention is that there are not local craft items, at least not in the areas surrounding the mosques. All their products are from places like China, Turkey, and India. There are not products that are hand-made and made from the local people. Maybe in other parts of the country it is easier to find such products but not in the area of Mecca and Medina.

I couldn't believe the number of children begging on the streets. Many of them did not have hands or arms. A sheik in our group told us that the children are from Sudan and other African Muslim countries whose hands or arms are removed. Then, the children are sold to become beggars of money from hadjjis as charity. I could not believe the amount of children and teenagers in this same condition. It is very disappointing and devastating. How could we Muslims do such a crime with our own people in order to get money? How can the authorities allow such crime? May Allah guide them.

I also noticed that the majority of the store vendors are Bangladesh Muslims. One of them explained to me that their country is in very bad condition and that moving to Saudi Arabia was a better choice, even if they do not pay them very well and do not treat them as the rest of the people. However, this is very obvious because they are in almost every single store and construction. Very few local people are seen working. Local Saudi people are seen in government positions or in public offices. Other men are seen resting and smoking on the street with no apparent job.

I also noticed the extremes between the wealth inside the mosques and the poverty outside the mosques. Both big mosques are covered with detail, either gold or other colors, or just detail in their walls, ceilings, and columns. I always thought that Saudi Arabia was a rich country where people live in good condition. I was disappointed to see how much poverty is seen on the streets. A couple of streets away from the main mosques, the streets are dirty, the houses are old and not maintained, old cars pollute the air with thick smoke, and beggars are found in every corner. In general, the people from the lower classes seem to be extremely poor and with no education. I could not understand how the mosques could be exaggeratedly decorated while local people live in extreme poverty. I understand that the mosques are very important and holy landmarks for the country but I think that if the Prophet (pbuh) were alive today, he would completely disagree of such contrast. A mosque is first and foremost a place to pray, and thus, mosques should limit distraction. However, the mosques are beautiful, clean, and well maintained. Saudi authorities have security in every door and inside the mosque. You can feel very secure visiting the mosques at any time of the day.

A storm hit the area on the last day of Hadjj while returning from Minna to Mecca. I don't think that Saudi Arabia gets much rain, and thus, the city was not prepared for that amount of rain. The rain resulted in flooded streets. Traffic did not allow us to return by car. Instead, we returned to Mecca by walking. The streets were rivers. Water was up to people's knees in certain areas. Trash was everywhere. All along the way to Mecca, we saw car accidents, destroyed streets, as well as ruined business. It was a tremendous disaster for some locals as well as for hadjjis.

Streets flooded
Streets flooded in Mecca after a storm.

I have heard that a person is never the same after returning from Hadjj. I did not pay enough attention to those words until I was there. I immediately felt like a different person, and I thought that I should make a difference with my life. I could not continue to ask forgiveness for the things I do intentionally wrong and then ask Allah swt to forgive me. He is allowing me to live and fulfill all my wishes, and I should not ignore His blessings.

Mosque Al-Haram
Minarets of Mosque Al-Haram in Mecca.

Hadjj has been one of my strongest experiences as a Muslim. I did not realize until after returning from Hadjj that what I have accomplished represents a significant part of my life as a Muslim. I am very pleased with the opportunity Allah (swt) gave my husband and me. May Allah accept our Hadjj, inshaAllah. May Allah give us all Jennah, especially to those who died during Hadjj as a result of the difficulties such as crowdedness or weather conditions.

May Allah forgive me for anything that is included in this article that could offend anybody. My intention is not to offend or insult people, places, or the actions of anybody. My comments are personal, and I tried to express only my opinion. I believe in equality of all people. I pray to Allah that one day we will all live in peace and respect one another.

Chicago's Annual Latino Eid Al-Adha Festival

By Ricardo Pena

Chicago Association of Latino-American Muslims

Eid Al-Adha is the blessed holiday commemorating the event in which the Prophet Abraham, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, was going to sacrifice his son in submission to the will of God before He stayed his hand. This act is the epitome of submission and has since been the example for all of mankind to follow. It is fitting that it is upon this holiday that Muslims take their pilgrimage to Mecca to fulfill one of the five pillars of Islam.

For converted Muslims it is especially important to pay tribute to God and His messengers on this day, for it is this act of Prophet Abraham (pbuh) that, when carefully reflected upon, serves as a pure source of guidance. Before embracing Islam, many of us were not accustomed to this perspective as a pillar of understanding. Therefore, it is important for all Muslims to reflect on this event often and especially on this day. For our Latino Muslim community, we made sure it was going to be a blessed day of celebration.

Preparation for this event came on the heels of the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, the day of celebration for the breaking of the fast at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Two to three months before the holiday, we got together in a meeting and began to plan the order of the day. Items on the list that we had to take care of include flyers, signs, dinner, guest speakers, a raffle, a piñata, games and toys for the kids. Thankfully, we had taken up a collection at the previous Eid party and were prepared to purchase the children's toys. The rest of the preparation involved refining our plans and staying in frequent contact with each other over the phone.

Yahya Lopez was especially diligent with keeping everyone in touch. His frequent calls fuelled the effort forward and would not have been a success without his direction. Sister Ruth Saleh was a force to be reckoned with. She's like a mother to me in the sense that I feel like I'm in trouble if I don't fulfill my responsibilities fearing I'm going to be grounded for the weekend though she is never harsh but extremely kind. The energy she brings to the community is humbling. Over fifty children have Edmund Arroyo to thank for the piñata they had fun beating up on, and my wife Diana was instrumental in not only keeping the food items organized but also keeping me organized both with the festival and myself at home.

The festival was set to start at 3:30 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. We expected most folks to wander in at about 4:00 to 4:30. I was no exception. Being one of the organizers, still I was late to the party getting there at close to 5 o'clock, running around doing some last minute things. My prayers will have to include a request to be blessed with punctuality someday. As the welcoming hour was winding to an end, the time was nearing for dinner.

I was given the task of being the evening's MC and was then handed the microphone. I made an announcement for everyone to get ready to eat. The sisters would eat first and the brothers would wait. But before the feast, we reflected on this day with a recitation of the Quran. Brother Faisal, a Palestinian brother who lived in Puerto Rico for 18 years and speaks fluent Spanish with an authentic Puerto Rican accent, recited a few verses of the Quran that had to do with the Prophet Abraham. It was a beautiful recitation, and we reflected upon it. I explained the essence of Eid Al-Adha in English and in Spanish, so all could understand and also for the benefit of our non-Muslim guests.


The turnout was great! It was our biggest gathering ever. Though we didn't have a count, we filled the cafeteria of the Universal High School at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, IL. Thankfully, there was more than enough food for everyone. We had a myriad of Latino dishes and Middle Eastern food. Guacamole on one side and humus on another. Rice and beans here and biryani there. The food was excellent, and we all had our fill.


As dinner wound to an end, we had more announcements to give to the crowd. Yahya Lopez and his wife Fatima recently had a baby girl - Naseema. The day before the festival, a Latino Muslim couple had gotten married as a direct result of our previous Eid Al-Fitr party last November. Also, brother Jorge Garcia's mother, whom he had been inviting to Islam for almost a year now, became a Muslim after attending our previous Eid Al-Fitr festival as well. All praises to God, we have much to be thankful for. It is extremely rewarding to see the fruits of our efforts.


Originally, we had invited Dr. Omar Faruq Abdullah to give a talk at our event. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances, he had to gracefully bow out of the occasion. In his place, we were given a talk by Humara Arroyo, Edmund's wife, who spoke about their trip to Spain a couple of years ago. They were beautiful stories that nearly brought a tear to our eyes. After Humara's talk, brother Adalberto, who works extensively with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), gave a speech to inform everyone about the efforts IMAN has been undertaking in the Latino community and enthusiastically encouraged everyone to find a way to volunteer their time.

After the talks were over, it was time for the activities we had planned for the evening. The sisters held a raffle while most of the brothers engaged in friendly conversation. All the while the kids had half of the cafeteria cleared of all tables and chairs and were running around having a grand ol' time. For the most part, they played games at the direction of Soha, Ruth's daughter, and another sister whose name I don't recall. I cannot stress enough how awesome these two sisters were in keeping the children entertained and under control. Not only were the children kept in line but they also had a lot of fun. These two sisters did a wonderful job with the kids who were excited to get to the piñata and their toys.


While the sisters conducted their raffle and the rest of the adults mingled about, I gathered the kids for the beating of the piñata. In our previous festival, some folks expressed concern as to what the children would learn from what could be interpreted as a violent act. So this year, we made sure we had a talk with the children regarding the history and the purpose of the piñata.

Most Latinos don't know the history of the piñata. As Muslims, it is important for us to know as the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, taught us that it was okay to continue with the traditions of our culture that do not conflict with Islam. The piñata was originally created as a sphere with seven points. A seven-point star if you will. Each of the seven points represented one of the seven deadly sins. The beating of the piñata to get to the treats inside symbolized the defeat of our desires to commit those sins thereby earning the reward. It was much later that the piñata was commercialized forming efficacies of cartoon characters and the like. We stay true to the original intent of the piñata with a seven-point star, and this time I gathered the children and told them the story of the piñata.


It was important to connect the history of the piñata to Islam. "The points of the stars are sins," I explained, "like not listening to your parents. And why don't we listen to our parents?" I asked. "Because of our nafs (our inner desires)." And so I went on about how we must defeat ourselves in order to enjoy the rewards in this life and the hereafter. When they think of the piñata, they should think about struggling to avoid sin and look ahead to the reward they will get. Then we went on to the swinging of the star.


It wasn't long before the piñata was broken and treats were strewn about the floor. The kids had a ball gobbling them up. After that, we handed out the toys. God handed down another miracle at this time. We did not anticipate that there would be so many kids. There were clearly at least fifty to sixty children. Thank God, we barely had enough toys for all of them. We were surely sweating, praying that some kid would not be left to cry. We got down to the oldest girls, and for three of them we did not have a gift. Since they were old enough, we reached into our pockets and handed them a $10 bill each for their gift. They were old enough to be extremely happy with the money rather than a toy.


The toughest part was over. From then on, we relaxed and enjoyed the evening until it was time to go. Little by little, guests were taking their leave until we had to invoke their departure. It was already nine o'clock and we had overextended our stay. I got on the microphone and asked for some help cleaning up and getting the tables and chairs back the way they were. We had plenty of help from brothers and sisters alike. I should also mention a good portion of our guests were not Latino, as all are always welcome to our functions, and many of them helped clean up. We are extremely thankful for their efforts. I regret that I cannot cite them by name but we pray that God will reward them many times over.

We finally got the place cleaned up until a few of us were left. I was the last to leave with a group of Mexican converts, a Columbian non-Muslim, and a Mexican non-Muslim. We went across the parking lot to the mosque and prayed Isha before heading home. After a brief talk with the brothers in the mosque, we finally went home.

The festival was a success. We had a big turnout getting approximately 75 Latino Muslims and 40 other Muslims to the event. We had about 15 to 20 non-Muslim guests to whom we've been educating about and inviting toward Islam, and this is all not to mention the 50 to 60 children that enjoyed the party. The food was delicious, diverse and abundant. We had great news to announce with the Lopez's new baby, a marriage and a conversion. The kids had a blast with the piñata and their new toys, and we generally had a good time throughout. God willing, we look forward to bigger and better events in the following years.

The Al-Baqi Islamic Center

By Daud S. Ali

An Arson in Springfield, Massachusetts

For the Muslim brothers and sisters that called the Al-Baqi Islamic Center their home, the arson fire that displaced them on December 8, 2004 at the beginning of winter marks the beginning of a new chapter in the existence of their tight-knit community. In interviews with local and national media, Rasul Seifullah, the imam of Al-Baqi community, has acknowledged that the fire is a test from Allah and that the community will strive to bear it with patience. Members of the Al-Baqi community are united in this view and are well aware of Allah's reminder in the Qur'an that "with every difficulty comes relief."

Al-Baqi Islamic Center

Relief has come in shows of support from various sources, some unexpected. Yusuf Muhammad, minister of Nation of Islam's Mosque #13 in Springfield, has graciously given the group access to his facilities on State Street, a few blocks away from the Al-Baqi site, for Juma prayers and Sunday Ta'leem. Asked how the temporary arrangement is working out, Sister Donna Lamotte, a member of the Al-Baqi community, remarked that the Nation of Islam (NOI) community is "like family." In fact, the two groups were once part of the same NOI community under the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. In 1975, after the death of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, his son W.D. Muhammad split from the NOI to form a community of practicing Muslims. This marked the start of the Al-Baqi community, which to this day remains under the leadership of Imam W.D. Muhammad. Initially, many of the members of the NOI followed suit, but a year later Minister Louis Farrakhan re-kindled the NOI, taking back with him some of the original NOI followers.

Imam Seifullah credits much of the support his community is receiving to the many inter-faith efforts that were launched by Al-Baqi prior to the fire. Besides help from the NOI and the Islamic Council of New England, which set up a fund to assist with rebuilding, the Al-Baqi community has received support from, among others, the Council of Churches of Greater Springfield, Alden Street Baptist Church, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Community Center. Imam Seifullah reports receiving phone calls of support from all across the US, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Loss to the community

Despite the support, the displacement has been difficult for the aging community, some of whose senior members had been at the Al-Baqi site for nearly 40 years. As one member put it, "We were young ladies when we first came [to Masjid Al-Baqi], now we're senior citizens."

The loss of Al-Baqi Islamic Center has been felt by the entire Springfield community. The night of the fire, youth from the Dunbar Community Center, located across from the Al-Baqi Islamic Center, could be seen crying. The youth had volunteered their labor in the past year to help with on-going renovations to the interior of Al-Baqi. In fact, at the time of the fire, the Al-Baqi community had just finished renovating the lecture hall. The result exemplified the love and hard work that went into it. Other renovations included the installation of new carpet, fans, lights and a drop ceiling. The Islamic Center had also made recent purchases totaling about $10,000 for chairs and a home theater system.

For the city of Springfield, Al-Baqi was an historic landmark. Built in 1883, the building opened as the Oak Street School (later renamed the Strickland School in memory of the School's first principal). In the 1930s, it is said to have employed the first black woman hired as a teacher in Springfield. In the 1950s, Malcolm X (later Malik Shabazz) and others established the Nation of Islam in Springfield and purchased the building to serve as the original Muhammad's Mosque #13.

Who's to blame?

Originally, seven 15-year-olds were apprehended for the crime. Four have been released as juvenile offenders and given 160 hours of community service in addition to two years probation. The other three are out on bail awaiting trial. Imam Seifullah would like to have a say in the punishment handed to the three awaiting trial, adding that "they need to understand the consequences of their actions." He recently contacted Sheriff Michael Ashe, head of the Stony Brook Correctional Center in Ludlow, Massachusetts to inquire about a juvenile offenders program that offers jobs and teaches a sense of responsibility. Imam Seifullah would like the youth to repay the community through their labor for some of the damage to the Islamic Center. It will be up to the judge and the youth's probation officers whether or not to implement Imam Seifullah's recommendations.

The Springfield District Attorney decided not to pursue hate crime charges against the suspects, a decision that Imam Seifullah and the community as a whole seems to support. The youth apparently intended to hang out inside the building and steal some valuables. After stealing some $250 in cash and candy, at least some decided to cover their tracks by starting a fire on the second floor. Investigators initially thought they were dealing with a professional arson job because the start of the fire on the second floor ensured that the interior would collapse onto itself, causing maximum damage. In the end, it seems the fire was the result of a senseless act by misguided youth.

There is consensus that the youth ought to be held accountable for their actions, but many including Imam Seifullah have stated that responsibility also lies beyond the seven perpetrators. In a recent article in The Republican, Imam Seifullah blamed adults for their failure to provide proper direction to youth in the community. Others have placed emphasis on the role of the Muslim community. Imam Abdul-Baqi, of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, warned Muslims during a recent Friday sermon that they are responsible for attending the mosque for all five prayers, stressing that it is the community's failure to place the mosque at the center of all activities that leaves it open to vandalism.

A new chapter

"The fire has set us free," says Imam Seifullah, adding that "this is a new chapter in our history." Asked if this new chapter presents an opportunity to open the Al-Baqi community to the greater ethnic diversity present in Islam, Imam Seifullah is optimistic. "If we do what we're supposed to be doing as Muslims, then we'll reflect the community around us in our makeup." The community is almost 100% African-American, which is no accident given its roots. But Imam Seifullah views this reality as a necessity for the time being. "African Americans face serious challenges. After 400 years of bondage, during which our family units were intentionally destroyed, there is a lot of repair, a lot of healing that is needed in the African-American psyche." Still he adds, "I would like to see more Latinos exposed to Islam and more young people." Given that the seven youth suspected of being involved in the arson were both young and Latino, outreach to the Latino community should be a top priority for Springfield Muslims.

For the time being, the Al-Baqi community is looking for a place to rent. According to Imam Seifullah, the Jewish community is assisting in the search for a location. Imam Seifullah is still awaiting the final determination from the insurance company as to whether what remains of the Islamic Center will be scrapped and rebuilt. All indications are that the building will have to be rebuilt from the ground up, as the damage to the interior is very extensive. That being the case, Imam Seifullah estimates that it may take two years for the community to move in to the new site. He envisions a multi-story Islamic Center with a dome. "I want to have people drive by and immediately know what it is," says the Imam. Allah willing, the same people will not only drive by, but park their cars and frequent the future Islamic Center in large numbers.

Articles from The Republican and the Boston Globe were referenced by the author in writing this story.

Daud S. Ali, a Mexican American, was born in Los Angeles and then lived in Mexico for eight years. He now lives in Springfield, MA.

Hayy: La Oportunidad del Viaje Único de la Vida

Por de Nímah Ismáil Nawwab

Saudi Aramco World
July-August 1992

El Hayy, o el peregrinaje a la ciudad sagrada de Meca, un deber central del Islám que orígenes datan desde el profeta Abrahán, reúne a musulmanes de todas razas e idiomas para una de las experiencias más espirituales de mundo.

Por 14 siglos, millones incontables de musulmanes, hombres y mujeres de las cuatro esquinas de la tierra, han hecho el peregrinaje a la Meca, el lugar de nacimiento del Islám. En realizar esta obligación, satisfacen uno de los cinco "pilares" del Islám, o los deberes religiosos centrales del creyente.

Los musulmanes exponen los orígenes del peregrinaje divino al profeta Abrahán, o Ibráhím, pues le llaman en árabe. Según el Corán, era Abrahán que, junto con Ismael (Isma'il), construyó el Caba, "la casa de Dios," el punto focal en la dirección a que los musulmanes dan vuelta en su adoración cinco veces cada día. Era Abrahán, también - conocido como Khalil Alá, "el amigo de Dios" - que estableció los rituales del Hayy, que recuerdan acontecimientos o prácticas su vida y la de su esposa Hagar (Hayar) y su hijo Ismael.

En el capítulo dado "El Peregrinaje," el Corán habla del comando divino de realizar el Hayy y da la profecía de la permanencia de esta institución:

"Y cuando preparamos para Abraham el emplazamiento de la Casa: "¡No Me asocies nada! ¡Purifica Mi Casa para los que dan las vueltas y para los que están de pie, para los que se inclinan y prosternan!" (Hayy, Quran 22:26)

El Hayy a la Meca es una obligación de una vez en el curso de la vida sobre los adultos que salud y medios lo permiten, o, en las palabras del Corán, sobre "los que puedan hacer su manera allí." No es una obligación para niños, aunque algunos niños acompañan a sus padres en este viaje.

Antes de comenzar, un peregrino debe reparar todos los males, pagar todas sus deudas, planear para tener suficiente fondos para su propio viaje y para el mantenimiento de su familia mientras que él está ausente, y prepararse para la buena conducta durante el peregrinaje del Hayy.

Cuando los peregrinos emprenden el viaje del Hayy, ellos siguen en los pasos de millones antes de ellos. En el presente, centenares de millares de creyentes sobre de 70 naciones llegan en el reino de Arabia Saudita a pies, por auto, por mar y por avión cada año, completando un viaje mucho más corto y de algunas maneras menos arduas que era a menudo en el pasado.

Hasta el siglo diecinueve, viajando la distancia a la Meca significaba generalmente siendo parte de una caravana. Había tres caravanas principales: el egipcio, que formó en el Cairo; el iraquí, que precisó desde Bagdad; y el sirio, que, después de 1453, comenzaba en Estambul, recolectaba los peregrinos desde allí a lo largo de viaje, y procedía hacia la Meca desde Damasco.

En ese entonces, el viaje del Hayy tomó meses si todo fue bien. Los peregrinos llevaban sus provisiones que necesitaban para sostenerlos en su viaje. Las caravanas eran elaboradamente provistas con amenidades y seguridad si las personas en el viaje eran rico, pero muchas veces los pobres tuvieron que interrumpir su viaje para trabajar por que sus provisiones se les gastaban. Ellos ahorraban sus ganancias, y después seguían con sus viajes. Esto dio lugar a viajes largos que, en algunos casos, atravesaron diez años o más. Los viajes en días anteriores eran lleno de aventura. Los caminos eran inseguro debido a las incursiones de bandidos. El terreno que los peregrinos pasaban era a través también peligroso. Muchas personas morían también de los peligros naturales y de enfermedades. Así, la vuelta acertada de peregrinos a sus familias era una ocasión de celebraciones felices y de gracias por su llegada segura.

Atraídos por la mística de las ciudades sagradas de Meca y Medina, muchas personas occidentales ha visitado estas dos ciudades santas, en las cuales los peregrinos convergen, desde el décimo quinto siglo. Algunos de ellos se disfrazaron como musulmanes; otros, que genuinamente habían convertido, vinieron satisfacer su deber. Pero todos se parecen haber sido movidos por su experiencia, y muchos registraron sus impresiones del viaje y los ritos del Hayy en cuentas fascinadoras. Muchos diarios sobre el Hayy existen, escrito en las idiomas tan diversas como los peregrinos mismos.

El peregrinaje ocurre cada año entre el octavo y el décimo tercero días de Dhu al-Hijjah, el 12mo mes del calendario lunar musulmán. El primer rito es el ponerse el Ijram.

El ijram, usado por los hombres, es una ropa inconsútil blanca compuesto de dos pedazos de paños; uno cubre el cuerpo de la cintura al tobillo y el otro se lanza sobre el hombro. Esta ropa fue usado por Abrahán y Mujammad. Las mujeres usan generalmente un vestido blanco simple y un velo sobre su cabeza, pero no cubriendo su cara. Las cabezas de los hombres deben ser destapadas; los hombres y las mujeres pueden utilizar paraguas.

El ijram es un símbolo de pureza y de la renuncia del mal y de materias mundanas. También indica la igualdad de toda la gente en los ojos de Dios. Cuando el peregrino usa su ropa blanca, él o ella entra en un estado de la pureza que prohíbe el pelear, el confiar de violencia sobre el hombre o animales y de tener relaciones conyugales. Una vez que el peregrino se pone su ropa del Hayy él no se puede afeitar, no se puede cortar sus uñas o usar cualquier joyería, y él dejará su ropa puesta hasta que él termina el peregrinaje.

El peregrino que comienza su peregrinaje en la Meca comienza su Hayy a partir del momento que él se pone el ijram. Algunos peregrinos que vienen de una distancia pudieron haber entrado a la Meca anteriormente con su ijram puesto y pueden todavía usarlo. El poner el ijram es acompañado por la invocación primaria del Hayy, la talbiyah:

¡Aquí estoy, oh Dios, a su orden! ¡Aquí estoy a su orden! Usted está sin compañero; ¡Aquí estoy a su orden! ¡Lo suyo es alabanza y tolerancia y dominio! ¡ Usted está sin compañero.

El canto atronador y melodioso del talbiyah se oye no solamente en la Meca pero también en otras localizaciones sagradas conectadas con el Hayy.

En el primer día del Hayy, los peregrinos van desde Meca hacia Mina, una aldea pequeña deshabitada al este de la ciudad. Mientras que las multitudes van hacia Mina, los peregrinos generalmente pasan su tiempo meditando y rezando, como el profeta Mujammad hizo en su peregrinaje.

Durante el segundo día, el 9no del Dhu al-Hijjah, los peregrinos se van de Mina para el llano de Arafat para el wuquf, "el levantamiento," el rito central del Hayy. Mientras que se juntan allí, la postura de los peregrinos y la reunión los recuerda el día del juicio. Algunos de ellos se reunen en la Montaña de la Misericordia, donde el profeta entregó su sermón de despedida inolvidable, declarando reformas grandes religiosas, económicas, sociales y políticas. Éstas son horas cargadas emocionalmente, que los peregrinos pasan en la adoración y rezo. Muchos lloran pidiéndole a Dios que los perdone. En este punto sagrado, alcanzan la culminación de sus vidas religiosas mientras que sienten la presencia y proximidad de a Dios misericordioso.

La primera mujer inglesa que realizó el Hayy, la señora Evelyn Cobbold, describió en 1934 la experiencia que los peregrinos sienten durante el wuquf en Arafat. "Requeriría una pluma grande para describir la escena, conmovedora en su intensidad, de ese gran concurso de la humanidad el cual era una unidad pequeña, perdido totalmente a sus alrededores en un fervor del entusiasmo religioso. Muchos de los peregrinos tenían lágrimas fluyendo sus cachetes; otros levantaban sus caras al cielo lleno de estrellas que había atestiguado a esta drama tan a menudo por muchos siglos. Los ojos brillantes, las súplicas apasionadas, las manos lamentables extendido en rezo me movieron de una manera la cual nunca me ha pasado, y me sentía cogido por una onda fuerte de exaltación espiritual. Era uno con el resto de los peregrinos en un acto de la sublimación de la entrega completa a la voluntad suprema de Dios que es Islám.

"Después ella describe la proximidad los peregrinos se sienten al profeta mientras que están parado en Arafat: "... estoy parado al lado del pilar del granito, me siento que estoy en tierra sagrada. Veo con el ojo de mi mente al profeta dando su último sermón, sobre hace trece cientos años, a las tristes multitudes. Visualice a muchos predicadores que han hablado a millones incontables que se han congregado en el llano extenso abajo. Esto es la escena culminante del gran peregrinaje.

"El Profeta Mujammad es reportado haber pedido a Dios a perdonar los pecados de los peregrinos que estaban parado en Arafat, y fue concedido su deseo. Así, los peregrinos esperanzados se preparan para dejar este llano alegre, sintiendo renacido sin pecado y preponiéndose volcar una hoja nueva.

Después de la puesta del sol, las masas de los peregrinos entran a Muzdalifah, un llano abierto alrededor a medio camino de Arafat y Mina. Allí primero ruegan y en seguida recogen un número fijo de guijarros pequeños para utilizar en los días siguientes.

Antes del amanecer en el tercer día, los peregrinos se van en masa desde Muzdalifah a Mina. Allí tiran a los pilares blancos los guijarros que han recogido previamente. Según algunas tradiciones, esta práctica se asocia con el profeta Abrahán. Mientras que los peregrinos lanzan siete guijarros en cada uno de estos pilares, recuerdan la historia de la tentativa de Satanas de persuadir Abrahán desatender el comando de Dios de sacrificar su hijo.

Lanzando los guijarros es simbólico de la tentativa de los seres humanos de echar el mal y el vicio, no una vez pero siete veces - el número siete significando infinidad.

Después de lanzar los guijarros, la mayoría de los peregrinos sacrifican una cabra, ovejas o algún otro animal. Dan la carne a los pobres, en algunos casos guardando una porción pequeña para ellos mismos.

Este rito se asocia con la preparación de Abrahán para sacrificar su hijo de acuerdo con el deseo de Dios. Simboliza la buena voluntad del musulmán de partir con cuál es precioso a él, y nos recuerda del espíritu del Islám, en cual la sumisión a la voluntad de Dios es principal. Este acto también recuerda al peregrino compartir cosas mundanas con los que son menos afortunados, y sirve como una oferta de gracias a Dios.

A este punto, los peregrinos han acabado la etapa más importante del Hayy. Ahora se permite verter su ijram y poner ropas diarias. En este día, musulmanes alrededor del mundo sienten la felicidad que los peregrinos sienten y se ensamblan realizando los sacrificios idénticos, individuales en una celebración mundial llamado Id al-Adja significando "el festival del sacrificio." Los hombres afeitan sus cabezas o cortan un pedazo de pelo, y las mujeres cortan un pedacito simbólica, para marcar su retorno a la vida mundana parcial. Esto se hace como símbolo de humildad. Todas las proscripciones, excepto las de relaciones conyugales, ahora son levantado.

Todavía en viaje en Mina, los peregrinos visitan la Meca para realizar otro rito esencial del Hayy: el tawaf, dándole la vuelta siete veces alrededor del edificio del Caba, con un rezo recitado durante cada circuito. Su circumambulación del Caba, el símbolo de la unidad de Dios, implica que todas las actividades humana debe tener Dios en su centro. También simboliza la unidad de Dios y la humanidad.

Thomas Abercrombie, un converso al Islám y un escritor y fotógrafo para National Geographic Magazine (revista geográfica nacional), realizó el Hayy en los años 70as y describió el sentido de unidad y armonía que los peregrinos sienten cuando circundan: "siete veces circundamos el santuario," él escribió, "repitiendo las dedicaciones rituales en árabe: 'Señor, Dios, de una tierra tan distante he venido a Usted.... Deme su abrigo debajo del trono Suyo.' Cogido por la escena girante, levantado por la poesía de los rezos, movimos en órbita alrededor de la casa de Dios en acordar con los átomos, en armonía con los planetas."

Durante los circuitos, los peregrinos pueden besar o tocar la piedra negra. Esta piedra oval, primero montada en un marco de plata en el séptimo siglo, tiene un lugar especial en los corazones de musulmanes como, según algunas tradiciones, es el remanente único de la estructura original construida por Abrahán e Ismael. Pero quizás la sola razón más importante de besar la piedra es que el profeta Mujammad lo hizo.

No hay significación piadosa cualquiera a la piedra, porque no es, ni ha sido jamás, un objeto de la adoración. El segundo califa, Omar ibn al-Khattab, hizo esto claro cuando, al besar la piedra en emulación al profeta, él proclamó: "sé que usted solamente es una piedra, incapaz de hacer bueno o daño. Sí no he visto el mensajero de Dios besarle - la bendición y la paz de Dios este sobre él - yo no lo besaría."

Después de terminar el tawaf, los peregrinos rezan, preferiblemente en la estación de Abrahán, el sitio donde Abrahán estaba parado mientras que él construyó el Caba. Entonces beben del agua de Zamzam.

Otro rito y a veces el final es el sa'y, o "el correr." Esto es una reconstrucción de un episodio memorable en la vida de Hagar, la esposa de Abrahán, que fue tomado en lo que el Corán llama el "valle uncultivable" de Meca, con su hijo infantil Ismael, para colocarse allí.

El sa'y conmemora la búsqueda frenética de Hagar por agua para apagarle la sed de Ismael. Ella corrió hacia alante y hacia atrás siete veces entre dos colinas rocosas, as-Safa y al-Marwah, hasta que ella encontró el agua sagrada conocida como Zamzam. Esta agua, que solió adelante milagrosamente bajo los pies minúsculos de Ismael, ahora se encuentra en un compartimiento de mármol cerca del Caba.

Cuando estos rituales son realizados, los peregrinos son deconsegrados totalmente: Pueden reasumir todas las actividades normales. Según las costumbres sociales de algunos países, los peregrinos pueden tener el orgulloso título de al-Hayy o Hayyi.

Ahora ellos vuelven a Mina, donde permanecen hasta el 12mo o décimotercero día de Dhu al-Hijjah. Allí lanzan sus guijarros restantes a cada uno de los pilares de la manera practicada o aprobada por el profeta. Entonces se despiden de los amigos que han hecho durante el Hayy. Antes de dejar Meca, sin embargo, los peregrinos hacen generalmente un tawaf final alrededor del Caba para despedirse de la ciudad sagrada.

Antes o después de ir a Meca, los peregrinos también se sirven de la oportunidad proveída por el Hayy para visitar la mezquita en Medina, la segunda ciudad más santa del del Islám. Aquí esta el profeta Mujammad enterrado en un sepulcro simple debajo de la bóveda verde de la mezquita. La visita a Medina no es obligatorio, porque no es parte del Hayy, pero la ciudad - que dio la bienvenida a Mujammad cuando él emigró allí de Meca - es rica en memorias móviles y los sitios históricos que son evocadores de él como un profeta y un estadista.

En esta ciudad, amado por musulmanes por siglos, gente todavía siente la presencia del espíritu del profeta. Mujammad Asad, un judío austríaco que se convirtió al Islám en 1926 e hizo cinco peregrinajes entre 1927 y 1932, comento sobre este aspecto de la ciudad: "incluso después trece siglos, la presencia espiritual del [profeta] está casi tan viva aquí como entonces estaba. Era solamente debido a él que el grupo dispersado de pueblos una vez llamado Yatrib se convirtió en una ciudad y ha sido amado por todos los musulmanes hasta hoy día. Pues no hay ciudad en cualquier otro lugar en el mundo que tiene tanto amor. La ciudad ni tiene un nombre propio: por más de trece cientos años se ha llamado Madinat an-Nabi, ' la ciudad del profeta.' Por más de trece cientos años, tanto amor ha convergido aquí que todas las formas y movimientos han adquirido una clase de semejanza de una familia, y todas las diferencias semejantes encuentran una transición l tonal en una armonía comun."

Así como los peregrinos de razas diversas y lengüetas vuelven a sus hogares, ellos llevan con ellos memorias apreciadas de Abrahán, Ismael, Hagar, y de Mujammad. Recordarán siempre ese conjunto universal, donde el pobre y el rico, el negro y el blanco, el joven y el viejo, se encuentran en igualdad. Vuelven con un sentido del temor y serenidad: temor reverente con su experiencia en Arafat, cuando se sentían lo más cerca posible a Dios mientras que estaban parado en el sitio donde el profeta dió su sermón durante su primer y último peregrinaje; serenidad por botar sus pecados en ese llano, y así siendo relevado de una carga tan pesada. También vuelven con una comprensión mejor de las condiciones de sus hermanos en el Islám. Así se llevan un espíritu de cuido para otros y una comprensión de su propia herencia rica que durará a través de sus vidas.

Los peregrinos vuelven radiante con esperanza y alegría, porque ellos han satisfecho la prescripción antiguo de Dios a la humanidad para emprender el peregrinaje. Sobretodo, vuelven con un rezo en sus labios: Puede darle favor a Dios, ellos ruega, para que su Hayy sea aceptable, y puede qué lo que dijo el profeta sea verdad de su propio viaje individual: "no hay recompensa por un peregrinaje piadoso sino paraíso."

Hajj: The Journey of a Lifetime

By Ni'mah Isma'il Nawwab

Saudi Aramco World
July-August 1992

The hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah, a central duty of Islam whose origins date back to the Prophet Abraham, brings together Muslims of all races and tongues for one of life's most moving spiritual experiences.

For 14 centuries, countless millions of Muslims, men and women from the four corners of the earth, have made the pilgrimage to Makkah, the birthplace of Islam. In carrying out this obligation, they fulfill one of the five "pillars" of Islam, or central religious duties of the believer.

Muslims trace the recorded origins of the divinely prescribed pilgrimage to the Prophet Abraham, or Ibrahim, as he is called in Arabic. According to the Qur'an, it was Abraham who, together with Ishmael (Isma'il), built the Ka'bah, "the House of God," the focal point toward which Muslims turn in their worship five times each day. It was Abraham, too - known as Khalil Allah, "the friend of God" - who established the rituals of the hajj, which recall events or practices in his life and that of Hagar (Hajar) and their son Ishmael.

In the chapter entitled "The Pilgrimage," the Qur'an speaks of the divine command to perform the hajj and prophesies the permanence of this institution:

"And when We assigned for Abraham the place of the House, saying "Do not associate Anything with Me, and purify My House for those who go around it and for those who stand and bow and prostrate themselves in worship. And proclaim the Pilgrimage among humankind: They will come to you on foot and on every camel made lean By traveling deep, distant ravines." (Quran 22:26)

The hajj to Makkah is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation upon male and female adults whose health and means permit it, or, in the words of the Qur'an, upon "those who can make their way there." It is not an obligation on children, though some children do accompany their parents on this journey.

Before setting out, a pilgrim should redress all wrongs, pay all debts, plan to have enough funds for his own journey and for the maintenance of his family while he is away, and prepare himself for good conduct throughout the hajj.

When pilgrims undertake the hajj journey, they follow in the footsteps of millions before them. Nowadays hundreds of thousands of believers from over 70 nations arrive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by road, sea and air every year, completing a journey now much shorter and in some ways less arduous than it often was in the past.

Till the 19th century, traveling the long distance to Makkah usually meant being part of a caravan. There were three main caravans: the Egyptian one, which formed in Cairo; the Iraqi one, which set out from Baghdad; and the Syrian, which, after 1453, started at Istanbul, gathered pilgrims along the way, and proceeded to Makkah from Damascus.

As the hajj journey took months if all went well, pilgrims carried with them the provisions they needed to sustain them on their trip. The caravans were elaborately supplied with amenities and security if the persons traveling were rich, but the poor often ran out of provisions and had to interrupt their journey in order to work, save up their earnings, and then go on their way. This resulted in long journeys which, in some cases, spanned ten years or more. Travel in earlier days was filled with adventure. The roads were often unsafe due to bandit raids. The terrain the pilgrims passed through was also dangerous, and natural hazards and diseases often claimed many lives along the way. Thus, the successful return of pilgrims to their families was the occasion of joyous celebration and thanksgiving for their safe arrival.

Lured by the mystique of Makkah and Madinah, many Westerners have visited these two holy cities, on which the pilgrims converge, since the 15th century. Some of them disguised themselves as Muslims; others, who had genuinely converted, came to fulfill their duty. But all seem to have been moved by their experience, and many recorded their impressions of the journey and the rituals of the hajj in fascinating accounts. Many hajj travelogues exist, written in languages as diverse as the pilgrims themselves.

The pilgrimage takes place each year between the eighth and the 13th days of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Muslim lunar calendar. Its first rite is the donning of the ihram.

The ihram, worn by men, is a white seamless garment made up of two pieces of cloth or toweling; one covers the body from waist to ankle and the other is thrown over the shoulder. This garb was worn by both Abraham and Muhammad. Women generally wear a simple white dress and a headcovering, but not a veil. Men's heads must be uncovered; both men and women may use an umbrella.

The ihram is a symbol of purity and of the renunciation of evil and mundane matters. It also indicates the equality of all people in the eyes of God. When the pilgrim wears his white apparel, he or she enters into a state of purity that prohibits quarreling, committing violence to man or animal and having conjugal relations. Once he puts on his hajj clothes the pilgrim cannot shave, cut his nails or wear any jewelry, and he will keep his unsown garment on till he completes the pilgrimage.

A pilgrim who is already in Makkah starts his hajj from the moment he puts on the ihram. Some pilgrims coming from a distance may have entered Makkah earlier with their ihram on and may still be wearing it. The donning of the ihram is accompanied by the primary invocation of the hajj, the talbiyah:

"Here I am, O God, at Thy Command! Here I am at Thy Command! Thou art without associate; Here I am at Thy Command! Thine are praise and grace and dominion! Thou art without associate."

The thunderous, melodious chants of the talbiyah ring out not only in Makkah but also at other nearby sacred locations connected with the hajj.

On the first day of the hajj, pilgrims sweep out of Makkah toward Mina, a small uninhabited village east of the city. As their throngs spread through Mina, the pilgrims generally spend their time meditating and praying, as the Prophet did on his pilgrimage.

During the second day, the 9th of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims leave Mina for the plain of 'Arafat for the wuquf, "the standing," the central rite of the hajj. As they congregate there, the pilgrims' stance and gathering reminds them of the Day of Judgment. Some of them gather at the Mount of Mercy, where the Prophet delivered his unforgettable Farewell Sermon, enunciating far-reaching religious, economic, social and political reforms. These are emotionally charged hours, which the pilgrims spend in worship and supplication. Many shed tears as they ask God to forgive them. On this sacred spot, they reach the culmination of their religious lives as they feel the presence and closeness of a merciful God.

The first Englishwoman to perform the hajj, Lady Evelyn Cobbold, described in 1934 the feelings pilgrims experience during the wuquf at 'Arafat. "It would require a master pen to describe the scene, poignant in its intensity, of that great concourse of humanity of which I was one small unit, completely lost to their surroundings in a fervor of religious enthusiasm. Many of the pilgrims had tears streaming down their cheeks; others raised their faces to the starlit sky that had witnessed this drama so often in the past centuries. The shining eyes, the passionate appeals, the pitiful hands outstretched in prayer moved me in a way that nothing had ever done before, and I felt caught up in a strong wave of spiritual exaltation. I was one with the rest of the pilgrims in a sublime act of complete surrender to the Supreme Will which is Islam."

She goes on to describe the closeness pilgrims feel to the Prophet while standing in 'Arafat: " I stand beside the granite pillar, I feel I am on Sacred ground. I see with my mind's eye the Prophet delivering that last address, over thirteen hundred years ago, to the weeping multitudes. I visualize the many preachers who have spoken to countless millions who have assembled on the vast plain below; for this is the culminating scene of the Great Pilgrimage."

The Prophet is reported to have asked God to pardon the sins of pilgrims who "stood" at 'Arafat, and was granted his wish. Thus, the hopeful pilgrims prepare to leave this plain joyfully, feeling reborn without sin and intending to turn over a new leaf.

Just after sunset, the mass of pilgrims proceeds to Muzdalifah, an open plain about halfway between 'Arafat and Mina. There they first pray and then collect a fixed number of chickpea-sized pebbles to use on the following days.

Before daybreak on the third day, pilgrims move en masse from Muzdalifah to Mina. There they cast at white pillars the pebbles they have previously collected. According to some traditions, this practice is associated with the Prophet Abraham. As pilgrims throw seven pebbles at each of these pillars, they remember the story of Satan's attempt to persuade Abraham to disregard God's command to sacrifice his son.

Throwing the pebbles is symbolic of humans' attempt to cast away evil and vice, not once but seven times - the number seven symbolizing infinity.

Following the casting of the pebbles, most pilgrims sacrifice a goat, sheep or some other animal. They give the meat to the poor after, in some cases, keeping a small portion for themselves.

This rite is associated with Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son in accordance with God's wish. It symbolizes the Muslim's willingness to part with what is precious to him, and reminds us of the spirit of Islam, in which submission to God's will plays a leading role. This act also reminds the pilgrim to share worldly goods with those who are less fortunate, and serves as an offer of thanksgiving to God.

As the pilgrims have, at this stage, finished a major part of the hajj, they are now allowed to shed their ihram and put on everyday clothes. On this day Muslims around the world share the happiness the pilgrims feel and join them by performing identical, individual sacrifices in a worldwide celebration of 'Id al-Adha, "the Festival of Sacrifice." Men either shave their heads or clip their hair, and women cut off a symbolic lock, to mark their partial deconsecration. This is done as a symbol of humility. All proscriptions, save the one of conjugal relations, are now lifted.

Still so journing in Mina, pilgrims visit Makkah to perform another essential rite of the hajj: the tawaf, the seven-fold circling of the Ka'bah, with a prayer recited during each circuit. Their circumambulation of the Ka'bah, the symbol of God's oneness, implies that all human activity must have God at its center. It also symbolizes the unity of God and man.

Thomas Abercrombie, a convert to Islam and a writer and photographer for National Geographic Magazine, performed the hajj in the 1970's and described the sense of unity and harmony pilgrims feel during the circling: "Seven times we circled the shrine," he wrote, "repeating the ritual devotions in Arabic: 'Lord God, from such a distant land I have come unto Thee.... Grant me shelter under Thy throne.' Caught up in the whirling scene, lifted by the poetry of the prayers, we orbited God's house in accord with the atoms, in harmony with the planets."

While making their circuits pilgrims may kiss or touch the Black Stone. This oval stone, first mounted in a silver frame late in the seventh century, has a special place in the hearts of Muslims as, according to some traditions, it is the sole remnant of the original structure built by Abraham and Ishmael. But perhaps the single most important reason for kissing the stone is that the Prophet did so.

No devotional significance whatsoever is attached to the stone, for it is not, nor has ever been, an object of worship. The second caliph, 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, made this crystal clear when, on kissing the stone himself in emulation of the Prophet, he proclaimed: "I know that you are but a stone, incapable of doing good or harm. Had I not seen the Messenger of God kiss you - may God's blessing and peace be upon him - I would not kiss you."

After completing the tawaf, pilgrims pray, preferably at the Station of Abraham, the site where Abraham stood while he built the Ka'bah. Then they drink of the water of Zamzam.

Another, and sometimes final, rite is the sa'y, or "the running." This is a reenactment of a memorable episode in the life of Hagar, who was taken into what the Qur'an calls the "uncultivable valley" of Makkah, with her infant son Ishmael, to settle there.

The sa'y commemorates Hagar's frantic search for water to quench Ishmael's thirst. She ran back and forth seven times between two rocky hillocks, al-Safa and al-Marwah, until she found the sacred water known as Zamzam. This water, which sprang forth miraculously under Ishmael's tiny feet, is now enclosed in a marble chamber near the Ka'bah.

These rites performed, the pilgrims are completely deconsecrated: They may resume all normal activities. According to the social customs of some countries, pilgrims can henceforth proudly claim the title of al-Hajj or Hajji.

They now return to Mina, where they stay up to the 12th or 13th day of Dhu al-Hijjah. There they throw their remaining pebbles at each of the pillars in the manner either practiced or approved by the Prophet. They then take leave of the friends they have made during the Hajj. Before leaving Makkah, however, pilgrims usually make a final tawaf round the Ka'bah to bid farewell to the Holy City.

Before or after going to Makkah, pilgrims also avail themselves of the opportunity provided by the hajj to visit the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, the second holiest city in Islam. Here, the Prophet lies buried in a simple grave under the green dome of the mosque. The visit to Madinah is not obligatory, as it is not part of the hajj, but the city - which welcomed Muhammad when he migrated there from Makkah - is rich in moving memories and historical sites that are evocative of him as a prophet and statesman.

In this city, loved by Muslims for centuries, people still feel the presence of the Prophet's spirit. Muhammad Asad, an Austrian Jew who converted to Islam in 1926 and made five pilgrimages between 1927 and 1932, comments on this aspect of the city: "Even after thirteen centuries [the Prophet's] spiritual presence is almost as alive here as it was then. It was only because of him that the scattered group of villages once called Yathrib became a city and has been loved by all Muslims down to this day as no city anywhere else in the world has ever been loved. It has not even a name of its own: for more than thirteen hundred years it has been called Madinat an-Nabi, 'the City of the Prophet.' For more than thirteen hundred years, so much love has converged here that all shapes and movements have acquired a kind of family resemblance, and all differences of appearance find a tonal transition into a common harmony."

As pilgrims of diverse races and tongues return to their homes, they carry with them cherished memories of Abraham, Ishmael, Hagar, and Muhammad. They will always remember that universal concourse, where poor and rich, black and white, young and old, met on equal footing.

They return with a sense of awe and serenity: awe for their experience at 'Arafat, when they felt closest to God as they stood on the site where the Prophet delivered his sermon during his first and last pilgrimage; serenity for having shed their sins on that plain, and being thus relieved of such a heavy burden. They also return with a better understanding of the conditions of their brothers in Islam. Thus is born a spirit of caring for others and an understanding of their own rich heritage that will last throughout their lives.

The pilgrims go back radiant with hope and joy, for they have fulfilled God's ancient injunction to humankind to undertake the pilgrimage. Above all, they return with a prayer on their lips: May it please God, they pray, to find their hajj acceptable, and may what the Prophet said be true of their own individual journey: "There is no reward for a pious pilgrimage but Paradise."

Finally, Spanish Schools Teach Islam

By Al-Amin Andalusi


MADRID, January 12 ( - Teaching Islam in Spanish schools has finally found its way to implementation after almost a decade of delays and obstacles.

Since coming to power in the European country, Spain's new Socialist government under Jose Rodriguez Zapatero has made a host of good gestures toward the Muslim community in the country, the most remarkable of which was a decision to allow the teaching of Islamic subjects at public schools of major cities with significant Muslim presence.

The long-awaited development saw the light early January, 2005.

The government decision on teaching Islam only stipulates giving definition lessons on Islam. But Spanish rightist parties lashed out at the decision, launching a severe campaign against the Muslim community in the country, seeking to put strains that would make the decision void of its meaning.

Teaching Islam was part of an agreement reached in the early 1990s between the former Socialist government and a number of the Islamic bodies in Spain.

However, the agreement was shelved for eight years after former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's People's Party assumed power.

Spain has a Muslim community of about 600,000 people out of a total population of 40 million. Some 94 percent of its population are Christian Catholics.

The country has recognized Islam through the law of religious freedom, issued in July 1967.

Definition Lessons

The Spanish decision stipulates teaching the Islamic subjects in the Spanish schools in a number of Spanish cities that have high Muslim population such as Barcelona, Madrid and Andalusia.

The Spanish official for religious affairs had said Islamic subjects would be taught in a number of major Spanish cities by early January, 2005.

Teaching Islamic subjects was only allowed since 2000 in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla in which Muslims of Moroccan origin make up the majority of population.

Ceuta and Melilla are located in northern Morocco under the Spanish control.

Teachers of the Islamic subjects in the two cities were only seven, teaching some 1,900 students in the preliminary education, however, the experience was seen as an encouraging step to be copied in other Spanish cities.

Visiting a number of schools in the city of Melilla, the Spanish official for religious affairs said the experience of teaching Islamic subjects in the city was driving factor for the Spanish government to follow suit in other Spanish cities.

The decision to teach Islam stipulates giving simple definition lessons on the Islamic pillars to students at Spanish schools.

The Spanish socialist government and the Union of the Islamic Associations have agreed that the Islamic subjects would be limited to teaching introductory lessons on the pillars of Islam to Spanish students.

The association has been intensifying efforts to correct misconceptions on Islam among the Spanish people.

The association secretary general urged to extend the teaching of the Islamic subjects to other Spanish cities in light of the increasing numbers of Muslim immigrants in the European country.

Neighboring Morocco is expected to play a role in the issue as the Moroccan education ministry will prepare the curricula of the Islamic subjects, similarly to the situation in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla.


But the government's decision to teach Islam drew ire from rightist and pro-Catholic church parties which oppose the rising numbers of Muslim immigrants in Spain.

The rightist opposition campaign led by the People's Party and pro-church parties resulted in imposing more restrictions on implementing the law.

These included the Islamic subjects to be taught only in areas that have high Muslim population, to have at least ten students or parents presenting a request and that the Islamic subjects don't contradict with the by-laws of the government and private schools in Spain.

The Spanish rightist parties, however, failed to place other restrictions, such as allowing only Spanish teachers to teach the Islamic subjects. The proposal was rebuffed by the Spanish government as unrealistic and similar to the idea of Muslim teachers teaching Catholicism.

The Spanish rightist parties believe the government decision to teach Islam is doomed to failure due to the poor number of the Islamic subject teachers, even in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla which have only 20 teachers.

However, the Spanish government is attempting to solve the problem by reaching an agreement with Morocco on seeking Spanish-speaking teachers from the neighboring Arab country, similarly to a deal between Morocco and Italy under which Morocco sent 30 teachers to teach Arabic to the Moroccan immigrants in the European country.

Anti-Islam Drive

The Spanish move on teaching Islamic subjects, however, has stirred anti-Islam parties and their media mouthpieces to launch a scathing attack on Islam and Muslims.

The rightist La Razon daily, known for its links with the church and army circles, launched vile campaigns against the Muslim community, accusing them of inability to integrate into the western societies.

The Spanish daily also claimed that the Noble Qur'an forbids Muslims from easily integrating into the western societies.

The anti-Muslim campaigns in the European country reflected differences between the rightist parties and the Catholic church on one hand, and the leftist parties led by the ruling Socialist party on the other, according to observers.

Since he assumed power, Zapatero has cancelled a host of privileges enjoyed by the Catholic church during the rule of the People's Party, including a halt of finances to the church-sponsored schools and religious centers.

Such a decision, naturally, drew criticism campaigns from the Catholic circles, accusing the Socialist Party of adopting a policy of "secular extremism".

The Zapatero government, however, stressed it only applies secular policies that stipulate equality among the different faiths in the country.

It also noted that the decision on teaching Islam was a part of the secular polices adopted by the government.

Observers also believe the decision to teach Islam aims to control the widespread Islamic private schools in the country to avoid any future "terrorist" acts similar to the Madrid bombings.

Eastern Europe Muslims Crave for Attention: Activist

By Radwa Hassan


CAIRO, February 5 ( A Europe-based Muslim activist has called for according due attention to the sizable Muslim community in Eastern Europe, which has broken loose from the Communist yoke.

"In East European countries like Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia Muslims make up the majority of populace," Ayman Sayed Ahmad, director of Eastern Europe Department at the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), told's visitors in a live dialogue.

He added that in other countries such as Bulgaria, Ukraine and federal Russia Muslims are considered "influential minority communities".

Ahmad put the number of Muslims in Eastern Europe at some 35 million, most of them natives.

Russia comes first with 21 million Muslims, followed by Bulgaria with 2.6 million, Albania with 2.4 million, Bosnia with 2.2 million and Ukraine with 2 million Muslims.

"It is incumbent upon Muslims to help beef up this strong presence in such counties and raise the awareness of Muslims there about their religion in practice and in theory," Ahmad added.

The FIOE is a non-profitable European organization, which provides a framework for its member organizations and institutions.

With 28 chapters across the continent, it aims to maintain the Muslim presence in Europe and to enhance and develop that presence so that Islam is properly and accurately introduced.

The FIOE also established affiliate bodies like the European Institute for Human Science, which has branches in France and Britain, the European Council for Fatwa and Research and the Association of Muslim Schools in Europe.

Muslim Identity

Ahmad said Muslim scholars and imams are duty-bound to help preserve the Muslim identity in Eastern Europe.

He urged them to regularly visit East European countries and pass on their experience to Islamic activists there.

"It is very important to cater for their needs and qualify them to live up to the daunting challenges ahead" Ahmad said.

"The FIOE has championed the call for launching Web sites and publishing books in languages spoken in Eastern Europe to reach out to non-Arabic speakers there."

He continued: "Holding Islamic conferences there are a necessity to bring Muslims together from the four corners of Europe, though security fears from authorities in such countries constitute a stumbling bloc given the crackdown on Muslim activities in the post-9/11 era."

The Muslim activist also underlined the importance of encouraging Muslims in Eastern Europe to fully engage in their respective societies.

Ahmad further called for supporting the Muslim bodies in Eastern Europe and lobbying for restoring religious endowment lands (Waqfs) confiscated by the authorities.

Albanian Muslims reacted angrily last week to a law ratified by the parliament allowing land swap or compensation for Muslim bodies which had their Waqfs confiscated during the Communist era.