The LADO Group - Latino Muslims

In the name of Allah SWT

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The Latino Muslim Voice

The January-March 2007 newsletter features:

1. Quotes of the Month
2. "A Poor Slave of Allah" By Maria Enriqueta Romero
3. "FAQs About the LADO Group" By Juan Galvan
4. "My Experience at the AbuBakr As-Siddeeq Seminar" By Amiira bint Fernando
5. "My Beautiful Trip to the AbuBakr As-Siddeeq Seminar" By Idriis Garcia
6. "The Centrality of the Masjid" By Samantha Sanchez
7. "The Inner Dimensions of Hajj" By Syed Abul Ala Maududi
8. "So That You May Know Who I Am" By Juan Galvan
9. "My Journey to Earthbound Paradise" By Zeina Mena
10. "Dichos Islámicos Comunes"

Quotes of the Month

"Read in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher Who created man out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood. Read! And they Lord is most Bountiful, He who taught the use of the Pen, Taught man that which he knew not." - Qur'an 96:1-5.

The people of Yemen used to come for Hajj and used not to bring enough provisions with them and used to say that they depend on Allah. On their arrival in Medina they used to beg the people, and so Allah revealed, "And take a provision (with you) for the journey, but the best provision is the fear of Allah." (2.197). - Sahih Bukhari 2.26.598. Narrated Ibn Abbas.

The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) used to say in his prostration, "O Allah, forgive me all my sins, great and small, first and last, open and secret." - Sahih Muslim. Riyad as-Salihin 244.1429. Narrated Abu Hurayra.

"God loveth those who are kind." - Qur'an 5:13.

"We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own." - Cesar Chavez.

A Poor Slave of Allah

By Maria Enriqueta Romero

Bismellah

Soy Mexicana
Soy Musulmana
De ser Malinche* no se nada

He reclamado mi herencia
Humana
Femenina
Mi dignidad
Como mujer y madre

Levanto la frente
Orgullosamente
Mi velo es mi escudo
Mi fe, la espada
Para combatir
La opresion
Mientras vivo for El
No me falta nada

Estas lagrimas no son
Debilidad
Solo agradezco
ser Esclava de un Maestro
Que me ha elevado
Pulido
Inshallah Perdonado

Soy Mexicana
Soy Musulmana
Alhamdulilah Soy Esclava de Allah

Comment:

Malinche, Malinalli, or Doña Marina as she is sometimes, known was a translator for Cortez and some say, facilitated the Conquest of Mexico. For many years, if you were thought to have betrayed your Raza, you were called a Malinche, or Malinchista. New scholarly thought and research places Doña Marina in a new light, but we won't go there now.

I thought of this because the first time a Chicano classmate saw me in hijab, he called around to our friends and said something along the lines of, "Chale, Queta's no longer one of us. She's one of THEM." Alhamdulilah, I've been one of THEM since August 13, 1998. May I live, and die on this deen. AMEEN.

Fe Aman Allah.

FAQs About the LADO Group

By Juan Galvan

- What is LADO?
The number of questions I receive about the Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO) always surprises me. I think that our website already provides plenty of information about LADO. You can learn about LADO at www.LatinoDawah.org. Latino Muslims from New York founded LADO in September 1997. They were concerned that few Latinos were coming to Islam, and they wondered what they could do. They also wanted to address common concerns of new Latino Muslims. For example, LADO set out to reassure Latino Muslims about their identity as both Latinos and Muslims.

- What does LADO do? What does Dawah stands for?
In Arabic, dawah means "invite" or "invitation," but religiously speaking, dawah is the Muslim responsibility to "invite" others to Islam. LADO's mission is to promote Islam among the Latino community within the United States. We focus on educating Latinos about Islam as a way of life. We also educate Latinos and others about the legacy of Islam in Spain and Latin America as well as about the growing Latino Muslim community in the United States. What does LADO mean to you? For me, LADO represents a means of spreading Islam to Latinos in the most effective and efficient manner - by simply providing information.

LADO is a dawah organization that understands the value of information. Although LADO is not interested in consolidating all Latino Muslim organizations or bringing all Latino Muslims under a common organization, LADO is interested in bringing together information and resources about Latino Muslims from around the United States. Whereas some companies charge for information, we provide the most valuable information for free. Islam is the most valuable information anyone can receive. Information is power, and the truth is most powerful. People come to us seeking answers. LADO is an important gateway that makes Islam more accessible to the Latino community by resolving three major barriers for Latinos interested in Islam.

First, a leading barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Spanish Islamic literature because many Latinos only know Spanish. We encourage the development and distribution of Islamic literature in 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. We provide information on how to obtain free Islamic literature in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. We also actively translate Islamic literature, especially into Spanish, because Islamic literature needs to be readily available in all languages.

Second, another leading barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Latino Muslims. Some Latinos who do not know any English need someone to answer their questions in their native language. We prefer to direct non-Muslims to the best source within their local community. Latino Muslims are more familiar with Latino culture than are non-Latinos. And, friendships are also needed to prevent the loneliness that sometimes occurs with conversion. Many people ask for help and advice. LADO understands that much work is to be done beyond the local level. We have developed a communication network that exists throughout the US. LADO serves as a gateway by providing networking opportunities. I cannot tell you how important it is for Latino Muslims to be accessible to non-Muslims and Muslims. By becoming accessible to various Muslims, Latino Muslims have taken leadership roles in various Muslim organizations. By becoming accessible to reporters, for example, Latino Muslims have been able to contribute to a significant number of newspaper articles about Latino Muslims. By becoming accessible to non-Muslims, we have been able to show many that Islam is a beautiful religion.

Third, another barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Islamic institutions. In addition to directing Latinos to specific Muslims, we direct non-Muslims to Islamic institutions, especially mosques and Muslim organizations. Latinos contact us requesting information about their local mosque. Sometimes, a mosque may not be found in their particular city. Or, their local mosque may not be very welcoming or may be indifferent to the needs of non-Muslims. Oftentimes, Latinos do not know that the Islamic place of worship is called a mosque, because many Latinos do not know anything about Islam. We also get requests from Muslims around the world for information about Islamic organizations in Latin America. We provide a list of existing mosques in Latin America, Spain, and some other countries. New Muslims need to be nurtured because they will help establish and strengthen American Muslim institutions. We will find a way to meet the needs of new Muslims when current Muslim institutions are unable to do so. For example, we support the development of companies that focus on producing Islamic literature in Spanish.

- What's the status of LADO today? Where is LADO headquartered? How many chapters and members does LADO have today? Is it only in New York or New Jersey?
LADO is a very loosely knit organization. LADO does not have physical offices, such as a headquarters. Although people may constantly move, LADO remains available online to provide a number of services. LADO understands that the Internet allows information to be easily and inexpensively distributed to anywhere and accessed from anywhere. LADO also understands that the Internet allows people to easily and inexpensively communicate with other people from around the world. As mentioned previously, LADO provides a way for Latino Muslims from different states to be accessible via the Internet. We are not a virtual or online community, because our activities are not limited to the online world. LADO strongly believes that the mosque must continue to be the center of Islamic life.

- Why is not LADO composed of traditional chapters?
When I first joined LADO, I wanted to make LADO into an organization composed of traditional chapters that revolve around a national headquarters. However, it is not feasible on our limited resources. You need significant funding to develop and manage such an organization. For example, we would need significant, continuous sources of funding to maintain a full time staff at a national headquarters. Initially, my idea was to develop ten, traditional chapters in the ten most populated states. But great contributions come from outside those ten states, and large numbers of Latinos live in cities that are not within those ten states. Therefore, LADO tries to have dedicated people from throughout the fifty states because we receive requests for assistance from states that are not traditionally associated with having large numbers of Latinos. Although LADO aims to limit its activities and projects to the United States, many Muslims around the world have joined LADO because our membership is free and open to all Muslims who agree with our mission. Consequently, LADO membership is not limited to the United States or to Latino Muslims. We have connections with Muslims from Latin America, the Middle East, Europe including Spain, and beyond. LADO consists of almost 5,000 members and representatives throughout the United States and abroad.

- How is LADO organized geographically?
Today, LADO is comprised of four regional divisions - the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, and the West. The divisions are based on how the US Census Bureau classifies all fifty states into regions. How frequently do local chapters meet? What role does LADO play in the daily lives of Latino American Muslims? LADO does not have regular, traditional meetings because LADO is not composed of traditional chapters. Members who live near each other may meet regularly on an individual basis, and many members meet regularly through local and national organizations. I often give permission to Latinos and Muslims to use our name at no cost for their events and activities. This worked out well with the publicity for a mosque open house by Latinos in New Orleans. Most Muslims are more familiar with our contributions rather than with LADO itself. Some Latino Muslims are not aware of LADO. Some Latino Muslims have minimal contact with LADO whereas others are very active within the organization. Members correspond mostly through e-mail.

Although it would be great if we could have traditional chapters, our organizational structure works best for us today. Our current organizational structure takes into account that the Latino Muslim community is still very young and is constantly changing. Because LADO needs to be flexible, I am also reluctant to create new leadership positions. I plan to eliminate any titles within LADO with the exception of members and representatives. Our new organizational structure will be better for the Muslim community. In the future if Latino Muslims want traditional chapters, we will need to build LADO into a strong centralized organization.

I am concerned about how such changes would affect our organization's culture. LADO's culture is an important asset because it emphasizes basic Islamic principles such as respect for one another. In our effort to strengthen existing Muslim organizations, we have developed friends within all the major Muslim organizations in the United States. We have very close friendships with members in other Latino Muslim organizations. I have been asked to start a LADO chapter in a city where there already was a Latino Muslim organization. I was not only concerned about hurting my existing friendships. Although we could develop chapters in only certain cities, I did not want Latino Muslim organizations to become suspicious of our intentions. I also do not want LADO to compete with local Muslim organizations for limited resources. And, of course, people are the most valuable resource. We are well known for our cooperation with other Muslim organizations.

- Who is the leader of LADO? What is your role within the organization?
Because LADO is highly decentralized, LADO does not really need a leader. A single leader does not guide LADO, and LADO is not dependent upon a single leader. Instead, responsibilities are distributed among a number of people. In a 2005 interview, Samantha Sanchez stated that I was the head of LADO. Sister Samantha had been the leader since LADO's founding. Samantha was instrumental in the founding of LADO. For example, the LADO website is still largely based on the framework she envisioned. She is also responsible for much of the information available about Latino Muslims today from her master's thesis. LADO founders, especially Samantha, are not given much credit for their contribution toward understanding Islam among Latinos.

I became a bit confused while reading the article because I had never considered myself as the new leader. Also, I was not sure if I even wanted to be leader. Samantha Sanchez has been very busy since getting married and having children. Because of her busy life, I have been acting as the leader. As the most visible LADO member, I have been often recognized as the leader. I spent much of last year discussing with various Latino Muslim leaders about what I should do. Islamically, a leader is needed even when three Muslims go on a journey, so how much more important is a leader needed when running a Muslim organization? I have decided that beginning next year I will officially be the executive director of LADO. As executive director, I will accept full responsibility for LADO.

- Who thought of the LADO name and motto? Why were the motto and mission statement of LADO changed?
You can learn more about the founding of LADO by reading brother Juan Alvarado's article entitled "The LADO Genesis." Sister Samantha Sanchez came up with the LADO motto, but sister Saraji Umm Zaid came up with the LADO name. The original motto of LADO was simply "¡A su LADO!" In 2001, I extended the motto to "¡Puro Latino! ¡Puro Islam! ¡A su LADO!" I wanted to emphasize that a Latino can be a Muslim without sacrificing his or her identity as either Latino or Muslim. By 2004, I finalized LADO's mission statement to be "to promote Islam among the Latino community within the United States by becoming better-educated Muslims and by working with like-minded Muslims." As LADO continued to grow, I found it more important to emphasize the importance of education and cooperation as preconditions to our dawah efforts. Muslims can accomplish little through ignorance and isolation.

In addition to the mission statement, the LADO mission consists of means for accomplishing our mission and consists of our mission's guiding principles. The means for accomplishing our mission provides general ideas for promoting Islam to Latinos. The means listed may also be thought of as goals. By understanding that Latino Muslims may live distances apart, LADO provides ideas for ways that Latino Muslims can contribute on various levels. If someone wants to contribute by writing articles, for example, they can put their skills to work. The most important thing is that people are contributing on some level. Our mission's guiding principles were designed to emphasize our Islamic identity, which guides all that we do. Brother Walter Gomez of northern California is largely responsible for the wording of our guiding principles. Our guiding principles explain our identity as Muslims by stating fundamental Islamic religious beliefs, values, and practices. This statement on Islamic belief is essentially the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Articles of Islamic Faith. Our guiding principles also briefly discuss the ideal Muslim character, brotherhood and sisterhood in Islam, and the need to avoid extremism in Islamic belief.

- Why does LADO sometimes go by the name "The LADO Group" or by "El Grupo LADO"?
Before a presentation, I was introduced to the audience as a leader of the LADO Group. Because my speech was being translated into Spanish, I loved hearing "El Grupo LADO" as it was used in the introduction. Brother Carlos Puerto from Dallas did not realize that he helped select the Spanish version of the LADO name. I have asked some Latino Muslims for the best translation for "The Latino American Dawah Organization." Although some of the translations were quite beautiful, I decided to maintain the simplicity and consistency that the LADO name provides. I did not want to create any confusion by introducing a Spanish name for our organization that did not include the word LADO. Our organization's name is recognized when the word LADO is mentioned in English or Spanish within the context of Islam and Muslims. Many people do not know what LADO stands for or even if it stands for anything at all. I once met a Muslim at a convention who did not know anything about the "Latino American Dawah Organization", but who had been a member of the LADO Yahoogroup for years.

- What can you tell me about the LADO logo?
The LADO logo consists of a star and crescent with our organization's name and motto. In 2001, I designed the LADO logo with Adobe Photoshop. Simplicity was my aim for the design of the LADO logo. One unnoticed fact about the logo is that the LADO motto is missing an inverted exclamation point. The original Adobe Photoshop file has been corrupted, so I have been unable to make the needed update. I currently do not plan to edit the LADO logo due to its irrelevance within the organization. The LADO logo does not play a central role in our organization's identity due to the disagreement among Muslims about the use of the star and crescent as a symbol for Islam. I have considered introducing a new LADO logo, but for now, I would rather not emphasize any particular logo or image.

-Who put together the new version of the LADO website? How's the Spanish version of the LADO website coming along? What are the differences between the previous LADO website, the new LADO website, and the Spanish version of it?
The LADO website has a new look. We are also getting closer to releasing the Spanish version of the LADO website to better assist Spanish-speakers. Brother Ralph Miranda of New York City is responsible for designing the new look of the LADO website. He also designed the look for the Spanish version of the LADO website. Afterward, brother Raheel Rojas of Canada coded the templates for the English and Spanish versions of the LADO website from Ralph Miranda's designs. I transferred all the content to the new templates. The organization and content of both websites is essentially the same as that of the previous LADO website. The English version of the LADO website will be in English and Spanish, but the Spanish version of the LADO website will for the most part be in Spanish. Sister Rocio Martinez of Lubbock and brother Juan Alvarado of Pennsylvania have been assisting me with the translation of the LADO website. I must thank everyone who has assisted with the LADO websites, especially sister Rocio Martinez. The LADO website usually receives almost 90,000 hits per month.

The LADO photo gallery is the most obvious difference between the previous and the updated LADO websites. The LADO photo gallery is best known for containing many wonderful images of Latino Muslims from around the United States. Because LADO does not own the copyrights to some images found on the LADO photo gallery, I do request to be asked whether or not LADO owns the copyrights to any particular image. Images that LADO has produced have been released to the general public under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). Therefore, people who are familiar with those images produced by LADO never ask for permission to copy and distribute images found on the LADO photo gallery. They always have permission!

- What is the LADO newsletter? Who is its editor?
The LADO newsletter is available online for free, which means that anyone can access articles by Latino Muslims throughout the year at their own convenience and at no charge to them. The LADO newsletter has been an important voice for the Latino Muslim community. The LADO newsletter is another great idea attributable to Samantha Sanchez. I am currently the editor of LADO's newsletter. I try to make articles found in the LADO newsletter easy to read and understand because I understand that people have varying levels of education. Collecting and editing articles may be the least enjoyable and most time-consuming of all my LADO responsibilities. Although I grant permission to reprint articles, I request permission to reprint articles because some people have specifically requested that their work not appear anywhere other than on the LADO newsletter.

The name of the LADO newsletter is "The Latino Muslim Voice." The name for the LADO newsletter was selected by vote from a list of twenty-four titles that Samantha and I put together. Some of the titles were simply jokes:
The Latino Muslim Voice
The Latino Moon Pie
The Latino Muslim Canvas
The Creative Latino Muslim Canvas
The Latino Muslim MorningStar
The Latino Muslim Gazette
The Latino Muslim World
The Latino Muslim Post
The Latino Muslim View
The Latino Explorer
The Latino Muslim Sun
Latino Muslim Journal
Latino Muslim Advocate
Latino Muslim Syndicate
Latino Muslim Dimensions
The Latino Muslim LowDown
Islamic Psychiatric Times
The Islamic Stimulation
The Latino Muslim Beatnick
La Prensa Islamica
Latino Muslim Times
Mother Samantha
The Right KufeFit
La Estrella

- How does the growing numbers of Latinos affect LADO? How do you manage to keep Latino Muslims working together without all the conflict?
The growth of the Latino Muslim community has been a blessing for all of the Muslim community. There is definitely power in numbers. Latino Muslims can accomplish much more than they were able to do in the past. We also have more choices now. We no longer have to settle for less on everything. We can seek and expect greater levels of quality. Latino Muslim organizations must meet basic levels of quality. We are not a movement based solely on quantity. The quality of our work is a reflection of the growth of the Latino Muslim community. On the other hand, because there are more Latino Muslims, it is easy to become complacent by resting on your previous accomplishments or to assume plenty of others are available to ensure all the work gets completed.

The growth of the Latino Muslim community has been a great thing for LADO, and it is also been a challenge. Among the challenges is that we face greater pressure from greater numbers of Muslims to go in various directions. Although LADO is pulled in many directions, LADO benefits from receiving feedback from those pulling in many directions. We just want to do some good, and at every corner, we stumble onto meaningless politics. There is no shortage of conflict. Although some conflict is necessary, conflict is unnecessary when it destroys an organization's ability to accomplish its mission. Fortunately, LADO's mission has established an organizational culture that assists in maintaining some unity and consistency throughout the organization.

I constantly remind people about the motto and mission of LADO. Our motto is "¡A su LADO!" that is, "At your side!" For me, our motto means being at the side of those who need you when they need you. All we do is satisfy needs. It is about helping other people everyday - hope. LADO avoids unneeded conflict by emphasizing the importance of Latino dawah by all Muslims rather than by focusing on LADO members. Regardless of the conflict, we all agree on the dawah. We are not looking to work with everyone who calls himself or herself a Muslim. The means for accomplishing our mission help keep LADO focused on meaningful activities that assist toward achieving its mission. For example, we cannot and we should not provide feedback about every conceivable topic.

We prioritize all input received by its relevance to the LADO mission. A Muslim organization can sail smoothly through all the rough waves as long as it has an internal Islamic compass guiding its direction. Our guiding principles provide a way for understanding and creating boundaries because staying within boundaries decreases unnecessary conflict. By understanding the boundaries, we can move forward toward accomplishing our mission. The great thing about LADO is that it is very flexible. The growth of Latino Muslims does not affect us in negative ways. Our organizational structure works well in this growing environment.

- What do you do when many Muslims want to do the same thing in different ways? What about the differences in the various schools of thought?
If someone is drowning, you do not ask questions about the drowning person. However, there is still an Islamic way for doing things. When I am unsure about the method, I consult with religious leaders and other Muslims who can give me important feedback. I am always looking for feedback, and I try to listen more than I talk. I am known for trying to reach out to different types of Muslims. Every Muslim talks about unity but when it comes down to it, there are always some people that everyone does not want anything to do with. I do not try to find ways to prevent arguments about aqida, fiqh, etc.

Scholars have been debating Islamic topics for centuries, so I do not have a problem when ordinary Muslims debate. I am a Sunni Muslim. I do not have the time, and I do not want to make the effort to argue with all Muslims who disagree with me. Stress is not limited only to differences in methodology, but also to differences in ethnicity, race, class, and gender. Tomorrow, we will forget about the minor conflicts of today, and we will still be one family. You can get a people under one name or under one roof, but it is all to no avail if there is no unity of heart and mind. Unity is a matter of the heart. Belief is a matter of the heart. Know that this type of unity is real unity, and know that it surpasses matters of this world. Muslims seek the unity of the heart and mind.

- What is the LADO Statement on Extremism?
After the 2005 London tragedy, a LADO member suggested that a clear message be posted on the LADO website stating that we do not support terrorist actions. After various debate and input from members, I finalized the LADO Statement on Extremism to address the questions, concerns, and suggestions offered by various Muslims. Our Statement on Extremism states, "Because Islam is the religion of moderation, we stand firm against all causes of extremism, including arrogance, ignorance, and impatience, as well as its consequences, which includes all forms of injustice, oppression, and terrorism, whether committed by an individual, group, organization, or country, regardless of religious, racial, or ethnic affiliation." By defining extremism from an Islamic point of view, the LADO Statement on Extremism is neither apologetic nor offensive because it emphasizes the importance of moderation for all types of individuals and groups. Furthermore, the statement acknowledges the causes and consequences of extremism. May we all bring an end to the various consequences of extremism by addressing its root causes.

- Who are significant LADO religious leaders?
LADO seeks to reserve religious titles for Muslims who have received formal training even though to become an imam does not necessarily require formal training. We are highly skeptical of self-appointed clerics. Therefore, we refuse to give ourselves titles generally reserved for Muslim religious leaders, such as imam and sheik. We would love to see more Spanish-speaking imams but not at the expense of traditional Islamic values. Great religious leaders can come from any race or nationality. We acknowledge the legitimacy of imams who are immigrants and/or imams who have studied overseas. American imams are our imams because we are American, too. We look to the knowledge and teachings of religious leaders rather than at their national identity or other considerations. We Latinos want to be judged fairly, so we should do the same with others.

- Are members of LADO part of regular mosques? How is LADO with regard to mosques? Where is the LADO mosque or temple located?
LADO members should participate in regular mosques. We seek the education and integration of new Muslims into the general Muslim community rather than the development of something entirely separate from it. We do not have a separate LADO mosque nor do we seek to have one. When working with organizations and institutions, we understand that things must be done in a respectful manner. We do our best to acknowledge existing rules and procedures whether written or unwritten. We understand the importance of respecting chains of command within organizations. We seek permission to have meetings or events at a mosque by notifying local leaders, even when not necessary to ask anyone.

LADO is an Orthodox Sunni organization. We have accurately been described as a paramosque organization because we offer services traditionally associated with mosques, but we prefer to refer people to local, established Islamic institutions. Paramosque organizations allow Muslims to cooperate on various important issues that some mosques are unable or unwilling to accomplish. Although I do not care much for the label, we have also been described as a think tank. We are a think tank in the sense that we conduct research about Latino Muslims, and we provide information and advice based on our research. Regardless, we believe that the traditional role of the mosque in Islamic society should be maintained and reinforced. We actively try to build connections with local mosques. LADO members are encouraged to join and assist other groups. Although independent from other Muslim organizations, LADO works extensively with almost all groups of Muslims. Our members can be found in almost all Muslim organizations in the United States. Consequently, LADO is often mistaken to be an umbrella organization for other Muslim organizations. Each compliments the other.

- What has been the general response of the Muslim community towards Latino Muslim organizations? What has been the general response to LADO by the Muslim and Latino communities? What kind of criticism does LADO receive?
As true with most Latino Muslim organizations, the general response to LADO by Muslims including those who are Latino has been a very positive one. The general Muslim community has a strong desire to hear the voice of the Latino Muslim community. It is a voice that grows louder every year. The general response by Latino non-Muslims to LADO has not been as positive. Most criticism we receive relates to issues that LADO cannot really change. Some Muslims, for example, are against the existence of all Muslim organizations. Some Muslims are against the existence of Latino organizations because they believe they are all nationalist. I address these types of issues in my 2004 article entitled "The Importance of Latino Muslim Organizations."

Non-Muslims generally oppose LADO for obvious reasons. Many non-Muslims view dawah organizations as a threat to their own religion and their religious institutions. However, many Latino non-Muslims are looking for answers about God and appreciate LADO as a resource. We do our best to offer reliable information to all interested parties. I must admit that the initial response by many Muslims after learning about LADO has ranged from amazement to confusion. One Muslim I knew wondered, "I did not know anything about Latino Muslims until I met you, and now you want to start an organization for them?"

Those who are not against all Latino Muslim organizations generally have criticism for specific Latino Muslim organizations, such as LADO. Some Muslims do not understand the logic behind the things we do or the way that they are done. For example, LADO receives criticism for its persistence on solely existing for the propagation of Islam. LADO, as an organization, stays out of politics. Some Muslims and non-Muslims wish that LADO would state its stance on a variety of political issues. However, members occasionally state their own opinions on political matters. Generally, LADO, as an organization, does not do any community-focused aspects. LADO does not directly offer financial or social services. Instead, we refer others to a number of available resources. LADO believes that the basic needs of people should be fulfilled without any strings attached. LADO members are encouraged to participate in volunteer activities as individuals or with other groups.

LADO also receives criticism for its open and laid-back culture. LADO's organizational culture fosters an atmosphere of cooperation, unity, and patience. Whereas some people wish LADO would make more or better use of its influence, some people are uncomfortable with LADO's influence. It is important to communicate your goals because people are more likely to understand and respect your goals even if they may disagree with them. Latino Muslim organizations have done well in that regard. Criticism is good because it generally shows that people care about us. We view most criticism as feedback, and we are always open to receiving feedback and recommendations. With greater resources, we could be even more effective and efficient in delivering free services to more people.

- What is HispanicMuslims.com? What is LADO's relationship to HispanicMuslims.com?
I established HispanicMuslims.com in 2001, a few months after embracing Islam. The mission of HispanicMuslims.com is "to show the diversity of the Muslim community by educating Muslims and non-Muslims about Hispanic and Latino Muslims." Almost everything about LADO is more complex and comprehensive than HispanicMuslims.com. HispanicMuslims.com simply focuses on educating people about Hispanic and Latino Muslims. HispanicMuslims.com continues to be officially separate and independent from LADO. I have more control over HispanicMuslims.com than over LADO due to the simplistic nature of HispanicMuslims.com.

- Is not it a conflict of interest to be involved with both LADO and HispanicMuslims.com?
I do not see a conflict of interest when a Latino Muslim assists in multiple Muslim organizations. It boils down to the relationship that LADO sees itself as having with other organizations. The ideas and beliefs about our role are very simple. One of LADO's guiding principles states, "A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. Whoever fulfills the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs. None will have faith until he wishes for his brother what he likes for himself." We do seek to serve Allah (SWT) by fulfilling the needs of others. We do not seek consolidation or domination. We do not seek competition or opposition. We do not seek confusion.

I do not see any particular conflict of interest in maintaining both LADO and HispanicMuslims.com for the same reasons that I do not have a problem with assisting Muslims that are not affiliated with LADO. As true with the general Muslim community, Latino Muslims strengthen and compliment each other. There can be no success when one person or one organization is responsible for all the work. I want more Latino Muslim organizations to be established. Whether or not they are affiliated with LADO is not important to me. By assisting others, we strengthen ourselves. And, there is always plenty of work for every Muslim.

- What can you tell me about Alianza Islamica?
I am not surprised that many people would be interested in learning more about Alianza Islamica. Alianza Islamica was the first Latino Muslim organization in the United States. Alianza Islamica was a New York based organization with physical buildings. They had a mosque at various times in Manhattan, in Spanish Harlem, and in the Bronx. Alianza members were primarily located in New York. Because of various negative experiences with immigrant Muslims, Alianza Islamica decided to create something independent of immigrant Muslims. Some leaders of Alianza Islamica took on religious titles such as imam. Alianza Islamica is best known for its very successful social programs. They provided free information about GED preparation, HIV infection, etc.

- Is it accurate to say that before LADO, most Latinos converted to Islam because of Alianza?
Alianza Islamica was very active in dawah. They provided free literature about Islam and preached about Islam to anyone that would listen. It was not uncommon for them to knock on doors. Even so, it would be inaccurate to suggest that Alianza Islamica and even LADO are largely responsible for most conversions by Latinos to Islam. As I have stated before, most Latinos are introduced to Islam through people that they know â€" friends, classmates, coworkers, etc. Furthermore, Latino Muslims from many states have been doing great work in their local communities for many years. Many local Latino Muslims are affiliated to some degree with LADO.

- What is the connection between LADO and Alianza Islamica? How do LADO and Alianza Islamica differ?
Answering such questions gives people more insight into LADO. You may want to compare what I have written about LADO and Alianza Islamica to better understand the similarities and differences between the two organizations. There is not much of a connection between LADO and Alianza Islamica. LADO was something that came about independent of other organizations. LADO was not founded because a group of Latino Muslims were angry with Alianza Islamica or any other organization. The structure of LADO was selected to provide members the freedom to do as much or as little as they wanted without dependence on a central figure or location. LADO has always sought to empower individual Muslims in their personal efforts.

Some Latinos have exaggerated the differences among the members of LADO and Alianza Islamica. It is true that many LADO members have disagreed with Alianza Islamica on various issues. However, some Latino Muslims were members of both organizations when Alianza Islamica still existed. LADO has been more influenced by the immigrant Muslim community than by the African-American Muslim community. I am not sure you can say that Alianza Islamica was influenced much by either community. Regardless, I try to look at each member of a group as a separate individual. It is generally not a good idea to make broad generalizations about any particular group.

- Why didn't the LADO founders simply join other organizations such as Alianza Islamica? Does LADO fill a void that Alianza could not fill?
The founders of LADO initially came in contact with each other over the Internet. The founders of LADO were looking for something that they could do at home or online rather than traveling a lot. In this regard, you could say that LADO was founded to deal with issues of inaccessibility. Various LADO members have visited Alianza Islamica at their various locations. The Muslims who established LADO found it difficult to attend regular meetings, such as at an Alianza Islamica location, due to school and family responsibilities. Alianza Islamica's locations were not open most of the time due to work, school, etc, and many Latino Muslims did not even live in New York. Staying in constant contact with Muslim organizations, such as Alianza Islamica, was difficult for the Latinos who would found LADO. For example, at the time, Alianza Islamica did not have e-mail, a newslist, or a website. The LADO founders were also enthusiastic about networking with Muslims from around the country. The emerging Internet allowed LADO to fill an important niche.

- What happened to Alianza Islamica? What happened to the members of Alianza Islamica?
A Muslim who once wrote a popular article about Alianza Islamica told me a couple of years ago that it no longer exists due mostly to constant infighting. I am not sure if that is entirely accurate. It could be that it still exists because some Latino Muslims may still consider themselves members and perhaps it has changed drastically, and maybe it will make a comeback. I am saddened that one of Alianza Islamica's former locations is now a liquor store, because a regular place of prayer has become a place where liquor is sold regularly. Some non-Muslims have hypothesized that the members of Alianza Islamica have left Islam. However, most former members have joined other Muslim organizations and now attend various local mosques. Some LADO members are former members of Alianza.

- Was Alianza the inspiration for LADO?
Alianza Islamica has been an inspiration for many Latino Muslims and their organizations. Certainly, we have all learned that successful Latino Muslim organizations are possible. However, LADO has always been very different from other Muslim organizations. Personally, I have received words of inspiration and encouragement by some of the founding members of Alianza Islamica. I know it can be difficult to run an organization for a long time. I have learned that Muslim organizations with great contributions and great vision can disappear due to lack of support. You can learn about the efforts of various Latino Muslim organizations at the LADO website.

- What's in the future for LADO? Do you have any new features or developments coming up? What's in store for the next ten years?
The future of LADO depends on many factors. LADO definitely needs the assistance of more committed Muslims. The Muslim community needs Latinos doing this type of work on a fulltime basis. The Muslim community needs professional religious leaders more than we need professional dawah workers, because the needs of the Latino community extend beyond dawah. I measure the success of LADO by the level that it is needed. Success for me is to be less needed, and complete success is to no longer be needed. Success comes from empowering others. Success comes from respect and appreciation because you can easily return to square one. Greatness comes and goes, sometimes as fast as they came. Great ideas are powerful, but even brilliant ideas may be rejected as fast as they were envisioned. We plan, and Allah (SWT) plans. And, there is no success but that from Allah.

All that we do is provided free of charge through volunteers. LADO does not have any money, because it does not participate in fundraising activities. Why not? As a new Muslim, I was concerned about my own personal intentions. I wanted to contribute my skills and knowledge for Allah (SWT) and only for the sake of Allah (SWT). Also, I did not want to focus my time on raising money. Realistically, we have to start fundraising. It is becoming a matter of survival. As with all growing organizations, LADO is experiencing growing pains. As LADO has grown, we have sought to continue to do the best with our limited resources. In addition to streamlining many of our processes, we have added processes to ensure greater levels of accountability. As everything gets bigger, we need more funds to simply continue with what we do. As time has passed, even more people have come to depend on our services on a daily basis. Resolving more needs means acquiring more expenses and more assistance. If we can keep helping others, I will be one happy Muslim.

The situation of Latino Muslims ten years ago was much different than it is today. During its first ten years, LADO did something amazing. LADO has shown non-Muslims that Islam is a universal religion. LADO has shown all Muslims that Latino Muslims are an essential force within the Muslim community. As Latino Muslims, we want all non-Muslims to understand that Islam provides answers to basic questions about life. And, we have just begun. Dawah takes lots of patience. The wait will be well worth it when the impossible becomes the possible and even more so when the impossible becomes realized. And, even today, people overlook the beauty in the world of possibilities. That is where our future comes from. Alhamdulila. LADO was founded on patience and hope. Ideas that were conceived in 1997 are only now becoming feasible. LADO functioning on a regular basis was once viewed as impossible. We are always looking for new ideas and recommendations for new features and developments. LADO tries to do its best with what it has.

Latino Muslim organizations, including LADO, are part of a movement. They are not the movement. Organizations appear and disappear but a movement can live forever as long as it is in the hearts of committed people. As long as they exist, Latino Muslim organizations will continue to strive in this movement that exists to bring Islam to all non-Muslims. In reality, the movement is much more encompassing than dawah. Indeed, the movement is not limited to any particular people, place, or time. After all, Islam is the true, universal religion. The movement will continue to move forward regardless of the challenges by unifying the Muslim community toward its common goals and values. We must continue to emphasize truth and patience because ignorance and impatience have often led to the sabotage of a movement. Muslims are not motivated by anything this world has to offer. Muslims desire the pleasure of only Allah (SWT) and seek only His guidance.

My Experience at the AbuBakr As-Siddeeq Seminar

By Amiira bint Fernando

http://www.albaseerah.org/forum/showthread.php?p=2378#post2378

March 15th, 2006

"We're actually going to Makkah and Madinah?!" I could not bring myself to believe that my zowj and I were going to have the opportunity to make our ‘Umrah, as well, as learn from some of the top ‘Ulamaah. Subhan'Allaah, it was like a dream come true.

As I looked out the window of the airplane, I still felt myself in doubt. Why me? I embraced this beautiful and wonderful Deen in March 1999, and still felt that there was so much more I needed to perfect before being worthy of setting foot in the Haram. But as one person had put it, "It is a very special thing when you are able to go, because it is as if Allah subhannahu wa ta'alaa, is inviting you." After hearing that, I felt even more humbled and honoured that we were blessed with this chance of a lifetime.

On our way from the airport, we approached a fork in the road towards Makkah, my heart stopped, seeing the road sign specifically directed "For Non-Muslims". The reality of the choice I had made of becoming Muslim was truly made manifest. Realizing that these two roadways for the believers and non-believers, metaphorically illustrated the pathways to al-Jannah and al-Jahannam. The difference between my loved ones travelling on one rather than the other, was the simple yet profound weight of a few words… La illaha ill'Allaah aMohammadur Rasoolullaah…

We arrived at the Haram before Fajr and began to perform our ‘Umrah. Perhaps because of the long travel and lack of sleep, it made it all seem even more like a dream. Endless dhikr of Allaah, du'as of tawbah and hidayaah for my family were on my tongue, my heart and mind. "If only they (my family) could see this… if only, insha'Allaah, one day…"

At the hotel, we were shown to our rooms. Alhumdulilaah, from the beginning, the sisters were very upfront and honest with each other, since we knew that we would be living together for the next two weeks.

Through my journey of this Deen, I have seen how difficult it can be for some sisters when trudging through the path to knowledge, either on account of not having a mahram for travelling or simply having to look after a family at home. And may Allah (swt) reward those sisters who make all the efforts to gain this precious ‘ilm of the Deen. Due to the set up of some lectures, sometimes the ‘ilm is not clearly understood as it is for the brothers. This is usually based on the fact that you cannot actually see the teacher and can be a little frustrating, since physical expression or mannerisms have a lot to do with fully grasping and understanding a lesson. Thus, it took a great deal of patience and concentration to do so.

As a sister, sometimes you feel that you wish you could be there right in front of the Scholars or Students of Knowledge during lessons, but alhumdulilaah, we all felt fortunate to even be there listening to them live! There was only a doorway, covered by a curtain that separated us from them in the lecture hall, so we were able to hear everything clearly and as if we were right there with them, alhumdulilaah. Keeping in mind that there will come a time when the Scholars will not be around for us to take our ‘ilm from, caused me to take my studying a lot more seriously than if I were at home listening to lessons on a tape. All I could think about was that I had to get this ‘ilm, and learn it thoroughly, and have it ingrained not only in my mind but in my heart. So that I could return home with the proper skills to benefit and improve my Deen, and most importantly, the dawah towards my family. May Allah soften their hearts and guide them… Aameen.

There were a total of five sisters that participated in this course, and mash'Allaah, I feel blessed to have been a part of something so special. Not only did we bond, but we were able to talk and support each other with our personal struggles. We shared each other's notes and books, and tested one another on certain subjects that we were having difficulty with.

One of the highlights of our trip was going to Umal Qura University in Makkah. Once we (the sisters) heard that we were going, we literally threw on our abayas and jet out of our rooms! We were so excited! For me, it was another far-fetched dream that I never thought would happen any time soon, subhan'Allaah.

We arrived at the building for the Sisters and entered with huge smiles on our faces. Even though we had heard about the university, it was still surprising to see no one wearing the "garb" that we wear outside. Mash'Allaah, I thought it was so cool! Escorted by a staff member to the main office area, we were greeted and introduced to different members of the university's faculty, as well as the Dean, herself. After assuring us that there were no men in the building, they invited us to hang up our over-garments. Nervously, we looked at each other, realizing that we were so excited to come that some of us only had our pjs underneath! We timidly stated that we were unprepared and added humorously that… "we just love our hijaab too much!" They all smiled, looking very professional and mash'Allaah, beautiful. They offered us the traditional Arabic coffee with delectable chocolates and after conversing for a while and getting to know one another, we were given a tour of the grounds.

After meeting more faculty members, having more coffee and chocolates, seeing the library and various departments, I was completely overwhelmed with the idea that insha'Allaah, I just HAVE to come to school here! All I kept thinking about was how mash'Allaah, blessed these beautiful sisters were to come here for school. Close to the Haram, in Makkah, hearing the adhaan throughout the day (live!), not having to put up with the terrible fitnah that comes with living in the land of the kuffaar, learning the Deen from people of Knowledge and just living among them… subhan'Allaah, I came close to tears many a time throughout our little tour.

Lastly, we were seated in a boardroom with all the faculty members, where an array of snacks and refreshments were served. After expressing what we thought of the school, all I could think of was how badly I wanted to pursue my Islamic education. And at the same time, how difficult and hurtful it is when your non-Muslim family is ignorant of its importance and would much rather you take a ribaa-based loan to get a secular kuffaar education. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when little tokens or gifts were being handed to us on behalf of the school. I was so touched by their hospitality and just felt my heart ache even more for my family. Wishing that they could know that this truly is the Haq from our Lord. The worst feeling for a "revert" is just knowing that you're disappointing your parents, and no matter how much you are struggling fisibillillah, they just cannot understand or see, let alone, care.

As to those who reject Faith, it is the same to them whether thou warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe. Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them. (Surah al-Baqarah 6-7)

I covered my face and started to cry. A sister explained that I was just too overwhelmed with happiness. I guess I just couldn't hold it in and feeling a bit embarrassed, I explained that I just didn't want to go home. Little did I realize that almost every one in the entire room had started to cry as well.

In the end we just asked that they remember us in their du'as and that insha'Allaah, not to forget us because we would be back. If not as students, then at least to visit.

Our second last day, my husband and I were personally taken to Shaykh Rabee's house for some important naseeha in which I was in urgent need of. I was not able to see him, as there were many brothers inside, however, my issue was still addressed, alhumdulilaah. At the spur of the moment, the brother who took us, decided to try another Shaykh's house. Mash'Allaah, my husband and I were able to sit with Shaykh Muhammed Jamil Zino. He was very hospitable, mash'Allaah! My issue was explained to him and he offered beautiful and encouraging advice. He made du'as for us and our families, and made sure we left with materials to give to them.

Besides the fundamentals and ‘ilm that I absorbed during this course, I felt the greatest impact come from the grave importance given to calling to the tawheed and the way of calling to it. At the time I had only been Muslim for 3 years and in my experience, found so many incidents in which new Muslims were frightened away or turned off due to the ignorance and lack of adhaab and aqlaaq that many other Muslims have today. And no matter how much knowledge one may have, it will never benefit anyone, if one does not also grasp the fiqh in calling to this Truth. If this can be accomplished, it is truly a beautiful and humbling thing to witness. I know that now because of what I, myself, have witnessed. And may Allah (azj) grant us this understanding, so that we may be successful in our call… Aameen.

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. (Surah an-Nahl:125)

My Beautiful Trip to the AbuBakr As-Siddeeq Seminar

By Idriis Garcia

http://www.albaseerah.org/forum/showthread.php?p=2377#post2377

March 15th, 2006

Beautiful… I hate it. Two thoughts I kept repeating in my head and upon my tongue. Not about the same thing but in fact different matters which are in contrast themselves. The first was like a dream. Being in Makkah, praying at the Haram, making ‘Umrah, learning firsthand from the big scholars, then Madeenah, praying at the Haram, attending the sittings of more big scholars, and every morning being awoken for fajr by a live adhaan… beautiful. While I was enjoying this bliss, I would occasionally recollect what it was like back in this non-believing land where I unfortunately reside. Which brings me to the second matter. Being in this democratic, usury-based system with all their ignorance, nakedness and immorality, waking up to this nightmare everyday startled by an extremely loud, annoying alarm clock… I hate it.

Naturally, my preference would be to focus on the more pleasant things. Upon arriving in Makkah, the first thing my family, companions and I decided was to go to Masjid al-Haraam and perform our ‘Umrah. Then beautiful things started happening. While in awe from the sight of the Sacred Mosque, the adhaan for fajr is called. This was such a trip since I only hear this kind of adhaan from tapes, and this was live! This was just the call to prayer. Imagine how I felt when Shaykh ‘AbdurRahmaan as-Sudays soon led the salaah then started crying, or when I saw the Ka'bah for the first time. Beautiful.

After performing such a rigorous but virtuous act such as ‘Umrah, came more virtuous/rigorous experiences. I arrived at the hotel while still in my ihraam gear, all exhausted. I quickly got cleaned up then joined the gathering of knowledge already in session. It was the hadeeth class being taught by Shaykh Wasee'ullaah ‘Abbaas. This was the beginning of an intensive, brain stimulating, heart rendering course of learning. The classes were one of the most beneficial of my time there. I learned so much. Not just from what was taught but also from the way they were taught. It's such a blessing to be able to witness how these great Scholars apply what they have inherited from the Prophets.

There were many memorable moments for me. Just to mention a few are: visiting and applying to the universities, being taken on a tour through the historical sites in Makkah and Madeenah, and having dinner at Shaykh Muhammad as-Subayyal's house with him, Shaykh Wasee'ullaah Abbaas, and the Shaykhs Muhammad and Ahmad Baazmool.

I was initially disappointed when I learnt that, due to our arriving late, I missed out on being amongst the brothers as guests at Shaykh ‘Ubayd's, then Shaykh Rabee's houses walaahawlaa walaaquwwaata illaa billaah. Alhamdulillaah, during the course of events, I ended up visiting Shaykh Rabee's house on four different occasions. Allaahu Akbar. He even served me some tea! When I was in Madeenah, a kindly brother I met at the University (jazaakallaahu khayr akh Khalid) was going to take me to Shaykh ‘Ubayd's house but I was obligated to go back to Makkah to attend the classes. Another thing I was upset about due to our late arrival was not seeing the Scholars of Madeenah when they gave lectures for the brothers. We met up with the group in Makkah when the Madeenah part of the seminar had already passed. But when me, my brother ‘Irfaan and our wives decided to go to Madeenah from Makkah, I was able to sit at the circles of Shaykh ‘Abdul Muhsin al-Abbaad, Shaykh Saalih as-Suhaymee, and Shaykh ‘Abdul Maalik Ramadaanee al-Jazaa'iree inside Masjid an-Nabawee. Walhamdulillaah.

Our arrival in Madeenah was just as beautiful as it was in Makkah. As soon as we got out of the car by the Prophet's Mosque, the first thing we heard was the Qur'aan through the serene voice of my favourite reciter al-Hudhayfee leading the fajr salaah. Later thet day was Jumu'ah where I listened to Shaykh Husayn Aal asShaykh give the Khutbah and lead the salaah.

In Makkah, what touched me the most was when Shaykh Muhammad al-Banna started hugging the brothers after telling them it might be the last time we'll be seeing him since he might be leaving this world soon due to his old age. A sentimental, tear-jerking moment.

The most unforgettable part was my family's private session with Shaykh Muhammad Jameel Zeenoo. Our meeting with the great Shaykh was a result of a favour amongst the many favours provided by my brother Aboo Sufyaan Zahid Rashid al-Atharee, may Allaah increase the Ummah with brothers like him. He went out of his way and helped us so much regardless of his busy schedule in organizing and running the seminar. Brother Zahid first advised us, then went to Shaykh Rabee's house and got the Shaykh's advise regarding a personal issue. He then brought us to Shaykh Muhammad Jameel Zeenoo's house and translated for him and us. After serving us some zam-zam water, the Shaykh gave such beautiful naseeha. He was so hospitable, courteous and generous (mash'Allaah and may Allaah preserve him). We were even given a whole box of books, tapes, and other da'wah material.

For the little time I was there, I can honestly say that I've learnt a great deal. Not only from the lessons, but from the actions of the Scholars and the brothers. The theme of my story there was knowledge. I'm sure it was like this for the others who attended the seminar as well. They were studying together and teaching each other. Even the translators for the Shaykhs were constantly going through the lessons with us and testing us. From quotes of the salaf in posters to the books of the salaf being taught by our Noble Scholars, this seminar was all about ‘ilm. One thing that amazed me from the ‘Ulamah and Tullaabul ‘ilm was how humble they are. Some people think they know something and then become arrogant but with these people of knowledge, it's like the ‘ilm increases their humility.

I thank Allaah for allowing me to experience such wonderful things while being able to perform ‘ibaadah unique to these Holy Places. I ask Him to increase me in knowledge and humility and to be with people who possess these virtues. May He grant me Understanding of this ‘ilm and let me adorn it with richly textured righteous actions. O Allaah, please enable me to call to this knowledge. I ask ar-Rahmaan to give me patience and perseverance during hardships in acquiring and disseminating it. Lastly, I seek refuge in Him from the knowledge that does not benefit. Aameen. Wassalaatu wassalaamu'alaa Rasoolillaah.

The Centrality of the Masjid

By Samantha Sanchez

The Masjid as a Center for Community, as a Nucleus of the Muslim Society

Beyond establishing prayer, the function of the mosque is to provide for the needs of the community. Islamic cities were built with this purpose in mind, just look throughout North Africa and Europe. The mosque was at the center surrounded by the market and residence areas. Thus making the mosque of central importance in all aspects: socially, academically, politically, militarily, culturally, and so on. The community mosque, despite limited space in some communities, should provide a number of services for the community beyond those which naturally occur - daily prayers and weekly congregational prayers (jumah).

Religious and Secular Classes. The mosque of antiquity's role was to provide a center of learning for the community. So much so, that in Islamic Spain, Europeans traveled to the mosques of Granada to be trained academically in philosophy, medicine, and many other subjects. Moreover, mosques existed with the purpose of providing religious training in terms of laws (shariah), jurisprudence (fiqh), and other subjects. Although most mosques today provide Sunday and Friday schools for children to be taught Islam, many lack a strong adult education mission. To fulfill this role, mosques today should provide religious and related courses, such as, but not limited to, Arabic, Islam for Beginners, Halaqas, Fiqh, Hadith, Shariah, Tafsir, and Dawah Training. These courses would enable the community to become educated in the scholarly discourses of Islam all the while teaching the proper behavior of a Muslim and allowing for better conduct as a community.

In addition, classes of a secular nature should be taught by members of the community who have skill so that such skills can be shared in an effort to make the Muslim community the most educated in all areas. Such classes can be in computer training, calligraphy, and other types of workshops that would provide beneficial skills for the ummah.

Social Functions. The masjid should be the social center of the community and as such should provide halal activities monthly if not weekly with the sole intention of fostering communitas â€" a brotherly (or sisterly) feeling amongst its members. Such social gatherings can include lectures on Islamic or appropriate secular issues, Islamic theatrical and/or musical performances such as nasheeds , dinners, fundraisers, etc…

Marriage, Birth and Death Services. Of course many masajid offer the following services but how many teach the fiqh of such services? Masajid must offer marriage, birth and death services (nikah, aqiqa, and janaza), but in addition, classes or lectures should be given on the proper fiqh where attending and performing a janaza, pre-marriage counseling issues, and the rituals upon the birth of the baby, can be learned and discussed. Too many people are not familiar with their responsibilities in this respect, or have some ideas that are culturally influenced and need to learn what Islam says in regard to these ceremonies.

Health of the members. As mentioned before, the learning of medicine was of great importance in the golden years of Islam. Scholars, such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna) would teach others the ways to heal and medical care was never in want. The masjid, if possible, should rally the help of doctors in the community to offer free care and advice to members, once a week or once a month. Also, if anyone has knowledge of homeopathic or herbal medicine or if anyone is interested in learning, classes could be offered in this subject as well. Natural healing was important to the Prophet (saws) and books have been written such as Prophetic Medicine, which outline was Prophet (saws) used to heal different ailments.

Foundation of the Family. The masjid should offer several types of family services including marriage counseling, grief counseling, parenting classes, help for victims of domestic violence, and if possible, lawyers in the community could offer free legal advice to members. Thus, when a Muslim family has a problem they will not turn to secular solutions but rather attempt to solve their problems wit the help of Qur'an and Sunnah and other Muslims as guides.

Community Service and Charity. Last, but not least, the masjid should be a forum for active community service. A food drive or establishing a food pantry is a simple but effective way to begin giving back to the community. Islamic communities of yore were known for their generosity and today's Muslim communities are not, but should be, at the forefront of all charitable and social justice causes. Each month a theme could be announced, i.e. clothes drive, book drive (for masjid library or donation to a local library), helping the elderly, etc… It would also be good for Muslims to be active publicly with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Red Cross/Red Crescent. Sadaqa funds should be established if they are not already. Finally, services even in our local area such as maintenance of the masjid, cleaning and repairing, are all examples of community service. It starts from within. If we cannot take care of our masajid how can we take care of the community at large?

Conclusion. It is time to return to the halcyon days of the Golden Age of Islam, when the masjid was more than a once a week gathering place, or a place to drop off and pick up children for Sunday School. We must become motivated as an ummah to strive for a community in which the mosque is the nucleus of all things, great and small. It is a tragedy that globally, many mosques, even today, have no women on executive boards, no community service projects ongoing, and no services for the community aside from the performance of nikah and janaza. The masjid is a place for all people, male and female, adult and child, Muslim and non-Muslim to feel free to come and benefit from its plethora of educational and social activities. They are for the common good. What type of daii are we if we do not invite non-Muslims to our activities, and what type of community are we if we do not care about the whole person and not just the spiritual part. Islam is not a religion, it is a way of life. But recent generations have treated it like the former rather than the latter. The excuse so generally made is that there is limited space in our local masajid and we cannot have so many activities. The Prophet (saws) carried out all these activities and more in the first mosque he built in Madina which as we all know was not half as large as some of the mosques we have today. Remember what Allah has said in the Qur'an:

"The mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in God , the Last Day, establish regular prayers and practice regular charity and fear none (at all) except Allah. It is they who are expected to be on true guidance. (9:18)"

© 2001

The Inner Dimensions of Hajj

By Syed Abul Ala Maududi

Excerpts from his book, "The Fundamentals of Islam."

Nature of journey for Hajj

The people of the world are usually aware of two kinds of journey. One journey is that which is made to earn livelihood. The second one is that which is undertaken for pleasure and sight-seeing.

In both [of] these journeys, a man is impelled to go abroad by his need and desire. He leaves home for a purpose of his own, he spends money or time for his own requirements, therefore, no question of sacrifice arises in such a journey.

But the position of this particular journey which is called Hajj is quite different from that of other journeys.

This journey is not meant to gain any personal end or any desire of Nafs. It is intended solely for Allah, and for fulfillment of the duty prescribed by Allah. No person can prepare himself to undertake this journey until and unless he has love of Allah in his heart as well as fear of Him, and feels strongly that the Fard (obligation) ordained by Allah is incumbent on him.

Therefore, whosoever sets out for Hajj parting from his family and relatives for a long period, allowing his business to suffer, spending money and bearing the rigors of the travel, he furnishes by his act of devotion a proof of the fact that there is in his heart fear of God and love for Him as also a sense of duty. [It also indicates] that he possesses the strength to leave his home, when called upon to do so, for the cause of God, and that he can face hardships and willingly sacrifice his wealth and comfort for the pleasure of God.

Inclination towards virtue and piety

When the pilgrim gets ready for the journey with this holy intention, his disposition assumes a different color.

His heart, which is aflame with exuberance of the love of God and which is pulsating with a longing to visit His House, starts harboring only virtuous thoughts.

He does penance for past sins, seeks forgiveness from people whom he might have wronged, tries to render his due to others where necessary so as not to go to God's court trammeled with the unfulfilled rights of his fellow beings, shuns vice and develops fondness for virtue.

Then, as he steps out to begin the journey, the more he proceeds toward the House of God, the more keen he becomes to do good deeds. He is careful to see that nobody is harmed by him, while he tries to render whatever service or help he can to others.

His own nature desists from abuse, indecency, dishonesty, squabbles and bickerings because he is proceeding on the path of God.

A man may be making [a] journey towards the Divine Haram and yet indulging in bad habits? How can such a shameless thing be possible [for] anybody? Thus the entire journey of his constitutes a complete Ibadah.

Oppression and vice can find no place in contrast to all other types of journey. This is the one which continuously keeps on purifying man's Nafs. It is like a great reformatory course to be compulsorily gone through by every Muslim who sets out to perform Hajj.

Blessings and effects of Hajj

From all the details you have heard you can judge that during the period of two to three months, from the time of deciding and preparing for Hajj to the time of returning home, what great effects are produced in the heart and mind of man!

The process entails sacrifice of time, sacrifice of money, sacrifice of comfort, sacrifice of several worldly relations and sacrifice of many corporeal desires and pleasures.

And all this simply for the sake of Allah, with no selfish end. Then, together with piety and virtuousness, the incessant remembrance of God and the longing and love of Him pervading the mind of the pilgrim, all leave a firm impression on his mind which lasts for years to come.

[On] reaching this sacred land he witnesses at every step the relics of those who sacrificed everything [of] theirs in servitude and obedience to Allah. They fought against the pagan Arabs, suffered tortures, became migrants, suffered unbearable hardships, but ultimately did raise aloft the Word of God and did not rest content till they subdued every such false power which wanted man to become subservient to other entities than Allah.

A lesson in courage and determination, which a devotee of God can draw from these clear signs and sacred relics, can hardly be available from any other source.

If the attachment developed with his focal point of Deen (religion) through the circumambulation of [the] Kaba [and] the rehearsal of a Mujahid's life [through] the rites (Manasik) of Hajj (such as running about, and repeated departures and halts) are combined with Salah, fasting and Zakat, and they are all seen conjointly, you will realize that these processes constitute a training or some big task which Islam wants Muslims to execute.

For this reason, Hajj has been made compulsory for those who are solvent enough and are capable to undertake the journey [to and from the] Kaba so that, as far as possible, Muslims in the largest possible number remain equipped in every period after having fully gone through this training.

Hajj: a collective Ibadah

[You] will be unable to appreciate fully the benefits of Hajj unless you keep in view the fact that each and every Muslim does not perform Hajj individually but that only one single period has been fixed for Hajj for the Muslims of the whole world, and, therefore, [hundreds of thousands] of Muslims jointly perform it.

What I have stated before has only brought home to you the effect produced by this Ibadah on every Haji individually.

Now I shall explain to you[...] how these benefits have been enhanced 100,000-fold by appointing one single period of Hajj for all the world. The excellence of Islam lies in this very fact that by one stroke it achieves not only two but 1,000 purposes.

The advantages of offering Salah singly are by no means small but by making it conditional with congregation, enforcing the system of Imamat in Salah and by enlarging the congregations of the Friday and Eidain [the two Eid] prayers, its benefits have been increased to a limitless extent.

The observance of fasting separately by each person is also a very big source of reformation and training but by appointing only one month of Ramadan for all Muslims, these benefits have been increased so much that they cannot be counted.

Zakat too has many advantages even if dispensed individually. But with the establishment of Bait-ul-mal (Public Exchequer of the Islamic State) its usefulness has been increased to such a great extent that you cannot estimate it till such time as an Islamic government is formed and you witness with your eyes how much goodness and plentifulness result from collecting the Zakat of all Muslims at one place and distributing it among the deserving persons in organized form.

Similar is the case of Hajj. If every [person] were to perform Hajj singly, even then it will bring about a big revolution in his life but by formulating the rules for all the Muslims of the world to perform it together at one time, its benefits have been increased to a limitless degree.

Growth of piety and virtuousness

When every intending Haji [decides] to perform Hajj and immediately with this intent the virtues of fear of God, piety, penance, Istighfar (seeking forgiveness from God) and good morals begin to cast their influence on him; [when] he starts [saying] farewell [to] his relatives, friends, professional and other associates; and [when he] settles all his affairs as if he is no longer the same man as before (his mind is now pure and clean because of the newly-kindled spark of love of God), you can imagine the effect of the changed condition of the Haji on so many people around [him].

And if every year in each of the different parts of the world 100,000 Hajis at an average get prepared for Hajj in this manner, their influence will improve the moral state of a vast number of people.

Then the hearts of [a] large number of people [will be] warmed at places through which the Hajis' caravans pass, by seeing them, meeting them and by hearing from them the [sound] of Labbaik, Labbaik. There will be many whose attention will be diverted towards Allah and Allah's House, and the eagerness for Hajj will create a stir in their slumbering souls.

And when these people, filled with the thrill of Hajj, return from the Center of their Deen to their cities and towns spread over all parts of the world and [are] met by numerous persons, then this [interchange] and the accounts related by the former of their Hajj experience enliven religious sentiments among countless circles.

So That You May Know Who I Am

By Juan Galvan

Assalaam alaykum,

In Quran 49:13, Allah (SWT) has stated, "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." The wisdom found in the Quran never ceases to amaze me. The most honored in the sight of our Creator are those with the greatest piety. Although we all come from a single soul, we are now scattered throughout this world. However, we have not come to know one another. In many instances, we do not have any desire to know one another. Instead, we are quite content on acting like complete strangers. By doing so, we continue to be fearful of one another.

An important part of my own dawah efforts has been about encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to come to know one another. Although both are important segments of American society, the Latino and Muslim communities do not know much about each other. Ignorance abounds in a world where two people do not know each other. Unfortunately, I have not always done such a great job at letting people come to know about who I am. Therefore, I should not be very surprised that I am often asked several questions about myself when I present at various events. By opening up about my experiences, I hope to encourage other Muslims to open up about their own. This article will be my attempt to answer questions I am frequently asked about myself. I will avoid repeating any information that I have previously written.

- How have you been? Why did you move to Florida?
Those are among the most common questions I have been asked lately. I am doing all right. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, I moved to San Antonio for a few years, but I now live in Florida. Even before my son was born, my wife and I had decided we would eventually move to Florida because we wanted our future children to live near grandparents. We could move to either Florida or the Texas Panhandle, and there was no way I would convince my wife to move to Amarillo. Actually, we also discussed moving to Chicago or Houston. She has lived most of her life in Chicago. Unfortunately, my father-in-law passed away last summer after his battle with cancer. Dealing with his death has been very difficult. I do thank God that he had a chance to meet his grandson, Juan Yusef. He was among the first to hold my son when Juan was born in January. Yusef is the Arabic name for the Prophet Joseph. Joseph in Spanish, or Jose, is my middle name.

- What do you think of Florida? Are you having trouble adjusting?
Because I have moved around a lot, I can become accustomed to just about any environment quickly. Until last year, I lived in Texas for 31 years. I find Florida to be very beautiful. I feel as if I live on a beautiful island. Bodies of water surround us with the exception of toward the north. I love the palm trees, and I like the weather. The weather is very similar to San Antonio's. It rained a lot this summer but I am not sure if that is typical or not. I have not yet gone to Disney World or Universal Studios but I definitely look forward to it. I am having the most difficulty in becoming accustomed to the diversity of races and ethnicities. Coming from San Antonio, I am used to a community that is primarily Mexican-American. San Antonio is the largest American city with a Hispanic majority.

Many non-Floridians think that Cubans comprise the largest percentage of the Latino population in every city in Florida. However, to my surprise, in many major cities such as Orlando, the majority of Latinos are Puerto Rican rather than Cuban. I met a Puerto Rican for the first time while attending Texas Tech University. I am very impressed with the large number of Brazilians in Florida. In many cities, Brazilians make up a significant percentage of the population. Portuguese publications are commonplace. Definitely, I would love to work on making Islamic literature in Portuguese readily available. Life here is definitely different than the life I knew while growing up in the Texas Panhandle.

- How has being a husband and daddy affected your dawah?
I have an entirely different perspective on life. I think it comes from my new responsibilities, which include many new hopes and fears. Married life is much different than the single life. My wife is Albanian-Brazilian. I was not even sure where Albania was when I first met my wife. My wife is a symbol of the diversity in this world. On any given day, we will say words and phrases from five different languages. My son is Mexican, Albanian, and Brazilian. Our son, whom we call Juanito, is one in a million. Like many Americans, I am concerned about the possible negative effects of popular culture on my child's future.

My new family responsibilities also take up much of my free time. I have distributed much of my dawah work among LADO representatives. I am quite impressed with their continued efforts. Brother Isa Lima of Washington DC is now the chief moderator of the LADO YahooGroup, and brother Juan Alvarado of Pennsylvania now handles most of LADO's e-mail correspondence. Maintaining the quality of our work is more important than my own interests. I would never have dreamed that I would be the person I am today. I could not have imagined my life. God is the Most-Wise, the Most-Merciful.

- What about your dawah in Texas?
I will continue to do as I have been doing. I will continue to emphasize issues important to Latino Muslims, such as Islamic literature in Spanish. My personal activities are transportable and are not dependent on any particular area. For example, I can write and edit articles wherever I live. I will also continue to work on various projects around the country. "Where you go, there you are," is one of my favorite mottos. Many people are looking for happiness in a faraway paradise that they often envision. But if they were to find that paradise, they would still be miserable because they would still have the same outlook on life. I will always love Texas, and I feel blessed for the many great memories. My friendships have been an enormous blessing. Saying goodbye has always been difficult. Muslims have a responsibility to their local communities. As a Floridian, I will work on behalf of Florida Muslims as I did for Texas Muslims. What I love most about Florida is the Muslim community. Most Florida Muslim communities seem to be well established, very active, and very welcoming to new Muslims.

- How did you get involved with LADO?
After embracing Islam, I felt saddened by what appeared to be a small number of Latino Muslims in Texas. I was also facing many internal issues and questions about my identity as a Latino and as a Muslim, and I knew I could not be the only Latino Muslim with these concerns. After becoming a Muslim, I thought that I might be the only Latino Muslim in Austin, Texas. Therefore, I made a conscious effort to learn more about Latino Muslims. I wanted to know about their dawah efforts around the United States, especially in Texas. And, that is how I came upon LADO. I was thoroughly excited about the prospects of working with this organization. After coming into contact with Samantha Sanchez, the LADO President, I told her about some of my ideas and concerns. "That's what LADO is for," she responded. And, I would later meet several Latino Muslims from not only Austin, but from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Brownsville, El Paso, etc.

- Why didn't you want to be the leader of LADO? What is most difficult about being a Muslim leader?
Beginning this year, I will officially be the executive director of LADO. What is most difficult about being a Muslim leader is also the reason I did not want to be the leader of LADO. I feared rejection, but as a Muslim leader, I get plenty of rejection. Muslim leaders inherit enemies because they are viewed as a threat to the status quo. I feared constant scrutiny, but now I am under constant scrutiny. I do not like to stand out wherever I may be, but now I am highly visible in the Muslim community. I am not the type of person who I have envisioned the leader of LADO to be.

I do not think I make a good representative for Latino Muslims, because I do not represent the typical Latino Muslim. As true with many Latino Muslims, I come from an interesting background. I come from a very poor family that came from the Rio Grande Valley area in Texas. I would hoe cotton during summers while growing up, and today my parents work difficult low wage jobs. However, I grew up in rural communities whereas most Latino Muslims grew up in urban areas. Consequently, many of my thoughts and opinions on several matters are different due to my background. Even worse, I speak very little Spanish. I am a third generation Latino. After hearing my voice, some people say that I do not sound like a Mexican. Sometimes, I will reply with, "Orale vato!"

When I originally began with LADO, I did not expect to be involved at this intensity for more than five years. I thought others would become leaders of LADO. And, I thought that other Latino Muslims and their Muslim organizations would rise to do what we do better. I do not understand how I got to where I am today with my dawah. It does not really make much sense. I cannot carry on a conversation in Spanish. I do not consider myself a religious leader. I have never formally studied Islam, such as at an overseas Islamic university. I am not an imam. I do not know Arabic. The greatest leader ever was the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Amazingly, he brought together several warring, pagan Arab tribes into the fold of Islam. As a leader, I have difficulty simply bringing together Latinos who already love Islam and who already are friends. I have tried to recruit from those who are more qualified than myself. I have developed great friendships, and they have given their blessing.

Even as LADO has grown, I continue to have difficulty getting commitment from members. I constantly fall short of being the Muslim that I want to be. And, therefore, I am uncomfortable that people look to me for wisdom and guidance when others are much more experienced and knowledgeable. Because we are all imperfect, we should not allow the possibility of making mistakes from performing good deeds. I fear the consequences of inaction. Patience has been one of my greatest virtues as a leader, because Muslim leaders must deal with diverse groups of people. Personally, I am not really great at anything I do. I am simply good at doing lots of much needed work. And, maybe, that is what LADO needs right now.

- Are you an imam?
I am not an imam. I do not want to be considered an imam even if I do not state that I am not one. I avoid acting within the capacity of an imam in public. I know that Muslims learn from my actions as a leader. I also avoid writing articles and making speeches that are about Islam as religion. However, I am an amir, or leader, although a very reluctant one. I try to keep a low profile by keeping my appearances at a minimum. I work best behind the scenes. Being extremely shy also does not help out much either. I feel very uncomfortable about the large number of Muslims who know of me. Perhaps, I value my privacy much more than I should. I also get more credit than I should because I am one of the most visible Latino Muslims. I converted to Islam in summer 2001, and great people have been doing great things way before then. And, I get goose bumps when I am in their presence.

Although I do not consider myself a pioneer, most Latino Muslim leaders are pioneers in the sense that much of what we are doing has never been done before. All people, especially leaders, should recognize that they influence both the present and the future. Latino Muslim leaders are influencing the future of the Latino Muslim community. Other Muslims look up to what has already been done for inspiration. Consequences can extend far beyond what you imagine. Wise decisions are critical. And, conveying decisions, ideas, and meanings accurately are critical because misunderstandings can be disastrous. All Muslims are responsible for determining how future Muslims will define what it means to be a Muslim in America. Religious leaders must be given an opportunity to participate in this process.

- How do you feel about how American Muslim leaders are asked to comment on every terror incident?
I wonder why we as leaders should have to comment on the evil deeds of people within our religion. You do not see this happen with other religions. When a Muslim leader does something bad, our entire religion and all other Muslims are seen as equally responsible for the leader's deeds. You do not see this phenomenon with other religions. Non-Muslims directly and indirectly state that our religion is solely responsible for the deeds of its members. The personal ambitions of Muslims are viewed as insignificant. And, once again, you do not see this happen with other religions. Do not you feel that Muslims, intentionally or unintentionally, are creating terrorism? Some Muslims are intentionally creating terrorism. People who say that Islam is unintentionally creating terrorism believe that the mere existence of Islam is dangerous and should end. And, once again, you do not see this happen with other religions.

- Why are you so willing to speak with the media or anyone else interested in Latino Muslims?
My driving force comes from my love of Allah (SWT). Talking about Latino Muslims gives me an opportunity to clear up misconceptions about Latinos and about Muslims. For example, many Americans want to severely limit the immigration of Latinos and Muslims for unfounded fear of both communities. Because the media does not mention differences among Latinos in articles about Latinos, the media continues to propagate stereotypes about Latinos as they do with Muslims. Most Latinos are not promiscuous alcoholics who love to dance the night away. And, most Muslims are not evil terrorists who are anxious to blow up the world.

The arrest of Jose Padilla caused quite a stir in the media because until his arrest, many people did not know there were any Latino Muslims. Unfortunately, some people have defined Latinos in Islam through the actions of Jose Padilla. Many people view him as a representative for Latino Muslims because he is the most visible Latino Muslim convert. This problem would be even worse if all articles about Latino Muslims were about Jose Padilla. I was once asked why as a Latino I would become a Muslim and put myself in a situation where I would be dually discriminated. I cannot change my ethnicity; and my heart belongs to Islam. Latino Muslims are literally a minority within a minority. I see myself in a position that offers me the opportunity to discuss two important segments of the American population.

Most of my media interviews have been through e-mail. I always fear misrepresenting Islam and Muslims, and e-mail is a good medium for people fearful of being misinterpreted. During my first years as a new Muslim, I did not feel very comfortable with telephone and in person interviews. Now, I actually enjoy in person interviews. I am still somewhat reluctant to give out my personal phone number to most people, because I have been called at all hours of the day and night due to time zone differences. Currently, I try to avoid audio and video recordings all together, but it is difficult to object when a microphone or video camera is in your face. I granted my first live radio interviews within the last couple of years. Although I continue to feel uncomfortable in many situations, I do know that without my contribution fewer people would know about Latino Muslims.

The 9-11 tragedy opened the eyes of many Muslims, including Latino Muslims. Because of the backlash against Islam and Muslims, many Latino Muslims felt a strong need to open up about their experiences as Latinos and Muslims. They were also horrified that those claiming to represent Islam and Muslims had hijacked their religion. Latino Muslims became more willing to be interviewed, and information about Latino Muslims became freely available. Therefore, news coverage about Latino Muslims that was impossible became possible after the 9-11 tragedy. However, this does not excuse the lack of interest in the Latino Muslim community by the media and academia prior to 9-11. Unfortunately, many Muslims are returning to their pre-9/11 way of indifference.

- Who is my intended audience? Muslims? Latinos? Everyone?
My intended audience depends on the purpose of the article or speech. I tend to direct my communication toward Latino Muslims. However, all American Muslims are my typical audience because they are most likely to read my articles or hear my speeches. More non-Latino Muslims read my articles and hear my speeches than Latino Muslims because Latino Muslims make up a small percentage of the American Muslim community. In general, my articles and speeches are for Muslim audiences. I hope that my articles and speeches can be tools that assist Muslims in their own dawah efforts. My articles are also an important means to address common criticisms that Latino Muslims hear, such as that Muslims do not believe in the Virgin Mary. I also try to write articles that motivate all Muslims to become more active. I have also written articles to help address any concerns the general Muslim community may have about Latino Muslims. Most of my articles can be found online in LADO's free online newsletter. I write in the English language but several of my articles have been translated to various languages.

- How many Latinos have you converted to Islam?
I do not convert anyone to Islam. We simply make Islam accessible to more people. The decision is up to non-Muslims and their Creator. After telling a friend about my conversion to Islam, she responded, "So, you were brainwashed?" Using this sort of logic, I have been brainwashed, and I am now brainwashing others. Many people have a tough time understanding why Latinos come to Islam. Many people feel threatened by the growing Muslim community. This is why many people have spread lies that exist to this day. "Non-Muslims are forced to convert to Islam," they explain. In explaining why people leave their religion, certainly, they will not acknowledge inadequacies with their own religion and its followers. Instead, they are quite content on denouncing Islam and Muslims.

- Why did you convert to Islam?
I continue to be asked many of the same questions asked of all Latinos. My conversion story can be read online at HispanicMuslims.com. I embraced Islam during the summer of 2001 after coming to believe that Islam is the true religion of God. I get many questions about my identity as a Latino and as a Muslim. How have you reconciled the differences between the Muslim lifestyle and Latino culture? What sacrifices, if any, have you made? Does being a Muslim make you feel like less of a Latino? How do you balance identities? Do you still feel uncomfortable around Muslims and Latinos? I do not have much to add to what I have already written in the past. I have never felt very comfortable around anyone. Sometimes, I still cannot believe that I am a Muslim. However, being Muslim does not make me feel less of a Latino.

As I once stated, coming to Islam is about accepting some new ways, rejecting some old ways, and adapting when necessary. Islam is like the framework of a house. The exterior and the interior of the house are details built around the framework. I still enjoy eating tamales, but I will not eat tamales made of pork. I am a Mexican-American, Chicano, Latino, Hispanic, and a Muslim. Being Muslim does not change my status as a Latino. I love my ethnicity. And, I love my religion. Latino culture like Muslim culture is not about living up to negative stereotypes about who I am supposed to be. I refuse to live up to those expectations. As a Muslim, I choose to do my best to live up to God's expectations for humanity.

- What kind of Muslim are you? What is Islam? Who are Muslims?
I am really surprised by the number of times I am asked that question. I could state the Testimony of Faith, or I could begin by explaining the Pillars of Islam and the Articles of Islamic Faith. My religion is Islam. That is what I believe. And, beliefs are manifested throughout a person's life. I hope that I am the kind of Muslim that the Prophets would be proud of. I am nothing more than a servant of God. But most people who ask these types of questions are not eager to know about my religious beliefs. They are much more eager to know about my political beliefs. Although some people want to cause dissension, most Muslims ask such questions because they are sincerely concerned about the types of Muslims with whom they associate. It is important for people to know whether or not they can trust their associates. They also want to know that their associates' beliefs do not deviate from core Islamic teachings.

In very simple terms, Islam is submission to God's laws. Muslims are those who submit to God's laws. The Prophet Adam was a Muslim. The Prophet Moses was a Muslim. The Prophet Jesus was a Muslim. And of course, the Prophet Muhammad was a Muslim. Peace be upon them all. Many valuable resources are available today through many Islamic institutions. You can explore Islam today by visiting your local mosque. Nothing can stop the student from finding the right teacher once he or she is ready to learn. Everyone wants to fulfill his or her purpose.

- Why do you think many new Muslims leave Islam?
The best way to answer this question is through a better understanding of human nature. Humans are not logical beings. Logic is not always sufficient for people to remain Muslim or for bringing non-Muslims to Islam. Personal experiences are treated as fact. Negative personal experiences can turn people away from truth, and positive personal experiences can bring people toward falsehood. And, past personal experiences keep people moving on their current path in life regardless of truth and falsehood. Many people who believe they have found truth reject it due to the prospect of negative personal experiences.

I believe that most problems facing the Muslim community stem from the incompetence of Muslims. Many new Muslims may have high expectations, which are not met by the Muslim community. Unfortunately, many new Muslims eventually leave Islam out of frustration. Some new Muslims leave Islam because their original intention for embracing Islam was not sincere. Rather than leaving Islam, other new Muslims choose to isolate themselves from other Muslims. I encourage new Muslims to have patience with the Muslim community and with themselves, because being the type of Muslim they want to be can be difficult in today's society. I encourage new Muslims to take the first three years as a new Muslim to study Islam intensely, because this foundation will prepare them for the many tests and trials they will certainly experience. I also encourage new Muslims to do only what they feel comfortable doing. Most new Muslims will not become great scholars, writers, or public speakers.

Embracing Islam is the first step for a new Muslim. Whereas a new Muslim has a responsibility to learn more about Islam, the Muslim community has a responsibility to make resources for learning about Islam available for new Muslims. We must come up with meaningful ways to deal with the challenges that face all Muslims. Certainly, we must not neglect the Muslim youth. They are the most important segment of the Muslim community. Educational programs, such as summer camps for Muslim children, are needed to educate the youth about their religion by bringing them together within a fun-filled, Islamic environment. We must continue to establish Muslim institutions in the United States and support those that already exist.

- Can you list a bad incident that happened to you because you're a Muslim?
Yes, I can think of more than one bad experience because I am a Muslim. Yes, I can think of more than one bad experience because I am a Latino. Yes, I can think of more than one bad experience because I am a Latino Muslim. Yes, these experiences have involved Muslims, Latinos, Latino Muslims, and non-Muslims. Although I have been hurt multiple times, I refuse to make a list of each instance because I refuse to define myself as a victim. And, I cannot create a complete list because I have tried my best to forgive and forget. The life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is very inspiring. I do not think most people today can forgive, forget, and move forward as he did time and time again. His forgiveness was courageous. Anger is a very time-consuming and destructive emotion. Anger and resentment can make life miserable. Forgiveness heals wounds. Islam has made me a better person. I am much more patient than I ever thought possible.

- What kind of advice do you have for me? What are some of the toughest lessons you've learned?
After returning to Turkey, Texas, my uncle decided to rebuild his house. He moved away and while away, he was unable to care for his house. In Turkey, Texas, my uncle, spent many days, months rebuilding his house. On one Saturday morning, my dad and I visited him as he worked on his house. He spoke excitedly, proud about completing his house. He had added electricity to the house. At one time, my mom once told me that he and his family lived in a one room building near a cotton gin in Turkey, Texas. Over time, he began to realize the complexities of building an entire house. What was lacking? Knowledge and skills? Money? Time? Assistance? Commitment? I do not know. He never did finish that house. He no longer owns the land where the house once sat. He hasn't lived in Turkey, Texas for several years now. I bet he thinks about that little house from time to time.

A personal story can be a very powerful educational tool. We can learn much from history, which is not much more than the collection of all true stories. History consists of invaluable stories about how great nations have risen and fallen. History is full of stories about the need to focus on seeking the pleasure of our Creator. This focus becomes more important as you have to deal with larger numbers of people. Because we are all to some extent a product of our own environment, we need to understand that we may have a limited view of reality. Some of your personal views may be contrary to basic Islamic values.

We need to keep Islam at the center of all that we do. We cannot focus entirely on people and other factors in our environment. We cannot allow people to be our only driving force. We must be willing to make tough decisions that many people will not like. We must ask ourselves, "Would this make Allah (SWT) happy?" Although it may seem insignificant, we really must ask ourselves these types of questions. We must also ask ourselves questions, such as "What do I want to do? How much time am I willing to sacrifice?" Do try. Do work hard. Do not stop. Do be flexible. Do listen. Do contribute regularly. Do trust in Allah (SWT).

Certainly, everyone can benefit from the lessons of the Quran and Sunnah. For example, one day Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, "Why do not you tie down your camel?" The Bedouin answered, "I put my trust in Allah." The Prophet then said, "Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah." (Tirmidhi). This is, of course, only one of many wonderful ahaddith. Many people could have easily avoided mistakes by following Islam. The toughest lessons always seem to come from mistakes. We must continue to use patience and knowledge when dealing with ignorance. Islam is a mercy for everyone. Although I avoid repeating anything I have written in past articles, I know that some lessons cannot be emphasized enough.

As a member of Habitat for Humanity, I felt more like I was building houses when hammering and less so when shoveling or raking. Every action led toward the completion of a house for a person in need. I encourage all Muslims to view all their actions in a similar manner. Because most Muslims are not aware of your contributions, they may think you are doing nothing. And, if you are doing nothing, you are essentially treated as nothing. We need to avoid placing value on others based solely on their production and productivity. All people are of value simply because they are human. The value of a person has become no more than that of a commodity if given any value at all. An extreme focus on production takes the fun out of our work.

Although I currently volunteer at least twenty hours per week on dawah, I know it is not possible for most people to do so. I make many sacrifices to continue this type of work. And, it is not all fun and games. In fact, many things I do are repetitive, mundane, and therefore, very boring. Regardless, I think it is important to quantify your effort. I am not suggesting that Muslims set up quotas for the number of converts per month. Some of the greatest Prophets had little or no success during their lifetimes in calling people to truth. I am suggesting that you do set realistic goals and deadlines. A schedule that includes a forty-hour workweek, two children, a wife, and twenty hours of volunteer work is not sustainable for the long run. I would be happy if every Muslim could donate at least two hours per week on dawah. You can expect to feel that you have not done anything regardless of how much you have actually done. This too is a sign of faith. Every action counts. May Allah (SWT) accept and be pleased with your good deeds.

- What do you think is the future of Islam in all of the Americas?
The future will be bright as long as local communities are strengthened with the presence of Islam. I get very excited when I think about the accomplishments of Muslims in America. For example, I often think about the rapid growth of mosques and of the Muslim population in America. Most Muslim communities in the United States are fairly young. Now that Islam has reached most major cities, our next challenge is to extend a warm invitation to the neighborhoods found within those cities. The Muslim community would not be wise to become complacent with its accomplishments because it is done much less than it thinks.

By and large, every decade has been kind to Islam in the United States and elsewhere. Our Islamic history has led us to where we are today, and today will help determine our future. Our future is secure as long as Muslims continue to strive in the path of our Creator. Muslims have much to contribute to all of the Americas. There is a bright future for Islam all over the world. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that Islam began as something strange and that it would revert to its original position of being strange, so good tidings for the strangers. I believe that despite our many differences that all of humanity can come to know and appreciate one another, just as our Creator initially intended. Islam lives forever.

My Journey to Earthbound Paradise

By Zeina Mena

How unpredictable is life! I never thought that I would be sitting here writing about a conversion story. Nevertheless, I never knew how much meaning it would pose on my life. I come from a broken family, which is almost normal in America. I was born and raised in New York City, and I am of Dominican descent. I grew up Catholic, went to Catholic school, and went to Catholic Church along with completing all of my rituals except for marriage. I always saw myself as a person that was close to God, especially after my parents' divorce, which devastated me emotionally in ways imaginable. I needed emotional peace and often found myself seeking it through church.

Two years after moving to Miami, and graduating high school, I met a Palestinian friend at a dental office which I worked in who taught me so much about the Middle East crisis and took the time out to explain things to me which were completely oblivious to my knowledge. Then I began to realize how ethnocentric people in America are. Time went by and my learning of politics continued. At the same time, my empty heart kept screaming out for love and happiness. One Sunday while feeling depressed, I decided to go to church, after a few months that I had not gone. I wanted to hear soothing words and know that someone cared. Forty-five minutes later, I walked out of church, and I never went again.

My interest in finding religious fulfillment grew stronger, so I decided to look into the various religions that were available. Although I was searching with an open mind, I did not want to go to anything that was not monotheistic. I chose to learn about Judaism. I read so much, went to a temple, and tried to learn and figure out if I could live my life as a Jew. I then decided that in order to grasp the essence of the Judaic teachings, I needed to go to the source and that is the Torah. That night after I finished reading the Torah, I lay down to sleep and the most confusing (at that time), yet most amazing dream happened to me.

In the dream I wake up in a hotel room where I seem to be confused about why I am there. I decide to go outside to the lobby, and I find myself in a religious convention. I walked to my left, and there was a table about Judaism. I was trying to fit in with them, but they did not want me to be part of them. I then walked away and walked straight ahead from the room and there was the Christianity section. Everyone in that section seemed to be in his or her own world, and no one paid attention to me. I again walked away and I wondered into the right side of the hallway and found people walking peacefully, all of them dressed in white.

To me this seemed weird and honestly, I did not know what it was, so again I walked away, this time heading to my room. Suddenly, this man appears behind me, and starts telling me "convert." Frightened, I told him, "leave me alone" and started walking faster. Although he seemed to be walking slowly, he was able to keep up with me and again told me "convert" to which I again replied, "Leave me alone!" The man refused to give up and followed me all the way to the room. I hid behind the bed when he again told me in a stronger voice "convert!" I, frightened and confused, told him, "Leave me alone. I am a Muslim!" For some time, I never knew the meaning of that dream. What puzzled me was the fact that I was learning about Judaism and that I would actually say that I am a Muslim in the dream. I kept asking myself why I would say that.

A month passed and my Palestinian friend invited me to an Arabic restaurant knowing that I loved the culture. I excitedly agreed and went. That was three days before Ramadan. There I met her friends which all happened to be Muslims. She was Palestinian Christian. I became friends with them immediately. There was one friend in particular who took the time out to explain to me about Islam and what its teachings were.

I learned about the five pillars and basic things like it was even bad to torture insects. Although I had already learned about it, and I thought it to be interesting, I liked what I was reading about Judaism, and I did not want to change now that I had learned so much. That idea changed a few days later. It was already Christmas vacation, and Ramadan had started. My friend went back home to Syria, to be able to spend the last ten days of Ramadan there. I being the inquisitive type of person said to myself let me just see what this is all about. I logged on to my computer and from the encyclopedia printed out information about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and read it. It seemed really interesting and made me want to read more about the religion itself.

I printed out the information about Islam and that too ignited my interest to speak to Muslims to see how they were and how they thought. I logged on to the web and went to a Muslim chat room where I just stared at the conversation. So many instant messages popped up in my screen asking me if I was Muslim or if wanted to learn about it. They were all telling me about Islam, the five pillars and everything but there was one particular person that took their time explaining everything, and if I asked any question, it was answered. That person was a Muslim brother who was enthusiastic about teaching me. He taught me so much and even went on to explaining to me the importance of covering.

He also sent me my first Qur'an and many books on basic Islamic information. As I read the Qur'an my heart felt as though I was going to explode. I felt that I had found what my heart was searching for. So many emotions bombarded me that I broke down in tears. This holy book was speaking directly to me and with all its power it soothed my soul. I gave in to Islam in heart on the 21st of Ramadan in the year 2000. It was then that the door to a new enriching world opened up for me. It was the day that marked the turning point in my life.

It was again time to go back to college for the spring semester, and although I was already Muslim and was praying on my own from a piece of paper, I needed someone to teach me and guide me. God knows what you need before you need it because that first day of class, while I was walking in to the campus a Muslim girl was walking out. I immediately ran up to her and asked her if she was Muslim, to which she replied yes. I told her I had converted and that I needed to learn how to pray correctly. She automatically offered herself to do the job, and also invited me to a get together at her house that day. I was so excited! After school I rushed to the mall to find a headscarf, something that a month before I was disputing because I felt that women shouldn't have to cover, and I wore it to her house.

Everyone was amazed and happy to see that I had already worn the veil. I felt so much happiness that day to have found her and her sisters. They were so nice to me and were eager to teach me. The following day, I woke up for school, got dressed, and again put on my scarf. My mother watched me as I dressed and started laughing when I put it on thinking that I was joking. When I told her "bendicion mami" which is asking for the blessing of your mother in Spanish. She replied, "You are not planning to go like that to school, are you?" I told her, "Yes, I am". She couldn't believe it and thought I was going crazy.

I went to school that day and although people looked I felt good that I was identifying myself as a believing Muslim girl. My friendship and my learning grew stronger with my two new friends. They taught me everything from the Fatiha to prayer, to ethics in Islam. I read so much and interestingly enough I learned more about my previous religion when I converted then when I was a Catholic. I often found myself in situations where people would ask me questions and that pushed me to learn more and to compare the Bible and the Qur'an.

Although that was the beginning of a new life for me, it was also the beginning of family torture. I never knew how much religion could affect a family, and I never thought that just because I now believed something different that they would cause me so much pain. Everyday I woke up in the morning, I woke up happy to know that I was Muslim, and anticipating the challenge of my mother and stepfather along with everyone else that was close to me. My mother believed that I was going crazy. She shouted at me telling me to take that ugly veil off. She called me names and told me that I needed to see a psychiatrist, and I, all the time in tears refused to take off my veil. My stepfather also made it very hard on me to the point that one day he told me, "Either you take that off, or you don't come into this house." I turned around and walked away flushed with tears in my eyes yet holding them back because I knew that choosing to keep it on was the right thing. That day I went to my friend's house, and I ended up staying there for two weeks. I never felt so much peace. I felt so loved and welcomed. I woke up with the Adhan every morning to pray with my Muslim sisters and to get ready to go to school.

During this time I kept in touch with my mother although the conversations were really weird. When she realized that it was not a "few days thing", she called me crying asking me to go back to the house, that she missed me. I must admit that I love my mother very much, and it was such a hard decision. I did not want to hurt my mother, but I felt so happy where I was, because I was able to be me. I went back home with the agreement that I was going to be allowed to wear my hijab. It was fine for a few days, but then other things started bothering them.

It bothered them that when a man came to the house I quickly went to my room and that I wouldn't share much time with them anymore. Yes, it is true, I did start drifting away, but not from them, just from the things that they did, that are prohibited for me to be around. When my mother saw me praying, she would mock me. Everyone in my neighborhood thought I was going crazy. I did not hear from my "friends" anymore and before I knew it, my life was heading in a different direction. My goal was not to be skinny and in fashion anymore. It was to please Allah.

Throughout the year, I did shed many tears, but my faith was stronger. I knew in my heart that someday it would be ok. My first Ramadan was very emotional for me because I remembered all that I went through. I realized how blessed I am to be a Muslim, and because I felt alone in my house. No one in my family celebrates it, and no one cared. It was just me and God. This was the completion of my first year as a Muslim, but it was also the beginning of my second year.

When I ponder on all that has passed. After the first year, everything was easier. My family, although not convinced that this was right, they acknowledged the fact that it was not a phase that I was going through, and that whatever it was, I was staying with it. I learned to practice my religion, avoid the wrong, and still fit into my family. I realized that as long as they knew that I was only becoming a better person, and did not "bother them" with anything, it was ok. Today, my mother knows many things that are "haram." My little sister can tell you how judgment day is going to be. My family cooks a second dish for me when I am visiting them and best of all, and they accept the fact that I am Muslim girl.

How amazing is the plan of God. So many things in my life seem to be clearer. Still until this day, I ask myself, "Why did God choose me?" I don't know the answer, but I do know that even if it has been in small ways, I have touched the lives of many people around me. They now know about a religion that they had no idea of. And it's no longer "those Muslims", because they have one in the family.

My struggle still continues, and I am sure it will for the rest of my life. I have learned that this experience has only taught me to be stronger, and it made me realize how much my belief means to me. I also know that I cannot ever imagine myself not being a Muslim. Islam has given me the peace that was taken from me. It has taught me to appreciate life. It has educated me in all aspects of life, but best of all it has taught me that my journey on earth is short. With all the hardships that I encounter everyday, my heart leaps of joy knowing that although I am not in paradise, I have found something like it on earth. That is Islam.

Dichos Islámicos Comunes

1. As-salámu aleikum - El saludo universal musulmán que significa "La paz esté contigo."

2. Wa aleikum as-salám - La respuesta al saludo encima. Significa, "Y la paz esté con usted."

3. Bismiláh - Significa "En el nombre de Dios." Se dice antes de hacer cualquier cosa.

4. Yazak Alá - Significa "Que Dios te recompense." Se dice como expresión de gracias.

5. Fi Amanuláh - Significa "Que Dios te protege." Se dice como expresión de despedida.

6. Subjánalah - Significa "Gloria a Dios." Se dice cuando elogiando algo.

7. Incha Alá - Significa "Si Dios quiere u Ojala." Se dice cuando uno quiere hacer algo o tienes intenciones de hacer algo.

8. Astagfiruláh - Significa "Le ruego a Dios por su perdón." Se dice cuando arrepintiéndose.

9. Macha Alá - Significa "Como Dios quiera." Se dice cuando expresando apreciación.

10. Aljamdu Liláh - Significa "Elogio a Dios." Se dice como expresión de gracias a Dios después de lograr algo o de completar algo.

11. Ya Alá - Significa "Oh Dios!" Se dice cuando uno tiene dolor o tiene angustia - llamando a Dios y a nadie más.

12. Amín - Significa "Amen." Se dice después de un rezo u oración.

13. Iná Liláji ua Iná Ileiji ráyiun - Significa "Pertenecemos a Dios y regresaremos a Él." Se dice cuando alguien se muere o cuando hay una gran perdida.

Common Islamic Sayings

1. As-salaamu ‘alaykum (Peace be upon you) - By way of greetings

2. Wa alaykumus salaam (And peace be upon you) - In reply to the greetings

3. Bismillah (In the name of Allah) - Before making a beginning

4. Jazakallah (May Allah reward you) - For expression of thanks

5. Fi Amanullah (May Allah protect you) - By way of saying good-bye

6. Subhaanallah (Glory be to Allah) - For praising something

7. Insha Allah (If Allah wishes) - For expressing a desire to do something

8. Astaghfirullah (I beg Allah for forgiveness) - Repenting for sins before Allah

9. Maa shaa Allah (As Allah has willed) - For expressing appreciation of something good

10. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah) - For showing gratitude to Allah after success or even after completing anything

11. Yaa Allah (Oh Allah) - When in pain or distress, calling upon Allah and no one else

12. Aameen (May it be so) - The end of a Dua or prayer

13. Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji'oon (To Allah we belong and to Him is our return) - This is uttered as an expression of sympathy of the news of some loss or someone's death

Shahada
 

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