The LADO Group - Latino Muslims

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The Latino Muslim Voice

The July-September 2010 newsletter features:

1. Quotes of the Month
2. "Where was God on September 11th and where...?" By Samantha Sanchez
3. "¿Donde estaba Dios el 11 de Septiembre y donde...?" Por Samantha Sanchez
4. "Ramadan entre los musulmanes latinos de los Estados Unidos" Por Juan Alvarado
5. "Who are Latino Muslims?" By Juan Galvan
6. "My Granada Experience" By Justin Mauro Benavidez
7. "Islam in Latin America, an FIU Project"
8. "Islam in the Dominican Republic" From DR1.com
9. "Eid al-Fitr BBQ in Bay Area"
10. "The Tri-State Latino Muslims" By Ismail Ocasio

Quotes of the Month

"God is the light of the heavens and the earth. His light is like a niche that holds a lamp; it is like a lamp which contains a crystal as bright as a star. It is kindled from a blessed tree, an olive tree that belongs neither to the east nor to the west. Its oil would almost shine, even with no fire touching it. It is light upon light. God guides towards his light all whom he chooses." - Quran 24:35.

"Swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for God loveth not any arrogant boaster." - Quran 31:18.

The Prophet said, "Allah says: 'I am just as My slave thinks I am, (i.e. I am able to do for him what he thinks I can do for him) and I am with him if He remembers Me. If he remembers Me in himself, I too, remember him in Myself; and if he remembers Me in a group of people, I remember him in a group that is better than they; and if he comes one span nearer to Me, I go one cubit nearer to him; and if he comes one cubit nearer to Me, I go a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running.' " - Sahih Bukhari 9/93/502. Narrated Abu Huraira.

"Truth is on the side of the oppressed." - Malcolm X.

Where was God on September 11th and where is justice now?

By Samantha Sanchez

Questions automatically consume our existence
How and why does tragedy happen
Who and what are responsible
Faith is put to the test

Where was God you ask?
God was right there.
With the innocent people who died
With the people who miraculously survived
Even with those who made the horrible and unfortunate choice to cause it
God controls everything
In his infinite wisdom the world goes as it should be

Who did this and how can we fight back?
Perhaps I can answer who didn't do this more easily.
The workers at WTC who were from all walks of life and all races and creeds
And those who now suffer the consequences of a few men's actions

The Muslim convert security guard who helped evacuate the WTC
The Palestinian child who cheers not underatnding the severity of the situation
The afghani mother whose children are starving as she sends them into the landmines for food
The Sikh business man
The Pakistani grocery store owner
Yet all have been blamed for this tragedy
and doubly suffer its consequences

Have we all not lost our freedom
Have we all not filled with sorrow
Shakespeare whispers to me, "when you prick us do we not bleed "

Would God want this?
Isn't tragedy enough
Must racism be married to it?

How can we fight back?
We can stop the hate
Disunity and war are not the answer
We can fight back with understanding
perserverance, patience and faith

The best weapon against ignorance is an open mind
The best weapon against terrorism is faith
The best weapon against racism is love.
And another bomb is dropped and another terror filled night begins
Some from our hands
And some from others

© 2001

¿Donde estaba Dios el 11 de Septiembre y donde esta la justicia ahora?

Por Samantha Sanchez

Preguntas que automaticamente consumen nuestra existencia
¿Cómo y porque suceden las tragedias?
¿Qué y Quienes son los responsables?
La Fé se pone a prueba

¿Te preguntarás donde esta Dios?
Dios estaba ahi mismo
Con la gente inocente que murió
Con la gente que milagrosamente sobrevivió
Aun con los que cometieron la horrible y desafortunada decisión de causarlo
Dios lo controla todo
En su infinita sabiduría, el mundo gira como debe de girar

¿Quién lo hizo y como vengarse?
Puede que sea más fácil decir quien no lo hizo.
Los trabajadores del WTC quienes venian de diferentes caminos en la vida y de
todas las razas y credos
Y aquellos que ahora sufren las consecuencias de las acciones de unos
cuantos.

El guardia que se revirtio al Islam y ayudó a evacuar el WTC
El niño palestino que dice no entender la gravedad de la situación.
La madre afgana de niños hambrientos y que los manda a buscar comida
El devoto hombre de negocios
El pakistani dueño del supermercado
Todos han sido culpados por esta tragedia
Y que doblemente sufren las consecuencias.

¿Acaso no hemos todos perdido nuestra libertad?
¿No nos hemos llenado todos de dolor?
Shakespeare me susurra: "Cuando nos pinchas, acaso no sangro?

¿Acaso Dios quiere esto?
¿No es la tragedia suficiente?
¿Se le puede adjudicar algo de culpa al racismo?

¿Como podemos vengarnos?
Podemos detener el odio
Desunión y guerra no son la solución
Podemos luchar con entendimiento
perseverancia, paciencia, y fé.

La mejor arma contra la ignorancia es teniendo una mente abierta
La mejor arma contra el terrorismo es la fé
La mejor arma contra el racismo es el amor
Y si otra bomba se lanza entonces comienza otra noche llena de terror
Unas por parte de nosotros
Y otras por parte de ajenos.

© 2001

Ramadan entre los musulmanes latinos de los Estados Unidos

Por Juan Alvarado

Para algunos musulmanes latinos, el comienzo del Ramadán es determinado por la información obtenida de países islámicos, organizaciones islámicas, por las mezquitas, o por amigos y familiares.

La mayoría de musulmanes en los Estados Unidos son árabes, paquistanies, o afroamericanos. Los musulmanes hispanos son apenas una fracción de los musulmanes aquí. Por tal razón es que hay muy pocos programas islámicos para principiantes hispanos. Sin embargo, algunas mezquitas con poblaciones altas de creyentes hispanos tienen clases en espanol para los que no entienden el inglés u otros idiomas usados en la mezquita.

En Ramadán algunos centros islámicos tienen planeado programas educativos para musulmanes latinos. Clases regulares comienzan antes de los rezos de Magrib. Algunas clases se dan los fines de semana.

Ya que este país es un país no-musulmán, la mayoría de musulmanes tienen que mantener su horario regular de trabajo o estudio. Aveces su horario retrasa el romper el ayuno. Muchos solo pueden romperlo con agua hasta que se vayan del trabajo o universidad. Algunos musulmanes tratan de trabajar durante su descanso de almuerzo para poder irse más temprano pero algunos superiores no lo permiten. Sin embargo, la mayoría de creyentes no se quejan.

Aun muchos musulmanes en los Estados Unidos son discriminados, hay entre los cristianos muchos que admiran la disciplina con que los musulmanes ayunan, aun no entienden porque la hacen. Otros solo se han acostumbrado a las prácticas islámicas de sus colegas y colaboradores.

Muchas mezquitas en los Estados Unidos observan los rezos de Tarawíh. Muchas de estas mezquitas también tienen un Iftar colectivo donde todos los creyentes de varias nacionalidades se pueden conocer. Normalmente este Iftar es una demostración de la hermandad del Islam.

Cuando le dije a mi amigo sobre este proyecto que tenía, él me dijo que tendría que comenzar con tamales. Aun el mes es del ayuno, la comida fija importante en este mes. Es durante este mes que muchas comidas típicas de varios países se hacen " comidas del medio oriente y comidas hispanas. Guacamole y shawarma; arroz con pollo y cuzcuz; flan y baklava " me da hambre contemplándolo.

En Ramadán en los Estados Unidos, muchas mezquitas mantienen sus puertas abiertas para ensenarle a sus vecinos no-musulmanes el ambiente fraternal y cordial. Muchos de estos vecinos son hispanos y por tal razón encuentran el Islam.

Me imagino que en todas las mezquitas del mundo, hay una atmosfera alegre con ninos corriendo y muchos musulmanes que no se han visto por mucho tiempo. Al fin, los ninos abren sus regales y comen dulces. Para muchos, el Ramadán no solo es un mes de ayuno y penitencia pero también es un mes de banquetes, obsequios y ropas nuevas.

Eid al-Fiter, el primer día de Shaual " la fiesta que termina el ayuno de Ramadán es el día que anoran los musulmanes alrededor del mundo. En algunos locales, después de los rezos obligatorios, las mezquitas tienen fiestas donde todos los creyentes pueden participar. Como los demás musulmanes, los musulmanes latinos traen sus tradiciones. Los ninos juegan con pinatas y sus juguetes. Para los adultos hay rifas, conferenciantes invitados, amigos cercanos y mucha comida.

Who are Latino Muslims?

By Juan Galvan

Islamic Horizons Magazine
July/August 1429/2008, Pp 26-30.

Any discussion of Latino Muslims is tri-dimensional: Latinos, Muslims and Latino Muslims. Who are Latinos? Who are Muslims? Who are Latino Muslims? Disagreements abound about the meaning of each dimension. However, attempts to answer these questions lead to others and, consequently, a better understanding of Latino Muslims.

The first large-scale conversions of Hispanics occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, when many Spanish-language Muslim groups began to emerge and the Black Muslim movement was at its height. In 1997, the American Muslim Council counted approximately 40,000 Hispanic Muslims; in 2006, it counted 200,000. This number is far more accurate, because it takes into account the growth of Islam among Latinos since 1997, and especially since 9/11. The exact number of Latino Muslims living in America, however, is unknown because the Census Bureau does not collect information about religion.

Today, with Latinos present in almost every American mosque, Islam and Latinos no longer seem to be an odd combination. In fact, New York City, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, and other metropolises with large Muslim populations also have large Latino Muslim communities, for the latter’s size generally corresponds to the particular area’s overall Muslim population. Therefore, not surprisingly, Dallas and Houston have the largest Latino Muslim population in Texas. At least 100 Latinos are affiliated with one particular Dallas mosque, although it is likely that their overall number in the area is much higher.

In Texas and California, the majority of Latino Muslims are Mexican or Central American; on the East Coast, they are mostly Puerto Rican or Dominican. This coincides with the Latino population’s dispersion in the country. Texas seems to have fewer Latino Muslims than California and New York, perhaps because its Muslim community is younger and smaller than that of many other states.

Hjamil A. Martinez-Vazquez, a Texas Christian University religion professor who is writing a book about Latino Muslims, states: “The fastest-growing religion in the world is Islam … The fastest-growing group in this country is Latinos. There is no way you cannot see the relationship with it.”

The terms Latino and Hispanic denote an ethnicity, not a race, and are essentially synonymous; however, many Latinos prefer the term Latino. For example, people who live in Mexico or Venezuela generally do not refer to themselves as Latino or Hispanic, whereas many Latino migrants to Canada, England, and elsewhere from America maintain their ethnicity as Latino and/or Hispanic. Latinos can be black, white, and brown. Some limit Latino and Hispanic to immigrants or their descendants from Spanish-speaking countries. However, many include all immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Latin America in their definition of Latino, thereby including Portuguese-speaking Brazilian Muslims. More than 6 million immigrant and native convert Latino Muslims live throughout Latin America, over 700,000 in Argentina and over 1.5 million in Brazil alone.

The Buenos Aires, Argentina-based Organización Islámica Para América Latina (OIPAL: the Islamic Organization of Latin America [IOLA]), is the continent’s largest and most active Muslim organization.

Representatives of at least thirty-five organizations attend the annual meeting of the heads of Islamic associations and cultural centers in Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss fostering Islamic values and education in Latin America along with other common interests. This meeting is sponsored by the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Organización Latinoamericana para la Difusión del Islam (OLPADI: the Latin American Organization for Islamic Propagation [LAOIP]).

Entering Islam: Latino Muslims’ level of Spanish and English proficiency generally depends on where and how long they have lived in America. For example, those in southern California and southern Texas often have less command of English than those in northern California and northern Texas. Many second and third-generation Latinos may know little or no Spanish. Of course, recent immigrants usually have less command of English. A large percentage of new American Latinos come from " and will continue to come from " immigration. This is yet another reason for the growing number of Spanish-speaking Muslims.

Ronaldo Cruz (executive director, Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops) told the “New York Times” ( 2 Jan. 2002) that he cannot fathom what attracts recent Latino immigrants to Islam. Offering his view, Dr. Ihsan Bagby (professor of Islamic studies, University of Kentucky) told Sherri Day of the “St. Petersburg Times” (9 Feb. 2008): “It’s a natural process of Hispanics who are dissatisfied with the church in their own spirituality, their own level of morality and are looking for answers outside of their own traditional kind of religious traditions. Beyond that, Islam is a fairly conservative culture that probably dovetails very well with Hispanic culture.”

Most Latino converts are former Catholics who had difficulty with the church hierarchy, which has no counterpart in Islam, and the concepts of Original Sin and the Holy Trinity. When we look under the surface, Islamic monotheism (tawhid) is generally the guiding factor in conversion, for it brings people closer to God by providing them with a better understanding of their Creator.

While the community’s growth has created excitement among Muslims, it has created anxiety among some non-Muslims, many of whom have negative images of Islam, Muslims, and Latinos. The greatest opposition usually comes from other (non-Muslim) Latinos, who seem to be angrier than others about the community’s growth. Due to such misconceptions, many Latinos sincerely believe that Islam is not good for their community; that non-Roman Catholic Latinos are somehow un-Latino, brainwashed, or traitors; and that Islam is a phase some Latinos go through, something that someone must be born into, or for foreigners.

Although most Latino families are to some degree accepting when a family member expresses an interest in Islam or converts, some stories are heart wrenching. Some avoid converting, fearing ostracism; others have been kicked out of their homes and suffered physical and psychological abuse. Latinos who do convert change their lives in ways that family members may consider too restrictive, such as refusing to drink alcohol.

Catholicism is so ingrained in the Latino community that converting to Islam is “sort of like changing out of being Hispanic,” Samantha Sanchez, a Muslim who has written extensively about the Latino Muslim community, told the “New York Times” (2 Jan. 2002). If a hundred years from now most American Latinos are Muslim, the typical Latino would consider Islam as inseparable from Latino culture. Today’s Latino culture could become tomorrow’s Latino Muslim culture. Since Latino Muslims are a young community, defining Latino Muslim culture remains difficult. Islam sets the framework and direction that the culture takes, which means rejecting some old ways, accepting some new ways, and adapting when necessary.

Like most Americans, most Latinos do not know what Islam is. Upon being told of my conversion, my father asked: “¿Qué es eso?” (What is that?). I responded: “It’s a religion.” Then, after telling him a little about it, he said: “¿Cómo los árabes?” (Like the Arabs?). From the beginning of my journey in Islam, I learned that my family might be among the least knowledgeable about Islam. Many misconceptions persist. For example, one of my sisters asked: “Don’t you still love Jesus? How could you do this to the Virgin Mary?” I replied: “I still love Jesus. We believe he’s a prophet. There is also a chapter called ‘Mary’ in the Qur’an.” Muslims and Christians both honor the Virgin Mary. When accused of worshipping “Allah,” I say we worship “Dios.” God, Dios, and Allah mean the same thing.

Sherri Day stated that in the Tampa Bay area, the thirty-member PIEDAD (Propagación Islámica para la Educación y la Devoción a Alá el Divino) group holds monthly meetings in each other’s homes. The women turn to each other for advice on navigating conflicts with non-Muslim family members, listen to mini-lectures about Islam, pray, eat, and dance. Vice President Jill Finney, a thirty-four-year-old white woman who left the Assemblies of God for Islam in 2006, told Day that her family still does not accept her conversion. A city urban planner, she said: “Arab sisters, Palestinian sisters, have no clue of what I’m going through. But (Hispanics) know, because they’ve been through it. We really have become like family or sisters to each other.”

Many Latinos are amazed to learn that Spain was Muslim for over 700 years. Latinos today are still influenced by Islamic Spain. For example, thousands of Spanish words are derived from Arabic. Although Islam’s historical presence in Spain may spark a Latino’s interest in Islam, this interest would simply be the beginning of a long journey toward greater knowledge about Islam. Most Latino converts had personal experiences with Muslim coworkers, classmates, marriage partners, friends, acquaintances, or others that drew them closer to Islam. Most Latinas became Muslim before they were married.

Conversion to Islam is more acceptable among African-Americans because of people like Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali. At present, Latino Muslims do not have many role models; however, role models are bound to emerge. Many Muslims anxiously wait for great Latino Muslim leaders and their wonderful organizations, along with their great activities. Latino Muslims are educating the next generation to become stronger. In a few generations, Latino Muslim scholars will be found in most major American cities.

According to the 2000 census, 32.8 million Hispanics live in America. In fact, there are now more Latinos than African-Americans. The Latino population is expected to grow to 63 million by 2030 and to 88 million by 2050. The conversion rate among Latinos is lower than that among Whites and African-Americans. “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait” (Council on American-Islamic Relations in cooperation with the Hartford Institute of Religious Research: 2000) estimated an annual growth of 20,000 converts nationally each year. Of these, 63% are African-American, 27% are White, and 6% are Hispanic. Of the 6 million American Muslims, Latinos represent only 0.6 percent (40,000) of the Muslim American population.

A leading barrier is the lack of access to Spanish-language Islamic literature, whether in print, audio, or audiovisual form. Many Latinos only know Spanish: most Muslims do not know Spanish. Since people are often more interested in Islam when it comes from people like themselves, Latino Muslims can help the larger Latino community change its negative perception about Islam. As more Latinos embrace Islam, there will be more conversions from the general American population. Latino Muslims spark a curiosity about Islam: Why are Latinos converting? What is it about this religion? Many Americans have come to know about Islam through Latino Muslims, because it is difficult to discuss Latino Muslims without discussing their religion. Latino Muslims are showing non-Muslims that Islam is a universal religion for all people, from all places, and for all times.

Latinos are politically, socially, and economically influential in America. Given that they can influence lawmakers, it is only logical that Muslims want more Latinos to support Muslim causes. Many Muslim American organizations are only now beginning to grasp this reality. However, they have yet to understand why the number of Latino Muslims and the conversion rate are both low.

Promoting Islam to Latinos is largely about fulfilling needs: providing help with food and shelter or Spanish-language Islamic literature for a da’awah table. Mosques should have such materials readily available as well as identify Spanish-speaking (but not necessarily Latino) Muslims to train Latinos how to pray, recite the Qur’an, and teach them about Islam in general. Mosque da’awah committees should work with local Latino Muslims to ensure more effective outreach efforts; local communities should discuss matters of importance to their Latino Muslim members and Latinos in general; and Muslims and Latino Muslims should participate in interfaith dialogues at churches, primarily at Catholic churches, and volunteer to help Latinos living in heavily populated Latino neighborhoods and schools. Moreover, all mosques should have information about local Latino Muslims and national Latino Muslim organizations.

The problems found in Latino families may be similar or even the same as those in other communities. For example, Latino immigrants may be accustomed to a large supportive family that can help them. However, this changes when they come to America, for significant common values found at home are questioned and assailed; they may find themselves with a small family, if any, which has to cope with a high level of stress; and may confront family-related problems they never imagined before. Many Latinos leave Christianity because they see it as a large part of the problem. Islam’s emphasis on the family institution is one of its most attractive features for Latinos, many of whom are amazed to see the similarities between Muslim and Latino culture in this respect. Latinos, who love family and religion, see in Islam a way to return the family to its proper place in society.

Interestingly, Latinas are more willing to convert than Latinos, many of whom are too afraid to change. According to Samantha Sanchez’s research, most converts are college-educated, between the ages of 20 and 30, and female. By far, the vast majority of Latino Muslims are Sunni. According to LADO’s ongoing SLM project, most Latinos Muslims are married and have more than one child. As is true of most Latino families, Latino Muslim families are traditionally larger than their American counterparts, which helps explain the community’s rapid growth. It is not only about individuals converting, it is about entire families embracing Islam.

According to the SLM project, more than 90 percent of Latino Muslims are converts. Some immigrants, however, come to America as Muslims, while others may have been Muslim for several generations. A Muslim’s ancestors may have come from the Middle East. For example, a Latino Muslim may have Egyptian grandparents who immigrated to Venezuela and Venezuelan parents who moved to America when their children were young.

Are Puerto Rican-Americans more likely to convert than other Latinos? Some argue that Puerto Rican-American Muslims have received greater media visibility, but no particular category of Latinos initiated the interest in Islam among Latinos. It might be safe to say that Puerto Rican Americans initiated this interest in areas where they dominate, as in New York and New Jersey. However, Mexican-Americans initiated it in the Southwest. The growth of Islam among Latinos began as a local, rather than a national, phenomenon. Those most responsible for developing the current community were the converts’ African-American or immigrant Muslim neighbors, friends, and coworkers.

Prison Conversions: Several Latino Muslim prisoners have shared their stories. They find prison culture very difficult, because they have to endure the treatment of prison guards and other prisoners who believe that only African-Americans are Muslim. Thus it is hard for many to maintain their Islamic identity. They also face discrimination for their refusal to eat pork. One Latino prisoner stated that the Black Muslims at his prison think that Chicanos (a term specific to Mexican-Americans, often loosely used for all Latinos) cannot be Muslim. Furthermore, Latino prisoners are generally reluctant to embrace Islam, because inmates usually segregate themselves along racial lines and many fear possible repercussions from other Latino prisoners.

Latino Muslim inmates, the least represented and powerful group, unheard and largely ignored by all, are among America’s most discriminated-against Muslims. How well they are treated generally depends on how many other Muslims they know. Even so, many incarcerated Latinos come to Islam because a great deal of Islamic literature is available, thanks to the persistent efforts of African-American Muslim prisoners. As the Latino Muslim community has grown, more Latino Muslim inmates have become active in calling other prisoners to Islam, and Latino conversions have become more acceptable within the prison community.

Most information on Latino Muslims comes from Latino Muslim organizations instead of academia, which has essentially ignored them. For example, Latino Muslims are rarely mentioned in books about Muslim Americans. However, several newspapers and magazines have written on this growing community. A quick internet search for “Latino Muslims” will reveal hundreds of relevant articles. Both http://latinodawah.org and http://hispanicmuslims.com are very comprehensive websites.

LADO’s survey of Latino Muslims in America is ongoing, because the relevant statistics are difficult to find. The complete results, including the breakdown of specific numbers and percentages, will be released as a report. Among them are the following: there are more Latina than Latino Muslims, 60 percent of all Latino Muslims who completed the survey in 2006 were women, California has the most Latino Muslims, Mexican Americans represent the community’s largest percentage, and most Latino Muslims were born in America. However, immigrants make up a significant percentage of the community.

Although few Americans know much about Latino Muslims, the media seems to be fascinated with this particular community. Many believe that this interest is largely the result of the media’s sense of responsibility to report on a little known but interesting subject. Furthermore, the media wants to report on the Latino community’s growing religious diversity. Americans love stories about diversity, and Latino Muslims, who are often asked to comment on current events affecting Latinos and Muslims, certainly feed this interest. Currently, most of this media coverage occurs around the time of Muslim holidays and Latino Muslim events. Even though Latino Muslims do not fit the many negative and false stereotypes traditionally associated with the “typical” Latino, these still appear in the media and elsewhere.

Latino Muslims are happy that their existence is finally being recognized. Many non-Muslims are confused by the existence of this community, which the media and academia pretty much ignored until about seven years ago. To be a Latino Muslim is no longer “strange.” We grow united. We grow together. Crecemos Unidos. Crecemos Juntos.

My Granada Experience

By Justin Mauro Benavidez

Muslim Spain was one of the greatest civilizations in history. The history of al-Andalus, as it was known in Arabic, is celebrated for the convivencia of the three Abrahamic traditions living side by side. Moreover, it is the birthplace of some of the greatest intellectual and spiritual masters of the Islamic tradition: Ibn Rushd, al-Qurṭubī Ibn ʿArabī, Ibn Juzayy, al-Shaṭīib—whose scholarship made important contributions to European civilization. Today Spain is home to some of the most spectacular architectural monuments—the Alcazar in Sevilla and in Granada the Alhambra, Spain’s pride and joy.

View of the Alhambra

The Alhambra sits atop Sabika hill protecting the city.

view_of_the_alhambra

Southern Spain today, and Granada in particular, is firmly rooted in its Andalusian heritage. A few years ago I had the opportunity to study one year abroad in Granada as part of my undergraduate studies. I wanted to learn more about the history of Islamic Spain and Portugal. It was an experience in which I not only studied the literature, architecture, and history of al-Andalus but also was one in which I lived and studied in the land where it all happened.

View of the city of Granada

Notice the Church of… It sits where the Mosque of Granada was located that served as the main mosque for the city of Granada. Ferdinand and Isabella lie buried in the church.

view_of_the_city

Studying in Granada was also a chance to learn about my Mexican-and Portuguese roots. Many Latinos are unaware of their connection to Islamic Spain. We know that part of our history is traced back to Spain, but we’re unaware that we have roots in Muslim Spain. Islam was present in Iberia for almost 900 years. When the 10th century Saxon nun Hroswitha first laid her eyes on that magnificent city Córdoba, the capital of al-Andalus, she hailed it the “ornament of the world.” It should come as no surprise that Spanish Muslim culture was to have a profound influence on Castilian culture and society, aspects of which were assimilated and later exported to the Americas with the arrival of the conquistadores and missionaries. Names such as Omar and Fatima are common in Latin America, yet the connection is not made as to their Arabic and Muslim origins. If Latinos knew about their Andalusian ancestors, they would I believe embrace them. It was my intention then to share with my familia and Latino community my experience so that they too could learn about their roots in Andalusia.

A mihrab in the Alhambra

A mihrab in a hall of the Alhambra where the Granadan kings prayed.

mihrab_in_the_alhambra

I had felt anxious about traveling to Spain. It is difficult to explain why I felt the way I did of Spaniards. Perhaps my feeling of trepidation stemmed from my readings in Mexican history and about the treatment of conquistadores towards indigenous peoples. And in more recent Californian history, ranch owners, many who were of Spanish descent, mistreated Mexican farm workers. I assumed that I would experience some expression of prejudice against me. Blood purity, or limpieza de sangre, was a significant issue in Spanish history. I certainly wasn’t of the noble Spanish lineage, and the fact that I was a Muslim, certainly didn’t alleviate my fears. In fact, it was in opposition to Iberian Muslims—and conversos—that the issue of blood purity was raised. So with these issue sin mind, I expected to experience a certain degree of mistreatment as well. But I had to find out for myself. Moreover, I wanted to learn about my history.

Door of the mezquita

Door of Masjid al-Taqwa of Granada. The building was a former post office.

door_of_the_mezquita

My first experience in the classroom came on the very first day when the professor of linguistics (whose name slips my mind) read the roll call for attendance. When he reached my last name, Benavidez, he gave the etymology of the surname. He said names that begin with ben, or son, are Semitic in origin, either Hebrew or Arabic, but most likely the latter given the numerical prominence of Spanish Muslims over Spanish Jews. He then went on a tangent about the cultural and linguistic influence of Arabic on Spanish culture today. I was aware of the linguistic relationship between Arabic and Benavidez—it may even be a cognate of the Arabic proper name “Ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz” (meaning: the son of the Almighty’s servant). God know best. Still, I was taken aback of my professor’s vast knowledge and candid recognition of history. One of the questions debated in the streets of southern Spain was this: Is Andalucía (the southern Spanish province) part of North Africa, or is it part of Spain?” An indication that Spaniards are rethinking their history and culture and what it means to be Spanish.

Garden of the Generalife

The Generalife was the summer residence of the Muslim rulers of Granada.

garden_of_the_generalife

One of the principal centers for the study of Muslim Spain is Granada and just about every subject is offered from Andalusian literature and poetry to law, Sufism, and art and architecture. The professors’ approach was the western academic method of criticism and deconstruction. There was however an element reminiscent to one in the Islamic tradition: the ṣilṣila, or chain of transmission. It was interesting to see in the professors a feeling of pride when they spoke of their teachers and the tradition of scholarship that they were part of. One important figure was Don Emílio García Gómez, who is perhaps most recognized for his translation of Ibn Ḥazm’s Ṭawq al-ḥamāma (The Ring of the Dove)—a book about love and lovers. Himself a prominent figure in the historical chain, García Gómez produced a cadre of Spanish scholars, many of whom are today training a generation of future researchers. Thus, these scholars were part of a chain that connected them to the early Spanish investigators of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and I wondered if I could consider myself now part of this tradition.

Church of San Ildefonso

Notice the architecture in the Mudejar style, a blend of Islamic and European architecture. The church replaced a mosque that was razed after the reconquista.

iglesia_san_ildefonso

To my surprise the history of al-Andalus in Spain was not buried and forgotten after the Muslim expulsion but a well-developed field that started as early as the sixteen century. In fact, some of the earliest scholars of Andalusian history were Franciscans and Jesuits. More recent examples include Francisco Codera y Zaidín and Julian Ribera. Codera was a priest and scholar. He was an austere personality whose studies possessed level of scholarship and objectivity that was unprecedented. He learned Arabic and had deep respect and admiration for Islamic culture. Codera traveled extensively within Spain and abroad collecting manuscripts for publication and accessibility. He established a vigorous tradition of Andalusian studies by training his most promising students, known as the Banu Codera (the Clan of Codera). His efforts were responsible for bringing international recognition to Spanish Andalusian studies. Moreover, Codera’s studentship changed how modern scholars viewed Andalusians from foreigners and invaders to native Spaniards. His primary interest was Islamic law and his findings have shown the impact of Mālikī law on Spain’s administration and institutions.

La madrasa

A beautiful retreat center outside of the city of Granada.

la_madrasa

Early scholars such as these brought to light Islamic manuscripts that had been interred in the Escorial in Madrid—until recently many of those documents had not seen light since the day they were seized from the homes of Mudejars and Moriscos. In chelate sixteenth century laws were passed making it illegal for Moriscos to possess Arabic and Islamic books. Books were confiscated then burned or shipped to Madrid. Extant manuscripts, authored by some of the Andalusians mentioned at the beginning, have become subjects of intense study and, as a result, have shown, among other points, the impact of Andalusian culture on European civilization. For Spain in particular, such scholarship is changing the way history is perceived and taught in schools. I am in the process of making preparations to return to Spain to visit the libraries in Madrid and Morocco in order to examine several documents for study.

Prayer hall

The main hall in the prayer hall of la madrasa. Notice the absence of synthetic carpet. Rather tradition reed mats cover the tile for prayer and the remembrance of God.

prayer_hall

Of all the classes I had at the university, the one that perhaps best illustrates the inimitable opportunity of studying in Granada was the Islamic art and architecture course. We studied the great monuments of the Islamic world but special attention was naturally paid to Muslim Spain. It was an exceptional opportunity where after having read about and studied, for example, the Alhambra in the classroom that our class actually visited the fortress-palace.

The Alhambra served to protect the city from an imminent Christian advance and to accommodate the Nāṣrid royal family. It was a formidable fortress with all the luxuries of a palace. However, the predominant characteristic that distinguishes the palace is its spiritual dimension. The ubiquitous presence of water, lush gardens, and absence of human representation suggest something beyond the perceptible: an inner dimensional aspect designed with sacred purpose. One ceiling is ornamented in a pattern of interconnected arabesques of eight-and sixteen-pointed stars imitating the heavens. Andalusia’s celebrated azulejo tiles and geometrical shapes adorn its walls in a seamless design of unity without apparent origin or end, symbolizing God’s absolute unity(tawḥīd) and infinitude. The power of its beauty enlivens the heart and elevates it to the remembrance of God. It is no wonder then that the Alhambra is Spain’s most frequented tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world.

Narrow passage in the Albaicin

A typical street in the Albaicin, a neighborhood in the city of Granada.

narrow_paseo

To feel the full experience of living in this former Islamic city, my wife and I lived in the Albaicín district. Our home was situated under the Alhambra with a view of it from our doorstep. Today the Albaícin is known for its red-tile roofs, whitewashed walls, and narrow walkways. Under Muslim rule, the neighborhood itself was home to some thirty mosques. However, after the Nāṣrid rulers surrendered the kingdom, every masjid was appropriated and converted to a church. Almost all of the structures stand today, so that one gets an idea of how the original mosques may have appeared. Just down the road from my home (then) stands what is called the Mezquita de los Conversos—it is currently being renovated by the government. Amazingly, there is one part of the former mosque(now church) that remains from its original design and that is its minaret. Everyday I would pass by this former mosque, and I would never fail to be conscious of its former function as a sacred space where the five daily prayers were performed and the name of God was mentioned. I would wonder to myself, “Who was the imām of this mosque? What sciences were taught there? Tafsīr of the Qurʾān? Or perhaps the Muwaṭṭaʾ of Mālik or the Iḥya of al-Ghazālī?” It burned me to know.

As noted above, a unique aspect of Granada is the many preserved Islamic structures. Just around the corner from where I lived—a two-minute walk—is the famous Escuela de Estudios Árabes, a research center dedicated to the study of Spain’s Islamic legacy. It is housed in a building that used to belong to members of the Nāṣrid dynasty. Itwas there in that former palace that I would read and study. Much of my time was spent in the library photocopying as many articles and books that I came across, which I was able to bring back with me to California.

No sovereign but God

This saying “No sovereign but Allah” is inscribed throughout the Alhambra palace, reminding the Muslims kings that the true sovereign is Allah.

no_soveirgn

There are two mosques in the Albaicín district. At the top of the hill is the Gran Mezquita, beautifully designed in the Andalusian architectural style and has the best view of the Alhambra in the entire city. Except for the sunrise prayer, the call to prayer is given in the traditional manner of voice (unaided by loudspeaker). Everyday the muezzin or prayer-caller walks up the stairs in the minaret (tower) to make the call to prayer, which can be heard at the bottom of the hill. At the bottom of the hill is Masjid al-Taqwa, one of the oldest mosques, if not the first, in Granada since Islam was permitted by law to be legally practiced in Spain—Islam was banned in the sixteenth century and had remained so until recently. Masjid al-Taqwa has two imāms, Shaykh Ḥāmid and Shaykh ʿAbd al-Raḥmān. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that the presence of these two scholars made my experience truly meaningful. The most beneficial part of my experience in Granada was studying a text of jurisprudence with Shaykh ʿAbd al-Raḥmān. Everything that I had studied thus far about al-Andalus was about the past. Twas gone. But here was a man rooted in that past but living in every sense of the word. Apart from learning the basic rules of the dīn from him, it was a blessing to be in his company. In shā Allah, I will return to Granada and continue my studies with him and to benefit from his presence.

Road along the Rio Darro

The historic river runs between the Alhambra palace and the Albaicin.

paseo_de_rio_darro

For most of the year in Granada, my interests focused on law and the ʿulamaʾ. More recently, my personal and academic studies have shifted to the Sufism, the inner dimension of Islam. The spiritual heritage of Andalusia is one of the most fascinating and important aspects of its history. But spirituality has also been an integral part of Latino culture having deep roots in the Americas, Africa, and Iberia. In addition, Latino converts to Islam have inherited yet another spiritual tradition, i.e. Sufism or taṣawwuf, firmly rooted in the Qurʾān and in the exemplary character and sunna of the Prophet Muḥammad.

It would be interesting to look at the role of spirituality among Latino Muslims, the extent to which they hold to their spiritual roots as Muslims, and the practice of Islamic spirituality in their daily lives. This spiritual dimension of Islam was, at any given point in its 900-year history, central to Andalusian society, the essence of which is the remembrance of God. But a spirituality practiced today would differ from the past having its own unique expressions reflecting the current age and issues of the day. Just as it had a central place in the daily lives of Andalusians or was a central theme of the architectural spirit of the Alhambra, I believe that Islamic spirituality, given the unusual times that we will in today, must have a central role in lives of Latino Muslims.

Islam in Latin America, an FIU Project

http://casgroup.fiu.edu/lacc/pages.php?id=458

brazil islamIslam in Latin America is a collaborative project of FIU and the Social Science Research Council-Carnegie foundation that aims at addressing the significant disparity that exists between the American media’s, and by extension the American public’s, perception of Muslims in Latin America and the reality of the current state of affairs. Part of this communication problem can be attributed to the lack of sound and systematic examination of this subject in English.

Islam as a contemporary religious, cultural, and socio-historical phenomenon in Latin America is grossly understudied, especially when compared to its European, Asian, and North American counterparts. The Islam in Latin America project is a trilingual (Spanish, Portuguese and English) initiative that seeks to create a better understanding of Islam’s various manifestations in Latin America. This project attempts to start a dialogue toward answering the following questions:

What has been the historical development of Islam in Latin America? Is there a different approach to the practice of Islam between Latin American converts and Muslim immigrants from the Middle East? Can we speak of a “Creole Islam” in Latin America unique to other practices of Islam in the European or North American Diasporas? What is the social reality that Muslims face in Latin America in the post September 11th environment? How has media affected the perceptions of Muslims in Latin America?

Working Papers

http://casgroup.fiu.edu/lacc/pages.php?id=1826

This page hosts summaries of scholarly articles on Islam in Latin America written by scholars across disciplines. The article summaries are available in both English and Spanish and they are organized by geographic area.

Article Summaries

Colombia

Islam en Colombia: Entre la Asimilación y la Exclusión
Diego Castellanos

As the population of Muslims increased in Colombia and dispersed throughout the country a greater development for Islam with the creation of institutions that support its practices and expansion. Diego Castellanos focuses on the social relations within Colombian Islam and concludes that Islam’s development in Colombia has meant more involvement from Muslim immigrants or Muslim-born, but an exclusion of the converts in leadership roles.

Mexico

Islam in Mexico: Defining a National Islam
Zidane Zeraoui

This summary of this article showcases the development of the different Islamic organizations that helped shaped Islam in Mexico. It discusses the debates between liberals and fundamentalists in terms of cultural differences that point towards a Mexican Islam and other issues such as women in a position of leadership and conversions. These are all consequences of the influence of the Mexican context in the emergence and spread of Islam in the country, suggesting that not only is there the possibility of a Mexican Islam, but if other Islam modalities within that Mexican way (i.e. indigenous and urban modalities). South American Frontier Region

(Un)covering Islam and Its Fifty-Year History in a South American Frontier Region
John Tofik Karam

George W. Bush hardly finished his declaration of War on Terror after September 11, 2001 when the news reached the border between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, usually called the tri-border area. Based on unsubstantiated allegations that this frontier zone harbored terrorists, multi-governmental forces targeted the mostly Muslim Lebanese and Palestinians who, since the 1950s, migrated to the two main cities of the Triple Border: Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Through the first decade of this twenty-first century, varied governmental reports and news stories that cast doubt on their political loyalties and economic practices nearly buried the fifty-year history of Muslim Arab migration to this South American crossroads.

paraguay islam

Resúmenes de artículos

Argentina

Musulmanes en Argentina: instituciones, identidades y membresía
Silvia Montenegro (CONICET, Argentina)

La presencia musulmana en Argentina es contemporánea a los procesos migratorios de finales del siglo XIX y comienzos del siglo XX. No obstante, los sirios y libaneses que llegaron en aquel período eran preponderantemente cristianos y, entre ellos, los musulmanes representaron una minoría. Las más antiguas asociaciones religiosas que congregaron a los musulmanes fueron fundadas en las tres primeras décadas del siglo XX y, siguiendo el padrón de distribución espacial de los inmigrantes, se situaron no sólo en Buenos Aires sino también en numerosas provincias y localidades del interior argentino. En el contexto de un proyecto de construcción nacional donde las particularidades lingüísticas y religiosas de los inmigrantes debían subsumirse en una supuesta fusión homogeneizante, vehiculada principalmente a través de la educación pública laica, algunas de estas asociaciones no sobrevivieron a la generación fundadora.

argentina islam

Colombia

Islam en Colombia: Entre la Asimilación y la Exclusión
Diego Castellanos

Este resumen discute como con la creciente migración de musulmanes a Colombia, el país ha experimentado un desarrollo de la religión en términos de expansión y creación de instituciones oficiales que provean los espacios propicios para sus prácticas. Su enfoque son las relaciones sociales dentro del Islam colombiano, lo que hasta cierto punto ha apuntado a una mayor participación y liderato por parte de musulmanes (inmigrantes o musulmanes de nacimiento) y una exclusión de estos procesos de los conversos.

Mexico

El Islam en México: Definiendo un Islam Nacional
Zidane Zeraoui

El islam en Mexico se ha podido desarrollar gracias a las diferentes organizaciones islamicas que han surgido en los últimos años. A pesar de la persistencia de debates entre liberales y fundamentalistas en términos de diferencias culturales, se ha comenzado a contemplar un islam mexicano en el cual existe la posibilidad de mujeres en posición de liderato. Esto es consecuencia de la influencia del contexto mexicano en el surgimiento y expansión del Islam en el país, lo que sugiere la posibilidad de un islam mexicano, pero que a su vez contempla otras modalidades de Islam.

brazil islam

People

http://casgroup.fiu.edu/lacc/pages.php?id=1277

Directors

Cristina Eguizábal, Ph.D. | Director, Latin America and Caribbean Center, FIU
Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) at Florida International University

Maria del Mar Logroño Narbona, Ph.D. | Project Director and Principal Investigator Dr. Logroño is an Assistant Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at Florida International University. Her research focuses on the history of Arab migrations to Latin America. She has conducted archival research in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, France, Great Britain, Brazil and the United States. She has authored several articles on this topic, among them: “Information and Intelligence Collection Among Imperial Subjects Abroad: The Case of Syrians and Lebanese in Latin America, 1915-1930” in The French Colonial Mind, edited by Martin Thomas (University of Nebraska Press: forthcoming), “La actividad política transnacional de las comunidades árabes en Argentina: El caso de Jorge Sawaya,” in La Contribución Árabe a las Identidades Iberoamericanas, Gema Martin Muñoz ed., (Casa Árabe, December 2009).

Research Assistant

Elisa Marie Medina-Rivera
Research assistant and Master of Arts in Latin American and Caribbean Studies student, Florida International University

Field Researchers

Diego G. Castellanos
Researcher, Theological and Religious Studies Center, CETRE, El Rosario University Author of Islam en Bogotá.

Paulo Daniel Farah, Ph.D.
Professor, Philosophy and Human Sciences at USP (University of São Paulo, Brazil). Director of the Center for Arab Studies at University of São Paulo, Editor of Fikr, Review of Arab and South American Studies, and Director of the South America-Arab World Library/Research Center in Brazil. Author of O Islã (Islam) and Glossário de Nomes e Termos Islâmicos (Glossary of Islamic Names and Terms).

John Tofik Karam, Ph.D.
Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology (Syracuse University, New York). Currently he’s a professor in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program of Depaul University, Chicago. His areas of interest are: ethnicity, nationalism, globalization, and what he calls the “Arab Americas.” His book, Another Arabesque. Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 2007) won awards from the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) and the Arab-American National Museum (AANM). It was translated into Portuguese as Um outro arabesco: etnicidade sírio-libanesa no Brasil neoliberal in 2009 by the Editora Martins.

Silvia Montenegro, Ph.D.
Ph.D. in Sociology (Universidad Federal de Rio de Janeiro, Brasil). She’s a CONICET-affiliated researcher in the Universidade Nacional de Rosario (UNR) and professor in the Department of Socio-Cultural Anthropology of the College of Humanities and Arts (UNR). Her areas of interest are: religious identities, the relations between religion and ethnicity, the practices of transnationalism and diasporic communities in contemporary society.

Paulo Gabriel Hilu da Rocha Pinto, Ph.D.
Ph.D. in Anthropology (Boston University, Boston). Currently, he’s a professor in the department of anthropology of the Univeridade Federal Fluminense (UFF) and coordinator of the Núcleo de Estudos sobre o Oriente Médio (NEOM) in the same university. His research is funded by CNPq and Faperj. His areas of interest: religion (Islam), ethnicity, pilgrimage, religious subjectivities, as well as the body, ritual, and performance. He carries out fieldwork with Sufi communities in Syria (Aleppo) and with Muslim communities in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Curitiba, and Foz do Iguaçu).

Fernando Rabossi, Ph.D.
Ph.D. in Anthropology (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Museu Nacional) and M.A. in International Migration and Ethnic Relations (University of Stockholm). Currently he’s a Visiting Professor in the graduate program of Social Anthropology of the National Museum (Rio de Janeiro), where he is one of the coordinators of the Research Center in Culture and Economy (). His themes of interest are: markets, the state, globalization, ethnography, and culture.

Zidane Zeraoui, Ph.D.
Ph.D, in Political Science at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM. Professor and researcher, International Relations, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), Campus Monterrey. Author of Islam y política. Los procesos políticos árabes contemporáneos (1997); Árabes y musulmanes en Europa. Historia y procesos migratorios (2006). Editor of La paz y las regiones del mundo (2007) and co-editor of Sobre el Medio Oriente (2007).

Project Partners

FIU International Media Center:

* Mercedes Vigón | Assistant Director, FIU International Media Center
* John Virtue | Director, FIU International Media Center

FIU Office of Media Relations:

* Madeline Baró | Assistant Director, FIU Office of Media Relations

FIU Latin American and Caribbean Center:

* Uva de Aragón, Ph.D. | Project Contributor and Associate Director of the Cuban Research at Florida International University. Dr. de Aragón is a prolific author and expert on Cuban and Cuban-American issues.

Islam in the Dominican Republic

From DR1.com

http://dr1.com/articles/islam.shtml

Although it has become one of the most controversial religions of the 21st century, there is much intrigue and misinformation surrounding Islam. The political realities associated with the religion have forced many who have had limited contact with Islam to form, at times, disingenuous and misguided opinions about it. It has become an unfortunate reality that when conversations about Islam are initiated, many wary eyes raise eyebrows in concern, fearing that television images will soon become a reality in a restaurant near you. But nestled away from the grim images we see on the daily news, in one Santo Domingo’s nicest neighborhoods, is an inconspicuous mosque, which is the antithesis of anything you have ever thought Islam to be and for many, is a representation of all the good values and virtues that Islam can offer.

This, for those who don’t know, is a reference to the Círculo Islámico de la República Dominicana (CIRD) and its mosque, where followers gather to pray and share in Muslim values and teachings. The mosque is a meeting place for the small Muslim community in Santo Domingo and though their numbers aren’t nearly as great as their Christian or even Jewish counterparts, their presence in the DR is long-standing and deserves to be recognized. Islam in the DR is a link to the nation’s colonial history, and also reflects the country’s multi-cultural growth and continued acceptance of groups, regardless of origin.

History of Islam in the DR
It may come as a surprise to many, but the history of Islam in the Dominican Republic began with the importation of African slaves during the DR’s colonial period. Spanish conquistadors, led by Christopher Columbus, landed on Hispaniola in 1492, and by 1502 had entered into slave trading. Historians have established that the presence of Islam was already substantial in West Africa during the 16th century, and this was where early colonizers bought most of their slaves. The Wolof Muslims from West Africa is believed to be among the first group of slaves transported to the New World. As the slave trade grew, colonizers imported a new group with its own customs and beliefs, such as Islam, to the New World. The presence of West African slaves with Muslim ties would quickly be seen as problematic. Resistance by the slaves was first recorded in 1503 when Nicolas de Ovando wrote to Spanish Queen Isabella requesting that she prohibit further shipments to the colony of people with connections to Islam. However, the demand for slaves was so strong that no one heeded the Spanish governors pleas’ to stop importing Muslims. Although these new imports to the Americas arrived with a rich and ancient culture, repression and forced conversions into Catholicism gradually diluted the original cultural, identity and religions of the remaining Muslim slave inhabitants on Hispaniola.

Wolof slaves stopped being imported from Africa in 1522 after the first large-scale slave revolt in the Americas was led by a group of Muslims. The revolt occurred on the sugar plantation of Admiral Don Diego Colon, son of Christopher Columbus. By 28 December 1522 the slaves reached the cattle ranch of Melchior de Castro, but the success of the revolt was limited. Eventually, the slaves were met by European militiamen, and the revolt was subsequently thwarted. This revolt would mark the end of Muslim importation on the island and would guarantee a diminution of the Muslim presence for years to come.

Present day Muslim Community
Though there would be a lag in the establishment of a substantial Muslim community in the DR, the reemergence of the religion came about during the immigration of Lebanese and middle easterners to the DR during the late 19th and early 20th century. However, the migration of Muslims was minor, to say the least. Through migration Islam's religious seeds were once again planted in the DR, but the religion would not grow. Most Middle Eastern immigrants to the DR were Christian and the small number of Muslims that did migrate went on to convert to Christianity over the years. It would not be until migration of students to the DR during the latter part of the 20th century that Islam would once again reemerge in the country. The DR became an attractive educational offer for many students from India, Pakistan and the Middle East and with them they brought their cultures and customs. In this simple way, Islam would reassert itself in Dominican culture. Although most people in the DR practice Roman Catholicism, the Círculo Islámico de República Dominicana has slowly helped spread Islam in this country. The Muslim community includes a mix of local converts, international students studying in the DR and expatriates who have maintained their faith while in the county. Speaking with CIRD member Saad Mashkoor, the CIRD doesn’t recruit members, but is open to educating anyone interested in Islam or answering questions of faith for curious minds.

The Muslim community in the DR is still fairly small and it has been almost impossible to determine how many Muslims in fact live in the country. Some estimates indicate that only 0.02 percent of the population or 2,000 individuals are practicing Muslims, although other statistics place the number between 400-700 followers, with a reasonable estimate reaching 1,000 Muslims in the DR.

The CIRD
The Círculo Islámico was the first fully established mosque in the Dominican Republic. The mosque is located in the center of Santo Domingo, about a five- minute walk from the National Police Department and UNIBE University, easily accessible to Muslims from around the city. In the past there were mosques around the city, known in Arabic as mobile mosques, but there was never a place where Muslims could go and worship until the current mosque was built. CIRD director Mashkoor tells how there was a small mosque on Pedro Lluberes Ave. in Santo Domingo about 10 years ago. He explained that there was the need for a mosque in order to accommodate the growing number of Muslim students in the DR, but the funds to purchase the land were limited, until one day a prayer was answered. A Muslim gentleman, only named as Foutory, heard about the need for funds to purchase the land and asked how much money was needed. He wrote a check right there and then. The land was bought and once again, when the time came for construction, Foutory opened his heart and his wallet and helped build the mosque. Currently, the mosque runs on donations from followers. The simple installations of the mosque don’t require much, but simple things like power, water and maintenance must be tended to and this is where the small community of Muslims chip in with what they can. Many followers provide as much time and resources as they can and network in order to provide the mosque with enough to keep it running. The mosque is open daily for the five prayers (salat) and offers classes on Islamic studies for ladies and children on weekends. The center also holds Ramadan and other Muslim-related activities.

Adding to the work the mosque does within the local community is the foundation of the Al-Foutory consultation office, which Mashkoor explains, provides free medical consultations to anyone in the community. In the back of the mosque is a small doctor’s office where community members can get free check-ups for their ailments and in some cases they may also receive free medicines. Mashkoor says that every other week a cardiologist comes to the center and checks on patients. He says that at times the doctor might not be able to diagnose a problem or might not have the tools or expertise to treat a patient so they call on other doctor friends in the community and send sick patients their way. What’s more is that when a patient is referred to a private clinic, the doctor may do it as pro-bono work and won’t charge the patient. Mashkoor credits the giving nature of the mosque as part of the values instilled in him by his religion.

Personal Experience
Speaking with one of the brothers who frequents the mosque, Jose Caba, provided a great deal of insight into the historical connections between Islam and the DR. Jose explained that his family originally migrated to the DR from the Middle East. As a child growing up in New York he had no idea of this and like many thought he was “just” Dominican. At one point, though he didn’t explain when, he became interested in tracing his family history and learning about his past. This personal journey brought him into contact with Islam, which was part of his cultural heritage, and he converted in 1974. Jose speaks of the beauty within the religion, and says that this is what made him fall in love with Islam. He speaks of the respect that he has for his wife and community and explains that it his faith that has driven him to be a better person. Jose travels back and forth between the US and the DR and mentions that he gets suspicious looks, especially in the US, but in the DR the looks are more curious than anything else. He jokingly adds that sometimes walking down the street, Dominicans will joke that he must be hot because of the traditional garb he wears, as well as his long beard, but adds that other than that he is respected in the community and that Dominicans have never shown any concern about his religion.

The Future
Islam has had a long, yet quiet history in the DR. Through its many emergences and re-emergence it has left some traces on the Dominican cultural map, but very few could point these out. Still, Islam is an interesting part of the DR’s past and present and will continue to be an interesting part of its future. As students continue to venture to the DR in search of educational opportunities and as the virtues of this culture and religion become intriguing to curious minds, the religion will continue to grow. The debate about Islam has not begun in this country and the hope is that once the religion appears on the social radar those who engage in it will disregard television images and particular views and allow the local members of the religion to educate on the nuances of Islam. Will we see the emergence of twenty new mosques in the DR in the next ten years? Who knows, but what is certain is that the existence of Islam in the Dominican community adds to the wealth of culture that this country already provides.

Eid al-Fitr BBQ in Bay Area

http://www.muslim-calendar.com/syndicate.aspx?eventid=7311

Date: Sept. 12, 2010

Time: 1:00 PM

Location: Harding Park
(Lake Merced)

99 Harding Road
San Francisco, CA 95141

Metroplex: Bay Area, CA

california islam

Description: The Bay Area Latino Muslim Society and Society of Islamic Education invites you to our Eid al-Fitr event this Sunday celebrating the end of Ramadan with family and friends of the community. There will be tons of food, activities for the kids, and lots of fun celebrating this blessed day here in the beautiful Bay Area! So Inshallah come out, bring your family and friends. Feel free to bring any cultural dishes to share with everyone and meet the rest of the Latino Muslim Community, and we will see you all there!

california islam

The Bay Area Latino Muslim Society was established in 2005 in the San Francisco Bay area. Our goal is to unite the Latino Muslim community of the Bay. We hope that by uniting our gente we can have a community that can give dawah in Spanish. By inviting our friends and family to our events, they too can see that many Latinos are embracing Islam and see that their Latino friends and family members aren’t the only ones. We hope to create a sense of brotherhood among ourselves and share our experiences with one another.

california islam

Our main goal is to gather our gente for an annual iftar where people from all over the Bay get together. We have speakers who talk about Ramadan, the history of Latinos in Islam, and share their stories about why they converted. This annual event has been a good way for bringing people together to meet one another while letting them feel welcome in an environment where people speak Spanish as well as English and share common cultures.

california islam

The Tri-State Latino Muslims

By Ismail Ocasio

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=72781187208

July 22, 2010

As Salaamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu

Peace be onto you my dear brothers and sisters. I am sure most of you have noticed the change in the settings of this group. This letter will better explain the changes that were made and the reason behind them. When I first created this group it was in response to an event I attended with our brothers and sisters in the North Hudson Community (May Allah accept their Islam and their efforts). As a Latino born and raised in this deen, especially coming from a family who has been active in the dawah for Latinos in the past, the issues and concerns that were brought up were a revival of sorts.

The initial objectives as stated in the description of this group (which you can find under files "tristatelatinomuslims.pdf) were the following:
1) To invite the Latino community to Islam, Allah’s Perfect way of Life, by presenting this deen in a familiar and appealing way, eliminating misconceptions and removing barriers to their acceptance of Islam.
2) To create a forum for Latinos in the Tri-State area that facilitates our common objectives and creates stronger bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood.

I had this vision of a network of Latinos working together, pooling resources to address the issues of their respective existing Latino Muslim Communities as well as confronting the challenges in the dawah outreaching to the communities we live in. A movement is only as potent as the directive behind it. Sometimes it takes years for that directive to be purified and perfected- not in words but in understanding. Our Prophet SAW exemplified this strategy in Mecca with 13 years of training and development of the companions, which ultimately lead to the success of Islam. La Illaha illallah was perfect from the moment it descended from the heavens but the correct application of it in our daily lives is something that takes a lifetime.

The priority for us right now is to connect and grow a closer relationship as brothers and sisters for the sake of Allah. A very important but overlooked part of what made the Messenger a great leader and guide for his community was that he had already gained the love and trust of the people. You need to have a relationship built upon trust to make any Islamic work you do together successful. With this in mind some of our brothers and sisters have taken the initiative to set up a BBQ get together to do exactly that.

I am suggesting that I mock up some workshops and conversational exercises to really take full advantage of this get together.

The date is August 7th 12PM and the Location is Prospect Park Brooklyn. (Exact location to be given when you rsvp).

To make it enjoyable for everyone we would like to make it a collaboration. If you would like to contribute food, games, or manpower, you may respond to this email with a message and contact information.

Feel free to comment. May Allah forgive me if anything said was incorrect. I hope to see you there. Jazakullah Khayran.

Related links:
Facebook Group for Tri-State Latino Muslims:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=72781187208

GoogleGroup for Tri-State Latino Muslims:
http://groups.google.com/group/tristate-latino-muslims

Shahada
 

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