Oct - Dec 2009, Other

7th Annual Hispanic Muslim Day

By Mariam Abbassi

The 7th Annual Hispanic Muslim Day – an event of recognition of Hispanic reverts of our community. The mission of organizing this event was to outreach and convey the message of Islam to everyone in the community of Muslims and the community of non-Muslims.

On November 8, 2009 more than 150 Hispanic Muslims gathered to celebrate and to remember the day of their reversion. We started the celebration with verses recited from the Glorious Quran by Sheikh Mahmoud. We acknowledged and appreciated the humbleness shown by the non-Arabic speakers. Brother Omar Garcia, a Muslim that was born into the faith, translated the verses into English and Spanish.

Dr. Abbassi’s welcoming speech was initiated by saying “I do not want to welcome you, as this is your center.” “Allah said, ‘Oh mankind! We have created you as male and female from Adam and Eve, and Allah has made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you in the Hereafter, (in the sight of Allah on the Day of Judgment), is the one who is best in conduct in this life.’”

“Lo! Allah is the Knower of your status and lineage. He is the Aware and knows of your works and standing in His sight. He is Aware of your inner thoughts.”

Dr. Abbassi ended his speech by expressing his happiness with which he experienced by witnessing the unity among the revert Muslims and requested their frequent visit, participation and support by their presence.

Brother Omar reading the translation of the Quran.
Dr. Abbassi welcoming our guests.

Imam Al-Hayek started his opening statement by explaining to the audience the importance of celebrating the great courage of those who embraced Islam in spite of all the discouragement, rejection, and hardships around. The imam said, “I also invited the non-Muslim attendees to learn, reflect, and to think seriously about God, and the meaning and purpose of life. Allah has 99 names but He is One and He is the Only One that we worship. Finally, I wish everybody a joyous experience with the program.”

Imam Al-Hayek, the president of the Da’wah committee of NHIEC
West New York officials attended the event. Contender Felix Roques
spoke to the audience on how we all believe in One God.

Sheikh Yusef Maisonette briefly spoke of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and how he influenced the world with his preaching and teachings which were inspired by none other than Allah SWT. Although Muhammad was a mere human being, with a limited lifespan, he was honored and dignified by Allah (SWT) with His eternal and universal messages to humanity. He was a living example for all humanity. His message and mission was sent for all nations and tribes regardless of their race, the color of their skin, their ethnic background, or whether Arab or non-Arab.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent as a mercy to humanity. He is the one who protected our rights. He protected men’s, women’s, and children’s rights. He protected the relationship between neighbors and he established the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. He organized the relationship between the members of the family, showing us the duties we have towards parents. He prevented injustice and called for justice, love, togetherness and cooperation for the best. He called for helping the needy, visiting the sick, love, and exchanging advice between people. He prohibited bad manners and prohibited such actions as stealing, lying, and murdering. He is the one who changed our lives and manners for the better.

Sister Khadijah Rivera explained to the audience how Islam elevated women and gave them equal rights with men. Sister Khadijah asked the audience, “does anyone know when was it that the women in this country started to vote?” The answer was 1918. “Well, Islam gave women the rights to do as equally as men since the Quran was revealed.”

The sisters were listening closely while sister Khadijah told them of her experiences while travelling overseas. She said, “I felt as though I was a (piece of) luggage that was searched over and over (sic). Sisters this is not a hardship. This is a challenge. This is a Muslim woman’s identity and we are proud of how we dress.”

Brother Yusuf Rios, a Puerto Rican convert from the Philadelphia area, gave his talk on how important Islam is for the Hispanic community.

Brother Yusuf Rios was very adamant about his fellow Latinos rising up and taking control of their future. He described a world where Islam and dawah from within the Latino community would help them move forward. Brother Rios is currently very active in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and works closely with all groups seeking to expand Islamic knowledge.

The audience is listening intently as Sheikh Yusuf Rios speaks.

The second half of the program took place when Sister Sherry began telling the audience of her amazing story on how she converted to Islam. She stood up and took the floor. Everyone in the hall listened intently as she started.

How did I get into the fold of Islam…
“From a very young age, I had always questioned the religious beliefs I was being taught. When I was quite young, perhaps not even five yet, I remember asking my father what would happen to all of the Chinese people who were not Catholic… Would they go to heaven too? It seemed that there were an awful lot of people in the world who were not Catholic, (and) would never be Catholic, and since the Church taught that there was “no salvation outside of the church,” it seemed that a lot of folks were seriously out of luck through no fault of their own. So I’d always ask questions like that as the years went on. I stopped believing in the doctrine of the incarnation fairly early on. But still, it tormented me. Was Jesus divine or not? The churches said ‘yes’ – scholarship and commonsense said ‘no.’ That one question tormented me for years.”

Sister Sherry.

“I stumbled onto Islam. A few years ago, perhaps around 2004 or so, I became interested in modest dressing and belonged to a Yahoo online group devoted to Christian modest dress. Every year, and you can almost set your watch to this, this group brought up the subject of head coverings. Christian head coverings for women… They did it again that year, right on schedule, too. This group is very specifically for Christian women.”

“In the summer of 2007, right on schedule, the head covering discussion started up again, and since it was summer and I’m a teacher and have lots of free time during the summer, I told them (that) I would spend the time and research it for them. Privately, I said to myself, ‘they are all out of their minds,’ but since I like to do research and I had lots of free time, I thought I’d try to be helpful (even though at the time, I thought that they were all out of their minds for wanting to cover their heads). But, if that’s what they wanted to do, (then) maybe I could help them. I had more time on my hands than most of them did because it was summer and I have no children of my own. In the summer, I am completely free…”

“The interesting thing that happened was that every time I tried to find information on head coverings, the only topics that kept coming up contained the word “hijab” and I had no idea what a hijab was. In fact, to me it sounded like something on the menu at a Turkish restaurant. Seriously – but I kept on digging for information on head coverings.”

“I ran into Baba Ali’s video on YouTube called “That’s Not Hijab.” This was the first time I’d heard a real, live, actual Muslim person speak and amazingly, he had a totally American accent. I’d say (he had a) California dialect – but there was nothing scary about this guy. He was just talking about things I recognized. The way people try to dance around rules, following the letter of the law rather than the spirit. The most amazing thing was that he didn’t scare me to pieces.”

“After that, I joined a Facebook group of young Muslims who were trying to write a script for another of Baba Ali’s videos. I joined their group very naively thinking that I was going to ‘help them’ write the script. Instead, I found myself in way over my head because all these kids kept leaving messages on the boards using Arabic words I’d never heard (of) before. So I started studying Islam in order to help those kids write that script. I had no idea what they were all talking about. Each Arabic word they used stood for a concept in Islamic teaching and I found that the more I learned about what they were discussing, the more interested I became in the tradition. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.”

“Finally, I thought I’d better read the Qur’aan itself because I was (just) getting lost reading all those thousands of hadith. I realized very early on that hadith are something better left to (the) professionals.”

“So, I borrowed my husband’s copy of a Qur’aan translation. A homeless man had given him a copy of the Yusuf Ali translation that’s published gratis by Saudi Arabia.”

“I would have stopped reading it too, if my husband hadn’t walked by one day where he found me grumbling.” He asked, “What’s the matter?”

“I told him that I was getting upset at the graphic descriptions of the punishments. At one point, my husband walked by where I was sitting and reading and he heard me grumbling, ‘These people are all nuts! What’s with all this punishment??!! Are they crazy? This is their idea of God? Molten metal poured down my throat or in my ear? Am I that bad that I deserve this??? This is all about fire and punishment!!! What is going on here???’”

“I asked my husband, the Episcopal priest, these questions. It all seemed pretty harsh.”

“Immediately, I saw a shift in my husband’s demeanor. Wives of clergy know when this shift happens. The man transforms almost instantly into The Priest or The Rabbi or The Imam. It’s a role change that I’d say the families of clergy are very familiar with, and its visible on the face of the person. So I saw my husband make that shift and saw him switch right away into ‘Pastor Mode.’”

Then he said, “Well, you have to remember that the fire is also a purification. When you get gold ore, you have to burn away the dross to reveal the gold.”

“Since that is also a very familiar Old Testament image and since this was my husband, whom I trust, telling me this – that it was okay – I said, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, I guess you’re right. Okay, I’ll finish reading, then.’”

The audience is listening carefully to sister Sherry’s conversion story.

“By the time I reached the end of the English translation of the Qur’aan, I realized I had already been half a Muslim for a long while: “I bear witness that there is no god but God.” The second half came into play when I realized that the Qur’aan was the truth, and was the truth that so many of us who’ve been disillusioned by Christianity have been waiting for. What started it for me was when I read a line that strongly suggests that the male gamete determines the sex of a baby. When I read that line, it was as if I’d been sucker-punched in the gut by a very determined angel. That’s what it felt like – an angelic punch to the gut. Not painful but you know you’ve been punched in the gut and that this is the truth.”

“As I learned more about Islam, I found that it upholds Christian ethical and spiritual teachings in nearly every place except in those places where I’d felt that Christianity had gone astray on its own. Islamic teaching corrects those features that always felt wrong to begin with: Original Sin, the Vicarious Atonement, the Doctrine of the Incarnation, which is something that was fought over for hundreds of years, and is still being fought over in an intellectual sense. The inability to reconcile lines like, ‘of myself I can do nothing; all I have comes to me from the Father’ and ‘for the Father is greater than I’ with the doctrinal insistence on the divinity of Jesus. Islam cuts through this welter of confusion and mental torment by simply asserting that God ‘begets not, nor is He begotten, and there is none like unto Him.’”

“Interestingly enough, Islam also corrects the strange insistence on a trinity of three male gods. ‘There is none like unto Allah’ and Allah SWT has no gender because Allah is not in the form of a created being, which usually do have gender. In other words, Allah is not a boy.”

“And oddly enough, the places where Islamic teachings diverge from Christians teaching are most often the very places where post-Christian scholars also diverge. Karen Armstrong’s spiritual journey seems to have taken a similar trajectory. She now calls herself a ‘freelance monotheist.’”

“I learned recently that the word ‘Sharia’ is related to the Arabic term for ‘a path to water.’ When you have been thirsty and hungry for a good many years, and finally find Islam and the truth, you get that right away.”

“There’s a wonderful gospel story about a man who was a seller of fine pearls. All his life he dreamed of finding the one perfect pearl, (one) like no other. It took him years and years (and) when he finally found it, he sold all of his other pearls just so he could purchase ‘The Pearl of Great Price.’ That is what Islam is to me: the Pearl of Great Price.”

Former Pastor, Sister Esmeralda Sandi on the right spoke of her conversion to Islam and how it changed her life. Sister Esmeralda converted to Islam two months ago.

Sister Esmeralda spoke of her journey through Christianity and how she understood the spiritual sense of Christianity but still felt that something was missing. She still felt a sense of emptiness. So she began to study Islam with some resources Sister Linda and Brother Omar gave her in Spanish. Finally, on one Wednesday afternoon she attended one of Sheikh Al-Hayek’s lectures and there she converted. She did her Shahada and then wondered, “that’s it?” As she began to practice, she realized that Islam was not only spiritual but also physical and little by little it began to play a role in her whole life – not just at night before she went to sleep. Sister Esmeralda now wears hijab and practices her deen faithfully, masha’Allah!