Jan – Mar 2003

Islam, Jan - Mar 2003

Respecting our differences

“Waste no time debating what a good Muslim should be. Be one!”

By Muhammad Alshareef


Imam Malik one day entered the Masjid after Asr. Towards the front of Masjid An-Nabawee he drew closer and sat down. Rasul Allah had commanded that anyone who enters the Masjid should not sit until he first prays 2 rakas as a salutation of the Masjid. Imam Malik was of the opinion however that Rasul Allah’s forbiddance of praying after Asr took precedence and so he would teach his students to not pray the tahiyyatul Masjid if they entered between the Asr and Maghrib time.

At that moment that Imam Malik sat down, a young boy had seen him sit without first praying the 2 raka’s of Tahiyyatul Masjid. The young boy scorned him, “Get up and pray 2 rakas!”

Imam Malik dutifully stood up once again and began praying the 2 rakas. The students sat stunned: What was going on? Had Imam Malik’s opinion changed?

After he had completed the salah, the students swarmed around and questioned his actions. Imam Malik said, “My opinion has not changed, nor have I gone back on what I taught you earlier. I merely feared that had I not prayed the 2 rakas as the young boy commanded, Allah may include me in the Ayah…

“And when it is said to them, ‘Bow (in prayer)’, they do not bow.” – al mursalat 77/48.

Imam Ahmad held the opinion that eating camel meat nullifies ones Wudhu, an opinion that the majority of scholars differed from. Some students asked him, “If you find an Imam eating camel meat in front of you and – without first making Wudu – then leads the Salah, would you pray behind him?” Imam Ahmad replied, “Do you think I would not pray behind the likes of Imam Malik and Sa’eed ibn Al-Musayyab?”

Allah created humans with differences. It is the law of creation. Different tongues, different colors, different cultures…all that on the outside. On the inside, humans were created with many degrees of knowledge, intellect, and comprehension of concepts. This is all a sign of Allah’s all encompassing power to do whatever He wills:

“And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors: verily in that are signs for those who know.” [30:22]

Humans shall differ, that is not the issue. The issue is: How as a Muslim should one confront these differences of opinions and what should be our relationship with someone of a different opinion.

Allah ta’ala commanded us to call and advise people in this Deen of Al-Islam. Many Muslims set off on this mission blindfolded, not realizing that the map was there in the Qur’an also. In fact, in the very same verse where Allah commanded us to call and advise people in this Deen, Allah taught us how to do it. Read the following verse carefully:

“Invite (fi’l Amr – Allah is commanding) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction and argue with them in a way that is best! ” – Surah An-Nahl 16/125.

There is no need to philosophize. No need to talk in the flower gardens. It is right there, plain and simple for anyone who would take heed.

There in that Ayah are the three ingredients to apply when we disagree with someone. The same Allah that taught us to debate the truth, taught us how to do it:

1 – With Hikmah (wisdom)
2 – With good instruction, and
3 – To argue in a way that is best.

What does it mean to have Hikmah when differing with someone? The grandsons of Rasul Allah(saw) once set one of the most beautiful examples of Hikmah in advising others. Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn – in their young age – once saw a senior man performing Wudu incorrectly. Together they arranged a plan to teach the man without insulting him, advising him in a manner befitting of his age.

Together they went to the senior and announced, “My brother and I have differed over who amongst us performs Wudu the best. Would you mind being the judge to determine which one of us indeed performs Wudu more correctly.”

The man watched intently as the two grandsons of Rasul Allah performed Wudu in an explicit manner. After they had completed, he thanked them and said, “By Allah, I did not know how to perform Wudu before this. You have both taught me how to do it correctly.”

We must understand that there are two dimensions to Hikmah. Firstly, there is the Hikmah of knowledge – Hikmah Ilmiyyah. And secondly, there is the Hikmah of Action – Hikmah Amaliyyah.

Some people may have Hikmah of knowledge. But we see that when they try correcting others, advising them, they lack the Hikmah of Action. This causes many a common folk to reject the Hikmah of knowledge.

To illustrate this hikmah of knowledge without Hikmah of action, a brother once completed the Salah in a local Masjid and then proceeded to shake hands with the people on his right and left. The brother to his immediate right slapped his hand and snapped, “That is not part of the Sunnah!” The man replied most correctly, “Oh, is disrespect and insult part of the Sunnah?”

To show Hikmah when we differ requires the following:


One: If we differ, our intentions should be that we are differing in the sincere hope of coming away with the truth. Our intentions should be sincere to Allah.

We should not differ just to release some hate or envy in our heart. We should not differ to embarrass someone like we may have been embarrassed.

Rasul Allah said, “Whoever learns knowledge – knowledge from that which should be sought for the sake of Allah – only to receive a commodity of the material world, he shall not find the fragrance of jannah on the day of resurrection.” – An authentic hadith narrated by Abu Dawood in Kitab Al-Ilm.

Kindness and Gentleness

Two: To have Hikmah when differing means we should rarely depart from an atmosphere of kindness and gentleness, we should seldom allow ourselves to become angry and raise our voices.

Fir’own (Pharaoh) was one of the evilest people that lived. Musa was one of the noblest. Look at how Allah told Musa to advise Fir’own…

“Go, both of you, to Fir’own. Indeed, he has transgressed. And speak to him with gentle speech, perhaps he may remember or fear (Allah).”

A man once entered upon the Khalifah and chastised him for some policies he had taken. The Khalifah replied, “By Allah, Fir’own was more eviler than me. And by Allah, Musa was more pious than you. Yet, Allah commanded him…’And speak to him with gentle speech, perhaps he may remember or fear (Allah).'”

Take Your Time and Clarify

Three: To have Hikmah when dealing with others is to be patient and clarify things before snapping to conclusions.

Imam Ahmad narrates with his chain of narrators leading to Ibn Abbas who said, “A man from Bani Saleem passed by a group of the Prophet’s companions. (At that time of war) The man said ‘as salamu alaykum’ to them. The companions concluded that he only said ‘as salamu alaykum’ to them as a deception to save himself from being caught. They surrounded him and Malham ibn Juthaamah killed him. From that event Allah revealed the verse…

“O you who have believed, when you go forth (to fight) in the cause of Allah, investigate, and do not say to one who gives you (a greeting of peace), “You are not a believer,” Aspiring for the goods of worldly life; for with Allah are many acquisitions. You (yourselves) were like that before; then Allah conferred His favor (i.e. guidance) upon you, so investigate. Indeed, Allah is ever with what you do, acquainted.” – Surah AnNisa, 4/94. From Tafseer Ibn Katheer.

Speak Kindly

Fourthly, never trade in kind words for harshness, especially when dealing with other Muslims.

Look at the power of a sincere and polite word: Mus’ab ibn Umayr was the first of ambassador of Rasul Allah in Madinah. Before Rasul Allah had arrived in Madinah, Mus’ab taught ahl al-Madinah about Islam and they began to enter the Deen.

This enraged Sa’d ibn ‘Ubaadah, one of the chieftains of Madinah. He sheathed his sword and set off for the head of Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr. When he confronted Mus’ab he threatened, “Stop this nonsense you speak or you shall find yourself dead!”

Mus’ab replied in the way that should be a lesson for us all. This man before him did not stop at rudeness and ignorance, he wanted to slit his throat.

Mus’ab said, “Shall you not sit and listen for a few moments. If you agree with what I say then take it, and if not, we shall desist from this talk.” Sa’d sat down.

Mus’ab spoke about Allah and His messenger until the face of Sa’d ibn Ubaadah’s face shone like a full moon and he said, “What should a person do who wishes to enter into this Deen?” After Mus’ab had told him he said, “There is a man, if he accepts this Deen, there shall be no home in Madinah that will not become Muslim. Sa’d ibn Mu’aadh.”

When Sa’d ibn Mu’aadh heard what was happening, he was infuriated. He left his home to go and kill this man called Mus’ab ibn Umayr for the dissention he had caused. He entered upon Mus’ab and announced, “You shall desist of this religion you speak of or you shall find yourself dead!”

Mus’ab replied, “Shall you not sit and listen for a few moments. If you agree with what I say then take it, and if not, I shall desist from this talk.” Sa’d sat.

Mus’ab spoke about Allah and His messenger until the face of Sa’d ibn Mu’aadh’s face shone like a full moon and he said, “What should a person do who wishes to enter into this Deen?”

Look at what a kind word did. Sa’d ibn Mu’aadh went home to his Madinan tribe that night and announced to them all, “Everything of yours is Haram upon me until you all enter into Islam.”

That night, every home in Madinah went to bed with Laa ilaaha illa Allah…all because of a kind word.

Part II: Who wins?

Mu’aawiyah ibn al-Hakam al-Salami. When he came to Madeenah from the desert, he did not know that it was forbidden to speak during the salaah. He relates: “Whilst I was praying behind the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), a man sneezed, so I said ‘Yarhamuk Allaah (may Allaah have mercy on you).’ The people glared at me, so I said, ‘May my mother lose me! What is wrong with you that you are looking at me?’ They began to slap their thighs with their hands, and when I saw that they were indicating that I should be quiet, I stopped talking (i.e., I nearly wanted to answer them back, but I controlled myself and kept quiet).

When the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) had finished praying – may my father and mother be sacrificed for him, I have never seen a better teacher than him before or since – he did not scold me or hit me or put me to shame. He just said, ‘This prayer should contain nothing of the speech of men; it is only tasbeeh and takbeer and recitation of the Qur’aan.'” (Saheeh Muslim, ‘Abd al-Baaqi edn., no. 537).

Islam showed us how to differ with one another. Some people think that we should never differ at all and all disagreements should be avoided. Nay, this is an incorrect assumption, for the Qur’an and Sunnah show clearly that when a mistake is made it should be corrected. Indeed helping others do what is right is a requirement of the Deen, sincere Naseeha.

We see when Rasul Allah turned away from AbdAllah ibn Umm Maktoom, the blind man, Allah corrected him in the Qur’an…

“(The Prophet) frowned and turned away, Because there came to him the blind man But what could tell you that perchance he might become pure (from sins)? Or that he might receive admonition, and that the admonition might profit him?” – surah Abasa, 1-4

When Haatib ibn Abi Balta’ah (may Allaah be pleased with him) made the mistake of writing to the kuffaar of Quraysh and informing them of the direction in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was headed on a military campaign against them, Allaah revealed the words:

“O you who believe! Take not My enemies and your enemies as friends…” – Surah Mumtahinah/1

And so on. Thus we learn that when a mistake happens it should be corrected. However, the method of correction is what needs our attention. Whenever Muslims argue, it is as if each party carries a banner of: ‘I must win and you must lose!’ Careful study of the Sunnah however shows us that this is not always the case with the way Rasul Allah acted. Consider the following examples:

“I lose and you win!”

A Bedouin came to Rasul Allah and told him, “Give me from what Allah gave you, not from the wealth of your mother nor from the wealth of your father.” The Sahaabah were furious at the man and step forward to discipline him for what he said. Rasul Allah commanded everyone to leave him.

Then by the hand, Rasul Allah took him home, opened his door and said, “Take what you wish and leave what you wish.” The man did so and after he completed, Rasul Allah asked him, “Have I honored you?” “Yes, by Allah,” said the Bedouin. “Ash hadu an laa ilaaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammadar Rasul Allah.” (Meaning he embraced Islam)

When the Sahabah heard of how the man changed, Rasul Allah taught them. “Verily the example of myself, you and this Bedouin is that of a man who had his camel run away. The townspeople tried capturing the camel for him by running and shouting after the camel, only driving it further away. The man would shout, ‘Leave me and my camel, I know my camel better.’ Then he took some grass in his hand, ruffled it in front of the camel, until it came willingly.

‘By Allah, had I left you to this Bedouin, you would have hit him, hurt him, he would have left without Islam and eventually have entered hellfire.”

“I win and you lose!”

A Muslim should not have an apologetic stance to everything he is confronted with. There are times when the truth must be said, when there is no room for flattery.

When the Makhzoomi women – a women from an affluent family – stole, people approached Rasul Allah to have her punishment canceled. Rasul Allah became very angry and stood on the pulpit and announced, “By Allah, had Fatima the daughter of Muhammad stole I would have cut her hand off.”

No room for flattery, the truth must be stood up for. It is here that the etiquette of disagreement that we talked earlier about should shine.

“I win and you win!”

There doesn’t always have to be a loser. We see in many cases that Rasul Allah gave a way out for the people he differed with. When he sent the letter to Caesar, he said in it, “Become Muslim and you shall be safe, Allah shall give you your reward double!”

He did not say surrender or die! Nothing of the sort. Become Muslim and you shall win, rather your victory shall be double.

I shall end with this shining example of how to act with other Muslims from our role model, Abu Bakr:

Abu Bakr once disputed with another companion about a tree. During the dispute Abu Bakr said something that he rather would not have said. He did not curse, he did not attack someone’s honor, he did not poke a fault in anyone, all he said was something that may have hurt the other companion’s feelings.

Immediately, Abu Bakr – understanding the mistake – ordered him, “Say it back to me!” The companion said, “I shall not say it back.” “Say it back to me,” said Abu Bakr, “Or I shall complain to the Messenger of Allah.” The companion refused to say it back and went on his way.

Abu Bakr went to Rasul Allah and related what had happened and what he said. Rasul Allah called that companion and asked him, “Did Abu Bakr say so and so to you?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “What did you reply.” He said, “I did not reply it back to him.” Rasul Allah said, “Good, do not reply it back to him (do not hurt Abu Bakr). Rather say, ‘May Allah forgive you O Abu Bakr!'” The Companion turned to Abu Bakr and said, “May Allah forgive you O Abu Bakr! May Allah forgive you O Abu Bakr!” Abu Bakr turned and cried as he walked away. Let us leave today with a resolve to revive this air Rasul Allah and his companions breathed, an air of mercy and love and brotherhood.

Islam, Jan - Mar 2003

Islam Under Wraps

By Jamal Arif


Iviews. June 11, 1999.
Article Ref: IV9906-510

The mere mention of South America can conjure up visions of tall spires and stately steeples bedecking the enchanting and somewhat mysterious landscape of the continent. A common bond of Catholicism runs through the skein of South American countries that have emerged over the last century. It is no wonder then that one might typically perceive this region as a “baptized continent,” devoid of any significant Islamic influence or presence. And even if the observer were to recognize the survival of some smattering of Islamic communities today, the palpable perception might be to leave them to their inevitable fate as geographic, economic, linguistic and religious minorities.

But the continent that is home to the Amazon and its splendors, the Piranha, the Andes, Carnival and some of the best bred cattle in the world, holds a few more surprises for those too myopic to look beyond the exotic. And the Muslim presence in South America is indeed a surprise.

The original influx of Muslims to South America took place in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Syrians and Lebanese who felt persecuted in their homelands or who were economically destitute moved to the greener pastures of the sparsely populated continent. After the turn of the century, the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the Palestinian diaspora forced Muslims from those areas to seek safer havens. A large percentage of this oppressed and deprived populace planted their roots in South America’s large and fertile valleys. These immigrants were generally farmers or merchants who toiled hard to improve their economic fortunes. Their descendants continue to toil to eke out a living, and to retain some semblance of cultural and religious cohesion.

Buenos Aires, a city of eleven million inhabitants was the last major outpost of European colonizers in the Southern Hemisphere. Its wide boulevards, rectangular streets and innumerable churches testify to the fact that the architecture and fiat of the Vatican have ruled supreme in this land. But amongst these teeming millions of Catholics lives a community of perhaps 160, 000 (over 3 million by unofficial count) Muslims.

One needs to look no further than the small but elegant mosque standing on Calle Alberti in the city’s center to understand the manner in which the Buenos Aires’ Muslim community strives for cohesion in a land of crucifixes and bell towers.

“We have been here for 17 years,” says Abdel Kareem, who is the mosque’s Muezzin (the person who vocalizes the daily call to prayer) and runs a small restaurant adjacent to the mosque. “When it was built, only a few people came, but now we are blessed to have a large and regular congregation”. According to Kareem, when his parents emigrated from Syria in 1920s, there were no mosques to be found. Like other immigrants, Kareem’s parents imparted Islamic teachings to him and his five brothers at home. But in the absence of an organized Muslim community, it was only a matter of time before some such children began to be swayed by the religion and culture of the dominant society.

A majority of Argentine Muslims today barely make a living. The continuous sub-division of tractable land amongst the immigrants’ offspring, and the recessions that the continent has endured, has left indelible scars on the once prosperous farming community of Muslims. The few individuals that have prospered would risk the ire and scorn of high society if it were known that they followed Islamic precepts. Many of these Muslims reserve the practice of their faith for times of death or celebration, and do so within the sanctuary of their homes.

Kareem remembers how his teenage friend and fellow Sunni Arab, Argentine President Carlos Menem, slowly turned away from Islam.

“Menem wanted to move on to higher things and the burden of Islam was too heavy for him,” says Kareem. “He had to renounce Islam and become Catholic to be President.”

According to Kareem, Zulema Fatima Yoma, the former wife of Menem, visits her Muslim relatives very discreetly, lest it be known that she and her daughter have any ties with the Muslim community or to Islamic observances.

Kareem strongly believes however that his old friend Menem, with whom he has not communicated for over two decades, is still a Muslim at heart.

“When Menem’s only son died four years ago, I was personally requested to give him a Muslim ‘Ghusal’ (the ritual burial cleansing) and he was buried according to Muslim rites in an Islamic cemetery,” says Kareem.

As further evidence of Menem’s Islamic ties, Kareem also points to Menem’s decision to donate to the Muslim community, an expansive piece of real estate in Buenes Aires’ diplomatic quarter of Palermo, a region known for its lush greenery and choice real estate.

But Muslims in Argentina are not only confined to Buenes Aires. The official count puts the Muslim population at approximately 700,000, spread throughout the country; but with particularly strong numbers in Cordoba, Mendoza, Tucuman and Rosario. However according to Kareem there could be about nine to ten million denizens of Argentina’s population of 34 million that are either Muslims or who have Muslim ancestry.

Arab immigrants did not settle in Argentina, alone. Brazil opened its arms to many Muslim immigrants as well. It is therefore no surprise that Muslims reside from Brazil’s borders with Paraguay and Argentina to Manaus in the Amazon. The biggest concentration of Muslims however is found in the greater Sao Paulo region, which is presumed to be home to approximately 500,000 Muslims.

The Muslim influence in Brazil is widespread. Perhaps seventh of the population is of Arab descent and names of Muslim/Arab origin are prevalent. Architecture and cuisine also bear the trademarks of the culture brought to the hemisphere by the Arabs. Not even fast food has escaped the immigrant influence, as the largest fast food chain in Brazil is “Habib’s” which serves Arab food. And the diversity of influence stretches to businesses such as the textile industry, which is dominated by Arab merchants. The Sao Paulo city council even has a Muslim Councillor by the name of Mohammad Murad, who is a lawyer by profession.

But despite the infiltration of Arab culture in Brazil, Islam as a religion has failed to remain as robust. Like their brethren in other parts of South America, early Muslim immigrants lacked the counsel or vision to realize that the establlishment of schools, mosques and social centers would be crucial in the retention of the Islamic character in later generations. As a result of this lack of foresight, second and third generation Muslim immigrants slowly drifted away from the religion of their forefathers. Only recently has Islam begun to rebound.

A number of mosques dot the greater Sao Paulo area. The oldest and most popular of these is found on Av. Do Estado. Since its establishment 70 years ago, the mosque has added a Quranic school, a small library, a large kitchen and meeting hall for various functions. But despite its popularity, the Av. Do Estado mosque has suffered from a dearth of religious leadership.

As has been the case in many of the larger metropolitan mosques in South America, foreign assistance and individual effort have played major roles in the sustainability of the mosques in the greater Sao Paolo area.

For example the Imam of the Av. Do Estado Mosque is from the Middle East and often times Imams are chosen jointly by the Mosques’ management committees and the Arab governments that pay for the Imam’s services. While such support is sorely needed amongst South American Muslim communities, the prevalence of this foreign assistance signifies that the majority of Muslim communities do not have the educational infrastructure to produce an indigenous religious leadership. However, some of the local Muslims are making an effort to reduce this reliance on outside aid.

Ismail Hatia, a South African who came to Brazil in 1956, built a mosque in Campinas two years ago. Hatia, who also runs a language school, felt that the approximately 50 Muslim families in Campinas were in dire need of some community organization to help provide cohesion and direction for Muslims, especially the youth who have been lured away from Islamic practice by the attractions of the dominant culture.

The Campinas mosque now holds regular Friday congregational prayers and is in the process of establishing regular night prayers on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. The mosque is currently in need of a full time Imam whose salary would be paid for by the Saudi Arabian government.

“We do not want to ask for donations as it could drive away some Muslims who have just started to come to the mosque,” says Hatia. “At the end of the month, two or three people, including myself, just pay the bills that come due.”

Despite the obstacles, this small community and many others throughout South America continue with endeavors to bring people back into the fold of Islam. And South American Muslims are indeed resurfacing after decades of hibernation. They are rediscovering their identity and forging unity and cohesiveness amongst their scattered communities; communities which, some day, could carry weight in social and political structures.

For more information on Islam and Muslims in South America please visit the Islamic Association of Latin America website at www.islamerica.org.ar.

Jan - Mar 2003, Spain

Los Musulmanes Españoles

Por Yusuf Fernández


Entre los países de Europa, España fue el que mantuvo durante más tiempo una presencia musulmana en su suelo. El estado islámico de Al Andalus (711-1492), pese a haber sido destruido tras ocho siglos de una brutal guerra por parte de los cruzados españoles y extranjeros, dejó unas profundas raíces culturales en la región sureña de Andalucía y toda España. Entre los idiomas europeos, el español es el que posee un mayor número de palabras de origen árabe -unas 6.000-.

En los años setenta, después de 500 años de silencio y tras el fin del régimen dictatorial de Franco, comenzó a aparecer de nuevo el Islam en tierras españolas. La Constitución de 1978 puso fin al estado confesional católico que regió en España durante cinco siglos. En 1980 fue aprobada también la Ley de Libertad Religiosa, que abrió el camino a la existencia legal de organizaciones religiosas no católicas en el país.

En este momento, se produjo en Andalucía -la región del sur de España donde el Islam estuvo presente durante más tiempo y donde existen numerosos monumentos de la época musulmana tales como la Mezquita de Córdoba, el Palacio de la Alhambra en Granada y la Torre Giralda en Sevilla- la aparición de algunos colectivos de musulmanes. Estos colectivos tenían en general dos procedencias. Por un lado, algunos andaluces, conscientes del esplendoroso pasado islámico de Andalucía, comenzaron a realizar una investigación acerca de su pasado y su historia y en dicha búsqueda hallaron el Islam como mensaje liberador personal y social. En este sentido, Granada, una bella ciudad que fue la última capital del estado musulmán en España, se convirtió en uno de los primeros centros de renacimiento del Islam en España.

Otro colectivo procedía de estudiantes de Oriente Medio, principalmente Siria y Palestina. Arabia Saudí, por su parte, procedió a construir algunos centros islámicos como la Mezquita de la ciudad de Marbella, en la Costa del Sol, para atender a las necesidades de miles de árabes que visitan cada año esta parte del país.

Desde Granada, el Islam comenzó a extenderse a otras ciudades como Madrid, Barcelona y otras. Aparte de la curiosidad por la propia historia de España, el incremento de los viajes de españoles a países musulmanes -especialmente Marruecos y Turquía-, la difusión de libros musulmanes, incluyendo los de los místicos y sabios de la época de Al Andalus, y el desprestigio de la Iglesia Católica entre gran parte de la población por su colaboración con la dictadura de Franco y otras anteriores contribuyeron a elevar el interés hacia el Islam. Miles de españoles abrazaron el Islam en los años ochenta y noventa.

Se calcula que en la actualidad hay unos 20.000 musulmanes españoles de origen. La mitad de ellos, aproximadamente, son mujeres. El colectivo de mujeres musulmanas ha desarrollado en los últimos años una extraordinaria actividad, que se ha traducido en la realización de tres congresos, el último de los cuales tuvo lugar en la ciudad de Córdoba los pasados días 2 y 3 de marzo.

En las pasadas dos décadas, se produjo también un fuerte incremento en la entrada de inmigrantes marroquíes en España. Éstos suponen hoy en día el 90% del medio millón de musulmanes que viven en el país en el momento presente. También creció en importancia la inmigración de otros países como Argelia y Senegal.

Una de las reivindicaciones de los musulmanes en la actualidad es la transformación de la Mezquita de Córdoba -que fue convertida en una catedral católica tras la conquista de la ciudad en el siglo 13 y ha sido declarada recientemente Patrimonio de la Humanidad por la UNESCO- en un edificio interreligioso donde musulmanes y católicos puedan realizar sus actividades de culto. Sin embargo, esta petición ha sido rechazada hasta el momento por el Obispado católico de la ciudad, que ha venido impidiendo a los musulmanes el rezar en el interior de la Mezquita. Durante el pasado congreso de mujeres musulmanas de Córdoba el pasado marzo, algunos musulmanes que acudieron a la Mezquita para realizar allí sus oraciones fueron objeto de hostigamiento y agresiones por parte de los guardas de seguridad privados contratados por el Obispo.

Otra reivindicación fundamental de los musulmanes españoles es la aplicación efectiva del Acuerdo de 1992, que fue suscrito por el Estado Español con las confesiones islámica, judía y protestante. Este acuerdo fue firmado en aquel año como parte de la conmemoración del Quinto Centenario del Descubrimiento de América y la caída de Granada, última ciudad musulmana en suelo español. En dicho acuerdo, que tiene carácter de ley, se reconocían algunos derechos constitucionales a los musulmanes, como el de la posibilidad de dar clases de islam en las escuelas públicas, tal y como hace actualmente la Iglesia Católica, la posibilidad de visitar hospitales, cuarteles militares y prisiones para dar asistencia a los que allí se encuentren y algunos otros.

Sin embargo, pese a ser una norma legal, este acuerdo no ha sido hasta la fecha respetado por el gobierno español. Éste continúa financiando además con carácter exclusivo a la Iglesia Católica, pese a ser España oficialmente un estado laico. Los musulmanes españoles tienen ante sí, pues, un largo camino que recorrer hasta alcanzar los derechos que como ciudadanos les corresponden.

Hajj, Islam, Jan - Mar 2003

Hajj in a Wheelchair

By Betty Hasan Amin

November 4, 2002

This article originally appeared in Azizah magazine.

Locking my electric wheelchair into place behind the steering wheel of my specially-equipped van, I took a deep breath. I was beginning the journey of a lifetime — hajj! I knew that hajj would be a life-altering event. I also knew that, while hajj can be a struggle for an able-bodied person, it would be even more of a challenge for me, a paraplegic in a wheelchair with complex medical needs.

Paralyzed by a fall as a 17-year-old high school senior, through determination I managed to earn two college degrees during a time when curb cuts were unheard of and schools and colleges were fraught with architectural barriers. Now a divorced single mother, I was raising two sons, teaching at an Islamic school and feeling blessed with the Islamic faith that gave me the strength to strive toward realizing my human potential to its fullest.

Driven by love of Allah and a burning desire to fulfill the fifth pillar of Islam, I placed my trust in Allah. I also tied my camel! I made numerous and careful preparations for my journey. I attended hajj classes at the mosque, where I heard reports from numerous hajjis. I spoke at length to a brother who had recently performed hajj in a wheelchair himself. I secured the services of a sister and of a married couple who would accompany me on my trip; Sister Rasheedah Id-Deen, with years of nursing experience behind her, would assist me with personal care and medical needs, along with Sister Binta Kareem. Sister Binta’s husband Ocei Kareem would take charge of the logistics of transporting me. Although I would be gone only four weeks, I painstakingly packed enough medical supplies, herbal remedies and energy foods to last me three months. Wary of the availability of an electrical supply on the plains of Mina and ‘Arafat, I opted for a manual wheelchair. As I euphorically drove off with three other sisters that May morning in 1992 to join a group of 40 other Muslims bound for Makkah, I felt amply prepared.

Hand-carried by Brother Ocei and another brother on and off the Dulles Airport bus, I experienced humbling feelings of dependence that I had not felt in years. Fortunately, Saudi Airlines had been apprised of my situation, and had a small chair ready for me that was especially designed to maneuver through the narrow airplane aisles. I was lifted onto the chair, and braced myself for the ride and transfer to my seat at the rear of the plane filled with Muslim pilgrims. Before I could get there, however, a non-Muslim couple who anticipated my difficulty stopped me. Out of the graciousness of their hearts, they offered me their seats at the front of the plane. Their kindness helped to calm me, and with the pilot’s recitation of Surah Al-Fatihah, we took off on our flight to Jeddah.

When we landed 11 hours later, I was loaded onto an elevette lift and lowered onto the tarmac by airport workers. I felt apprehensive during this procedure, wondering about the workers’ abilities to deal with the disabled. I reminded myself to be patient, though, realizing that things would be different here in Saudi Arabia; there would be many cultural distinctions.

As we worked our way through customs, we waited while our tour group’s leaders went to the aid of a stranded sister from Wisconsin. This woman, Sister Zainab, was being refused entry into the country because she was a single woman, traveling alone. The brothers from our group assured the officials that she could join our group. Although I did not realize it at the time, Allah had sent me another helper. Sister Zainab was a registered operating room nurse, and days later, she began to assist Rasheedah with my medical care, exhibiting great skill and concern.

At the crowded airport, the sisters helped me to don my ihram. Then we moved onto a shuttle that took us to the staging area where we waited for a bus to take us to Makkah. The wait was long and hot, but certainly not dull! I watched, astonished and fascinated, the flow of arrivals of different groups of people from all over the world. When our bus finally arrived, though, I was greatly disappointed and saddened at its appearance — it was terribly old, without a wheelchair lift and with doors so narrow the brothers had to turn me sideways to lift me onto the bus.

My wheelchair, medical supplies, baggage and specially designed wheelchair cushion were packed on top of the bus with the rest of the luggage. As the bus took off, so did my cushion; I spent the remainder of the trip sitting on make-shift pillows, diligently trying to avoid dangerous pressure sores.

Upon our arrival at our apartment, I saw that it was at the top of three flights of stairs. For the duration of our stay, I would have to be carried up and down those stairs sometimes two and three times a day as we went back and forth from prayers. The part of Makkah in which we stayed had a large African population, and the neighboring men often willingly came to the assistance of the group’s brothers to carry me. As at the beginning of this journey, I again felt humbled by my dependence.

When our group finally made our way to Masjid Al-Haram for umrah, reverence and awe overwhelmed all of us. Tears flowed. A small voice inside me, however, told me to dry those tears, and soon I realized why — I would need all my strength and clarity. As I approached the masjid door in my wheelchair, a custodian jumped up and blocked my way. He shouted a torrent of angry words in Arabic, and then gestured brusquely. A look of great disdain on his face, he began to make shooing motions and sounds. Hurtfully, I saw that I was being shooed away from the Haram door the way a fly would be shooed away from a banquet!

The brothers in our group stepped forward and attempted to explain the particulars of my situation, but to no avail. We were being refused entry because I was in a wheelchair! I could not believe this was happening. I thought to myself, “He’s kidding! I didn’t travel thousands of miles to be prevented from performing my rites.” But he was not kidding, and adamantly continued to refuse us entry.

I was shocked and angry. Here I was, a woman in a wheelchair, receiving the least possible compassion in Makkah, the place where I had expected the most sensitivity. I summoned the strength and determination that I had learned during my 26 years of life as a disabled person, and decided to try another door.

The guard at the next door refused us in a similar fashion. Undaunted and unbowed, we tried a third door. Again, our entry was barred. We tried a fourth and a fifth door, but were shooed away again. After being turned away from seven doors, and now a great distance from where we had begun, I began to feel disheartened. My inner voice, however, told me to hold on, pray and trust in Allah.

We decided to try one more time, this time at the doors of Safaa and Marwah. At this door sat a quiet elderly man, who looked like he was 80 years old. Not only did he allow us in, but he wrote a note in Arabic and told us, surprisingly in English, to show this note if we should have any more problems. Alhamdulillah, that note was a great blessing, and did make things much easier. (Years later, I had it translated and learned that it said that the bearer was affiliated with the Atlanta Masjid, and should she expire while making hajj, to please contact the American Embassy.)

Once admitted, the brothers with me went off to make their umrah, and I remained in the care of two hired Nigerian men. They lifted me into a large basket, hoisted me onto their heads, and trotted toward the Kaa’ba for tawaf. My exhilaration at finally performing my rites was tempered by a great fear of toppling out of this unsteady device and being trampled by the swirling crowd below! There I sat, so far away from home, and completely dependent on people I did not know, whose language I could not speak nor understand, in an unfamiliar land. At that point, I realized the interdependence of humanity. During sa’ee, relieved to be on the ground in my familiar wheelchair, I repeated my dua’aa in a stronger voice.

During the next few days, the sweltering heat caused moisture to constantly build up on my skin, which meant that my ilo-conduit pouch had to be changed twice a day instead of the usual once every seven days. I was grateful that I had brought such a large stash of medical supplies. I did, however, begin to feel the effects of my lost wheelchair cushion — the pillows I sat on provided only an inadequate substitute. Sitting in our huge tent in Mina, I poured ice water over myself trying to stay comfortable, and rested on an air mattress blown up by sisters in our group. I prayed for dhuhr, when I knew the scorching sun would begin its decline.

When I was lifted onto a bus headed for ‘Arafat, I sat in great anticipation with my two attendants and two older sisters from our group. Unfortunately, as we sat in a three-hour traffic jam, fumes from the other buses exacerbated my respiratory problems, and my seat became increasingly uncomfortable. Then, when we finally reached ‘Arafat, I could not get off the bus. The buses were parked so close together that the brothers could not carry me between them. I sat there on the bus all day, and made my prayers and my dua’aa in my seat. At first I felt annoyed, thinking that I should be making a greater sacrifice, enduring the Saudi desert heat, but eventually I realized that being allowed to remain on the air-conditioned bus was a mercy from Allah.

As we prepared to depart from ‘Arafat, my attendant and his wife left for a quick trip to the bathroom. Meanwhile, the bus driver decided it was time to leave! I was nearly in a frenzy as I begged him not to go just yet, and tried to explain that I could not walk and was waiting on my attendants to come back. Neither the bus driver nor any of the other passengers could understand me, and off we drove. All I could do was whisper desperately, “Lord, I am at Your mercy, here in the dark, driving somewhere I don’t know, with people who can’t understand me and don’t know me. The only two people on this bus I know can’t lift me. Please help me, Allah.”

At Muzdalifah, everyone got off the bus. The driver shouted and gestured to me to get off, too. I tried to make him understand that I could not walk, and would need to be carried. He could not understand, and kept shouting. I knew that the two elderly sisters with me had neither the strength nor the expertise to lift me, so the sisters did the best they could and volunteered to pick up my pebbles for me. The bus driver finally gave up and left, and I slept on the bus alone.

We arrived back in Mina the next morning. When the bus had emptied, the driver again shouted and motioned for me to exit the bus. After some time an African man seemed to understand the problem, and lifted me out of the bus and into my chair. We did not know where we were, and this man kindly pushed me around and around for some time with the two elderly sisters wandering along with us. I began to despair, feeling that we would never find our camp. I told myself, “Allah knows every grain of sand, every leaf that falls. Out of all these millions of people, I know Allah sees me.” I felt a great surge of faith, a great spiritual assurance. I mentioned to our helper that we were Americans. He turned in another direction and pushed me along for some time more, but now with direction. Finally, we rounded a corner and I saw our tent!

What an emotional reunion that was! The sisters cried and hugged us. The brothers hugged and thanked the African brother who had brought us back. Brother Ocei had been completely distraught, and was overwhelmed at my reappearance. Alhamdulillah, Allah is most great.

The next three days were wonderful. My stoning was performed by proxy for me by the brothers. We met many other pilgrims, and shared ethnic foods. During those times, my disability was a non-issue.

Back in Makkah, however, I began to suffer severe chills. Sitting on the hard bus seat for hours without medical attention had taken its toll. Someone suggested that I go to a nearby medical trailer set up for pilgrims, but when we got there, it was completely inaccessible. We decided to go to the hospital, but were greeted, again, by non-negotiable steps. The brothers decided to carry me into the hospital. There, I was examined by a congenial doctor who was thrilled to meet an American Muslim. He told me that I had a large, advanced necrosis decubitus, and that they could not treat it there as it required surgery. My condition was serious.

Our group still had four more days before we were to return home. Leaving the group and arranging a flight out was an impossibility. I realized that I would have to exert mind over matter — I could not die. I had two small sons to whom I must return to raise as Muslims. Sister Rasheedah and Sister Zainab cleaned and packed the decubitus with gauze. I prayed to Allah and begged Him to spare my life and to return me safely home.

Sheer faith and determination kept me going. I accompanied the group to Madinah, endured the long bus ride, and felt elated to feel the warm peacefulness of the Prophet’s city. We prayed in the Prophet’s Mosque with a great sense of tranquility. But when we left, I made the terrible discovery that the bag containing all of my medical supplies was missing! All of the bags had been left on a security dolly outside the mosque. My bag was the only one missing. Everyone in the group searched high and low for that bag, on other dollies, inside other bags, even in the trash. There was no sign of it; it was gone!

I returned to Makkah ill, having chills and without any medical supplies, but still filled with determination to complete my remaining rituals of hajj. This time, I learned that I could circumambulate on the top floor of the Haram. The brothers took turns pushing me, and I managed to complete my farewell tawaf.

On the shuttle to the Jeddah Airport, I endured one last difficulty. When the bus attendant placed me in a space beside the door, I quietly wheeled myself to a safer spot. The attendant came back to roughly and rudely fling me back to where he thought I should be. That area by the door was unsafe for even an able-bodied person, and certainly no place for a person in a wheelchair! With defiance born of my human dignity, I moved back into the safer place, locked my chair into position and stared the bus attendant straight in the eye. There I stayed.

Alhamdulillah, I made it safely back to Atlanta where I underwent two surgeries and remained in the hospital for eight weeks. My trip to Makkah had increased my gratitude to Allah for His loving kindness and mercy. I realized how difficult it is for disabled people who live in countries without legislation in favor of the disabled in areas of education, employment or housing. With a new appreciation for American technology and medical advances, too, I sense an obligation to share our knowledge with the rest of humanity. Insha’Allah, I pray that I might be instrumental in helping the Muslim community, both inside and outside of America, to be inclusive of everyone in the Islamic community.

Betty Hasan-Amin is a teacher and a board member of the Interfaith Disabilities Network in Atlanta.

Islam, Jan - Mar 2003

Muhammad Was a Terrorist?

By Juan Cole

History News Network
October 7, 2002

Jerry Falwell, the fundamentalist televangelist, has said, “I think Muhammad was a terrorist.” On CBS’s Sixty Minutes, the reverend contrasted Moses and Jesus as men of peace with Muhammad, whom he saw as warlike. News of the slur ricocheted through the Muslim world, and crowds rioted in Kashmir, raising questions as to whether Falwell himself is exactly promoting love and peace.

Falwell’s comments are problematic for many reasons, not least with regard to historical accuracy. Muhammad forbade murder and the killing of innocents, and never used terror as a weapon in his struggles against his aggressive pagan enemies. Far from glorifying aggression, the Koran says (2:190), “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but do not begin hostilities, for God does not love aggressors.”

As for the contrast to other prophets, it is not as clear as Falwell suggests. Biblical narratives depict Moses as a murderer and leader of a slave revolt, and while he was a liberator, it is difficult to see him as a pacifist. The Romans crucified Jesus of Nazareth because they saw him as a subversive, and historians know too little about his life to be sure they were entirely wrong. Many of the patriarchs and prophets celebrated by Christian fundamentalists were arguably terrorists or even genocidal, including Joshua.

Quite aside from the historical record, Falwell’s remarks are misleading as to his own position. He and other fundamentalist leaders have repeatedly condemned Christian pacifism and have militantly supported a whole raft of wars and military interventions. If he believes that Jesus preached love and peace, Falwell has not exemplified those teachings himself. In the 1980s, Falwell even vocally supported the Reagan administration’s military aid to the radical Muslim extremists who later coalesced into al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

European civilization has long been perplexed and scandalized by Muhammad, who succeeded in founding a world religion that rivals Christianity. Most early Christian attacks on Islam actually depicted it as an idolatrous religion, one of the great black legends ever fostered. Islam is nothing if not single-mindedly monotheistic. The first Latin translation of the Koran, carried out in 1143 by Robert of Ketton, was incomplete and marred by sarcasm and even obscenity. Its motive was not understanding but refutation.

Dante (1265-1321) placed Muhammad in the ninth circle of hell, writing:
How mutilated, see, is Mahomet;
In front of me doth Ali weeping go,
Cleft in the face from forelock unto chin;
And all the others whom thou here beholdest,
Disseminators of scandal and of schism

In fact, since Muhammad and the Meccans had never been Christians, it is difficult to see how they could be condemned for fomenting Christian schism.

Martin Luther promoted and wrote a preface to a 1543 Latin edition of the Koran by Theodore Bibliander, saying “I have wanted to get a look at a complete text of the Qur ‘an. I do not doubt that the more other pious and learned persons read these writings, the more the errors and the name of Muhammad will be refuted. For just as the folly, or rather madness, of the Jews is more easily observed once their hidden secrets have been brought out into the open, so once the book of Muhammad has been made public and thoroughly examined in all its parts, all pious persons will more easily comprehend the insanity and wiles of the devil and will be more easily able to refute them.” The dangers of this sort of religious bigotry, which once directed at Muslims can begin to spill over onto other religious communities, should be obvious.

In contrast, the Romantic sage and writer Thomas Carlyle (d. 1881) spoke for moderns in insisting on Muhammad’s sincerity. (Another Western black legend about Muhammad was that he knew he was a charlatan). Of the prophet he wrote, “A false man found a religion? Why, a false man cannot build a brick house!” He went on to observe of Islam, “To the Arab Nation it was as a birth from darkness into light; Arabia first became alive by means of it. A poor shepherd people, roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world: a Hero-Prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe: see, the unnoticed becomes world-notable, the small has grown world-great; within one century afterwards, Arabia is at Grenada on this hand, at Delhi on that; -glancing in valor and splendor and the light of genius, Arabia shines through long ages over a great section of the world . . . I said, the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame.”

The admiration of Muhammad’s achievements visible in this modern writer marks a turning point in Western culture, away from narrow religious bigotries and toward a humanist ability to appreciate the best in world civilization. Falwell in contrast is promoting religious hatred for his own purposes. The rest of us should resist his scary agenda by learning more about Muhammad and Islamic civilization, and gaining a secular appreciation of their contributions to our world.

Mr. Cole is professor of Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan and author of Sacred Space and Holy War (I. B. Tauris, 2002). His web site is www.juancole.com.

Dawah, Islam, Jan - Mar 2003, Quran

The Prophet’s Night Journey

The Prophet’s Night Journey From Makkah To The Farthest Mosque In Jerusalem, And Ascent To The Heavens
Sardar, Ziauddin. “MUHAMMAD: Aspects of His Biography.” Excerpt.
The Islamic Foundation: Leicester, UK. 1982.

On the night of the twenty-seventh Rajab, Muhammad (peace be upon him) was in a deep sleep in a house in Makkah when (Gabriel) woke him up. With the archangel was Al-Buraq: an animal unique in creation. It resembled lightning in swiftness and lustre, was of clear white colour, medium in size, smaller than a mule and taller than an ass, and so quick in movement that it put its feet in the farthest limits of sight. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sat on the back of Al-Buraq and in a twinkling, he travelled from Makkah to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, where he led all the Prophets of the past in prayer. He was then taken to the sacred rock, from where he ascended to the Heavens.

Glorified (and Exalted) is He (Allah), Who had His slave Muhammad (peace be upon him) for a journey by night from Al-Haram Mosque (at Makkah) to Al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) whose surroundings we have blessed so that we might show him (Mohammed) of our signs, proofs, lessons, etc! Verily, He is All-Hearer, the All-Seer. The Qur’an 17:1

When they reached the first heaven Gabriel asked the guardian angel to open the door of heaven. It was opened and he saw Adam, the progenitor of mankind. The Prophet (peace be upon him) saluted him and the other welcomed him and expressed his faith in Muhammad’s Prophethood. He saw the souls of martyrs on his right and those of the wretched on his left.

Gabriel then ascended with the Prophet to the second heaven, asked for opening the gate and there he saw and saluted John, son of Zachariya (Yahya bin Zakarlya) and Jesus, son of Mary. They returned the salutation, welcomed him and expressed their faith in his Prophethood. Then they reached the third heaven where they saw Joseph (Yusuf) and saluted him. The latter welcomed the Prophet and expressed faith in his Prophethood.

The Prophet, in the company of Gabriel, then reached the fourth heaven where he met the Prophet Enoch (Idris) and saluted him. Prophet Enoch returned the salutation and expressed faith in his Prophethood. Then he was carried to the fifth heaven where he met the Prophet Aaron (Harun) and saluted him. The latter returned the salutation and expressed faith in his Prophethood.

In the sixth heaven he met Moses (Musa) and saluted him. The latter returned the salutation and expressed faith in his Prophethood. Muhammad (peace be upon him) on leaving, saw that Moses began to weep. He asked about the reason. Moses answered that he was weeping because he witnessed a man sent after him as a Messenger (Muhammad) who was able to lead more of his people to the Paradise than he himself did.

Then Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) reached the seventh heaven and met Abraham (lbrahim) and saluted him. The latter returned the salutation and expressed faith in his Prophethood. Then he was carried to Sidrat-al- Muntaha (the remotest lote tree) and was shown Al-Bait-al-Ma ‘mar [(the much frequented house) which is like the Ka’bah (Sacred House) encompassed daily by seventy thousand angels, so that the angels who once encompassed it would not have their turn again till the Resurrection]. He was then presented to the Divine Presence and experienced the thrill of witnessing the Divine Glory and Manifestation at the closest possible propinquity. There the Lord revealed unto His servant that which He revealed, and ordained fifty daily prayers for him. On his return, he spoke to Moses that his followers had been enjoined to pray fifty times a day. Moses addressing the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Your followers cannot perform so many prayers. Go back to your Lord and ask for a remission in number.”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) turned to Gabriel as if holding counsel with him. Gabriel nodded, “Yes, if you desire,” and ascended with him to the Presence of Allah. The All-Mighty Allah, Glory is to Him, made a reduction of ten prayers. He then descended and reported that to Moses, who again urged him to request for a further reduction. Muhammad (peace be upon him) once more begged his Lord to reduce the number still further.

He went again and again in the Presence of Allah at the suggestion of Moses for reduction in the number of prayers till these were reduced to five only. Moses again asked him to implore for more reduction, but he said: “I feel ashamed now of repeatedly asking my Lord for reduction. I accept and resign to His Will.”

While he (Gabriel) was in the highest part of the horizon, Then he (Gabriel) approached and came closer, And was at a distance of two bows length or (even) nearer. So (Allah) revealed to His slave Muhammad (peace be upon him) through (Gabriel) whatever He revealed The Qur’an 53 : 8-10

Creation moved on to continue its expansion. At sunrise, Muhammad (peace be upon him) sat, remembering Allah, in his particular place in the Haram Mosque. Abu Jahl, his lifelong enemy, came and enquired: “0 Muhammad, have you one of those marvelous tales we hear from you so often to tell us this morning ?” The Prophet described his night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem, the Isra’, and his ascension to the heavens, the Al-Mi’raj. The people of Makkah knew that Muhammad had never been to Jerusalem. Could he describe the city for them? Muhammad obliged.

What about the journey from Makkah to Jerusalem? Did Muhammad see anything en route?

“In the valleys of Makkah,” replied the Prophet, “I met a caravan, one whose camel had taken fright and run away. I warned them of this. Then I saw another caravan that had encamped for the night. Outside the principal tent stood a jar of water with a cover on it. I drank water from the jar and replaced the cover as it was before. This same caravan is now approaching Bayda and will shortly enter Makkah. It is led by a dark grey camel, carrying a double load, one half black and the other of various colours.”

The people of Makkah went out of the city and found a caravan answering to the description given by the Prophet. They questioned the members of the caravan about the jar of water, and obtained satisfactory answers. They even discovered the caravan whose camel had run away, and they confirmed that in that very valley the members of the caravan heard a voice warning them of the camel’s escape.

Abu Jahl asked Abu Bakr, “Do you believe in the extraordinary adventure of your Prophet? He pretends to have accomplished in the night the journey from the sacred Mosque of Makkah to the Al Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem-there and back!” Abu Bakr’s answer was a cool ‘yes’. “What ever Muhammad says is true and I believe it. If he maintains that he went up to the seventh heaven in one hour and came back in the same space of time, I would still have faith in his declarations”.

Abu Jahl’s attempt to cast doubts into the minds of the believers succeeded only in strengthening their beliefs. The unbelievers of Makkah were astonished at the Prophet’s detailed description of the Jerusalem mosque and his encounter with the caravans. For them truth was bitter. They retaliated by increasing their hostilities towards the Muslims. It became increasingly obvious that the Muslims no longer had any option but to migrate from Makkah. The revelations of the Qur’an prepared Muslims for this move. The revelations after the Mi’raj deal with various issues of state policy-human rights, economic guidance, penal reforms, educational ideals and social relations. All these were pointers towards a new era.

Islam, Jan - Mar 2003

The Religion of Islam

By Sharrifa Carlo


Since our creation, humans have pondered the existencial mysteries of life. The same questions have plagued us throughout the centuries, “From where did I come?, Why am I here?, What is expected of me?, Where do I go fom Here? and Is this all there is?” Some of us spend a lifetime pursuing the answers to these questions, others of us seem to be content to accept the answers provided by our individual cultures and religions, and some of us even consciously decide to ignore the basic instinct to find the answers.

Muslims have a strong traditon of seeking knowledge, and the most fundamental knowlege is the knowlege which will lead us to an answer to these questions.

We know that the only way to truely arrive at the truth is to objectively analyze all the available evidences, to formulate a thesis, to research thoroughly – carefully weighing each piece of evidence for its reliability – and to finally reach our conclusion. In this vein, the search to answer the existencial dilemmas that plague us, should recieve no less scrutiny than the search for the perfect literary theory, the fastest computer chip, or the latest scientific breakthrough. In actuality, it is more important and essential to us as humans than any research we can ever conduct.

Islam, like all religions, has answers to these questions, but unlike other religions, these answers satisfy not only the heart, and spirit but the mind as well, and this is the key to providing the pure satisfaction that the truth has finally been reached.

From Where Did I Come:

As a result of analyzing the available evidences, the Muslim knows that there is a Creator; that we were created by an Omnipotent, Loving God. After all, what rational being can see the glory and wonder of the world around him and conclude that this was a providencial accident. Imagine a student came to his professor – showed her a chair and said, “This was created by the wind blowing over a tree; after centuries of friction from various directions, this object emerged as the final product.” The professor would probably be amused, but never convinced. In the same way, the purely scientific theories fail to fully explain how this world could have such perfection in the interaction of ecosystems, biological systems, physiological systems, geological systems, and astrological systems. All these systems are interdependent. Yet, there exists no theory which does not leave an unknown element — primarily the originating force.

Who Is This Creator?

Knowing that there is a Creator is not enough. We need to know whom this Creator is. The best way to know this is to define the necessary attributes of a creator. Since we recognise our abilities as humans are limited – we are incapable of initiating creation from a vacuum – we know the Creator can not be a human. This essential bit of fact helps us to discount many religious theories based on this premise. Then, we know that anything lesser than a human, like an animal which has lesser intellect or nature which has no intellect, can not be creators. Afrter all, if man with his superior mind can not accomplish the task, it would be impossible for any being with less. Also, we know that this creator would leave us evidences leading to knowing Him. These evidences would prove to us on many levels – intellectually, scientifically, emotionally, and logically that they are the truth. The Quraan, sent to the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s Peace be upon him) provides this evidence. So when the logical reasonable individual objectively analyzes it, he becomes the Muslim who thereby concludes that there is an All-Knowing, All- Powerful Creator, Allah.

Why Am I Here?

Once the Muslim accepts that He was Created by the One True God, Allah, he tackles the next question, “Why am I here?”. What is the purpose for which I was created? The Quraan answers that our purpose in this life is to worship Allah. Allah has created this place as a testing ground for us, to see if we are worthy of the ultimate prize, Paradise. But how does the sound logical mind reach this conclusion? Easy. We look around at the circumstances of our lifes. Careful examination shows that every event in our life has a direct or indirect correlation to other events. For instance, some event in our past prepared us to handle a crisis from today. Our lives are set up like a test with interconnections that both strengthen us and prepare us for the next level. It is obvious that we are being slowly smelted and purified so that we can cultivate the necessary strength to meet the final challenges.

What is Expected of Me?

Once the Muslim has reached this understanding, it is necessary to know what is expected from him in terms of this worship. To accomplish this, he refers to the sources sent by Allah; for no Merciful Creator would leave His creation without guidance. This guidance comes in the shape of prophets sent throughout time to show mankind the path to Paradise. These prophets, like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon them all) all came with the same message: Worship God alone – do not attribute partners with Him.” Also, they gave us practical commands to help us to protect our existance on this earth. Mostly, the commands which were conveyed by our beloved prophets were and are behaviour values which help us to live with peace and contentment in this life and to prepare us for the next,. matters such as avoiding harmful substances and behaviours and maximizing behaviour patterns which benefit us both as individuals and as members of society in general.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Once we have fulfilled our term on this earth, what are we to expect. The Muslim, at this point reaches the understanding that he has done all that he can to please his Creator, and he expects a reward for this action. The reward is Paradise. He knows that this is true just as the researcher knows that even though he can not see beyond a certain point in the universe, more space exists. The evidence is conclusively proven by circumstance. We know that there is a Creator, that this creator can not be but Allah, that He has sent us prophets and has promised us Paradise as a reward for our well spent lives. We also know that just as in this life, there is punishment for evil, in the next life there will also be punishment for disobedience. For we have already seen that this life is merely a test, and like all tests, it is merely preparatory.

Is This All There Is?

Therefore, the conclusion is that this is not all there is, because it is inconceivable that this limited created world is our only domain. Allah promises everlasting life, peace, serenity, love, contentment and pleasure to those who worship and obey Him. He promises reward for positive action. Futher, He promises punishment for those who disobey and persist in their evil actions. To prepare us to accept this premise, He creates for us a test which emphasizes these values. For instance, we know if an individual works hard and studies, he will get a good job and live more comfortably than one who does not. This is the rule. In general, it applies. At the very least, he will have the benefit of the knowledge itself. A positive action produces a positive reward. We also know that if an individual commits an evil act, he will most likely be punished, if not by society, then by his own self, because if guilt does not take its toll, his resulting evil character will lead to nothing but folly. Therefore, an evil action produces an evil effect.


There is no way to definitively prove the existance of Allah. One can not point to Him and say, “Look at Him. There He is.” But we can look to His works, His creation and know that there can not be a creation without a creator. We do not look to the chair and say it created itself. We know that some being had to create it, nor should we look to the miracle of the human respiratory system and say it created itself. To know who this creator is, we have to seek out the clues He provided us. We have to define what we consider to be a God and trace him within this framework. As Muslims, we encourage and invite you to study the Quraan, to analyze it and compare it to the other sources of existencial wisdom, and we challenge you to find the truth in any other source. You won’t.

Jan - Mar 2003, USA

Islamic scholarship in America

Posted on July 2, 2000

By Nicole Ballivian

With the rise of oriental studies in the West, a birth of Islamic universities and higher learning institutions are now setting its roots in America. Throughout Western history, Islamic scholarship began before the establishment of any of the modern sciences, even before the implementation of a curriculum of sociology, psychology, and political science.

Unknown to the vast majority of the Muslim world, the West has played a major role in contributing extensively to the preservation of Islamic sciences. The first, most comprehensive collection of ahadith or written documentation of Islamic practice was found in the Netherlands. The first official chair of Islamic studies was set up in 1312 in Vienna, Austria. A constituent of prominent Western Islamic scholars, American or otherwise working within American academic institutions, who have researched, published and taught some of the most comprehensive Islamic work include Sherman Jackson, Mahmoud Ayoub, Khaled Blankenship, Wael al Khalaq, Edward Said and John Esposito.

The new wave of Islamic orientalism is but a result of post modernity and a re-enchantment of science. Today, at the close of the twentieth century, almost all American universities are offering courses on Islam.

In the last decade, the world has witnessed the burgeoning of American-Islamic universities throughout the US, offering not only Islamic studies but trying to establish academic understanding and co-operation between the Islamic world and the West. Among the two most prominent of these American-Islamic institutions are The Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, California, and the American Open University (AOU) in Falls Church, Virginia. The two institutions offer different programs and curricula activities and have different modes of instruction. AOU has an accredited, distance learning, undergraduate and graduate program, and Zaytuna has a traditionally Islamic, non-western curriculum mode of “ijaza-style” program, of which courses may also be used for college credit.

The AOU is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Islamic higher education, making graduate studies accessible to every home through distance learning. The university offers 5 programs: Bachelors Degree in Islamic Studies (English medium); Bachelors Degree in Islamic Studies (Arabic medium); Ph.D. in Islamic Studies (Arabic medium); Masters Degree in Islamic Studies (Arabic medium), accredited by Al-Azhar University of Cairo; and Diploma in Islamic Education, a program designed for the training of academics.

AOU’s main objective is for students to retain Shariah-related knowledge and carry out missionary work through Islamic means. The university also advocates moderation and resists “westernization” and “religious extremism”. The AOU’s distance learning program is based on the goal to provide educational services for all those who want to further their education and to reconcile living realities with knowledge.

Media via the Internet, videos and audiotapes are provided for the students to partake in classroom sessions with professors. The Bachelors Degree program requires a completion of 132 credit hours (53 courses) and a comprehensive exam. The AOU curriculum comprises five fields of study: Aqeedah, Qur’an, Sunnah, Fiqh, and Arabic. AOU was established in 1995 with a total of 150 students in its primary programs. Currently, AOU’s accreditation to Al-Azhar University celebrates its success with the enrolment of 2, 000 students from 24 countries, including the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Asia.

AOU’s professors are highly accomplished scholars from all over the United States and they include Yassir Fazaqa of California, Dr. Anwar Hajjaj of Virginia, Ali Suleiman Ali of Michigan, Dr. Robert Cooper of California and Dr. Ahmad Schleibak of Georgia. The founder of AOU is Sheikh Jafar Idris, well known for his publications, teachings and participation in various Islamic educational institutions such as the Institute for Islamic and Arab Sciences of America.

The Zaytuna Institute is a non-profit, non-political institute committed to the “dissemination of traditional Islam as understood by the rightly guided scholars of the people of Sunnah and Jama’a”. Zaytuna was established to provide Islamic scholarship and to prepare students to identify areas where they can contribute to the Muslim Ummah. Zaytuna neither offers a western accredited degree nor follows the western educational system. It focuses on specific areas of study and promotes a lasting Muslim revival. Zaytuna believes that Islam is misunderstood largely due to the breakdown in traditional education and the collapse of a cohesive Islamic world view that had been conventionally shared by the vast majority of Muslims.

Zaytuna’s growing campus is located in northern California and its core curriculum includes Arabic, Aqida, Fiqh, Tassawuf, Usuul al-Fiqh, Sciences of the Quran, Hadith, Sirah of the Prophet, Islamic History and a study entitled “The Present Situation of Muslims”. The founder of Zaytuna is Hamza Yusuf, one of the most distinguished Islamic scholars in the West.

Yusuf, known for his publications, lectures and teaching events held at an international level, studied Arabic and Islam in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco and West Africa and received teaching certificates in various Islamic subjects from some of the most well-known institutes. Yusuf has also translated several classical texts from Arabic and is currently teaching at Zaytuna. Sheikh Muhammad Yaqoubi, who is also a professor at Zaytuna, holds an ijaza in 6 books of ahadith and has a long history of Islamic teaching.

Although Zaytuna functions as an Islamic higher learning institution, it does not offer degree programs. Zaytuna is currently pursuing accreditation for using its courses in alliance with other US universities’ Islamic Studies Departments. Zaytuna is a traditional Islamic school, with the aims of not only producing distinguished scholars but of reviving traditional Islamic learning, which has been overshadowed by other models of teaching. Zaytuna’s teaching style goes back to the time of the Prophet’s companions (sahaba), where teaching is based on certain manners and character. The “ijaza” style of teaching, as used in Damascus, is the direct mentoring of a scholar to a student.

As each student progresses, the scholar examines the student’s readiness to disseminate Islamic teaching. This style of teaching is highly interactive and thorough. Established in 1995, Zaytuna, at present, has 250 students. It not only offers Islamic studies but holds “deen (religious) intensive” seminars throughout the year.

Islam, Jan - Mar 2003

El Norte: One Man’s Journey

by Ghadah Ali Gutierrez

At the age of 23, my husband decided to head to America to look for work. He entered America as a “mojado,” an illegal alien. In a country where grinding poverty is a fact of life and the chance to improve one’s lot is slim, the only alternative is to seek work in “el norte” – the United States. In Mexico, he earned only about $10 per week at a factory. This did not go far towards supporting his elderly parents. Life in Mexico is difficult. This may sound like a simplistic statement, but the reality for the people cannot be underplayed. In a country where the average yearly income runs about $900, many things we take for granted are unheard of. Meat is a delicacy that is eaten very rarely, if at all. Most houses do not have running water or electricity. In many of the cities, the cost of a one bedroom apartment is more than double the average monthly wage. Only the very rich own a car, and the average citizen does not even know how to drive. Political corruption and graft have taken their toll as well, increasing coffers for the politicians while worsening the plight of the average Mexican citizen. When a person dies, they are buried in a simple pine box without any of procedures deemed necessary here in America.

My mother-in-law got her first washing machine at the age of 60. Before owning one, she had always done the laundry by hand in a washtub with cold water for her family of six boys and three girls. Her first bathroom was installed in 2000, the year before her death. Crooked real estate people forced them to pay for their house three different times. Each time the real estate people claimed that “the previous attorney must have stolen the money.” When one son-in-law was shot in a dispute over money owed for the sale of some cows, corrupt police officials merely took the money from the suspect’s family and refused to prosecute. This family of nine kids and two parents was left homeless because of medical bills and forced to move back home with my in-laws in order to survive. My husband was born into this world.

In August 1997, Lupe and his brother along with a couple of cousins left Aguasqualientes, Mexico and headed to Denver, Colorado to hopefully find work. They undertook a 1,500 mile journey with nothing but the clothes on their back. They wore their poorest-looking clothing, because wearing nice clothing and shoes was a sure way to get jumped and robbed by the cholos along the border. Food and water cannot be carried nor personal grooming items such as hairbrushes or toothbrushes. The trip is too long and arduous to carry bundles, and many “coyotes” who smuggle illegals make the immigrants throw them away anyway. On their first trip to America, both Lupe and his brother had to pay $750 for safe passage over the border and into Phoenix, Arizona.

Their first trip was more or less uneventful, and they arrived about ten days later in Denver. Upon arrival, they moved into their cousin’s apartment with eleven other guys. Life was good. Food was plentiful and cheap. Work was abundant. With many people living together, living expenses were low enough that they could send money back to Mexico and still have a little left over to save towards purchasing a car or go to the dances.

My husband and I met at a dance in January 1998. We were married about six months later and shortly afterward his mother became sick. For two years, she went from curandera to brujo and back again, but refused to see a doctor. An ingrained distrust of doctors is rampant in Mexico, most likely a result of the corruption that occurs in all aspects of Mexican society. The ricos get the best care and the pobres are pretty much ignored, no matter how sick they are. After much urging by her family members, she eventually went to a doctor and was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer had progressed too far for much hope of survival.

At the time we married, my husband could not hope to get permanent residency status in America because he had entered the country illegally. Luckily, alhamdulila, right before leaving office, Bill Clinton passed an act that allowed illegal immigrants who would otherwise not qualify for residency to apply. Because I am a citizen and we were legally married, he was eligible under this program. Overjoyed with the prospect of getting the coveted “papers,” we filed an application. One stipulation was that the applicant could not leave the country during the processing time nor any time thereafter without previous written approval of the INS, a process that could take up to 190 days.

Unfortunately, shortly after we applied for his residency, his mother took a turn for the worse and was to undergo surgery. Her surgery revealed that the cancer had spread down to a leg bone, and she was deemed terminal. In spite of everything, she seemed to improve somewhat and was still able to live a more or less normal life. With the installation of a bathroom, paid for by the sons working in America, her life was at least made a little easier. She no longer had to hike to the outhouse and owning a washing machine meant she did not have to spend hours on her knees bent over a washtub. These two tiny luxuries made a vast improvement in her quality of life. Life continued as normal for several months until the fateful phone call, Lupe’s mother was dying.

Despite the chance for papers, Lupe had no choice. He had to return to Mexico and risk not being able to get back across the border. Exactly one week after he left, the notice from the INS arrived. Unfortunately, with him out of the country, pretty much any and all chances were lost unless he was able to return before the date set by the INS for fingerprinting. All of our hopes and hard work seemed to had just gone up in smoke. It was heartbreaking to say the very least.

His mother held on for three more months. While he was gone, life in the United States had changed forever. The attacks of September 11 occurred. Overnight, the attitude of the entire country towards immigration seemed to change drastically. Although the terrorists were not Mexican nationals, the border was effectively closed down. The price paid to coyotes to smuggle workers across the border doubled and then nearly tripled. With the new political climate, the risk had increased substantially.

Lupe’s mother passed away on February 28, 2002. The very day that Lupe was supposed to leave Mexico to return, George W. Bush sent 1,600 National Guard troops to patrol the Mexican border. His logic still escapes me to this day. We had not been attacked by Mexico. So why was the president sending soldiers to the border? This was a huge setback, as I knew my husband’s chances of coming home were greatly reduced. There was no alternative; however, but to raise the $3,000 the coyote was demanding and pray for the best.

Lupe left his home on March 2, 2002. After riding a crowded, smelly bus for two days, they arrived at that border. They were hidden in the home of a coyote for another two days without food, water, or sanitary facilities. Finally, the word came, they would try for the border that night. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the standard methods of getting illegals across the border were abandoned in favor of a mad dash by nearly 100 hopefulls. The logic was that some would make it across; the others would be returned to Mexico and would try again the next night. It sounded like a scene out of the movie, “Born in East L.A.”

Lupe and his brother were lucky enough to make it across on their first try. The coyote met them in a clump of bushes on the U.S. side. Then, they began the walk. For 350 miles, they walked across the desert with no food and very little water. Their only shelter was cactus and sagebrush, which they sleep under at night. It was now mid-March, and the desert at that time of year is brutal. Although the days have not yet achieved the full heat of summer, the days are nonetheless hot and the nights are bitterly cold. Lighting fires was not an option because the smoke could conceivably be seen by “la migra,” the border patrol. They walked by night through the treacherous landscape without a flashlight. The ever-present threat of snakes and scorpions never left their minds.

During the daytime as they slept, gunshots were frequently heard. Arizona ranchers between the border and Phoenix had taken to shooting immigrants walking across their property. The U.S. government to this day has not dealt with this issue despite the loss of human lives. The ranchers more or less have carte blanche to hunt humans to their hearts’ content. After all, these Mexicans are only wetbacks. They aren’t Americans, and they don’t have a right trying to come here!

After three days, the group finally arrived at a pre-arranged spot near Phoenix and was picked up by a truck. A collective sigh of relief rippled thorough the seventeen men who were stacked like many boards in the camper shell of the pickup. They had finally made it, or so they thought. Within a few miles, the truck suddenly stopped. They had been pulled over by police who had alerted the border patrol.

All of the passengers and the driver were arrested. They were taken to an INS holding and processing facility. Although this INS facility deals exclusively with Spanish-speaking immigrants, only one officer spoke Spanish. They were held for almost 48 hours before they were allowed to eat. The Spanish-speaking officer, who was Hispanic, finally took pity on them and brought a bag of hamburgers to their holding cell. Shortly after they started eating, another officer arrived to drive them back across the border. He was quite angry by the site of seventeen detainees eating hamburgers. They all quickly gulped down their food, because none knew when they would get a chance to eat again. My brother-in-law, however, has no teeth and could not eat as fast as the others could. The white guard grabbed my brother-in-law’s hamburger, threw it down, and stomped on it. This was the only food he’d had for nearly four days. He told me he wanted to cry.

While being detained, a search had revealed that one of the men in their group had somehow obtained a fake green card. The guards demanded that he tell them where he had gotten it. When he refused, he was handcuffed to the top bar of the cell, with one hand over his head. The guards told him they would release him only after he gave the name of the person who had sold him the card. They left him handcuffed like that for the entire time at the detention center, nearly two days. My husband said the man’s hand was purple, but no medical care was given or even offered to him. This type of treatment occurred in a country renowned for it’s work on behalf of civil rights.

After having their pictures taken, being fingerprinted, and their names written in a book, the group was eventually herded into a van and driven back across the border. At the border, they were let out of the van with strict warnings not to try it again. People from this group were from various South American countries. They had no money in their pockets. Yet, they were left in northern Mexico to fend for themselves. Because they lacked resources to return home, most decided to try for the border again. For two or three more days, they were hidden in a dirt basement under a shabby house in Ciudad Juarez. Then the signal was given again. This time, my husband and his brother made it. They were the lucky ones.

Hundreds of illegal aliens die attempting to cross each year. Most are never identified nor does the government make any attempt to notify their families. Even when an immigrant makes it up here and is later deported, their family in America is not notified. They simply disappear. Families are routinely ripped apart when the father, the sole breadwinner, is deported. There are cases on record where illegal immigrants have been held for ten to fifteen years in INS detention centers for simply trying to achieve a better life. A couple of hundred years ago, the southwest was part of Mexico, and yet our government has the arrogance to claim the right to determine who can and cannot choose to live here. In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States government feels it has the authority to trample the rights of anyone and everyone. Now they are requiring all men of Arab descent to register with the INS. Many people are being illegally deported. Even immigrants from Canada and Mexico are surreptitiously tracked. As for my husband, we do not know yet whether the INS is going to award him residency. Nine months and $2,500 in attorney’s fees later, we are still unable to get an answer. One can only trust in Allah and pray.

Jan - Mar 2003, Muslim converts

Lonely in the Masjid

A Recent Convert’s First Step Inside a Mosque
By Shinoa Matos

November 20, 2002

Bismillah Irahman, Irahim
En el nombre de Alá, el Compasivo, el Misericordioso
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful

For my own benefit, I’ve been chronicling my progress in Islam and I recently wrote my conversion story, all thanks be to Allah. The next step I’ve taken was visiting the Masjid for the first time. Here’s my take on it…

As a recent convert (thanks be to Allah), I was overwhelmed by my feelings of closeness to Allah and my sudden desire to please the one who never leaves our side. Bottled up inside, I discovered a tremendous need to be more pious and feelings of remorse and shame came out, flooding any other desires and wants. Almost instantly, I could not wait to reform, to become anew in this God-given life. Yet the road to Islam is not one without bumps. And, one of my personal “bumps” I’ve had to steer through is getting myself to attend a Masjid (Mosque or place of worship).

Since the beginning, congregating with other Muslims and praying in unity to Allah appealed to me. The unison in the Islamic prayer was so disciplined and flowed so smoothly, it reminded me of a song. Hence, I was eager to perform the postures and prostrate with my new brothers and sisters before out creator. I was eager to shower Allah with praise and I wanted to do it among hundreds of other voices like mine, all in agreement about God and his Prophet (PBUH).

Even more so, I wanted to belong, to feel part of a community in this new life. Most of us associate ourselves with different aspects of our lives. And for the most part, I’ve always associated myself with the “Puerto Ricanness” in me. Going to plays, hearing Salsa, speaking Spanish, studying about the Caribbean, cooking our types of food, and understanding certain aspects of our culture that only another Puerto Rican or Latino could. But now, here I was, a new Muslim and I had no other Muslims around me that I knew of (with the exception of one friend, his family, and Internet buddies who were also Muslim: Sister Diane, Sister Brenda, may God bless you all). Being once Christian (and I use that term loosely for myself as I did not practice the religion as did my other Christian friends and family), I regularly attended church. Although I felt ambivalent towards the religion, the familiarity of it-the act of bonding with others in a designated place and of meeting others at a specific time and all belonging to the same “something”-would always remain with me.

Now you ask, if I had converted over 2 years ago, how had I just come to step foot inside the Masjid just this past Friday? Why did it take me so long? Well perhaps only recent converts will understand my hesitation. For us, converting to Islam feels a bit awkward at first, no matter how much the religion and Allah calls to us. No matter how much it all makes sense and how “right” it is, it still feels as if we’re learning to walk again. Furthermore, it feels a bit lonely. For one thing, I don’t speak Arabic and am now just beginning the stages of learning my prayers in the language. And every Masjid that I passed, the letters written outside were in Arabic. How was I supposed to step in there and know where to go? What times did the Masjid operate? Who would show me around? How would I communicate with that person if he/she did not speak English? These questions raced through my mind and slowed my steps to a standstill. I felt like an outsider and worried that Muslims born into the religion or even other new Muslims would think I was an imposter or “going through a phase.” A friend of mine kept telling me that I was nuts to think this way because Islam was sent and is meant for everyone, not just Arabs. One only has to look at Indonesia and the growing Hispanic Muslim population to see how true this is.

Nevertheless, I could not face walking into a Masjid alone. Thanks be to Allah, there exists a Masjid in New York (The Islamic Cultural Center of New York) on Lexington and 96th Street, where although the prayers are recited in Arabic, the Imam speaks mostly in English and translates whatever portion of his speech is in Arabic into English. My friend, Issam, agreed to take me, and we set out for Friday noon prayer.

The night before, I must have tried on a million outfits to make sure I was both comfortable and dressed presentable. I wanted to make as little mistakes as possible and look as clean and well put together as I could on my first day to praise God in a congregation. I kept imagining someone in the Masjid approaching me and asking me to leave because my outfit was unacceptable. It’s amazing what ridiculous thoughts fear presses upon your mind.

I wore my hijab outside for the first time that day, and I didn’t feel people staring at me. In fact, I felt no second glances, and no one bothered to look at any part of me except my eyes and my scarf-donning head. Strange, this lack of attention. It felt unnerving and empowering at the same time, as if I were invisible and could walk among other people without notice. The morning was crisp and bright. As we drove to the Masjid, the sun planted itself through my skin and sparked roots of excitement. I was brimming with anticipation.

We proceeded inside the huge building and my friend directed me to the women’s bathroom where I could perform wudu. I saw other women inside as I entered. No one noticed me; no one even had a clue I was new. Now that I come to think of it, how many people in there were also attending prayer for the first time like me? I saw shelves with slippers. I knew from my conversation with Issam that I could use them to walk around the bathroom and to wash my feet. There were sinks and bathroom stalls. Along the opposite wall, there were areas to cleanse the feet to complete your wudu. Nervously, I removed my shoes and socks and placed slippers on my feet. I rolled my sleeves and my pants up. By mistake, I went to the area to cleanse feet and began performing Wudu there, not fully realizing that it would soak my pants and clothes because the setup was meant for feet only. Getting up, I rushed into the bathroom stall and remained there for a few minutes composing myself.

I know this doesn’t sound like it should be a huge issue, but I think anyone can understand my reluctance and fear. If you have ever begun a new job or new school, I am sure you’ve had those butterflies in the stomach and felt “dumb” at one point or another. As I stood in the bathroom stall, I forced myself out because the reality of it all is there is nothing to fear in life, except God. Allah would get me through this, and I was here only for Him. Only for Allah. I removed my hijab, walked to the sink and began cleansing myself all over again. I finished, placed my hijab back on, and walked to the faucets to clean my feet. I completed my wudu with ease this time and less fluttering in my stomach.

I had no idea where the women’s section was and had only caught a glimpse of the prayer area when walking towards the bathroom. There was a woman in the bathroom who I thought spoke English. It’s horrible to make assumptions, but because I saw that she was wearing typical American clothing, I thought she was my best chance at making conversation. In my most frank voice, I revealed that it was my first time in that Masjid and had no idea where the woman’s section was. With such a beautiful smile (one that I pray Allah will keep in my memory), she gladly showed me where to go.

Past the men’s section, we walked up a flight of stairs to a very small balcony area, much smaller than the men’s area, which I found a bit disturbing. Issam told me that I should perform two rakats if the Imam had not begun his speech and then wait for it all to start. To be honest, I whizzed through those prayers and actually can’t remember being sincere. My mind raced with other thoughts. Was I performing the prayers correctly, should I be speaking louder than I was? Was anyone staring at me? I found a place near the wall of the balcony, behind some women. I looked around and saw all the beautifully colored headscarves and even more beautiful skins they adorned. There must have been at least 10-20 different nationalities there. Many wore ethnic clothing embroidered with gold and silver. I imagined where they were from and how they came to Islam. But to be honest, I felt very lonely. Many were talking amongst themselves. I wished with all my heart that I had someone to speak with, that I could be on that balcony speaking with another sister and thus look like I belonged. But, I thanked God that I had made it this far.

As time progressed, the Masjid became increasingly filled. By the time the Imam began his speech, it was so crowded, I barely had room to prostrate. This angered me a bit because I could not understand why they would create such a tiny balcony for the women making it very uncomfortable for them to pray while the men had this huge expanse of space. My “feminist” side came out a bit. Later, I caught a glimpse of how even more tightly packed the men were. Issam told me later that he had to wait for the man in front of him to bow first and then he’d bow after him for lack of room. Even so, the women’s area was much, much smaller. Furthermore, the balcony was shielded, and you could look down at the Imam only through a tiny crack at the bottom. Consequently, when the Imam spoke, I had no idea what he looked like or what expressions his face carried as he spoke. I was frustrated to say the least. Why can’t I see the Imam? What harm could come from that? I need to see who’s speaking to me, no?!

He began speaking with no clue that someone in the balcony was quite upset. I could not hear him despite there being a loudspeaker in the balcony, because I was slowly seething. I felt completely like a second-class citizen. However, now, I realized that a Masjid is a place to congregate not a place that was above Allah. Not a place that would magically make me holy, or prevent Shaytan (the devil) from entering my mind. I knew I needed to release the anger, and I asked God for forgiveness and mercy. So I prayed. And for a brief period, again, the Imam had no clue someone in the balcony was missing a portion of his speech. I prayed to Allah to remove those feelings of anger and resentment and bestow me with understanding and knowledge. I prayed for courage to face my fears and strength to not give in to temptation or slander. As I opened my eyes, I felt light with my anger evaporating into the air.

The Imam’s voice was soothing, and I no longer needed to see his face because I could hear him in my heart. This being the premise of why Muslims in general cover their bodies and heads- to simply be heard and judged based upon their thoughts and actions. I briefly forgot this, this extraordinary and liberating premise.

It was time to begin our prayers, and we rose to make our intention to Allah. While the Imam began our prayers, I innocently snuck a peek over the balcony, as I now was able to look over the shield. I saw the Imam, the rest of the men, and I began searching for Issam’s red shirt. And there it was, God’s helped me understand the reason why men and women are apart in prayer and in socializing outside the family circle. While the prayer was being spoken, I was being distracted by what I saw around me. The temptations, even the most innocent of the kind, are still vibrant and exist all around us, even in a Masjid. Immediately, I closed my eyes and thanked God for adding to my knowledge that hour.

When we bent forward to say Subhanna Rubiyal-Azeem (Glorified is my Lord the Great), I barely had any room. An older woman next to me kept apologizing for bumping into me. I continued telling her that her apologies were unnecessary, because there was room for us all. And there was. No one cared how close you were to one another. It actually felt warmer that way. It was also almost impossible for me to relive the loneliness I had felt earlier. The breath of their prayers blew upon my face, and the warmth of their garments rustled next to my prostrating body. I smiled more and more with each pat of her hand.

Although my prayers were not sincere, or rather, unfocused, God knows it was only because I was observing others to make sure I was correct in my approach. While clothing and appearances were different, the prayers were all the same. We finished our prayers and people began to depart. I did not rush out because I kept watching the women and the sincerity in their faces. I could only hope my conviction grows to such depths that it permeates the pores of my face as it does theirs.

Issam was waiting for me below. We walked in the crowd leaving. At least a few hundred people must have been at that prayer if not a thousand. Men were all around me as we were walking out, and at first, I felt anxious. But then I remembered that these were my Muslim brothers, descendants of those who first introduced the world to chivalry and protected women against all evil. We are their sisters, their equals, and the flowers of Allah. I knew no one was glancing at me. I also knew I was safer in that crowd of men than anywhere else in the world.

As we reached the car, I was annoyed that I did not feel “different” or more “holy.” Honestly, I do not know what I should have been feeling, but I was angry with myself for my lack of Arabic and because I could not understand some of the Surah’s the Imam was reciting. Issam calmed me down and told me that all would come in due time. I was at the beginning stages of my learning process. I had come this far, and God would bring me even further if I were willing. Am I willing? Yes, I have been exposed to a small portion of Islam. I am in awe of its vastness. Islam is immensely upon my heart. I swim in its body of knowledge, and I wish to know as much as God permits. Alllah-u-Akbar. God is greatest.

Shinoa Matos is a journalist in New York City and came to Islam over 2 years ago. She is passionate about writing and hopes to contribute to a major Islamic or Arabic news organization and cover issues concerning Muslims in the world today.

Jan - Mar 2003, Muslim converts

One Woman Reclaims Her Roots

By Suha Siam

Do idol worshippers realize what they are praying to? Do Christians know they are not supposed to worship anyone other than God? It’s clearly stated in the Bible, but many Christians do not read the book they claim to follow. Very few of those who read the Bible question their priests about why the church rituals and lectures do not match what God says in their holy book. A formal Catholic by the name of Diana Maria Santos always questioned her religion. Diana was not spiritually fulfilled until she learned about Islam.

Diana Santos grew up in Cadiz, Spain. Although she attended Catholic school, she never practiced Catholicism. She questioned the religion her family wanted her to practice. Diana would ask the priest at her school why they had images in the church and kept praying to them even though the Bible says, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth,” in Exodus 20:3-5. One day, the priest sent Diana home for three weeks because she was influencing the other students. During the three weeks at home, she read about the history of the Bible and had more questions for the priest when she went back to school. A few weeks later, Diana was forced to leave the private school and would have to enroll in a public school.

During her three weeks at home from school, Diana also spent time sharing different points of view with her Muslim neighbor from Morocco. At the age of twelve, she realized that what she was reading all her life that made sense was not Catholicism but Islam. Soon after these conversations, her Muslim friend moved to France. Diana would have no one to speak with about Islam until four years later after moving to New York.

While living in New York, Diana started working at a supermarket owned by a Muslim family. She immediately started to practice Islam with the Muslims around her and even fasted Ramadan. Soon after, Diana learned from her grandparents that her family’s history comes from the time of Al-Andalucia, when Spain was Muslim. Her ancestors were among the Moors who liberated Spain in 711. After the Christians defeated the Muslims in 1492, Diana’s family converted to Christianity to avoid being thrown out of Spain. Her family decided to convert to Christianity in order not to loose their land. Diana says, “We did not loose our land, but we lost our identity. Even today, my family denies their history because they don’t want to lose their status in the society. Even though we are in 2003, we still have racism and conflict over this issue. I am very proud to say that we come from the lineage of the Moors who ruled Spain.” Diana is now even more proud to say she reverted to Islam after learning about her Muslim roots. She now uses the name “Mariam” after the mother of our beloved prophet Jesus (Isa). Two years later, Mariam married a Muslim bookkeeper who also worked at the supermarket with her.

Some members of Mariam’s family do not speak to her and think she’s too radical. Others accept her as a Muslim but do not understand why she has to cover. This lack of understanding is very ironic considering the Bible states, “that a woman must be covered. If she’s not covered, it dishonors her head,” in Corinthians 11:1-16. As a Muslim, Mariam is glad she no longer prays to sculptures. She said, “I always felt that the God I believed in had to be bigger than a piece of rock in a human form.”

Mariam is now a member of the Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO). Mariam helps translate Islamic literature from English into Spanish. Because Latinos are reverting to their Muslim roots in large numbers, translating Islamic information to Spanish is extremely important, and Mariam is making it happen. She said, “I think spreading the word of Allah is one of the things that needs to be done in our community for Muslims and Non-Muslims.”

Mariam says that events surrounding 9-11 helped her become a much stronger Muslim. People are very uneducated about Islam. Fortunately, many new Muslims like Mariam are helping nonMuslims understand the one true religion, Islam. She would like to see more Muslims talk about Islam more often to let nonMuslims know who we are and what we believe in. This is called dawah and is a requirement of every Muslim. It is how Mariam Santos learned about Islam. Now, she spreads the message that clarified the purpose of life for her.

Islam, Jan - Mar 2003

Pensamientos entre los Musulmanes Latinos

Por Juan Galván

El año pasado, mientras buscaba artículos, envié diez preguntas a diez Musulmanes Latinos. Después de leer las respuestas que me enviaron me di cuenta que muchos Musulmanes se podrían beneficiar de tan valuable información. Al mismo tiempo, decidí escribir un articulo que comprendiera dichas respuestas. Algunos Musulmanes Latinos se podrían identificar con algunas respuestas. Por cuestiones de privacidad y seguridad he incluido solo los nombres o nombres Musulmanes para dichos participantes. En algunos casos he editado algunas respuestas por cuestiones de claridad y gramática. Espero que usted, como lector, encuentre algún beneficio en alguna de las siguientes respuestas.

1. ¿Porque los Latinos en Estados Unidos se convierten a la religión del Islam?

Getsa: La gente se convierte al Islam por las mismas razones por las que otros se convierten a otras religiones. La gente se convierte al Islam porque tienen la creencia de que el Islam es la mejor y verdadera religión.

Daniel: Es por la misma razón por la que otros se convierten al Islam en cualquier otro lado. Desarrollan un amor por el Islam.

Teqwa: Yo creo que es básicamente la desilusión por la religión Católica. Muchos católicos no entienden los conceptos del Cristianismo, del Bautismo, Metodismo, etc. Simplicidad y unidad es algo de lo que carece la Iglesia Cristiana.

Farheed: Yo creo que estaría mejor preguntar lo siguiente: ¿Porque los Latinos se revierten al Islam? En mi opinión, esta pregunta le da al meollo del asunto, porque se enfoca a todos los Latinos en lugar de analizar cierta zona.

Omar: Porque los que se convierten tuvieron la oportunidad de hablar con Musulmanes, así mismo les abrieron su corazón a cerca del mensaje del Islam.

Aisha: No creo que sea una pregunta especifica de Estados Unidos. La pregunta es mas a cerca de una más clara definición de Dios y de cómo venerarlo, a cerca de experiencias personales, educación, y similitudes en valores familiares.

Yolanda: Desilusión por el Cristianismo.

Gilberto: No se los demás. Yo soy un Africano-Cubano criado en Estados Unidos, asi que en mi caso, pase por lecturas tales como Malcom X y la Nación del Islam, entre otras, así como lecturas a cerca de temas más religiosos como lo que es la Trinidad, la reencarnación, entre otros. No se que trayectoria otros Latinos toman. Las razones por las cuales se convierte la gente varían de una a otra.

Ricardo: Cada persona tiene sus propias experiencias de acuerdo a lo que ha vivido. Ya que Islam lo abarca todo, por lo general se dirige a cada persona con problemas o casos comunes. En el caso de los Latinos, aquellos que se revirtieron al Islam por lo general han hecho algo de investigación para conocer más. Es por medio del conocimiento de su religión actual comparada con lo que el Islam ofrece y a la vez los ilumina e inspira a tomar el Islam. La mayoría de los Latinos son Católicos; los cuales experimentan mucha negatividad con relación a la religión Católica. Dichos aspectos negativas los abarca y explica el Islam y muchos aspectos empiezan a tener sentido. Una vez que se razona y tiene sentido, el corazón le sigue y es por eso que esta persona entra al Islam no nada mas por la razón pero también por el corazón. Así encuentra paz.

2. ¿Por qué no hay mas Musulmanes Latinos? Por ejemplo, cuales han sido sus observaciones.

Daniel: La comunidad no esta aun bien establecida. Se necesita mas dawah hacia la gran comunidad Latina. Mi observación es que no se ha creado suficiente dawah dirigida específicamente para los Latinos.

Getsa: Yo creo que existen mas Musulmanes Latinos, pero donde, ¿acaso están escondidos? Los Latinos en algunos estados como Texas han sido Católicos ya por un tiempo como lo ha sido México. Yo creo que eso tiene mucho que ver también.

Teqwa: La mayoría de los Latinos no Musulmanes creen que el ser Musulmán es una raza y no una religión. Es la falta de información. La telenovela de telemundo a cerca de Musulmanes llamada “El Clon” ha tenido una influencia positiva, aunque sea una telenovela. Mas Latinos la están viendo y en medio del drama, una persona da información a cerca del Islam en una manera positiva. Desearía que también la tuvieran en ingles.

Aziz: La principal razón por la que no hay muchos Musulmanes Latinos es porque no existe mucho material de Dawah en español. Dawah en español es muy importante ya que la religión mezclada con el idioma del español es parte de su cultura. Dawah necesita enfocarse a dichos temas.

Farheed: Una respuesta positiva a esta pregunta es que los Latinos no saben lo que es ser Musulmán Latino. En mi opinión este tema cae en lo que es la educación y de saber que tal fenómeno existe.

Omar: La razón es que existen muchos Hispanos y muchos de ellos no hablan ingles. Encuentran difícil aprender otro idioma. Deben de hacer un mejor trabajo y aprender a cerca del Islam. La gente tiene muchas responsabilidades ya sea con el trabajo o la familia. El aprender a cerca del Islam requiere de un compromiso extra.

Yolanda: No existen mas Musulmanes Latinos debido a la falta de dawah así como por el acercamiento no apropiado de aquellos que son Musulmanes. No existen muchos de nosotros que ya somos Musulmanes. El numero sigue creciendo y la comunidad Musulmana no ha hecho lo suficiente por entrenar a nosotros los Musulmanes nuevos. Así que la mayoría de nosotros estamos haciendo nuestro propio esfuerzo.

Gilberto: En realidad no lo sé. A lo mejor algunos grupos de Latinos tales como los Puertorriqueños de Nueva York se pueden identificar con los Africanos-Americanos mas que con ningún otro grupo y de esa manera encontraron el Islam.

Ricardo: De acuerdo a lo que yo he observado, se debe a tres razones. La primera y la más importante, no existe mucha gente que pase el mensaje a la comunidad latina, y los que lo hagan no lo hacen de una manera muy eficaz. La segunda razón es que una vez que se ha transmitido el mensaje a cerca del Islam existe otro problema que se debe considerar. Si la persona que recibe el mensaje es un Católico devoto muchas veces sus emociones y sentimientos chocan con el mensaje que ha recibido. Causa un choque con su religión y de una forma se decepcionan y se molestan con el Islam y tratan de mantenerse alejados. La tercera razón, en mi opinión, tiene que ver con aquellos Latinos que no toman la religión muy en serio y mucho menos en una región que supuestamente es parte de un culto, “promueve terrorismo”, aparentemente oprime a la mujer, y en general es muy estricta. Aquellos que tienden a escuchar son aquellos que de algún modo están entre ser personas racionales y personas compasivas.

Aisha: Yo creo que existen mas Musulmanes Latinos que los que uno cree. En ocasiones no siempre asisten a la mezquita. Yo creí que conocía a todas las Latinas Musulmanas de mi comunidad -que eran aproximadamente 4, pero recientemente organice una reunión para juntar a las Musulmanas Latinas y me encontré con la sorpresa de que somos de 10 a 15 las cuales eran conocidas por una hermana de la comunidad. Imagínate aquellas de las que no sabemos. Apenas me entere ayer de otra hermana de la republica Dominicana que no esta en la lista de las mujeres que invite a la reunión. Me quede sorprendida pero a la vez contenta.

3. ¿Cuales son las principales alegrías y dificultades en ser Musulmán Latino?

Daniel: Las alegrías son el seguir el camino del ultimo Profeta de Dios y el regresar a nuestras raíces. Las dificultades incluyen el vivir con los estereotipos de la religión.

Teqwa: Alegrías incluyen el pasar tiempo con mis amigos y de una manera automática se transmite cierto sentido de unidad. Yo creo que las dificultades que todos los Latinos enfrentan, a pesar de su color de piel, es el sentirse bienvenidos por la comunidad Latina.

Getsa: Una alegría es que como ya hay muchos Musulmanes no se siente uno fuera de lugar. Una dificultad seria que como mujer tengo menos contacto con la gente.

Aziz: La mayor alegría al ser Musulmán es la paz que da el saber que esta uno en el camino de la verdad. Este sentimiento da tranquilidad tanto al alma como al cuerpo. Sin embargo, a pesar de todos estos sentimientos increíbles, uno no puede separarse de la realidad de Ummah y de los Musulmanes. Una de las mayores pruebas es el ser paciente con otros Musulmanes de países Musulmanes donde la gente tiene una actitud racista hacia otros Musulmanes, especialmente los que se han revertido al Islam. Este tipo de Jahiliyyah ayuda a los enemigos de Dios (swt) a mantener a los Musulmanes desunidos. Por algo tan sencillo y simple los Musulmanes entre ellos se odian y no pueden unirse unos con otros y hacer la religión de Dios la mas superior de todas.

Farheed: Una alegría que me da el ser Musulmana Latina es él poder conocer a otros Musulmanes Latinos. Tengo la oportunidad de conectarme con los Latinos de dos diferentes niveles. El primero, como Latino, tenemos esta conexión inmediata debido a la cultura y al idioma. Y segunda, la conexión inicial se convierte mas fuerte con la conexión musulmana. La única dificultad que yo vivo seria cuando miembros de la familia están en una misa Católica y yo prefiero no formar parte de ella. En este tipo de situación uno es el que se siente diferente.

Yolanda: Islam me da una paz interior. Me acerca a mi creador y me da una razón de vida. Me ha dado un claro y definitivo camino a seguir junto con otros hermanos y hermanas en Islam. Una dificultad se ve con la división de la comunidad debido a la cultura. Por ejemplo, Yo formo parte de una comunidad Hindú-Pakistaní. Como Musulmana, tengo que aprender lo que es cultural y lo que es Islam. Esto es algo a lo que estoy abierta a aprender ya que trabajo para una institución cultural, pero que hay de aquellos hermanos y hermanas que se revierten al Islam. ¿Adónde se dirigen? ¿Qué hacen cuando se integran a una mezquita donde la mayoría de la gente es Árabe? ¿O Africana-Americana? ¿O Hindú-Pakistaní? ¿Acaso se sienten bienvenidos? ¿Si no aprenden a cerca de dicha cultura, se sentirán rechazados? Si la gente le huye al Islam porque la comunidad los hace sentir fuera, ¿quien es en este caso el responsable? Esta es una realidad, y me pregunto cuantas comunidades escogen lo cultural en lugar de lo que es la religión. ¿Es nuestra meta como Musulmanes Latinos el formar nuestra propia mezquita y separarnos de los demás culturalmente como lo hacen ellos?

Aisha: Existen muchas alegrías cuando uno toma la decisión de ser musulmán, a pesar del lugar de donde es uno, especialmente en una forma mas profunda y con un sentido más espiritual. La claridad del Corán y los constantes recordatorios de que uno debe de aprender mas y utilizar nuestro poder de inteligencia, observación, y la razón cuando entran los temas tales como la fe, es simplemente refrescante e ilustrativo. El lado negativo más obvio para mi como Musulmana Latina es la barrera que uno siente con la familia. Para empezar, estaban muy sorprendidos por mi decisión de cambiar mi fe. Como va pasando el tiempo, han aprendido a aceptarlo, pero no será nunca una aceptación completa. Tengo que admitir que he hecho el proceso más difícil al ser tan estricta conmigo misma y no he dejado que la adaptación tome tiempo, especialmente porque estoy cerca de ellos. Las acciones hablan por si solas y aunque el camino es difícil, los beneficios y resultados serán siempre mas dulces que lo que uno padezca.

Omar: No tenemos la misma oportunidad de estar en contacto con otros musulmanes porque ellos tienen diferentes costumbres a las nuestras. Ellos han crecido en otros lugares y en muchos aspectos no podemos ni debemos pensar como ellos. Me refiero a personas como Árabes o Paquistaníes.

Gilberto: No estoy seguro a cerca de alegrías específicamente al ser Musulmán Latino. Una dificultad es que como somos un numero limitado existe un sentimiento de soledad en comparación a otras comunidades que están mas representadas.

Ricardo: La mayor alegría al ser Musulmán Latino tiene mas que ver con el ser Musulmán que con el ser Latino. Islam da cierto sentimiento de satisfacción que no tiene que ver con el ser Latino. La mayor dificultad al ser Musulmán Latino es el dejar ciertas costumbres que forman parte de la cultura Latina y que son anti-islámicas.

4. ¿Qué se necesita para llamar a mas Latinos al Islam?

Aisha: Necesitamos tener mas Latinos que sepan a cerca del Islam. Segundo, deben de hablar y escribir el Español. Personalmente, creo que hay mas necesidad que el solo educar a los Latinos a cerca del Islam, las creencias y el practicar la religión y después llamarlos a seguir la fe. El resultado de la educación será de mayor beneficio para crear comunidades que se toleran y respetan unas a otras. Si conocen a cerca de los valores que tenemos en común en nuestras religiones, podremos entonces tomarnos de la mano y trabajar juntos en todos los problemas que tenemos en común. La mentalidad de los sermones le da mucha resistencia. Si tenemos una mentalidad de conversión o de resistencia, jamás llegaremos a nada. Y hay que aceptarlo, es Dios quien crea a los Musulmanes, no nosotros. No se como expresar cuan importante es que el carácter de una persona habla mas que lo que uno pueda decir.

Getsa: Necesitamos mas publicaciones y más promoción por diferentes eventos. No veo como alguien se convierta en Musulmán a menos que tenga contacto con otros Musulmanes. Yo conocí a cerca del Islam al tener contacto con mi esposo. No sé si otros Musulmanes salgan y expandan la voz del Islam por el siempre hecho de llamar a mas gente.

Teqwa: Mas interacción. Pase bastante tiempo en la comunidad Latina como maestra de ESL. Tengo a mis padres quienes preguntan bastante lo cual es bueno. Yo creo que si ponemos mas escritos en español seria mucho mejor. Tan solo el estar en la comunidad y dejar que la gente nos vea, es la clave.

Daniel: Organización.

Yolanda: Nosotros, los Latinos, necesitamos instruirnos. Necesitamos acercarnos a las mezquitas y otras organizaciones locales para ayudar en el trabajo de dawah en nuestras propias comunidades.

Omar: Necesitamos mas material de dawah en las mezquitas pero que sea en español. Dawah es mejor en las mezquitas. Para los que no son Musulmanes, a lo mejor, en otros lugares que no sea la mezquita podría atraer a mas gente.

Ricardo: Yo creo que deben haber personas que lleven el mensaje a Musulmanes Latinos. Estas personas deben de tener ciertas características. Necesitan poseer conocimiento por lo menos a cerca de los principios básicos del Islam y que practiquen por lo menos lo necesario. Necesitan ser capaces de hablar correctamente y con algún grado de elocuencia. Algunas personas llevan el mensaje mejor que otros. Sin embargo, lo importante es el llegar a una persona a llevarle el mensaje a cerca del Islam por medio de la palabra.

Gilberto: Algo que me ocurrió ya hace algún tiempo es que los Latinos tienen conexión con Islam en tres formas. España algún día fue un país Musulmán, y el Islam ha dejado en la cultura Latina y el idioma una huella. Lo más obvio es la parte Africana. Algunos investigadores dicen que los Musulmanes llegaron a las Americas Pre-Colombinas y también dejaron huella en el idioma y la cultura tanto en nombres tales como Talahassee, Florida. A pesar de todo, después de la caída de Andalucía a los Cristianos, la cultura española se opone a definirse con términos tales como “esos moros.” Mas se debe hacer para hacer ver al Islam menos extranjero. Un amigo Chicano quien estaba considerando el tomar el Islam, básicamente porque estaba saliendo con una mujer Musulmana, de aquí lo conlleva al elemento de la justicia social del Islam. Puede ser que si los Musulmanes se enfocan mas a este asunto, encontraremos mas apoyo en la comunidad Latina. La mezcla de los valores familiares muy conservadores y el progreso radical de la justicia social podría, quizá, atraer a mas Americanos que no son muy atraídos por dawah.

5. ¿En que formas se podría ayudar a los Latinos a cambiar la idea errónea que tienen a cerca del Islam?

Ricardo: Por ejemplo, lo podríamos lograr educándolos. Los Musulmanes primero deben acercarse mas a la gente que no es Musulmana. Aumentar la interacción ayudara a la gente a darse cuenta a cerca del Islam. Este efecto podría ayudar a cambiar ciertas malas interpretaciones hacia el Islam. Todos los Musulmanes deben hacerlo, no solo los Latinos.

Aziz: Una de las mejores maneras en las que se puede hacer que los Latinos cambien ideas erróneas a cerca del Islam es educándolos a cerca del Islam y de la Historia de España. Asi, pueden ver por ellos mismos como el Islam se relaciona a ellos.

Getsa: Debemos definir los conceptos erróneos que se tienen a cerca del Islam. Muchos Latinos piensan que la mujer Musulmana debe estar completamente tapada y le temen también a la idea de cómo la mujer es tratada por el hombre. Esto debe cambiar en la mentalidad de las personas hablándoles a cerca de algunos ejemplos. Hay una carencia de la mujer modelo musulmana en nuestra sociedad. Me vienen a la mente tres ejemplos negativos hacia la sociedad en cuanto a musulmanes: 1. Ali -(la película) Mohamed Ali se convierte al Islam y engaña a la esposa. 2. El trato tan duro hacia la mujer en Afganistán. 3. OZ -y series de HBO. Un Musulmán en esa prisión es asesino. Se que dos de tres de estos ejemplos son ficticios pero los tres juegan un papel muy importante en la mentalidad de la gente y creen que así es en la vida real.

Daniel: Podemos empezar organizando anuncios en el medio para expandir el Islam.

Farheed: Una buena forma seria diciéndoles a otros hermanos y hermanas que muchas palabras en español son similares a palabras árabes. Además, se les puede informar que Islam ha tenido una influencia enorme en la vida y cultura de los Españoles por cientos de años.

Omar: Debemos hablar con la gente interesada en el Islam. Los Latinos ven los medios de comunicación los cuales dicen cosas erróneas o mienten. Muchos Latinos están interesados en el Islam pero no existe quien les diga lo que realmente es.

Aisha: Yo opino que lo primero es no hacerse a un lado una vez que nos convertimos en musulmanes. Existen muchas maneras en las que podemos trabajar con la comunidad Latina ayudando en las injusticias y problemas sociales que ocurren en las comunidades Latinas lo cual significa que debemos de hacer trabajo de voluntariado en organizaciones de derechos humanos, organizaciones de inmigración, organizaciones de violencia domestica, entre otras. Debemos ser personas activas tanto en nuestra comunidad Latina como en la comunidad Musulmana. Después de todo, tenemos mas similitudes que diferencias cuando se trata de lo duro que es ser minoría en este país. Una vez que una persona se convierte en una persona activa sin tener un plan para que la gente se convierta, es cuando tanto Musulmanes como Latinos empezaran a construir puentes de respeto y tolerancia. Educación, compromiso, y actividad son la clave.

Gilberto: No se me ocurre alguna manera en forma rápida. En cuanto a mi mama, el proceso ha sido lento, ser paciente y dar explicaciones de temas variados.

6. ¿Tiene alguna estadística a cerca de la cantidad de Musulmanes en zonas especificas? ¿Existe alguna manera de obtener ciertos números?

Ricardo: Tendría que hacer cierta investigación. Después de eso, se me ocurre que se debe de involucrar a las mezquitas en el esfuerzo para recopilar información. Primero se debe preguntar si vale la pena hacer dicho trabajo o si una vez obtenida la información si servirá el dato.

Gilberto: No tengo otra idea a cerca de cómo encontrar números mas que llamando a las mezquitas y preguntando cuál es el porcentaje de Latinos que asisten a las mezquitas. También se les podría llamar a los Latinos del país y preguntarles a cerca de su Religión. También se podrían crear encuestas de Organizaciones Latinas y preguntarles cuál es el porcentaje de sus miembros que son Musulmanes. Existen ciertos problemas en cualquier método que se elija.

Aisha: En realidad no existe un sistema para obtener información demográfica a cerca de nuestra comunidad, a menos que uno forme parte de una mezquita. Aun y cuando este sea el caso no se tiene el expediente del origen o nacionalidad los miembros de la mezquita. Este caso es triste pero cierto. Este tipo de censo es muy necesario en nuestras comunidades tanto locales como nacionales, pero las mezquitas no han tomado acción. Organizaciones tales como CAIR y AMC han elaborado estudios al respecto.

7. Existe una relación positiva entre el tamaño de una mezquita y numero de personas que se convierten al Islam. ¿Por qué?

Teqwa: Entre más grande sea la mezquita, se tienen mas actividades en horarios más variados.

Yolanda: Las mezquitas más grandes tienen mas diversidad y son mas abiertos.

Getsa: En las mezquitas más grandes existen mas modelos a seguir. Si hay mas Musulmanes en la comunidad entonces mas Musulmanes practicaran Islam y así hay mas calidad en la comunidad en general. Mas gente estará más disponible a hablar a cerca del Islam y así habrá mas gente que se convierta al Islam. Así es como en todo. Entre mas resumes uno distribuya, mas oportunidades tendrá de obtener una entrevista.

Ricardo: Solo puedo especular porque tal correlación existe. Puede ser por el hecho de que existan mas Musulmanes que viven cerca de las mezquitas, así es que cuando más Musulmanes se concentran mas interacción tendrán con personas que no son Musulmanas. Una vez mas, yo creo que más interacción de Musulmanes con no-Musulmanes traerá mas conciencia y así incrementara él numero de personas que se convierten al Islam.

Omar: No estoy de acuerdo. Aunque no existe una mezquita en Monterrey México, mucha gente de la zona esta interesada en el Islam. Yo soy originalmente de México.

Farheed: Me gustaría saber mas como se obtuvo dicha información para llegar a cierta correlación.

8. La mayoría de los Latinos que abandonan el Catolicismo escogen la religión Pentecostés. ¿Por qué? ¿Qué pueden los Musulmanes aprender de esto?

Daniel: A lo mejor están cansados de la misma liturgia en la Iglesia Católica. Están buscando ser más activos en su fe. Los Musulmanes pueden aprender mucho de esto. Necesitamos ser tan efectivos como los Evangélicos o los Pentecostés.

Yolanda: Las religiones de Pentecostés siempre han sido más consistentes y firmes en cuanto a la provisión de servicios social gratuitos y de información a acerca de su religión. Por ejemplo, los Testigos de Jehová han visto un incremento enorme en los últimos diez años es debido a su organización, enfoque, y persistencia.

Farheed: No tengo conocimiento a cerca de las religiones de Pentecostés y no puedo dar una opinión objetiva.

Omar: Yo era Pentecostés y sabia a cerca del Islam. Yo creo que la gente prefiere convertirse al Cristianismo porque existen Iglesias en Español donde pueden aprender a cerca del Cristianismo en su propio idioma. En general es mas fácil encontrar en Estados Unidos una Iglesia que una mezquita. Mas personas se convertirían al Islam si existieran mas mezquitas.

Teqwa: Probablemente dejan la Iglesia Católica por falta de ayuda. Alhamdulillah, yo soy Musulmana ya por un largo tiempo. Si yo me hubiera convertido al Islam hace poco y no tuviera amistades que me dieran apoyo, me imagino que ya hubiera desertado.

Aisha: A mi también me da curiosidad saber el porque, pero lo que yo he notado es que tienden a dejar el Catolicismo por la idea de venerar una imagen, la presión por las altas clases sociales y la jerarquía que existe entre las iglesias. Tienden a irse a otras denominaciones dentro del Cristianismo porque siguen la divinidad de Jesús (las bendiciones sean con él.) Además, en otras denominaciones leen mas la Biblia que en el Catolicismo.

Gilberto: Yo creo que los Latino-Africanos-Americanos y los Europeos-Americanos Musulmanes necesitan darse cuenta de que pueden ser Musulmanes sin dejar de ser ellos mismos. Mientras andaba en mi bicicleta en la escuela, me encontré un domingo en la tarde con unas personas en la calle que tocaban y cantaban unas congas, ya tiene varios años. Me pare para escuchar por un rato y un Latino empezó a hablar en español, escuche lo que estaba diciendo, eran palabras positivas a cerca de Dios. Después de escuchar por un buen rato me di cuenta que eran Musulmanes. ¡Subhanallah! Necesitamos aprender primero la diferencia entre ser un Musulmán y ser un Arabe, Indo/Pakistani, Malayo, Africano-Americano, etc. Los Árabes, Hindúes-Pakistaníes, y otros grupos han desarrollado su propia manera de ser Musulmanes. Los Americanos lo necesitan también. Así mismo, los Latinos podemos encontrar maneras donde naturalmente y con confianza podamos ser Musulmanes y a la vez Latinos. Regresando a tu pregunta original, la idea de ser Pentecostés y Musulmán es bastante incongruente. En general, puedo decir que las mezquitas no llevan a cabo una amplia gama de lo que es un estilo de sermón permitido. Si es que existe cierto estilo por algún motivo se inclina a cierto tipo de gente. Las mezquitas deben de incluir diferentes estilos.

9. ¿Que tipo de actividades al hacer Dawah recomiendas? ¿Qué funciona y que no funciona?

Teqwa: Necesitamos estar accesibles al publico y no tener miedo a hablar. Las mujeres Hispanas disfrutan el hablar así que hay que llevar a algunas hermanas que no le teman a hablar al publico y que sepan lo que dicen y que lo digan de una manera sutil. Otro modo es haciéndolo de una manera paralela. Yo me encargo de decir cosas que sean comunes para la comunidad de Latinos y así explicar la fe del Islam. Recuerda que estas tratando con gente que tiene cierta fidelidad por la iglesia y tienen un lugar muy especial en su corazón por Maria y sus tradiciones. Necesitas tomar una actitud positiva en cuanto a sus creencias mostrando las diferencias pero también incluyendo muchas de las similitudes. Si no ocurre así entonces olvídalo. Se cerraran por completo. Pero que no se te olvide aquellos que son Cubanos, Dominicanos, Venezolanos, o Puertorriqueños. No porque algunos no se vean con apariencia mestiza quiere decir que deben ser olvidados.

Omar: Deben existir reuniones regulares en las mezquitas o en otros lugares para no-musulmanes o para nuevos Musulmanes. Dawah es más eficiente si es mas a seguido y no una vez al año. Necesitas estar disponible. Los que no son Musulmanes deben de tener la facilidad de contactarte cuando se sientan listos. También no debemos de esperar a que nos contacten. Los Latinos necesitan saber que somos Musulmanes Latinos. Podemos hacerlo mostrando nuestra identidad, rezando, discutiendo a cerca del Islam, etc.

Aisha: La educación tiene una gran influencia. Sermones o la mentalidad de los Testigos de Jehová no funciona, por lo menos no para mí. Estar involucrado en la comunidad Latina seria de gran impacto y ayuda para que otros Latinos tengan mas interacción con Musulmanes así como obtener mas entendimiento a cerca de los Musulmanes. Yo pienso que debemos empezar en pequeño. Primero que nada debemos ver en nuestra propia comunidad en los alrededores. También es básico el mantener una relación con la red de Televisión en español, estaciones de radio, y periódicos.

Daniel: Yo creo que lo que uno enseña es lo que uno hace. Esta es la mejor herramienta para efectuar dawah. También debemos organizar juntas con la comunidad utilizando festivales Latinos como un punto de empiezo. Yo creo que desde aquí todo puede funcionar. Debemos de enfocarnos primero en ciudades con grandes números de Latinos y después las zonas rurales. La mayoría de las demás zonas están expuestas a grandes zonas metropolitanas y así se expande hacia las orillas de la ciudad. Aun así Islam no se debe limitar a determinadas zonas geográficas.

Yolanda: Necesitamos distribuir literatura gratuita. También necesitamos poner anuncios.

Ricardo: Hablando con la gente es el mejor método. Atención individual es más efectiva. Cada uno tiene su propia opinión a cerca de la religión, vida después de la muerte, el alma, el origen del hombre, etc. Ya que cada cual tiene diferente punto de vista, se requiere que el mensaje del Islam le llegue a la persona en su propio modo. Uno no puede esperar el dar el mensaje de una manera y que le llegue a toda la gente de la misma manera. Eso es algo imposible. Debe de existir la atención personalizada. Él hacerlo en una forma masiva es extremadamente difícil. Es por eso que los Musulmanes no deben de distanciarse de sus vecinos. Como una entidad de ummah, necesitamos interactuar con no-Musulmanes pasando el mensaje de una manera verbal y por el ejemplo. Existen muchas cosas que no funcionan y muchas cosas que si funcionan pero todo depende de la persona que reciba el mensaje y de la persona de quien da el mensaje. Existirán personas que se ofendan al escuchar a un Musulmán decir “Nosotros no creemos que Jesús sea el hijo de Dios” así mismo existirán otras personas que no se ofendan al escuchar lo mismo. Generalmente, uno debe de ser paciente, tolerante y cuidadoso en no molestar las creencias de los demás. Necesitamos presentar al Islam como algo en lo que creemos por tal o cual cosa en lugar de presentar al Islam como algo correcto y lo que los demás creen es lo incorrecto. Existen muchas cosas que se deben de hacer y otras que se deben evitar.

10. ¿Cuáles son tus sueños y aspiraciones para el Islam y para los Latinos Musulmanes en América?

Daniel: InshAllah, que creceremos.

Getsa: Me gustaría que Islam creciera porque me gustaría conocer a más buenos Musulmanes que sean buenos influencias y modelos a seguir.

Omar: Me gustaría que se hiciera mas por la gente Hispana en el idioma del español.

Farheed: Me gustaría ver a LADO convertirse en una fuerza dominante cuando se refiera a representar la población de Musulmanes Latinos. Que Allah guíe a LADO.

Yolanda: Mi esperanza es el organizar y crear un grupo de asistencia a todos los Musulmanes nuevos, no nada mas a los Musulmanes Latinos. En mi ciudad se necesita de dicha labor. Mucha gente que se convierte al Islam como yo necesitamos ayuda. Esta ayuda necesita ser implantada antes de ningún otro trabajo de Dawah.

Aisha: Simplemente deseo que Islam sea reconocido y respetado como una religión en nuestra comunidad. Tengo la firme creencia de que esto sucedería si los Musulmanes mejoramos nuestras acciones en forma individual. Necesitan considerarse parte de la sociedad americana siendo activos y comunicándose con otras comunidades para así construir lazos. El resultado de nuestros esfuerzos por educar a la gente a cerca del Islam será gracias a Allah (swt), pero no podemos pensar que las cosas sucederán sin ningún esfuerzo.

Ricardo: Como mínimo, mis deseos y esperanzas son que la gente entienda el Islam por lo que es en lugar de evaluar el Islam por medio de mentiras, deformaciones, y malas interpretaciones. Como máximo, desearía que más gente tomara la religión del Islam.

Me gustaría agradecer a los hermanos y hermanas Latinos Americanos que se tomaron el tiempo de responder a mis preguntas, espero que encuentren beneficio en los resultados. Me asombra la variedad de las respuestas de entre los Latinos. Las respuestas fueron tanto para inspirar como para motivar a otras personas. Los Musulmanes siempre estarán en desacuerdo en una gran variedad de temas. A pesar de nuestras diferencias, todos estamos de acuerdo en que el llamar a mas gente a unirse al Islam es lo esencial.

Traducido por Rocío Martínez-Mendoza.

Jan - Mar 2003, Latino Muslims

Thoughts Among Latino Muslims

By Juan Galvan

While researching for articles last year, I sent out ten questions to ten American Latino Muslims. Upon rereading the answers I received, I realized that many Muslims could benefit from this valuable information. Consequently, I decided to write an article composed of the responses. Latino Muslims may relate to the responses. For sake of privacy, either I only use first names or Muslim names of the Latinos. I have edited responses for clarity, concision, and grammar as needed. I hope you may benefit from the following responses.

1. Why do Latinos convert to Islam in America?

Getsa: People convert to Islam for the same reasons others convert to other religions. People convert to Islam because they have a belief that Islam is the best and true religion.

Daniel: It’s the same reasons why people convert to Islam anywhere else. They develop a love for Islam.

Teqwa: I think it’s mostly about disillusionment with the Catholic Church. Many Catholics don’t understand Christian concepts just like Baptists, Methodist, etc. Simplicity and unity is lacking in the Christian Church.

Farheed: I think maybe you are better off by asking the question: “Why do Latinos revert to Islam?” In my opinion, this question gets down to the crux of the issue, because you address all Latinos rather than analyzing a certain location.

Omar: Because converts had the opportunity to speak with Muslims, they opened their hearts to the message of Islam.

Aisha: I don’t think it is a question of America. The question is more about a clearer definition of God and about how to worship, about personal experiences, education, and similarities in family values.

Yolanda: Disappointment in Christianity.

Gilberto: I don’t know about others. I’m an Afro-Cuban raised in America, so in my case, I went through the route of reading about Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, etc. along with more “religious” concerns about things like the trinity, incarnation, and others. I am not sure what trajectory other Latinos take. Reasons for conversion are different for everyone.

Ricardo: People have their unique situation in terms of what they’ve been exposed to all their lives. Because Islam is all encompassing, it typically addresses the average person’s concerns. Concerning Latinos, those who convert will usually have traveled the road of knowledge. It is through knowledge of both their current religion in comparison with the knowledge of what Islam is all about that enlightens them and then inspires them to embrace Islam. Most Latinos are Catholic, and there is much negativity experienced by Latinos towards the Catholic religion. Those negative concerns are addressed in Islam, and the whole thing begins to make sense. Once their rationale makes sense of it, their hearts follow suit bringing a person to embrace Islam with their minds as well as their hearts. That’s peace.

2. Why aren’t there more Latino Muslims? For example, what have been your observations?

Daniel: The community is not well established yet. More dawah needs to be done towards the huge Latino population. My observation is that there has been no emphasis on dawah towards Latinos.

Getsa: I think that there are more Latino Muslims, but where are they hidden? Latinos in states like Texas have been Roman Catholic for a while now as has been Mexico. I think that has something to do with it as well.

Teqwa: Most nonMuslim Latinos that I have been in contact with think that being a Muslim is a race not a religion. It’s a lack of information. The Telemundo novela about Muslims, “El Clon,” yes I know it’s a novela, has had a positive effect. More Latinos are watching it, and between the drama, an uncle gives information about Islam in a very positive light. I wish they had it in English as well.

Aziz: The biggest reason why there are not many Latino Muslims is because there is not much Spanish dawah. Dawah in Spanish is very important. This is because religion mixed with the Spanish language is a part of their culture. Dawah must address these issues.

Farheed: A possible answer to the question could be that Latinos are simply unaware that there is such a thing as a Latino Muslim. In my opinion, it just boils down to education and knowing that they exist.

Omar: Because many people are Hispanic and not all of them speak English. They find it difficult to learn another language. But they must to get a better job and to learn about Islam. People have many responsibilities with work and family. Learning about Islam requires some commitment.

Yolanda: There aren’t more Latino Muslims because of the lack of dawah work and proper cultural approach by those of us who are Muslims. There are not many of us. We are still growing, and the other Muslim communities have not done enough to train us new Muslims, so most of us are struggling on our own.

Gilberto: I really don’t know. Perhaps some Latinos groups, such as NY Puerto Ricans, can identify with African-Americans more than others and find Islam that way.

Ricardo: From my observations, there are three main reasons. First and foremost, there aren’t many people delivering the message to the Latino community, and many who do may not be very effective in doing so. Second, once there is someone who delivers the message there is a barrier that must be overcome. If the person is a devout Catholic, many times their emotions make it difficult to cope with the message delivered. It causes a sort of “crushing” of their faith; hence, they become somewhat heart-broken and try to stay away from Islam. The third reason I believe has to do with those Latinos who don’t think about religion much to begin with, much less a religion that they feel is cult-like, “promotes terrorism,” seemingly oppresses women, and that is very strict. Those who tend to listen have somewhat of a balance between being a rational person and a compassionate person.

Aisha: I think there are more Latino Muslims than we think there are. They just do not always come to the mosque. I thought I knew all the Latina Muslims in the community – that was about four, but recently I held a get-together of Latina Muslims in our area alone and found that there were 10 to 15 that are known by one lady in the community. Imagine those who we don’t know about. I just found out of another one just yesterday from the Dominican Republic who was not on the list of women I called to the gathering. I was astounded and pleased.

3. What are the main joys and difficulties of being a Latino Muslim?

Daniel: The joys include following the path of the Last Prophet of Allah and going back to our roots. Difficulties include dealing with stereotypes.

Teqwa: Joys include spending time with my friends, and there is an automatic sense of unity. Difficulties? I think all Latinos, regardless of skin color, should feel welcome by the general Latino community.

Getsa: One joy is that since there are so many Muslims now, I can’t really feel out of place. One difficulty is that as a woman, I have less contact with people.

Aziz: The main joy of being a Muslim is the peace of knowing that I’m on the Truth. This feeling is peaceful to the soul and the body. However, with all these great feelings, one cannot escape the reality of the state of the Ummah and the Muslims. One of the biggest trials is being patient with Muslims from Muslim countries who maintain a racist attitude toward other Muslims, especially towards converts. This type of Jahiliyyah still helps the enemies of Allah swt to keep the Muslims disunited. Because of something so simple and easy to fall into, the Muslims hate each other and cannot even come together to make Allah’s religion superior over all others.

Farheed: A joy I get from being a Latino Muslim is that I get to meet other Latino Muslims. I have the opportunity to link with Latino Muslims on two different levels. One, as Latinos, we have that instant connection through culture and language. Second, the initial connection becomes stronger once the Islamic connection is apparent. The only difficulty I encounter is when family members are partaking in a Catholic ceremony, and I choose not to be a part of it. In this type of situation, one feels awkward.

Yolanda: Islam gives me peace of mind. It brings me closer to my creator and gives me a purpose in life. It has brought me a clear and definite path to follow with other brothers and sisters. One difficulty concerns the issue of communities dividing by culture. For example, I am part of an Indo-Pakistani community. As a Musulmana, I’ve had to learn what is cultural and what is Islam. This is something that I’m open to since I work for a cultural institution, but what about those brothers and sisters that are converting? Where are they going? How do they feel when they become part of a mosque that is Arab? African American? Indo-Pakistani? Do they feel welcomed? If they don’t learn about the culture, are they left out? If people leave Islam because communities make them feel “left out,” who is responsible? This is a reality, and I am wondering how many communities choose cultural over religious. Is our goal as Latino Muslims to form our own mosques and separate ourselves culturally too?

Aisha: There are more joys, when one makes the decision to become a Muslim, regardless of where you are from – especially in a deeper and more spiritual sense. The clarity of the Qur’an and the constant reminders for us to learn more and to use our powers of intelligence, observation, and reason when dealing with all matters including faith, is simply refreshing and enlightening. The most prominent negative for me as a Latino Muslim is simply the barriers one feels with family. At the outset, they were astounded by my decision to change my faith. As time progresses, they have learned to accept it, but it is never quite a full acceptance. I have to admit that I made things more difficult in the process by being very strict on myself and not allowing the adjustment to take time – especially when I was around my family. Actions speak louder than words and although, the path is difficult, the benefits and results are always sweeter when one struggles.

Omar: We don’t have the same chance to get involved with other Muslims, because they have different customs than ours. They grew up in other places overseas, and in many ways, we do not and cannot think like them. I’m referring to people like Arabs and Pakistanis.

Gilberto: I’m not sure about joys specific to being a Latino Muslim. One difficulty is that since there are a small number of us, there is a certain degree of aloneness compared to other communities that are more represented.

Ricardo: The main joy about being a Latino Muslim has more to do with being a Muslim than about being Latino. There’s fulfillment in Islam that has nothing to do with being Latino. The main difficulty with being a Latino Muslim is letting go of things that were part of your Latino background that are un-Islamic.

4. What needs to be done to call more Latinos to Islam?

Aisha: We need to have more knowledgeable Latino Muslims, for one. Second, they need to speak and write the Spanish language fluently. Personally, I think there is more need to simply educate Latinos about Islam, the beliefs and practices, than to “call” them to the faith. The outcome of education would be of greater benefit towards building communities that tolerate and respect each other. If they knew about the similar values we share in our faiths, we could join hands to work together for many issues we have in common. The preaching mentality meets with much resistance. If we have a conversion mentality or demeanor, we will not get far. And let’s face it, it is Allah who makes Muslims, not us. I cannot stress enough that the character of a person speaks louder than simply what we say.

Getsa: We need more publications and more open, publicized events. I don’t know how you would become Muslim unless you have contact with other Muslims. I only came in contact with Islam by association through my husband. I don’t know if Muslims venture out to other groups for the purpose of calling others to Islam.

Teqwa: More interaction. I spend a good deal of time in the Latino community as a biligual/ESL teacher. I have parents who ask many questions, which is a good thing. I think that if more was put out there in Spanish, it would be much better. Just being around”allowing people to see you is key.

Daniel: Organize.

Yolanda: We, Latinos, need to empower ourselves. We need to approach mosques and other local organizations to assist us in dawah work in our own communities.

Omar: We need more dawah at the mosque but in Spanish. Dawah at mosques is better for new Muslims. For nonMuslims, maybe, somewhere other than the mosque would bring bigger crowds.

Ricardo: I believe that there must be individuals who will deliver the message to Latino Muslims. These individuals must possess certain qualities. They must be very knowledgeable in at least the basics of Islam and the everyday practices. They must be articulate, and they must have a certain degree of eloquence. Some people deliver the message stronger than others do. However, the point is that there is no better way to get someone to subscribe to a belief than by delivering the message by word-of-mouth.

Gilberto: Something that occurred to me a long time ago is that Latinos as a people have connections to Islam from three different directions. Spain was once a Muslim country, and Islam has made its imprint on Latino culture and language. The obvious is the African component. Some researchers say that Muslims arrived in the Pre-Columbian Americas and also left marks in the language and culture such as in names such as Tallahassee, Florida. Anyway, after the fall of Andalusia to Christians, Spanish culture has a tendancy to define itself in opposition to “esos Moros” over there. More work has to be done to make Islam seem less foreign. A Chicano friend who was considering Islam, partly because he was dating a Muslim woman, is drawn to the social justice element of Islam. Perhaps if Muslims stressed this aspect more, we would find more support in the Latino community. The mix of conservative “family values” and a radically progressive view of social justice would (insha’Allah) be appealing to many Americans who are not normally receptive to dawah.

5. What are ways to help Latinos abandon their misconceptions about Islam?

Ricardo: We accomplish this through educating them and by example. Muslims must first become less isolated from their nonMuslim neighbors. Increased positive interaction will create increased awareness. Awareness brought about through positive interaction can overcome popular negative misconceptions. All Muslims must do this, not just Latino Muslims.

Aziz: One of the best ways to help Latinos get around the misconceptions is educating them about Islam and about Spanish history. By doing so, they can see for themselves how Islam relates to them.

Getsa: We should define the common misconceptions for one. Many Latinos think women have to be completely covered and are also afraid about how women are treated by Muslim men. This needs to be removed from people’s minds by talking about positive role models. There is a lack of positive Muslim role models in our society. I can think of three instances that play in my mind when it comes to negative role models, though: 1. Ali – the movie. Muhammad Ali converts and cheats on his wife. 2. The harsh treatment of women in Afghanistan. 3. OZ – an HBO series. The Muslims in that prison kill. I know that two out of the three are fictitious but all three play on people’s minds just as the real thing does.

Daniel: We could begin by organizing media outlets for spreading Islam.

Farheed: A good approach is to tell Latino brothers and sisters that many Spanish words are similar to Arabic words. In addition, you could tell them that Islam had a large influence on the Spanish daily life and culture for hundreds of years.

Omar: We should speak with people who are interested in Islam. I mean Latinos watch the media, and media says wrong things or lies. Many Latinos are interested in Islam but no one is telling them what it really is.

Aisha: I think the first step is to not marginalize ourselves when we become Muslim. There are many ways we can work with the Latino community to help the injustices and social problems occurring in the Latino community and that means we have to volunteer in human rights organizations, immigrant organizations, domestic violence organizations, and so on. We must be active in both the Latino community and the Muslim community. After all, we have more similarities than differences when it comes to hardships we face here in the west as minorities. Once a person becomes active without a conversion agenda, both Latinos and Muslims will start to build bridges of respect and tolerance. Education, involvement, and activity are key.

Gilberto: I don’t know of a fast way. In terms of my mom, it has basically taken slow, patient explanations about various things.

6. Do you know any statistics about the number of Muslims in a particular state? Is there a way to get these figures?

Ricardo: I’d have to do research. The US Census is the first place I would look to get these figures. After that, I would think involving mosques in data gathering efforts would be the best way to get the information. The question of whether it is worth doing or even if it matters must be addressed first.

Gilberto: I have no idea about finding the numbers other than by calling all the mosques to ask what percentage of mosque attendees are Latino. You could also call Latinos around the country to ask about their religious affiliation. You could also poll Latino organizations to ask what percentage of members is Muslim. There are problems with whatever method you choose though.

Aisha: There really is not a system to attain demographic information about our community – unless you become a member of a mosque. Even then, they don’t keep records about your background or nationality. This is sad, but true. This kind of “census” work is really necessary in our communities, locally and nationally, but mosques have not taken on the task. Organizations, such as CAIR and AMC, have conducted some studies.

7. There seems to be a positive correlation between mosque size and rate of conversion. Why?

Teqwa: At larger mosques, there are more activities at all hours.

Yolanda: Larger mosques are more diverse and open.

Getsa: At larger mosques, there will be more positive role models. If more Muslims are in the community, more Muslims will be practicing Islam so there’s higher quality in the overall community. More people are available to speak about Islam so more conversion. It’s like with everything. The more resumes you send out, the more chances you’ll be called for an interview.

Ricardo: I can only speculate as to why this correlation exists. Maybe it is the fact that there are more Muslims living closer to larger mosques, thereby, creating a higher concentration of Muslims that in turn interacts with nonMuslims. Again, I believe that more interaction of Muslims with nonMuslims will increase awareness, which will increase the number of people who convert.

Omar: I disagree. Although there isn’t a mosque in Monterrey, Mexico, many people are interested in Islam there. I’m originally from Mexico.

Farheed: I would like to know more about how the information was collected to come up with the correlation.

8. Most Latinos who leave Catholicism choose the Pentecostal religions. Why? What can Muslims learn from this?

Daniel: Perhaps, they are tired of the same liturgy in the Catholic Church. They are looking to be active in their faith. Muslims can learn a lot from this. We need to be as effective as the Evangelicals or Pentecostals.

Yolanda: Protestant religions have always been more consistent and adamant about providing free social services and information about their religion. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses have seen a dramatic increase in the last ten years because they are organized, focused, and persistent.

Farheed: I have no knowledge of the Pentecostal religions and cannot form an objective opinion.

Omar: I was Pentecostal, and I knew about Islam. I think people prefer to convert to Christianity because there are Hispanic churches where they can learn about Christianity in their own language. In general, it’s easier to find a church than a mosque in America. More people would convert if there were more mosques.

Teqwa: They probably leave the Catholic Church for lack of support. Alhamdulillah, I have been Muslim for a long time. If I were a new Muslim and didn’t have friends who could be a sounding board, I might have dropped out.

Aisha: I am curious to know why myself, but I can tell you that the trend I have seen is that they tend to leave Catholicism because of the idol worship, the pressures of the “high” social classes, and general hierarchy existing within the churches. They tend to go to other Christian denominations because they strongly believe in the divinity of Jesus (pbuh). In addition, I think that it also appeals to them that in other sects they read the Bible more than in Catholicism.

Gilberto: (getting on soapbox). I think Latino, African-American, and European-American Muslims need to realize the extent to which they can be themselves and still be Muslim. While riding my bike around campus, I found these people playing congas outside on one Sunday afternoon a few years ago. I stopped to listen for a while. Eventually, one Latino starts speaking in Spanish. I listen to what he’s saying, and it’s some generally positive stuff about God. And, then I listen a little longer, and I realize that they are Muslim. Subhanallah! We need to first learn the difference between being Muslim and being Arab, Indo/Pak, Malay, African-American, etc. Arabs, Indo/Paks, and other groups have developed their own ways of being Muslim. This is something that needs to happen among Americans as well. By doing so, we can confidently and naturally find ways to be a Muslim and a Latino. To get back to your original question, the idea of “Pentecostal Muslims” is obviously really messed up. In general, I would say that mosques don’t really run the gamut of what would be a permissible preaching style. And if there are styles that for some reason are more appealing to certain groups, mosques ought to be encouraged to include them along with others.

9. What kinds of Dawah activities would you suggest? What works and what doesn’t work?

Teqwa: We have to be accessible to the public and not be afraid to talk. Hispanic women love to talk so get some sisters out there and make sure they know what they are going to say and aren’t afraid to say it in a nice way. Another thing is to draw parallels. I make sure that I use things that are common in the Hispanic community to explain Islamic beliefs. Remember that you are dealing with people who have an allegiance to the Church and have a special place in their heart for Mary and traditions. You have to make sure that you are still positive about their beliefs and show them how Islam is different but also has many of the same thoughts. If not, forget it. They will shut down completely. Please don’t forget those who are Cuban, Dominican, Venezuelan, or Puerto Rican. Just because someone doesn’t look mestizo doesn’t mean they should be forgotten.

Omar: There should be regular meetings at mosques or wherever for nonMuslims and/or for new Muslims. Dawah is more successful if it frequent, not only once a year. You have to be available. NonMuslims have to be able to come to you when they are ready. We also should not expect or wait for them to come to us. Latinos need to know we are Latino Muslims. We can do this by showing our identity, praying, discussing Islam, etc.

Aisha: Education has a greater impact. Preaching or the “Jehovah’s Witness” mentality does not work, at least not for me. Being involved in the Latino community alone would have a significant impact by helping Latinos gain some interaction with Muslims as well as a greater understanding of Muslims. I think we need to start small. Look into your own community and its surround areas first. It is also key to build a relationship with Spanish TV networks, radio stations, and newspapers.

Daniel: I believe in acting what you preach. This is the best dawah tool. We should also organize meetings with the community using Hispanic festivals as a possible outlet. It seems to me that anything would work at this point. Cities with large numbers of Latinos should be targeted first and then rural areas. Most other areas are exposed to larger metropolitan areas so you would hope that the trickle effect would occur. Still, Islam should not be limited to any geographical areas.

Yolanda: We have to distribute free literature. We also need to place ads.

Ricardo: Word-of-mouth is the best. Individual attention is most effective. Everyone has their own perspective of religion, life after death, the soul, the origin of man, etc. Because everyone has a different perspective, it requires that the message of Islam be delivered to him or her in a unique way. You can’t expect to deliver the message in one way and hope to reach everybody. That is impossible. Individual attention must take place. To do that on a mass scale is extremely difficult. That is why Muslims must not be so isolated from their neighbors. As an ummah, we must interact with non-Muslims in a positive fashion delivering the message verbally and by example. There are many things that don’t work and many things that do work but it really depends on the individual who’s receiving the message and the way the person delivers the message. Some people will be offended when you say, “We don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God” while others won’t be offended at all. Generally, one must be very patient, tolerant, and careful not to step on their beliefs. We must present Islam as something we believe because of such and such rather than presenting Islam as we’re right and you’re wrong because of such and such. There are many do’s and don’ts.

10. What are your hopes and aspirations for Islam and Latino Muslims in America?

Daniel: InshAllah, we will be growing.

Getsa: I would like Islam to grow because I would like to meet more Muslimahs that are a good influence and role models.

Omar: I hope that there is more work done for Hispanic people in the Spanish language.

Farheed: I hope to see LADO become a dominant force when it comes to representing the Latino Muslim population. May Allah guide LADO.

Yolanda: My hopes are to organize and create a group that assists all new Muslims, not only Latino Muslims. There is a need for this in my own city. Many people who convert like myself need guidance. This needs to be in place before dawah work can be done.

Aisha: I simply hope Islam will be recognized and respected as a faith in our community. I strongly believe this will happen if Muslims improve their actions individually. They must consider themselves part of the American society by being active in it and build bridges of understanding with other communities. The outcome of our efforts to educate people about Islam will be up to Allah (swt), but we cannot think that things will happen without the work.

Ricardo: At the minimum, my hopes and aspirations are for people to understand Islam for what it is as opposed to evaluating Islam through a filter of lies, distortions, and misconceptions. At the maximum, I would hope for as many people to embrace Islam as possible.

I want to thank the American Latino brothers and sisters who took time out to answer my questions. I hope you have benefited from the responses. The variety of perspectives among Latinos amazes me. Answers to questions were both inspiring and enlightening. Muslims will always disagree on a variety of issues. Regardless of our differences, we all agree that calling people to Islam is essential.

Jan - Mar 2003, Poems

Our Struggle, Sacrifice

By Abdullah Gonzalez

People wonder what
Hispanic Muslim culture is like
because you already know this…
Nearly every aspect of
Hispanic culture is unIslamic.

The wild bachata, merengue,
cumbia, salsa, and ranchero music
blasting at two in the morning.

The excess wearing of gold…
from gold necklaces to the ever so popular
Central American gold teeth brandishings.
Aay dios mio, los guanacos y chapines.

Sometimes a Hispanic looks at a family gathering
and wonders if his relatives were each born
with a Corona in one hand,
El Presidente if you’re Dominican,
some Bacardi if you’re Boricua, or not.

The sudden burst of
dancing or singing
to a romance song
in public. Aah, I love it
when my uncle does that!

A Hispanic Muslim has to decide whether to give
sadaqah or buy that new air intake valve
that’ll boost his horsepower
in that godforsaken Geo Storm
with purple tinted windows and rims.

He’s gotta peel off those girlie stickers
he has on the back of his pickup truck
from his non-Muslim days.

He has to stop calling
his mother and father
“el viejo y la vieja,”
even if that’s how you
refer to your parents in Peru.

He’s gotta take down
that big crucifix
and drawings of
La Virgen y Jesus Cristo
which seem to sweat
during the summer.

He can’t watch Univision or Telemundo anymore…
good lord!…Imagine if he watched
Telecentro, Santo Domingo’s network…
He’d gain sins every 5 seconds for looking at
some of the stuff they have on there.

He can’t let his cousins and other non-mahram
family members squeeze him to death with a hug
and give him the traditional kisses on the cheek.

He can’t eat much of his mom’s cooking anymore
because it seems that every recipe she makes
sneaks in some haraam ingredients.
Lard in the tortillas…
rum in the cake…
pork in the sancocho.

He can’t whistle
to grab the attention of a relative
across the street because whistling
is something Shaytan does.

He can’t enter his rooster in
a cockfighting bout down in Florida with his uncle
who just came from Cuba
and keeps repeating
“Oye chico, el caballo me quito todo!
Hasta el diente de oro…que babaro!”
Because? Cruelty towards animals
is forbidden in Islam.

So what’s left of his culture?
Maybe the concept of
being close to family,
but that’s about it.
he has to endure his relatives
calling him a traitor for
“betraying his ‘Latinoness.'”

Why? For accepting Allah
as the only one worthy of worship
and Muhammad
as His Messenger.

That’s how it is to be
a Hispanic Muslim…
at least that’s how I feel.

It’s hard for many Hispanics
to conform to Islamic laws
so they’re trying
to compromise Islam
with their culture.

With me…I just took my culture
and flushed it down the toilet.
My culture isn’t the thing that’s
going to save me from Jahannam.

The notion that I’m Hispanic is even in question
because, according to a Central American I met years ago,
Dominicans are “mallates que han emprendido Espanol,”-
“Niggers that have learned Spanish.”

If my family calls me a traitor so be it.
If I have to stop eating my mother’s cooking, fine.
Nothing of my culture
is too important to give up.

Jan - Mar 2003, Quotes of the Month

Quotes of the Month

“Pray for help from God, and (wait) in patience and constancy: for the earth is God’s, to give as a heritage to such of His servants as He pleaseth; and the end is (best) for the righteous.” – Qur’an 7:128.

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error.” – Qur’an 2:256.

“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘When you smile at your brother (in faith), or enjoin what is reputable, or forbid what is objectionable, or direct someone who has lost his way, or help a man who has bad eyesight, or remove (debris) from the road, or pour water from your bucket into your brother’s, it counts as charity.'” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 594.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “Islam initiated as something strange, and it would revert to its (old position) of being strange, so good tidings for the strangers.” – Sahih Muslim 1.270. Narrated AbuHurayrah.

“We were truly all the same (brothers) – because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude. I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God (tawheed), then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man – and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their ‘differences’ in color.” Malcolm X. From letter written during Hajj.