By Juan Galvan
– What is LADO?
The number of questions I receive about the Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO) always surprises me. I think that our website already provides plenty of information about LADO. You can learn about LADO at www.LatinoDawah.org. Latino Muslims from New York founded LADO in September 1997. They were concerned that few Latinos were coming to Islam, and they wondered what they could do. They also wanted to address common concerns of new Latino Muslims. For example, LADO set out to reassure Latino Muslims about their identity as both Latinos and Muslims.
– What does LADO do? What does Dawah stands for?
In Arabic, dawah means “invite” or “invitation,” but religiously speaking, dawah is the Muslim responsibility to “invite” others to Islam. LADO’s mission is to promote Islam among the Latino community within the United States. We focus on educating Latinos about Islam as a way of life. We also educate Latinos and others about the legacy of Islam in Spain and Latin America as well as about the growing Latino Muslim community in the United States. What does LADO mean to you? For me, LADO represents a means of spreading Islam to Latinos in the most effective and efficient manner – by simply providing information.
LADO is a dawah organization that understands the value of information. Although LADO is not interested in consolidating all Latino Muslim organizations or bringing all Latino Muslims under a common organization, LADO is interested in bringing together information and resources about Latino Muslims from around the United States. Whereas some companies charge for information, we provide the most valuable information for free. Islam is the most valuable information anyone can receive. Information is power, and the truth is most powerful. People come to us seeking answers. LADO is an important gateway that makes Islam more accessible to the Latino community by resolving three major barriers for Latinos interested in Islam.
First, a leading barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Spanish Islamic literature because many Latinos only know Spanish. We encourage the development and distribution of Islamic literature in Spanish. Much Spanish literature, whether printed, audio, or audiovisual, needs to be developed. Although Latinos are the largest minority in the US, few Islamic book companies offer Spanish Islamic literature. We provide information on how to obtain free Islamic literature in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. We also actively translate Islamic literature, especially into Spanish, because Islamic literature needs to be readily available in all languages.
Second, another leading barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Latino Muslims. Some Latinos who do not know any English need someone to answer their questions in their native language. We prefer to direct non-Muslims to the best source within their local community. Latino Muslims are more familiar with Latino culture than are non-Latinos. And, friendships are also needed to prevent the loneliness that sometimes occurs with conversion. Many people ask for help and advice. LADO understands that much work is to be done beyond the local level. We have developed a communication network that exists throughout the US. LADO serves as a gateway by providing networking opportunities. I cannot tell you how important it is for Latino Muslims to be accessible to non-Muslims and Muslims. By becoming accessible to various Muslims, Latino Muslims have taken leadership roles in various Muslim organizations. By becoming accessible to reporters, for example, Latino Muslims have been able to contribute to a significant number of newspaper articles about Latino Muslims. By becoming accessible to non-Muslims, we have been able to show many that Islam is a beautiful religion.
Third, another barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Islamic institutions. In addition to directing Latinos to specific Muslims, we direct non-Muslims to Islamic institutions, especially mosques and Muslim organizations. Latinos contact us requesting information about their local mosque. Sometimes, a mosque may not be found in their particular city. Or, their local mosque may not be very welcoming or may be indifferent to the needs of non-Muslims. Oftentimes, Latinos do not know that the Islamic place of worship is called a mosque, because many Latinos do not know anything about Islam. We also get requests from Muslims around the world for information about Islamic organizations in Latin America. We provide a list of existing mosques in Latin America, Spain, and some other countries. New Muslims need to be nurtured because they will help establish and strengthen American Muslim institutions. We will find a way to meet the needs of new Muslims when current Muslim institutions are unable to do so. For example, we support the development of companies that focus on producing Islamic literature in Spanish.
– What’s the status of LADO today? Where is LADO headquartered? How many chapters and members does LADO have today? Is it only in New York or New Jersey?
LADO is a very loosely knit organization. LADO does not have physical offices, such as a headquarters. Although people may constantly move, LADO remains available online to provide a number of services. LADO understands that the Internet allows information to be easily and inexpensively distributed to anywhere and accessed from anywhere. LADO also understands that the Internet allows people to easily and inexpensively communicate with other people from around the world. As mentioned previously, LADO provides a way for Latino Muslims from different states to be accessible via the Internet. We are not a virtual or online community, because our activities are not limited to the online world. LADO strongly believes that the mosque must continue to be the center of Islamic life.
– Why is not LADO composed of traditional chapters?
When I first joined LADO, I wanted to make LADO into an organization composed of traditional chapters that revolve around a national headquarters. However, it is not feasible on our limited resources. You need significant funding to develop and manage such an organization. For example, we would need significant, continuous sources of funding to maintain a full time staff at a national headquarters. Initially, my idea was to develop ten, traditional chapters in the ten most populated states. But great contributions come from outside those ten states, and large numbers of Latinos live in cities that are not within those ten states. Therefore, LADO tries to have dedicated people from throughout the fifty states because we receive requests for assistance from states that are not traditionally associated with having large numbers of Latinos. Although LADO aims to limit its activities and projects to the United States, many Muslims around the world have joined LADO because our membership is free and open to all Muslims who agree with our mission. Consequently, LADO membership is not limited to the United States or to Latino Muslims. We have connections with Muslims from Latin America, the Middle East, Europe including Spain, and beyond. LADO consists of almost 5,000 members and representatives throughout the United States and abroad.
– How is LADO organized geographically?
Today, LADO is comprised of four regional divisions – the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, and the West. The divisions are based on how the US Census Bureau classifies all fifty states into regions. How frequently do local chapters meet? What role does LADO play in the daily lives of Latino American Muslims? LADO does not have regular, traditional meetings because LADO is not composed of traditional chapters. Members who live near each other may meet regularly on an individual basis, and many members meet regularly through local and national organizations. I often give permission to Latinos and Muslims to use our name at no cost for their events and activities. This worked out well with the publicity for a mosque open house by Latinos in New Orleans. Most Muslims are more familiar with our contributions rather than with LADO itself. Some Latino Muslims are not aware of LADO. Some Latino Muslims have minimal contact with LADO whereas others are very active within the organization. Members correspond mostly through e-mail.
Although it would be great if we could have traditional chapters, our organizational structure works best for us today. Our current organizational structure takes into account that the Latino Muslim community is still very young and is constantly changing. Because LADO needs to be flexible, I am also reluctant to create new leadership positions. I plan to eliminate any titles within LADO with the exception of members and representatives. Our new organizational structure will be better for the Muslim community. In the future if Latino Muslims want traditional chapters, we will need to build LADO into a strong centralized organization.
I am concerned about how such changes would affect our organization’s culture. LADO’s culture is an important asset because it emphasizes basic Islamic principles such as respect for one another. In our effort to strengthen existing Muslim organizations, we have developed friends within all the major Muslim organizations in the United States. We have very close friendships with members in other Latino Muslim organizations. I have been asked to start a LADO chapter in a city where there already was a Latino Muslim organization. I was not only concerned about hurting my existing friendships. Although we could develop chapters in only certain cities, I did not want Latino Muslim organizations to become suspicious of our intentions. I also do not want LADO to compete with local Muslim organizations for limited resources. And, of course, people are the most valuable resource. We are well known for our cooperation with other Muslim organizations.
– Who is the leader of LADO? What is your role within the organization?
Because LADO is highly decentralized, LADO does not really need a leader. A single leader does not guide LADO, and LADO is not dependent upon a single leader. Instead, responsibilities are distributed among a number of people. In a 2005 interview, Samantha Sanchez stated that I was the head of LADO. Sister Samantha had been the leader since LADO’s founding. Samantha was instrumental in the founding of LADO. For example, the LADO website is still largely based on the framework she envisioned. She is also responsible for much of the information available about Latino Muslims today from her master’s thesis. LADO founders, especially Samantha, are not given much credit for their contribution toward understanding Islam among Latinos.
I became a bit confused while reading the article because I had never considered myself as the new leader. Also, I was not sure if I even wanted to be leader. Samantha Sanchez has been very busy since getting married and having children. Because of her busy life, I have been acting as the leader. As the most visible LADO member, I have been often recognized as the leader. I spent much of last year discussing with various Latino Muslim leaders about what I should do. Islamically, a leader is needed even when three Muslims go on a journey, so how much more important is a leader needed when running a Muslim organization? I have decided that beginning next year I will officially be the executive director of LADO. As executive director, I will accept full responsibility for LADO.
– Who thought of the LADO name and motto? Why were the motto and mission statement of LADO changed?
You can learn more about the founding of LADO by reading brother Juan Alvarado’s article entitled “The LADO Genesis.” Sister Samantha Sanchez came up with the LADO motto, but sister Saraji Umm Zaid came up with the LADO name. The original motto of LADO was simply “¡A su LADO!” In 2001, I extended the motto to “¡Puro Latino! ¡Puro Islam! ¡A su LADO!” I wanted to emphasize that a Latino can be a Muslim without sacrificing his or her identity as either Latino or Muslim. By 2004, I finalized LADO’s mission statement to be “to promote Islam among the Latino community within the United States by becoming better-educated Muslims and by working with like-minded Muslims.” As LADO continued to grow, I found it more important to emphasize the importance of education and cooperation as preconditions to our dawah efforts. Muslims can accomplish little through ignorance and isolation.
In addition to the mission statement, the LADO mission consists of means for accomplishing our mission and consists of our mission’s guiding principles. The means for accomplishing our mission provides general ideas for promoting Islam to Latinos. The means listed may also be thought of as goals. By understanding that Latino Muslims may live distances apart, LADO provides ideas for ways that Latino Muslims can contribute on various levels. If someone wants to contribute by writing articles, for example, they can put their skills to work. The most important thing is that people are contributing on some level. Our mission’s guiding principles were designed to emphasize our Islamic identity, which guides all that we do. Brother Walter Gomez of northern California is largely responsible for the wording of our guiding principles. Our guiding principles explain our identity as Muslims by stating fundamental Islamic religious beliefs, values, and practices. This statement on Islamic belief is essentially the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Articles of Islamic Faith. Our guiding principles also briefly discuss the ideal Muslim character, brotherhood and sisterhood in Islam, and the need to avoid extremism in Islamic belief.
– Why does LADO sometimes go by the name “The LADO Group” or by “El Grupo LADO”?
Before a presentation, I was introduced to the audience as a leader of the LADO Group. Because my speech was being translated into Spanish, I loved hearing “El Grupo LADO” as it was used in the introduction. Brother Carlos Puerto from Dallas did not realize that he helped select the Spanish version of the LADO name. I have asked some Latino Muslims for the best translation for “The Latino American Dawah Organization.” Although some of the translations were quite beautiful, I decided to maintain the simplicity and consistency that the LADO name provides. I did not want to create any confusion by introducing a Spanish name for our organization that did not include the word LADO. Our organization’s name is recognized when the word LADO is mentioned in English or Spanish within the context of Islam and Muslims. Many people do not know what LADO stands for or even if it stands for anything at all. I once met a Muslim at a convention who did not know anything about the “Latino American Dawah Organization”, but who had been a member of the LADO Yahoogroup for years.
– What can you tell me about the LADO logo?
The LADO logo consists of a star and crescent with our organization’s name and motto. In 2001, I designed the LADO logo with Adobe Photoshop. Simplicity was my aim for the design of the LADO logo. One unnoticed fact about the logo is that the LADO motto is missing an inverted exclamation point. The original Adobe Photoshop file has been corrupted, so I have been unable to make the needed update. I currently do not plan to edit the LADO logo due to its irrelevance within the organization. The LADO logo does not play a central role in our organization’s identity due to the disagreement among Muslims about the use of the star and crescent as a symbol for Islam. I have considered introducing a new LADO logo, but for now, I would rather not emphasize any particular logo or image.
-Who put together the new version of the LADO website? How’s the Spanish version of the LADO website coming along? What are the differences between the previous LADO website, the new LADO website, and the Spanish version of it?
The LADO website has a new look. We are also getting closer to releasing the Spanish version of the LADO website to better assist Spanish-speakers. Brother Ralph Miranda of New York City is responsible for designing the new look of the LADO website. He also designed the look for the Spanish version of the LADO website. Afterward, brother Raheel Rojas of Canada coded the templates for the English and Spanish versions of the LADO website from Ralph Miranda’s designs. I transferred all the content to the new templates. The organization and content of both websites is essentially the same as that of the previous LADO website. The English version of the LADO website will be in English and Spanish, but the Spanish version of the LADO website will for the most part be in Spanish. Sister Rocio Martinez of Lubbock and brother Juan Alvarado of Pennsylvania have been assisting me with the translation of the LADO website. I must thank everyone who has assisted with the LADO websites, especially sister Rocio Martinez. The LADO website usually receives almost 90,000 hits per month.
The LADO photo gallery is the most obvious difference between the previous and the updated LADO websites. The LADO photo gallery is best known for containing many wonderful images of Latino Muslims from around the United States. Because LADO does not own the copyrights to some images found on the LADO photo gallery, I do request to be asked whether or not LADO owns the copyrights to any particular image. Images that LADO has produced have been released to the general public under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). Therefore, people who are familiar with those images produced by LADO never ask for permission to copy and distribute images found on the LADO photo gallery. They always have permission!
– What is the LADO newsletter? Who is its editor?
The LADO newsletter is available online for free, which means that anyone can access articles by Latino Muslims throughout the year at their own convenience and at no charge to them. The LADO newsletter has been an important voice for the Latino Muslim community. The LADO newsletter is another great idea attributable to Samantha Sanchez. I am currently the editor of LADO’s newsletter. I try to make articles found in the LADO newsletter easy to read and understand because I understand that people have varying levels of education. Collecting and editing articles may be the least enjoyable and most time-consuming of all my LADO responsibilities. Although I grant permission to reprint articles, I request permission to reprint articles because some people have specifically requested that their work not appear anywhere other than on the LADO newsletter.
The name of the LADO newsletter is “The Latino Muslim Voice.” The name for the LADO newsletter was selected by vote from a list of twenty-four titles that Samantha and I put together. Some of the titles were simply jokes:
The Latino Muslim Voice
The Latino Moon Pie
The Latino Muslim Canvas
The Creative Latino Muslim Canvas
The Latino Muslim MorningStar
The Latino Muslim Gazette
The Latino Muslim World
The Latino Muslim Post
The Latino Muslim View
The Latino Explorer
The Latino Muslim Sun
Latino Muslim Journal
Latino Muslim Advocate
Latino Muslim Syndicate
Latino Muslim Dimensions
The Latino Muslim LowDown
Islamic Psychiatric Times
The Islamic Stimulation
The Latino Muslim Beatnick
La Prensa Islamica
Latino Muslim Times
The Right KufeFit
– How does the growing numbers of Latinos affect LADO? How do you manage to keep Latino Muslims working together without all the conflict?
The growth of the Latino Muslim community has been a blessing for all of the Muslim community. There is definitely power in numbers. Latino Muslims can accomplish much more than they were able to do in the past. We also have more choices now. We no longer have to settle for less on everything. We can seek and expect greater levels of quality. Latino Muslim organizations must meet basic levels of quality. We are not a movement based solely on quantity. The quality of our work is a reflection of the growth of the Latino Muslim community. On the other hand, because there are more Latino Muslims, it is easy to become complacent by resting on your previous accomplishments or to assume plenty of others are available to ensure all the work gets completed.
The growth of the Latino Muslim community has been a great thing for LADO, and it is also been a challenge. Among the challenges is that we face greater pressure from greater numbers of Muslims to go in various directions. Although LADO is pulled in many directions, LADO benefits from receiving feedback from those pulling in many directions. We just want to do some good, and at every corner, we stumble onto meaningless politics. There is no shortage of conflict. Although some conflict is necessary, conflict is unnecessary when it destroys an organization’s ability to accomplish its mission. Fortunately, LADO’s mission has established an organizational culture that assists in maintaining some unity and consistency throughout the organization.
I constantly remind people about the motto and mission of LADO. Our motto is “¡A su LADO!” that is, “At your side!” For me, our motto means being at the side of those who need you when they need you. All we do is satisfy needs. It is about helping other people everyday – hope. LADO avoids unneeded conflict by emphasizing the importance of Latino dawah by all Muslims rather than by focusing on LADO members. Regardless of the conflict, we all agree on the dawah. We are not looking to work with everyone who calls himself or herself a Muslim. The means for accomplishing our mission help keep LADO focused on meaningful activities that assist toward achieving its mission. For example, we cannot and we should not provide feedback about every conceivable topic.
We prioritize all input received by its relevance to the LADO mission. A Muslim organization can sail smoothly through all the rough waves as long as it has an internal Islamic compass guiding its direction. Our guiding principles provide a way for understanding and creating boundaries because staying within boundaries decreases unnecessary conflict. By understanding the boundaries, we can move forward toward accomplishing our mission. The great thing about LADO is that it is very flexible. The growth of Latino Muslims does not affect us in negative ways. Our organizational structure works well in this growing environment.
– What do you do when many Muslims want to do the same thing in different ways? What about the differences in the various schools of thought?
If someone is drowning, you do not ask questions about the drowning person. However, there is still an Islamic way for doing things. When I am unsure about the method, I consult with religious leaders and other Muslims who can give me important feedback. I am always looking for feedback, and I try to listen more than I talk. I am known for trying to reach out to different types of Muslims. Every Muslim talks about unity but when it comes down to it, there are always some people that everyone does not want anything to do with. I do not try to find ways to prevent arguments about aqida, fiqh, etc.
Scholars have been debating Islamic topics for centuries, so I do not have a problem when ordinary Muslims debate. I am a Sunni Muslim. I do not have the time, and I do not want to make the effort to argue with all Muslims who disagree with me. Stress is not limited only to differences in methodology, but also to differences in ethnicity, race, class, and gender. Tomorrow, we will forget about the minor conflicts of today, and we will still be one family. You can get a people under one name or under one roof, but it is all to no avail if there is no unity of heart and mind. Unity is a matter of the heart. Belief is a matter of the heart. Know that this type of unity is real unity, and know that it surpasses matters of this world. Muslims seek the unity of the heart and mind.
– What is the LADO Statement on Extremism?
After the 2005 London tragedy, a LADO member suggested that a clear message be posted on the LADO website stating that we do not support terrorist actions. After various debate and input from members, I finalized the LADO Statement on Extremism to address the questions, concerns, and suggestions offered by various Muslims. Our Statement on Extremism states, “Because Islam is the religion of moderation, we stand firm against all causes of extremism, including arrogance, ignorance, and impatience, as well as its consequences, which includes all forms of injustice, oppression, and terrorism, whether committed by an individual, group, organization, or country, regardless of religious, racial, or ethnic affiliation.” By defining extremism from an Islamic point of view, the LADO Statement on Extremism is neither apologetic nor offensive because it emphasizes the importance of moderation for all types of individuals and groups. Furthermore, the statement acknowledges the causes and consequences of extremism. May we all bring an end to the various consequences of extremism by addressing its root causes.
– Who are significant LADO religious leaders?
LADO seeks to reserve religious titles for Muslims who have received formal training even though to become an imam does not necessarily require formal training. We are highly skeptical of self-appointed clerics. Therefore, we refuse to give ourselves titles generally reserved for Muslim religious leaders, such as imam and sheik. We would love to see more Spanish-speaking imams but not at the expense of traditional Islamic values. Great religious leaders can come from any race or nationality. We acknowledge the legitimacy of imams who are immigrants and/or imams who have studied overseas. American imams are our imams because we are American, too. We look to the knowledge and teachings of religious leaders rather than at their national identity or other considerations. We Latinos want to be judged fairly, so we should do the same with others.
– Are members of LADO part of regular mosques? How is LADO with regard to mosques? Where is the LADO mosque or temple located?
LADO members should participate in regular mosques. We seek the education and integration of new Muslims into the general Muslim community rather than the development of something entirely separate from it. We do not have a separate LADO mosque nor do we seek to have one. When working with organizations and institutions, we understand that things must be done in a respectful manner. We do our best to acknowledge existing rules and procedures whether written or unwritten. We understand the importance of respecting chains of command within organizations. We seek permission to have meetings or events at a mosque by notifying local leaders, even when not necessary to ask anyone.
LADO is an Orthodox Sunni organization. We have accurately been described as a paramosque organization because we offer services traditionally associated with mosques, but we prefer to refer people to local, established Islamic institutions. Paramosque organizations allow Muslims to cooperate on various important issues that some mosques are unable or unwilling to accomplish. Although I do not care much for the label, we have also been described as a think tank. We are a think tank in the sense that we conduct research about Latino Muslims, and we provide information and advice based on our research. Regardless, we believe that the traditional role of the mosque in Islamic society should be maintained and reinforced. We actively try to build connections with local mosques. LADO members are encouraged to join and assist other groups. Although independent from other Muslim organizations, LADO works extensively with almost all groups of Muslims. Our members can be found in almost all Muslim organizations in the United States. Consequently, LADO is often mistaken to be an umbrella organization for other Muslim organizations. Each compliments the other.
– What has been the general response of the Muslim community towards Latino Muslim organizations? What has been the general response to LADO by the Muslim and Latino communities? What kind of criticism does LADO receive?
As true with most Latino Muslim organizations, the general response to LADO by Muslims including those who are Latino has been a very positive one. The general Muslim community has a strong desire to hear the voice of the Latino Muslim community. It is a voice that grows louder every year. The general response by Latino non-Muslims to LADO has not been as positive. Most criticism we receive relates to issues that LADO cannot really change. Some Muslims, for example, are against the existence of all Muslim organizations. Some Muslims are against the existence of Latino organizations because they believe they are all nationalist. I address these types of issues in my 2004 article entitled “The Importance of Latino Muslim Organizations.”
Non-Muslims generally oppose LADO for obvious reasons. Many non-Muslims view dawah organizations as a threat to their own religion and their religious institutions. However, many Latino non-Muslims are looking for answers about God and appreciate LADO as a resource. We do our best to offer reliable information to all interested parties. I must admit that the initial response by many Muslims after learning about LADO has ranged from amazement to confusion. One Muslim I knew wondered, “I did not know anything about Latino Muslims until I met you, and now you want to start an organization for them?”
Those who are not against all Latino Muslim organizations generally have criticism for specific Latino Muslim organizations, such as LADO. Some Muslims do not understand the logic behind the things we do or the way that they are done. For example, LADO receives criticism for its persistence on solely existing for the propagation of Islam. LADO, as an organization, stays out of politics. Some Muslims and non-Muslims wish that LADO would state its stance on a variety of political issues. However, members occasionally state their own opinions on political matters. Generally, LADO, as an organization, does not do any community-focused aspects. LADO does not directly offer financial or social services. Instead, we refer others to a number of available resources. LADO believes that the basic needs of people should be fulfilled without any strings attached. LADO members are encouraged to participate in volunteer activities as individuals or with other groups.
LADO also receives criticism for its open and laid-back culture. LADO’s organizational culture fosters an atmosphere of cooperation, unity, and patience. Whereas some people wish LADO would make more or better use of its influence, some people are uncomfortable with LADO’s influence. It is important to communicate your goals because people are more likely to understand and respect your goals even if they may disagree with them. Latino Muslim organizations have done well in that regard. Criticism is good because it generally shows that people care about us. We view most criticism as feedback, and we are always open to receiving feedback and recommendations. With greater resources, we could be even more effective and efficient in delivering free services to more people.
– What is HispanicMuslims.com? What is LADO’s relationship to HispanicMuslims.com?
I established HispanicMuslims.com in 2001, a few months after embracing Islam. The mission of HispanicMuslims.com is “to show the diversity of the Muslim community by educating Muslims and non-Muslims about Hispanic and Latino Muslims.” Almost everything about LADO is more complex and comprehensive than HispanicMuslims.com. HispanicMuslims.com simply focuses on educating people about Hispanic and Latino Muslims. HispanicMuslims.com continues to be officially separate and independent from LADO. I have more control over HispanicMuslims.com than over LADO due to the simplistic nature of HispanicMuslims.com.
– Is not it a conflict of interest to be involved with both LADO and HispanicMuslims.com?
I do not see a conflict of interest when a Latino Muslim assists in multiple Muslim organizations. It boils down to the relationship that LADO sees itself as having with other organizations. The ideas and beliefs about our role are very simple. One of LADO’s guiding principles states, “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. Whoever fulfills the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs. None will have faith until he wishes for his brother what he likes for himself.” We do seek to serve Allah (SWT) by fulfilling the needs of others. We do not seek consolidation or domination. We do not seek competition or opposition. We do not seek confusion.
I do not see any particular conflict of interest in maintaining both LADO and HispanicMuslims.com for the same reasons that I do not have a problem with assisting Muslims that are not affiliated with LADO. As true with the general Muslim community, Latino Muslims strengthen and compliment each other. There can be no success when one person or one organization is responsible for all the work. I want more Latino Muslim organizations to be established. Whether or not they are affiliated with LADO is not important to me. By assisting others, we strengthen ourselves. And, there is always plenty of work for every Muslim.
– What can you tell me about Alianza Islamica?
I am not surprised that many people would be interested in learning more about Alianza Islamica. Alianza Islamica was the first Latino Muslim organization in the United States. Alianza Islamica was a New York based organization with physical buildings. They had a mosque at various times in Manhattan, in Spanish Harlem, and in the Bronx. Alianza members were primarily located in New York. Because of various negative experiences with immigrant Muslims, Alianza Islamica decided to create something independent of immigrant Muslims. Some leaders of Alianza Islamica took on religious titles such as imam. Alianza Islamica is best known for its very successful social programs. They provided free information about GED preparation, HIV infection, etc.
– Is it accurate to say that before LADO, most Latinos converted to Islam because of Alianza?
Alianza Islamica was very active in dawah. They provided free literature about Islam and preached about Islam to anyone that would listen. It was not uncommon for them to knock on doors. Even so, it would be inaccurate to suggest that Alianza Islamica and even LADO are largely responsible for most conversions by Latinos to Islam. As I have stated before, most Latinos are introduced to Islam through people that they know friends, classmates, coworkers, etc. Furthermore, Latino Muslims from many states have been doing great work in their local communities for many years. Many local Latino Muslims are affiliated to some degree with LADO.
– What is the connection between LADO and Alianza Islamica? How do LADO and Alianza Islamica differ?
Answering such questions gives people more insight into LADO. You may want to compare what I have written about LADO and Alianza Islamica to better understand the similarities and differences between the two organizations. There is not much of a connection between LADO and Alianza Islamica. LADO was something that came about independent of other organizations. LADO was not founded because a group of Latino Muslims were angry with Alianza Islamica or any other organization. The structure of LADO was selected to provide members the freedom to do as much or as little as they wanted without dependence on a central figure or location. LADO has always sought to empower individual Muslims in their personal efforts.
Some Latinos have exaggerated the differences among the members of LADO and Alianza Islamica. It is true that many LADO members have disagreed with Alianza Islamica on various issues. However, some Latino Muslims were members of both organizations when Alianza Islamica still existed. LADO has been more influenced by the immigrant Muslim community than by the African-American Muslim community. I am not sure you can say that Alianza Islamica was influenced much by either community. Regardless, I try to look at each member of a group as a separate individual. It is generally not a good idea to make broad generalizations about any particular group.
– Why didn’t the LADO founders simply join other organizations such as Alianza Islamica? Does LADO fill a void that Alianza could not fill?
The founders of LADO initially came in contact with each other over the Internet. The founders of LADO were looking for something that they could do at home or online rather than traveling a lot. In this regard, you could say that LADO was founded to deal with issues of inaccessibility. Various LADO members have visited Alianza Islamica at their various locations. The Muslims who established LADO found it difficult to attend regular meetings, such as at an Alianza Islamica location, due to school and family responsibilities. Alianza Islamica’s locations were not open most of the time due to work, school, etc, and many Latino Muslims did not even live in New York. Staying in constant contact with Muslim organizations, such as Alianza Islamica, was difficult for the Latinos who would found LADO. For example, at the time, Alianza Islamica did not have e-mail, a newslist, or a website. The LADO founders were also enthusiastic about networking with Muslims from around the country. The emerging Internet allowed LADO to fill an important niche.
– What happened to Alianza Islamica? What happened to the members of Alianza Islamica?
A Muslim who once wrote a popular article about Alianza Islamica told me a couple of years ago that it no longer exists due mostly to constant infighting. I am not sure if that is entirely accurate. It could be that it still exists because some Latino Muslims may still consider themselves members and perhaps it has changed drastically, and maybe it will make a comeback. I am saddened that one of Alianza Islamica’s former locations is now a liquor store, because a regular place of prayer has become a place where liquor is sold regularly. Some non-Muslims have hypothesized that the members of Alianza Islamica have left Islam. However, most former members have joined other Muslim organizations and now attend various local mosques. Some LADO members are former members of Alianza.
– Was Alianza the inspiration for LADO?
Alianza Islamica has been an inspiration for many Latino Muslims and their organizations. Certainly, we have all learned that successful Latino Muslim organizations are possible. However, LADO has always been very different from other Muslim organizations. Personally, I have received words of inspiration and encouragement by some of the founding members of Alianza Islamica. I know it can be difficult to run an organization for a long time. I have learned that Muslim organizations with great contributions and great vision can disappear due to lack of support. You can learn about the efforts of various Latino Muslim organizations at the LADO website.
– What’s in the future for LADO? Do you have any new features or developments coming up? What’s in store for the next ten years?
The future of LADO depends on many factors. LADO definitely needs the assistance of more committed Muslims. The Muslim community needs Latinos doing this type of work on a fulltime basis. The Muslim community needs professional religious leaders more than we need professional dawah workers, because the needs of the Latino community extend beyond dawah. I measure the success of LADO by the level that it is needed. Success for me is to be less needed, and complete success is to no longer be needed. Success comes from empowering others. Success comes from respect and appreciation because you can easily return to square one. Greatness comes and goes, sometimes as fast as they came. Great ideas are powerful, but even brilliant ideas may be rejected as fast as they were envisioned. We plan, and Allah (SWT) plans. And, there is no success but that from Allah.
All that we do is provided free of charge through volunteers. LADO does not have any money, because it does not participate in fundraising activities. Why not? As a new Muslim, I was concerned about my own personal intentions. I wanted to contribute my skills and knowledge for Allah (SWT) and only for the sake of Allah (SWT). Also, I did not want to focus my time on raising money. Realistically, we have to start fundraising. It is becoming a matter of survival. As with all growing organizations, LADO is experiencing growing pains. As LADO has grown, we have sought to continue to do the best with our limited resources. In addition to streamlining many of our processes, we have added processes to ensure greater levels of accountability. As everything gets bigger, we need more funds to simply continue with what we do. As time has passed, even more people have come to depend on our services on a daily basis. Resolving more needs means acquiring more expenses and more assistance. If we can keep helping others, I will be one happy Muslim.
The situation of Latino Muslims ten years ago was much different than it is today. During its first ten years, LADO did something amazing. LADO has shown non-Muslims that Islam is a universal religion. LADO has shown all Muslims that Latino Muslims are an essential force within the Muslim community. As Latino Muslims, we want all non-Muslims to understand that Islam provides answers to basic questions about life. And, we have just begun. Dawah takes lots of patience. The wait will be well worth it when the impossible becomes the possible and even more so when the impossible becomes realized. And, even today, people overlook the beauty in the world of possibilities. That is where our future comes from. Alhamdulila. LADO was founded on patience and hope. Ideas that were conceived in 1997 are only now becoming feasible. LADO functioning on a regular basis was once viewed as impossible. We are always looking for new ideas and recommendations for new features and developments. LADO tries to do its best with what it has.
Latino Muslim organizations, including LADO, are part of a movement. They are not the movement. Organizations appear and disappear but a movement can live forever as long as it is in the hearts of committed people. As long as they exist, Latino Muslim organizations will continue to strive in this movement that exists to bring Islam to all non-Muslims. In reality, the movement is much more encompassing than dawah. Indeed, the movement is not limited to any particular people, place, or time. After all, Islam is the true, universal religion. The movement will continue to move forward regardless of the challenges by unifying the Muslim community toward its common goals and values. We must continue to emphasize truth and patience because ignorance and impatience have often led to the sabotage of a movement. Muslims are not motivated by anything this world has to offer. Muslims desire the pleasure of only Allah (SWT) and seek only His guidance.