Dialogue With a Latino Muslim Prisoner
By Juan Galvan
–Juan: I am from time to time asked about Latino Muslim prisoners. Unfortunately, not much information is available about Latino Muslim prisoners. I have exchanged letters with various Latino Muslim prisoners. I want to share with you letters by a Latino Muslim prisoner from New Mexico. After finding my address in a Muslim magazine, Joe Segura sent me the following letter.
September 20, 2002
Peace be upon you,
My name is Joe Segura. I am a Mexican-Muslim from New Mexico. I am doing time in prison for things I’ve done wrong in my past. Thanks to Allah. He is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful. I am writing because I was reading an Islamic magazine about Latino Muslims. I never knew there were so many in the USA anyway. I am writing to you to ask for some information about prayer, salat. I know that I need to pray five times a day, but I don’t know how to pray. I know how to start it off. But what do I say when or after I bow? Or what do I say when I stand? Can you send me some help on this matter? Don’t send me books please. Just send me copies if you can. We can’t have books, but we can have photocopies. Please let me know if you all can help me. Thank you for your time on this matter.
A brother in Islam,
–Juan: In my response to his letter, I told him about myself, and I encouraged him to have patience. I included various brochures along with a Spanish version of how to perform Salat. The following is his reply.
October 6, 2002
Assalamu alaykum Brother Juan,
Please forgive me for not writing sooner, but my only brother passed away last week. It was kind of hard for me, but I just give him to Allah. The thing that hurts the most is that he didn’t know Allah as I did. But I know Allah knows his heart.
I thank you for sending me the prayer in Spanish, but I was going to ask you if you could send me the same directions in English, because I can’t read Spanish that well. I speak it very well but not to worry the other prayer you sent me in Spanish I gave them to my homie Montoya. He’s another Mexican-Muslim. I just gave him his first Quran last week. But he reads and speaks Spanish very well. The stuff you sent me helps us out a lot because over here it’s hard to get good reading material. Some brothers here think that Chicanos shouldn’t be Muslim. But we know that Allah will open their eyes to the truth. I also got the other material you sent. I will put it to good use. I was going to ask you, when does Ramadan start? Is it for 30 days? Please let me know. Also, I was wondering if you could send me the address of a store so I can send for a prayer cap. I thank you my brother for going out of your way to help out a new Muslim brother. May Allah bless you in many ways. Till pen and paper meet again.
Always you brother in Islam,
–Juan: I sent his mailing address to a couple of Muslim companies that offer free catalogues of their products. In my reply to this email, I answered his questions about Ramadan. I also sent him English instructions for performing Salat. I requested that he send me his conversion story. The following is what he sent me.
Why I became a Muslim
By Joe Segura
My conversion to Islam started when I was very young. My grandma was a “stone cold” Catholic. She always made us go to church with her. Being young and dumb, I would ask her why I needed to pray to all the saints. Can’t I just ask God for what I need? She would always get mad at me. She would always reply the same. It’s like when you go to your mom and ask her for something or ask her to ask your dad for something for you. I didn’t tell her but to me it was dumb to even put Allah in the same matter as a dad or mom. It’s like going to someone on the street and asking that person if he could pray to God for me. That would be dumb. I could just pray to God myself.
After my grandma passed away, my mother started taking me to a different Christian church. All this time, I was lost trying to find the truth. I started Bible school but I still had so many questions. I would ask my pastor about the Bible. If Jesus was God, why would he say when he was on the cross, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” If he was God, he would have said, “Why do I forsake myself?” That doesn’t sound right. Then I asked him about when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus said, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will. But thine be done.” It was hard for me to understand. Why was he praying to himself? There are so many other parts of the Bible that I didn’t understand.
If it were God’s word, he would help us understand it. Que no? The only thing the pastor said was that we can’t understand some of God’s word. But I’m sure if it is God’s word, He wants us to read and understand it. Que no? Then a homie gave me a Holy Qur’an. I wasn’t Muslim yet. I read the Qur’an from cover to cover. And to this date, I fully understand it. I don’t have one doubt about the Qur’an. I fell in love with Islam.
Islam just makes more sense. There is only one God. We all pray to Allah at the same time, five times a day. At Friday prayer, Jumah, we all come together to pray at the masjid. For an entire month, we fast together during Ramadan. The Quran’s words are still the same since Allah (swt) gave us His word. The words that best explain why I became a Muslim is found in the Forty Haddiths. Haddith 11 states, “Leave that which makes you doubt for that which does not make you doubt.” With Islam, I found no doubts.
–Juan: In my reply to his letter, I thanked him a lot for sending me his conversion story. I told him that many Latinos would be as fascinated by his story as I was. I told him that I enjoyed the opportunity to exchange letters with him. I also sent him more brochures.
March 6, 2003
Assalamu Alaikum Brother Juan,
I’ve been doing well. We lost our Islamic teacher over here. He was very old. I pray that Allah will send us someone new. I think we should be getting a new teacher soon. And, Juan, all the stuff that you do send me, I do reread over and over again. Like when I read the Quran, I’ll read a surah a day. Then when I’m done, I’ll think about what I’ve read. Then, I’ll reread to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and please keep on sending any study material you can. I will use it and pass it on. Well, my brother, I should go for now. Hope to hear from you soon. InshAllah.
Your brother in Islam,
PS. Salaam to all the brothers.
–Juan: In my response, I told him that I was proud of his commitment to studying Islam. I told him that building a foundation of knowledge would help him after his release. The following letter is his response.
December 14, 2003
Assalaam alaykum bro,
It’s been a very long time I sent you a letter. I’m at different prison now. I guess it’s a better place. More freedom. At the last prison I was at, we were locked up 23 hours a day.
We are out all day over here. I’m getting ready to get out. This is going to be my last year in prison. I should get out by the end of 2004. Thanks be to Allah after 14 years it’s going to be good. If Allah wills it, I hope one day to meet you. I always go back to read that Islamic Horizons magazine about Latino Muslims. I sure do want to get hooked up with a place with a lot of Latino Muslims.
I try to tell other Latinos about Islam. Some stop and hear me out. That there is only one God and so on. That stuff you sent me now is going to be a lot of help. Thanks, I make a lot of copies and pass them out to the homies. But I also know that I got a long way to go. I still want to learn a lot more about Islam. I always pray for our brothers and sisters in the war. I wish that Allah would put a stop to all the madness. But I’m sure there is a reason for everything. Que no? Well, my brother, it’s time to go till next time. May the peace of Allah always be upon you.
Your brother in Islam,
–Juan: In my response, I told him that I was proud for his commitment to letting others know about Islam. We continued to exchange letters until his release in 2004. And, may Allah SWT continue to touch the hearts of all people wherever they may be.