Good Tidings to the Strangers
By Juan Galvan
In September 1999, a group of five Los Angeles Latino Muslims decided to form a study group to learn more about Islam in Spanish. They began meeting on Sundays at the Islamic Center of Southern California. The small group realized that many local Latinos were visiting the Islamic Center by either curiosity or to find information about Islam in Spanish. These visits by non-Muslim Latinos were occurring so frequently that they decided to structure an introduction to Islam program in the Spanish language.
Local reporters began to take notice of this growing Latino Muslim group. Because reporters would contact them frequently, they decided to take a name. The study group decided to call themselves the Los Angeles Latino Muslims Association (LALMA). LALMA has grown from five members to approximately forty members. Ten members recently embraced Islam. These new Muslims bring to the community a joy and new life that one can only experience when the Shahada is pronounced.
The Los Angeles Latino Muslims Association’s mission is to teach the fundamentals of Islam in the Spanish language. In addition to providing literature, LALMA promotes a better understanding about Islam among the Spanish-speaking non-Muslim population. At the same time, LALMA strives to provide spiritual support for new Muslims during the period of transition from Christianity to Islam by sharing a common language and culture. All new Muslims must deal with personal habits and family concerns. LALMA assigns members to give personal support to new Muslims. LALMA’s ultimately incorporates new Latino Muslims into the larger, multiethnic Islamic community in Southern California.
LALMA also gives presentations about Islam as part of its outreach activities. LALMA has been invited to give presentations about Islam at Catholic Churches. One presentation was given to twenty-six leaders of different Catholic Churches. Presentations are always appreciated. Most Latinos are generally surprised to learn about the presence of Islam in Spain and about Islam’s influence in Mexico and in the United States.
Every year approximately 100,000 Americans embrace Islam. American Islamic publishing companies can be commended for the healthy flow of Islamic literature in the English language. From its creation, LALMA experienced the need for more Spanish literature. LALMA would set sail on its greatest adventure, the creation of Luz del Islam Publishing. Luz del Islam Publishing will seek to fill the void experienced by Latino Dawah organizations around the country by providing low cost, high quality books to Latino Muslims.
The leader of this dynamic group is Marta Felicitas Galedary. Marta is an immigrant from Mexico. Marta was a Roman Catholic. One of her sisters is a nun. Marta is a registered nurse who often volunteers her time at a local hospital. She first heard about Islam in 1981 while taking an advanced English summer course in England. She met students from different parts of the world. Kitar, Ishmael, and Hassan were Muslim students from Brunei, but these students did not preach Islam. Their actions were much louder than words. Their message was about courtesy, about kindness, and about respect for women. Their friendship continued after that summer by mail. Marta would ask one of her friends how to communicate with their God, not realizing that Catholics worship the same God.
Two years later in 1983, Marta would take Shahada at the Islamic Center of Southern California. She would take Khadija as her Muslim name. After receiving the first revelation from the Qur’an, Muhammad hurried home shivering and trembling. His wife, Khadija, would comfort him by saying: “I pray that you will be the Prophet of this nation. You are kind to your kin, generous to the guest, helpful to the needy and truthful in your speech, so God will not let you down.” By following the Prophet’s lead, LALMA and Khadija Galedary are among the Latino Muslims who offer hope for Islam in America.