Historical Trip to Puerto Rico Unites Islanders to the Mainland
By Imam Yusef Maisonet and Sr Khadijah Rivera
June 4, 2009
A man may plan but ALLAH is still the best of planners. Everything comes at the time that it was meant to be. For over 25 years I had dreamed of returning to Puerto Rico. But my work as a Merchant seaman took me to ports in Central and South America with work turned into Dawah. All that time Puerto Rico was in the back of my mind.
Last year I prepared to take that ground breaking trip to Puerto Rico which was brought about by a New York Puerto Rican who felt that there was a lacking on the island of dawah among her people and a lack of Islamic education to the native Latino Muslims of the island. Although, I yearned to feel the rich Boriquen soil beneath my feet we felt some slight hostility there and some obstacles here on the Mainland. It was as if the native Puerto Ricans and the immigrant Muslims on the island could not figure me out. They thought I was out for some selfish reason. Little did they know this old man who had no illustrious reasoning behind going to Puerto Rico except to understand why the spread of Islam was not flourishing considering the rate of reverts here in the USA. But in December of ’08, a trip came about to accompany some Latina Sisters to the UAE for American Leadership Program. And there under the Abu Dhabi dessert and under impossible odds three Latinos discussed our dreams for Puerto Rico. Face to face with Sr Shinoa who had written the initial letter and Sr Khadijah who had broadcast it nationally. We discussed the need and how we could make this trip benefit ALL Latinos.
On the 20th of March my dreams came to a reality as I took off to what we call the Island of Enchantment (Isla Del Encanto) Puerto Rico. Did you know that there are more Puerto Ricans living outside Puerto Rico than there are on the Island? For starters, it was a well thought of and considered trip that I discussed and planned with the Latino Muslim Community of the mainland. We agreed that it was time for a Representative of the Latino Community to go on a fact-finding Mission and see how we could bridge the gap between Puerto Rico and the Muslims in the U.S.A. The trip was planned with input from PIEDAD of Florida/Metro NJ, ALMA from Atlanta, LALMA from Los Angeles, the Latino Muslim Community of Chicago and Mobile, AL they fundraised to make this historical trip a reality.
I flew out off Mobile, AL and was later met by a dear friend: Diaab Ali from Shorter, AL who found out about my trip on a visit to Mobile and wanted to share this experience with me. We were met by brother Yasser Reyes and Hajji Wilfredo Amr Ruiz a Lawyer and a Chaplain in the Prison system in Puerto Rico, we had made Hajj together in 2007 but we never saw each other until that day in Puerto Rico. Subhannallah what a plan!
After our salat together we made proceeded to meet with the Muslim youth and the Muslims I had been talking electronically via phone and mail with, to address their concerns.
Palestinian refugees resettled in Puerto Rico and raised families. As their families grew they built Masjids and opened weekend schools for their children. Khutbahs are in Arabic but with little or no translation. Thus leaving an entire Muslim population in the dark in their own land.
Almost immediately we had our first meeting was with the youth in San Juan at the Islamic Center of Puerto Rico. They received me with warm and open arms they described their concerns which were:
1. Khutbas in Arabic only- The Latino Muslims would attend Khutbahs they could not decipher. With so many beautiful masjids throughout the island there were a seeming emptiness that accompanied them. Attending Salatul Jumaah without translation when it is a known fact that the khutbah must be in the language of the people. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States although most Boricuas as they are called speak English. Few speak Arabic.
2. No Puerto Rican imam is available on the entire island.
3. Urgent need for Islamic Literature mostly Qur’ans and Prayer Books.
4. Daiis and Daiyettes-Need for brothers and sisters willing to give Dawah in Puerto Rico, and wanting to have some kind of bridge between, the Indigenous Puerto Rican Muslims and Latinos in mainland USA.
Diaab Ali and myself we were invited to eat some of those delicious dishes that the island is so famous for. Salat followed and our next appointment for a Masjid in Vega Alta. Here a Palestinian, Imam Zaid offered Khutbahs in Arabic and Spanish and had just begun classes for the youth on Sundays.
After getting much needed rest that evening, we started our day with Fajr in Hatillo and we went to a Puerto Rican Restaurant, Later we went to the next town which is called Camuy to visit my friend Yasser Reyes and Wife Fatima who dared to cook an island delicacy of Fish soup followed by Halal Chicken with Spanish rice (Sabroso). As a Self proclaimed connaiseur of fine Latin dishes it was hard for me to keep all those dishes out of print to make room for our Islamic purpose.
Accompanied by Hajji Wilfredo Amr Ruiz and Sister Migdalia Rivera of Ponce, (Puerto Rico) we headed towards Vega Alta to Masjid Al Faruq to meet with the Imam Zaid. All of us were pleasantly surprised by his dedication and spirituality. While there we met with the sisters and the youth during some classes that were at the mosque and since our visit they have started Arabic classes for the Latinos on Sundays. He is a dedicated Imam and a beautiful human being, may Allah give him Jannah for all of his work. While in Puerto Rico I established him to be the only Imam that I found whole-heartedly caring for the Latino Muslims.
After Camuy we headed for Mayaguez to visit some inmates that br. Wilfredo and br. Yasser had made arrangements for me to visit while I was in Puerto Rico. We went to the youth section first and we were able to give Da’wah to 6 inmates. We also noticed that the both the male and female guards were just as interested to learn about Islam. They treated us with the utmost respect and led us to the bigger population of awaiting inmates. These men were so happy to have a Muslim visitor from the states and gave us their full attention for over an hour for a taleem in Spanish. With Allah’s plan, three wonderful brothers took Shahadah; we gave them El Sagrado Coran (Quran), prayer books and lots of other Islamic literature. I later visited several of the 12 mosques located throughout the island and found some to be abandoned. This wrenched my heart to see the possibilities vs. realities of the fall of the empire so to speak.
After a fruitful day we went to another town called Hormiguero to visit my brother and sister from my father’s side and my brother had called Hajji Wilfredo to find out what to cook and what not to cook for the Muslims. My brother Miguel and my sister Edna just couldn’t contain themselves, so while they cooked (Arroz con gandules with bisteak encebollado) rice with ganduls and steak with a lot of onions, brother Yasser and myself were able to make salat in total peace with plenty of love for Islam, after that my dear friend Yasser broke out with a little Dawah. It was received with warmth and believe me they loved it; the people in Puerto Rico are just waiting for someone to step forward to bring them some truth.
After spending a day like this is Puerto Rico my Brother and Sister just weren’t ready to let me go so I had to drive brother Yasser back to Camuy, so that night we drank Puerto Rican coffee which I know to be the best coffee in the world and we exchanged stories about our father. That night I rested peacefully under the palm trees and moonlight of the Caribbean wonderful as it was Mobile, Al is my home.
As I woke and made my Fajr and remembered that I make a commitment to an incarcerated brother back in the states in Jessup, Ga that I would visit his mother who lives in Carolina, Puerto Rico. I started to get dress again, by this time my sister in law was making that Puerto Rican coffee and I just had to drink two cups and tell my brother the news that I was not going to be able to spend the day with him Alhamduillah that he understood and I was able to get on my way to Carolina which is next to San Juan it took me 2 hours driving to get to San Juan to my Hotel to change clothes and also to phone Ms Norma Rivera to let her know that I would visit her about 2 o’clock, it took me longer than I thought to get to her house but I finally found the house and was able to give her a hug and a big kiss from her son whom she had not seen in 18 years! I told her that her son found Islam while incarcerated and had acquired a PhD while in prison and would inshallah regain his freedom by the end of the Year. With this I could finally say,â€ Mission accomplished â€œ on my trip to Puerto Rico.
At the airport I was shopping for some souvenirs, a young lady working there mistook me for a singer and was asking about my names origin, I took this as an opportunity for da’wah. She said she had always desired a Qur’an in Spanish. She also stated that she had never quite accepted the trinity and had secretly always believed in one G-d. It just so happened I had a Spanish / Arabic Qur’an in my briefcase and that was my final good deed in Puerto Rico.
Revisiting my homeland fortified my beliefs that Islam could change the face of our people. It could end racism, gangs and poverty. It could bring about positive changes in our attitude and way of conduct as a people. I love a little pic I found of this sister holding up some plaques and how Islam alters your personality in a positive way.
In order for Islam to flourish in Puerto Rico they need Spanish Language Islamic Literature on all levels. A library in Vega Alta would be a good start. Puerto Ricans need scholars to visit and teach Quran, Fiqh, Seerah, Aqeedah and Hadiths etc. They need the most sincere and bright minds to further their studies overseas and to prepare them to run the masjids and integrate the Muslims with the community at large. Whether we are speaking of interfaith work alongside Christians on service programs or Intrafaith among immigrants and natives. There is a lot of work to be done and it is ONLY the beginning. I would like to see the sisters participate and develop more Islamic weekend schools and possibly a Madrassa. To do this we need dedication and pure intentions to serve and seek ONLY the pleasure of ALLAH swt.
We need a united front with the Latino organizations in the mainland. I am speaking of the ones run by Latinos themselves. We need a concerted effort to make this happen now and by the end of the year to see definitive results. Anyone who wants to contribute books for the library or sponsor a scholar should contact me until we can get a working organization to bridge island to mainland Latinos.
On July 10-11, 2009 The international Museum of Islamic Culture in Jackson, Mississippi will be hosting a national conference workshop entitled â€œLatino Renaissanceâ€. Join me and other Latinos who are reviving and working on the framework of this Renaissance. Be part of the journey!
Start a Library to benefit the Latinos on the island. Send your new or gently used Islamic literature, prayer rugs and videos.
For more information or to contact me at:
Imam Yusef Maisonet
1319 Bay Ave
Mobile, Al 36605