Hajj, Jan - Mar 2008

Imams Training in UAE Culminates with Hajj

By Imam Yusef Maisonet

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates Allah blessed thirteen Muslims from the United States and one from France to attend a historical pioneer Imams Training Program in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently, after being randomly selected.

All Praise is due to The Creator that I was among those selected to be a participant in this program.

The Imams Training Program was put together by a brother with vision, Bro. Khalid Ahmed, who spent the last two years back and forth between the U.S. and the UAE, getting the logistics worked out. Dhabi sponsored this program, including the Hajj.

This historical trip started with a visit to the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC, where we were treated to first class hotel accommodations and given a meeting at the UAE Embassy with their Ambassador, who treated us with a taste of the UAE via a beautiful and tasteful dinner.

After the UAE Embassy’s presentation and the question and answer session, we were ready to embark on this educational journey of a lifetime, which culminated with the true journey of every Muslim’s lifetime Hajj.

From Washington DC, we flew to Doha, UAE, and then to the Abu Dhabi airport, where we were greeted by the Director of the Program, Khalid Marzouqi, and by Dawud Yasin, one of the instructors.

The Arab hospitality was exceptional, only made grander as we did not have any problems with Customs. A special bus took us to Al Ain, where the school was located. We lived three to a Villa in state-of-the-art facilities with great technology and Western modernities.

At the Oasis Hospital, we were given health checkups for the purpose of issuing health insurance and for any medial attention required while we were there.

The first three days were “getting to know you” days and introduction to this beautiful country and its people. We were treated to a local tailor for UAE-style thobes and sandals; we were made to feel at home.

Program participants included:
Imam Khalid Shaheed, Resident Imam of the Dallas Masjid of Al-Islam
Hannibal Shabazz, Masjidullah, Philadelphia
Abdullah, Madyun, Chicago, Illinois
Adil Woods, Wilmington, Delaware
Curtis Sharif, Houston, Texas
Omar Huda, California
Ali Carl Kenemer, Dallas, Texas
Julio Colon, Austin, Texas
Yusuf Maisonet, Mobile, Alabama
Rafeel Aleandro Jara, Miami, Florida
Jesus Villarreal, San Antonio, Texas
Dr. Khalifah Ramadan, Buffalo, New York
Jeloni Musa Shabazz, New Haven, Connecticut
Bilaal Mbee, France

Before leaving for the UAE, we were warned by Bro. Khalid Ahmed to expect to gain a bit of weight because we would be “invited to many receptions and Arabs love to eat. It is nothing for them to slaughter several sheep for a reception in your honor.”

We were featured at a reception honoring Ms. Michelle Siston, US Ambassador to the UAE, at a richly appointed traditional Bedouin tent on the campus of the Zayed House of Islamic Culture. The Ambassador and other dignitaries toured the new, beautifully furnished villas that house the program participants.

We had an opportunity to meet the US Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to U.S. Congress, before we left for the UAE. We not only had brunch together but we got to ask him about his views on different subjects. And, it was a wonderful feeling knowing that he is an American you can be proud of.

The welcome at the UAE was given by Khalid M. Al Marzouqi, Director of the Zayed House of Islamic Culture, who said, “Most welcome. Your participation adds much to the sincerest of our delights.”

“We are pleased to welcome you to the Zayed House for Islamic Culture, where you can take pleasure in our fully furnished villas, equipped with all necessary facilities and amenities for your utmost comfort. We are looking forward to seeing our services meet your convenience.”

On November 3, 2007, the classes started first with tajweed classes and Qur’an memorization, held after each Fajr.

These classes were held at the Masjid across from our Villas and held for about an hour. We then would go back to our Villas to get ready for school after going for breakfast. Classes were held in a location about 15 minutes from the Villas.

Classes there covered Aqeedah, Fiqh and Basic Arabic. The courses consisted of a six-week program that focused on Moderation in Islam, Fiqh for Muslim Minorities, Islamic Family Law, and Principles of Islamic Banking and Finance. Our teachers were from all over the world (English speakers) South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt, Canada and the USA.

We were regularly treated to events and activities outside the classroom to familiarize us with the history, culture, traditions and lifestyle of the UAE Gulf region. We traveled all over Al Ain and have made trips to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and a traditional desert tribal village.

We participants organized into an ummah and elected Curtis Sharif to the position of Amir to facilitate efficient communication between the group and Zayed House administrators. The group would hold weekly meetings and make every important decision using Shura and Consensus. Following each meeting, the Amir would meet with Zayed House director to review progress, goals, and resolve any outstanding issues.

The Zayed House of Islamic Culture is located in Al Ain, which is one of the cleanest cities that I’ve seen in all of my travels throughout the world.

Al Ain is a fertile oasis city located approximately 160 kilometers east of the Abu Dhabi capital. Its name (“the spring” in Arabic) derives from its originally plentiful supply of fresh water, which makes its way underground and across most of the plain that lies before the Omani mountains.

There are numerous farms of all sizes around the city, which produce an astonishing amount of salad crops tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces and even strawberries. To describe all of the beautiful cities of Al Ain would require a book, of which I’m in the process of writing.

(Left to right) Rafael Alejandro Jara, Jesus Villareal, Dr. Julio Pena, Julio Colon, Yusef Maisonet

Our experiences have included tours of the Fort Museum, the Presidential Palace Museum, an oasis and date orchard, a livestock market, the traditional open souq market, a picnic at a mountain hot springs park, and prayers at Masahid all over the UAE, including the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Masjid in Abu Dhabi, which is under construction.

On one memorable outing, the group was treated to a one hour Safari over desert dunes in large four-wheel drive vehicles. One guest described the adventure as a “one hour roller coaster ride.”

In the open air with my fellow American brothers, I became the first Latino Muslim to give a Khutbah in the desert between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. It was a wonderful day with clear skies; clear minds did not have the disruptions of the cars and buses found in the big city life.

Before leaving the US, we were told by Bro. Khalid Ahmed that some aspects of the program would be as follows:
* You will visit a mortuary to see the proper way of preparing the deceased for Jannaza.
* You will separate and visit secondary and colleges to lecture students about Islam in America and your personal journey to Islam if you are a revert.
* You will spend the night or weekend in the desert with camels and Bedouin Arabs. They have an interesting life.
* Each of you will peer up with a UAE citizen. He will take you around, introduce you to his family and friends and just expose you to his world.
* For those interested, you are welcome to deliver the Jumah Kuttbah at an English Masjid.
* You will be visiting Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank and Dubai Islamic Bank to discuss and learn the principles of Islamic banking and finance.
* You will visit the Zakat Authority to discuss and learn about rules of Zakat and how to establish a wafq (endowment).
* You will be meeting with the rulers or deputy rulers of the various emirates (states) within the UAE.

In addition to being an academic religious studies program, this was also an Islamic cultural exchange program, so what did we, as Americans, exchange with them? We exchanged the love that we have for Islam from us, an American people, and the knowledge that we have received as students of Imam W. Deen Mohammed.

At least one-third of the group, including me of Latino heritage and a Muslim for 40 years, was from the community of Imam Mohammed. As students of Islam, we have learned that Muslims have to be about action. People get what they strive for, and if they don’t strive, they will receive nothing at all.

As such, we did not go there empty handed. And in my estimation, we did a fantastic job in representing the Muslim American Ummah.

Program participants received a certificate from the UAE Ministry of Awqaf & Islamic Affairs. The closing ceremony was held on December 14. I spoke on behalf of the group.

“O mankind!e have created you from a single (pair) Of Male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you . And Allah has full knowledge and is well- acquainted (with all things).” – Al -Hujurat 49:13.

First, we want to thank the Zayed House of Islamic Culture for their unprecedented hospitality and also to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi for his support of this historical program, the first of its kind and all the teachers that took a lot of patience and time in dealing with us.

And, we would like to thank the Director of the Program Khalid Marsuoki, our good friends Saeed, Hammod, Ahmed and Rasheed, and also Sheikh Habib for his input with the program, and a special thanks and salaam goes out to our American Brother Khalid Ahmed, who with his patience and knowledge was able to see this program finalize.

We want to point out the cultural exchange that took place between the UAE and the American students. We brought something through our diversity as students, in general. Students were from or descendents of people from Bangladesh, France, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile, and African American brothers from all over the United States participated.

We know that you were not expecting this diversity. But Alhamduillah, although we have our different cultures, we were able to get along by Allah’s mercy. And, I want to thank the students for allowing me to speak for all of us. We hope that this Imam Training Program will continue and that you will allow other students to partake of this rich and hospitable program.

We want to thank you from our hearts. May Allah (SWT) bless every single one of you. And, now we have to get ready to make this Hajj which will be a new experience for some of us and a blessing for those who are making this trip over again.

Again we thank you. As Salaamu Alaikum.

Based on the article with the same name that was originally published in “The Muslim Journal.” MuslimJournal.net. 22 Feb. 2008. Vol 33. No 21.