July - Sept 2007, Other

Interview with Shaykh Yahya Juan Suquillo

By Diana Mariam Santos Garcia

1. Will you tell us more about yourself?
I was born and raised in the capital city of Ecuador, Quito. I am the eldest of three children. Two boys and one girl. My father and mother used to display the same love and affection to the three of us. I was fortunate to be raised in a loving home environment. While growing up, I enjoyed playing car- racing tracks with my brother and hunting with my father. When it came to friends, I was selective from the beginning. I liked the best behaved.

2. Will you tell us a little about your education?
I received a military academy education from the age of 12. I held outstanding student awards as far as I can recall. I have a bachelor’s degree in Military Sciences and another in Management. I have a master’s degree in Islamic Sciences from the University of Madinah in Saudi Arabia. I am now an imam at an Islamic Center. I can speak in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

3. How did you get in contact with Islam for the first time?
I got in contact with Islam for the first time at the University of Michigan through a former classmate of mine from Arabia. I found Islam attractive, because it was natural, simple, devoted, and respectful. I’ve benefited from Islam, because I now know what is right and wrong from a reliable source. Everyone can benefit from Islam because it builds, polishes, and shapes moral and ethical standards. My father and mother supported my decision to embrace Islam through their love. Probably the most difficult thing about embracing Islam was finding a suitable wife. Alhamdulillah, I am happily married. I have six children. Two of my children are studying Islam overseas, one at Al-Azhar University in Egypt and another at the University of Madinah.

4. Do you find any similarities between the Latino and Muslim cultures?
There are many. Because Latin American nations are rooted in Spain, they have much to recognize as common ground in Islamic heritage. We are both family-oriented people. We both have much respect for elders. Our languages have common roots. Many Spanish words are derived from Arabic. Camisa (shirt) and gato (cat) are just two examples. People from Latino and Muslim cultures often look alike as well.

5. Based on your experiences, what are some problems facing the Latino Muslim community?
The problems within the Middle Eastern region affect the world image of all Muslims. Many nonMuslims avoid learning about Islam due to the many false stereotypes and media biases against Muslims and Islam. These stereotypes and prejudices make our work that much more difficult.

6. How would you respond to critics who suggest that Latino dawah is exclusive?
We really have to see the significance of dawah to Latinos. Nationalism is abhorrent in Islam. We are all brothers and sisters in Islam. But dawah to Latinos isn’t nationalism. For example, dawah in the Spanish language is important because it means potentially reaching one-fifth of the global population. We need to strongly ask ourselves why more Latinos aren’t embracing Islam, so that we can address their needs, fears, and concerns.

7. Do you have any interesting experiences, stories, or accomplishments you would like to share?
I am the first Ecuadorian that publicly embraced Islam. I am the first student from Ecuador who graduated from an Islamic university. I also helped found the first recognized Islamic center in Ecuador. Our Islamic center receives no financial support from any foreign country.

While going with my family for Hajj in 1999, the customs officer at Jeddah Airport could not find the name of our country, Ecuador, on his computer. “Of course,” I said to my wife and children. We were the first Ecuadorian family that ever made Hajj in Ecuadorian history!

I have helped translated over forty pieces of Islamic literature into Spanish including books, pamphlets, and audio. Some books I’ve translated include “Understanding Islam and Muslims”, “Muhammad in the Bible”, “Muslim Christian Dialogue”, “The Miracles of Quran”, and “Human Rights in Islam.”

8. What can you tell us about dawah in South America?
Most people are not aware that every capital city in each South American country has its own Islamic center. Representing thirty-five cultural centres and Islamic associations, the Heads of Islamic Associations and Cultural Centres in Latin America and the Caribbean Islands under the supervision of ISESCO have an annual meeting to address various concerns such as the image of Islam and Muslims in Latin American societies and media.

9. What are some of your goals? Hopes and fears?
Well, of course, I want to strength my relationship with Allah. I also want to have a decent standard of living. I also want a peaceful and loving environment. My hope is to see a peaceful world, and my fear is Allah’s punishments. In order to maintain worldwide peace, we all need to search for common ground. Islamic principles manifested in the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the Companions’ exemplary lives are essential for developing a peaceful and compassionate world.

10. Do you wish to share a specific message to Latino Muslims?
We have a prominent future waiting if we work hard for it. We need to educate ourselves and other Daiyas (propagators) in various areas, such as comparative religion and Islamic leadership. We need to find ways to support sending brothers and sisters overseas to get educated in Islamic universities. We can also encourage brothers and sisters to attend Islamic universities in their own home countries when possible. We need to advise Muslim world organizations about our culture and about the ways to approach others like us. Cooperation is important. For example, we could encourage Muslim camps and conferences to invite counterparts from all over the world and from all nationalities.

11. What about a message to Muslims, in general?
Within forty years of his life, our Prophet Moses (AS) eradicated the slave mentality from the Jews. Within twenty-three years of his life, our Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS) rid the Kaabah of idols. The short time periods just mentioned can be an inspiration for a new Islamic Renaissance to develop in today’s world. In this sense, contemporary Islamic thought must be the same as during the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS): dynamic and flexible depending on circumstances but firm, harmonious, and following the sources of legislation: the Glorious Qur´an and the Sunnah.

United in obedience to Allah SWT, we can stand. We are all brothers in humanity that need to strengthen peaceful dialogue to understand and to accept each other. The true guidance comes from Allah SWT to whom He wishes. My advice to everyone interested in dawah to Latinos is patience, patience, and patience.