Islam in Ecuador
By Yahya Juan Suquillo
Thirty to fifty centuries ago, the native Ecuadorian Indian cultures were known as: “Chordeleg, Machalilla and Chorrera.” They are believed to have been sun worshippers. Their Indian chief was believed to have been sent by their “Sun God.” They practiced religious ceremonies offering young virgin women for sacrifice as a sign of thankfulness for the goods harvested. These Indian tribes believed in physical resurrection after dead. Therefore, they would be buried with much food, drinks, spears, gold, etc. to prepare for a big journey they thought they were going to face after death.
Later on, the Inca Empire, which conquered the southern tribes of Ecuador, had almost the same practices and beliefs as other Indian tribes. When Spaniards came to conquer the new continent, the change to Catholicism was not that great. The Catholics only needed to switch the “Sun God” with the statue of the “Son of God,” half-naked on the cross. A change of an ‘idol for idol’ by replacing by replacing the ‘sun god’ for ‘son of god’, of course, is not any big change! The theology of God rendered by the Catholic conquerors showed the classic naive primitive mind as the people of “Dunia”, who believe only what is in front of their eyes.
The Inca king, named “Atahualpa,” was burned alive because he rejected Christianity. He threw the Bible to the ground when Spaniards tried to force him to believe that the Bible was the “word of God.” His act of defiance would lead to his execution as a blasphemer. Ever since then, the Roman Catholic Christian religion has been the predominant and official religion in the Ecuadorian land.
A little bit over a hundred years ago, Christian Protestants from the Evangelistic sect have been working in Ecuador. They are believed to be the second largest religious group after Catholics in Ecuador. Adventists, Mormons, Gnostics, Anglicans, Bahais and some other Protestant sects have all been working hard in the last two to three decades to bring people to their own religion. Various philosophies from India and from the Far East have been seeking followers since about twenty to thirty years ago. Jews had no visible head until 2001 when someone was appointed from the Argentinean Jewish community.
BRIEF HISTORY ABOUT MUSLIMS IN ECUADOR.
The first Muslims settlers were primarily Arabs from what is known to us now as Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Egypt. They emigrated to Ecuador for the same reasons they came to the rest of the Latin world, escaping from World War I and II. These Arab Muslims entered these lands under Turkish passports from the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, these first Arab Muslims were known as “Turks.” The settlements were basically in the capital city of Quito and in Guayaquil, the largest seaport by the Pacific Ocean. However, some Muslims went to the coastal side by the Manab, Los Ríos, and Esmeraldas provinces. Ecuador’s peaceful environment attracted them very much. The family-oriented society of Ecuador perhaps reminded them of home within an Arab society.
Most of these first Ecuadorian Muslims were traders. Ecuadorian economy at the beginning of the century was largely based on interchanging products. The first two to three decades were very rough for the settlers. They would walk long distances, follow the post service on the back of mules, and try to reach the nearest village to start up business. These first Muslims settlers in Latin America experienced different type of customs, fashion, and food. They would exchange “Tamar” (dates), “maiy zahar” (rose water), “falafel” (mashed fried peas), “basbusa and baklawa” (laborious sweets) for banana, panela (dark sugar cane), agua aromitica (herb water), and pinol (wheat flour).
MUSLIM IDENTITY AND FAMILY
Because most of these Muslims came to Ecuador seeking the “Dunia,” their religious background was very poor, the Muslim identity melted very easily within the strong predominant Roman Catholic religion. Few Muslims brought their own spouses from their motherlands. The majority got married in the new world with native women. Among Arab Muslim settlers were the Dassum family, Soloh family, Shayyeb family, A’riz family, Becdach family, Jairala family, and others.Unfortunately, some Muslim descendants took Christianity as their only option in religion. Few Muslim families would send their children to Muslim countries to get Arabic and Islamic education. Inshallah Allah will reward them for their effort.
GROUPING & ORGANIZING
By the late forties, Arab Christians and Muslims were grouping on the same ethnical background bases. “Lecla” was the name of their first organization. Nothing about religion was touched on. Another social organization came out by the mid 1980s. They were “The Arab Club.” By mid 1980s, migration trends were occurring in Ecuador. Around twenty men from Egypt were trying to reach United States ports at any price. Their dishonest travel agents were using Ecuador as a pass by point to reach the United States. Later on, almost all of them left Ecuador except a few, who decided to live in this country.
A minor Indian Pakistani migration took place by the beginning of the 1990s. Many of them have already reached their migratory goals in US or Canadian ports. In religious matters, they left almost no track to follow. By the late 1990s, Ecuador experienced Muslim migration, mainly from West African Countries, such as Liberia, Nigeria, and Ghana, whose internal disruptions led them to search a place to live.
LOCAL ECUADOREAN RE-CONVERTED PIONEERS
By the mid 1980s, a handful of local native Ecuadorian people embraced Islam overseas. They never heard the word ‘Islam’ in their own Ecuador. They were highly influenced by pious Muslims while studying at universities in Europe and United States. They came to appreciate Islam as a universal religion, a brotherhood, capable of bringing people from all spheres of life to harmoniously work together in bringing peace. Islam also provided logic that many Ecuadorians never found in Christian teachings. These new Muslims are highly enthusiastic propagators, but swing against current is not easy.
By the mid 1990s, more and more Ecuadorians began to embrace Islam. Today, every single Friday, at least one “Shahada” that takes place. Alhamdulilah! This trend was not easy due to criticism, and some times rejection, coming even from inside their own blood relatives. According to a rough estimate, our Muslim population in the whole country is around five hundred people.
CREATION OF MASJID
A handful of Muslims attempted to create the first masjid by renting an apartment to be used as a Mussala for Salat AlJumuah. Later on the Egyptian Embassy facilitated an apartment for the same purpose, but the Ecuadorian Muslims could not stay for long. Another attempt occurred on October 1988. An organization, Asociacion Cultural Khaled bin Al Walid, was founded with the purpose of establishing a masjid. In Qur’an 9:108, Allah states “Verily, a mosque whose foundation was laid from the first day on piety is more worthy that you stand therein (to pray).”
“Let there be among you a community who invite unto all that is good, enjoing what is right, and forbid what is wrong.” Qur’an 3:104.
THE CENTRO ISLAMICO DEL ECUADOR – MASJID ” ASSALAAM”
This is the first Muslim religious organization credited as such by the Ecuadorian Government. The Centro Islamico del Ecuador is a non-profit organization founded by the Grace and Mercy of ALLAH SWT on October 15, 1994. The religious activities, as well as social, cultural and educational are conducted according to Muslim Sunni traditions. This center is organized into various committees to meet the needs of Muslims and receives no financial support from any foreign country.
Native Ecuadorian Muslimahs are a little bit over half of the entire Muslim population. Their understanding of Islam is reflected in the Islamic dress code. Almost all of them wear hijab and long dresses on a daily basis. They constitute an example of a well-organized group with their own committee, which holds religious classes.
The Islamic Center also translates and publishes literature in Spanish on a variety of Islamic topics including ‘Introducing Islam to non-Muslims,’ ‘comparative religious studies,’ and about the Sunni Islamic creed. We have already translated five books into Spanish: 1) ‘What the Bible says about Muhammad?’ by Ahmad Deedat. 2) ‘Understanding Muslims and Islam.’ 3) ‘Tawheed’ by Ibrahim Hussein. 4) ‘Muslim Christian Dialogue’ by Dr. H.Baagil. 5) ‘The truth about Jesus’ by WAMY.
The Center has recently published and printed fifteen different topics in pamphlet forms. The Spanish pamplets are: 1) Islam at glance, 2) Mount Arafat Sermon, 3) Do you know that…(the Pope at the time of our Prophet Muhammad SAAWS, embraced Islam?) 4) General aspects about fasting in Ramadan 5) Misconceptions about Jihad. 6) Danger in dancing. 7) Is Jesus really God? 8) You should know about this great man (Prophet Muhammad SAAWS). 9) Who invented the trinity? 10) What is Islam? 11) Islamic Fundamentalism? 12) What Islam is not about. 13) Muhammad in the Bible.14) Fire in your stomachs (about alcohol). 15) According to the Bible, Jews have no right on Palestinian land.
Alhamdulilah the Center is able to hold: Friday Khutaba, marriages, taraweeh, salat ul Eidain, and salat ul Janaza.
The Islamic Center of Ecuador sends its religious representative annually to the Latin Muslims Leaders gathering that usually takes place in Argentina. After September 2001, the increase of presentations and contacts has increased a great deal. Dawah work is performed through presentations at auditoriums, universities, schools, radio, newspapers, magazines, and television. There is no reason for not working openly in Dawah, because the constitution stands for freedom of thought, as well as freedom of religion.
1) Last Ramadan, the Islamic Center completed a project of widening and enlarging the masjid.
2) A Muslim school and a cemetery are in urgent need by the community.
SHARING STRATEGIES IN DAWAH WORK.
The following are strategies you can encourage within the Islamic Centres in your own country.
– Preparing Spanish speaking Daiyas (propagators) in various areas, such as comparative religion and Islamic leadership.
– Sending brothers and sisters overseas to get educated in Islamic universities.
– Encouraging brothers and sisters to register in Islamic universities in your country.
– Advising Muslim world organizations about your culture and about the way to approach them.
– Muslim camps to invite counterparts from all over, including South America.
WE ASK ALLAH (SWT) TO FORGIVE ALL THE BELIEVERS AND TO BESTOW HIS PEACE AND PRAISE UPON OUR PROPHET MUHAMMAD.