Islam, Jan - Mar 2010

Khadijah Rivera (1950-2009)

Islamic Horizons March/April 2010

Heart of the Community

Discussing her conversion, Khadijah Rivera, a Puerto Rican ex- Roman Catholic, wrote: “Reverting to Islam would be complicated by my childhood training that Jesus Christ was my savior and salvation. To pray to anyone but him would be blasphemy. I therefore studied several religions when I left my church and its rigid teachings. But they were all Christian and not much different from the original one. Of course they all believed that the papal aristocracy was nonsense and I praised them for that. But they could not justify Jesus Christ in a sensible nor logical manner.”

On 22 Oct. 1983, this activist who had been going from marches to study groups of dialectical materialism, Maoism, and socialism- and even to China to see the system for herself-embraced Islam. She wrote: “I have become stronger and more resolved to not only raise a family of Muslims, but also to become a da’iee and spread the good word [of Islam] among Hispanics. After the tragedy of 9/11, many Muslims removed their veils for fear of assaults. I was destined to die as a Muslim if need be, for my only defense was faith! Alhamdulilah, neither did I remove the veil nor hide. I stood up and went on live television to speak to Hispanics on Telemundo on the noted Cristina Show from Miami. I had become a modest but resonant Muslimah. Rather than roll over, I made an uproar about the injustices done to Muslims.”

Soon after her conversion, she married an Egyptian Muslim and gradually noticed that many of his co-workers were married to non-Muslim Latinas. Hoping to uplift Hispanic women, in 1988 she founded PIEDAD (Propagacion Islamica para la Educacion de Ala el Divino [having faith and compassion]; (PiedadOnline.com). The majority of members of this womenled organization, consisting of both Latinas and non-Latinas, are converts. PIEDAD’s leadership has joined the Shura Council of the League of Latino Muslims Organizations and actively participates in local mosques and communities to collaborate, share information, and devise strategies to better all communities. Its five national chapters, with more than 300 members, now focus on helping converts adapt to living in a sometimes hostile society.

Rivera, involved in some two dozen social causes, encouraged members to become active in their mosques, for that is where “the life and pulse of the Muslim community” is located. During her life, this social activist, community worker, and mother of five taught at a local Tampa Bay school and, after school, helped immigrant Burmese children learn English; worked for three years at the Universal Academy of Florida-the high school was closed so its students could attend her funeral; and was a coordinator of Project Downtown Tampa, a student-initiated project that assists the homeless and needy. Beginning in summer 2009, she worked at CAIR’s Tampa office; two weeks before her demise on 22 Nov., she was a featured speaker at the Seventh Annual Hispanic Muslim Day in Union City, NJ.

One friend summed up her life as a perfect example of how to be American and Muslim as well as how Muslims can be a positive social force. Another tribute said that not only did she feed empty stomachs, but she also touched the hearts of the fallen and downtrodden. Regardless of how society saw these people, she treated them with the respect and dignity she believed everyone deserves.

She is survived by her children David Sanchez (39), Andre Rivera (38), Mahmoud Abdel-Mohty (24), Maryam Abdel-Mohty (22), and Aisha Abdel-Mohty (21).

Islamic Horizons is the bi-monthly publication of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).