July - Sept 2005, Latino Muslims

Latino Muslims at the ICNA-MAS Convention

By Shinoa Matos

During the July 4th weekend, thousands of Muslims attended the annual joint convention of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Muslim American Society (MAS). The ICNA-MAS Convention is one of the largest, annual Islamic conventions in the United States. This year’s ICNA-MAS Convention was held in Stamford, Connecticut.

The main hall at ground level included endless vendors selling everything from clothing and hijabs to food, books, and literature. The three-day event, held at the newly built Convention Center included different lectures and seminars by keynote speakers. This year’s theme was “Family: The Foundation of Our Society.”

This year, however, convention organizers included a Latino Muslim Seminar for the first time, reflecting the awareness organizers have of incorporating information that addresses the incredible growth of Latinos within the religion of Islam.

The Latino Muslim Seminar at this year’s convention included speakers such as Brother Abdullah (Danny) Hernandez who is of Puerto Rican descent and has been in Egypt for the past several months studying to be an Imam. He began the lecture with a prayer and touched on the topic of Dawah to our Latino brethren.

The seminar was “MC’d” by Brother Alexander Robayo who has been a revert for over eight years and has been a guest speaker at many Islamic events. Recently, he participated in a BBC News online Q&A and was emailed questions by online viewers about many issues pertaining to Islam.

Other speakers included Sister Nylka Vargas who spoke about reasons for her reversion. She spoke about how Islam changed her incrementally, not overnight. With more knowledge, she came to understand that the tenants of Islam, including hijab, are all a blessing from Allah SWT. Because she didn’t have a support group after converting, she understands the importance of Dawah and education programs. She encourages new Muslim converts to form regular study groups and to participate in mosque open houses.

I spoke about the need for Muslims to know their audience. By doing so, Muslims may better facilitate Dawah with the proper information that will touch Latinos within our communities and help them to better understand their link to Al-Islam. In addition, I suggested to the audience that they themselves must take the initiative in making the masjids their second homes. We need to leave behind nationalist ideaology and start making the masjids not only places of worship, but the place where we congregate, celebrate, learn and thus surround ourselves with other muslims in order to reinforce our deen.

After the main presentations, an open discussion followed with Br. Melvin Reveron, Br. Diego Guadalupe, and Br. Rizwan Barim. They discussed ways in which Latino Muslims are planning to work with Why-Islam, an ICNA project. Rizwan Barim is a Why-Islam coordinator. As you may know, Why-Islam does a great job with Spanish Dawah.

The event was a success with entire families present. Brothers and sisters from other ethnicities had questions about how they too could reach out to their Latino Muslim brothers and sisters as well as perform Dawah in the Latino community. There are promises to hold a Latino seminar at next year’s ICNA-MAS Convention.