The Importance of Latino Muslim Organizations
By Juan Galvan
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. All praise is due to Allah, we praise Him, seek His aid, and ask His forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah from the evils in ourselves and from the bad consequences of our deeds. Whomever Allah guides, there is none who can lead them astray, and whomever Allah leads astray, there is none who can guide them. I testify that none is worthy of worship except Allah alone, without any partners, and I testify that Muhammad is His last Prophet and Messenger.
A Call to Patience
During his speech, a California Latino Muslim cried as he told the crowd that his family has not accepted Islam. He prays five times a day. He fasts during the holy month of Ramadan. He always looks forward to celebrating Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. He is very proud about having had the opportunity to perform Hajj. As I heard him speak, I couldn’t understand why he was crying, but I understand better as time passes. Many of our own family members have not embraced Islam. Why is he still a practicing Muslim for over thirty years now? Whomever Allah guides, there is none who can lead them astray. Why hasn’t his family embraced Islam after seeing him practice after all these years? And, whomever Allah leads astray, there is none who can guide them.
I admire the brother’s patience and commitment to the Deen regardless of the world occurring around him. We must be gracious and patient servants. Unfortunately, many dawah workers have quit, are quitting, constantly think about quitting, or have indirectly quit by inaction. In Quran 29:2, Allah asks, “Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe,’ and that they will not be tested?” And, did we actually expect our lives to become perfect after coming to Islam? We Latino Muslims certainly have much work to accomplish. Many Muslims have very high expectations of us Latino Muslims. We are supposed to convert more than 30 million Latinos to Islam overnight. We are supposed to be great speakers, writers, thinkers, etc. We are supposed to be fluent in English, Spanish, and Arabic. We’re also supposed to attend every Muslim event. Unfortunately, we can’t be everyone, we can’t be everywhere, and we can’t do everything. We must practice patience to prevent burn out and to avoid becoming mere complainers and blamers. Without patience once something bad happens, we will quit, and how much patience must we have for years of commitment?
New Muslims have a beautiful spirit. They are full of energy and want to accomplish great things. They believe they can be everywhere and do anything. Many new Muslims are very courageous and optimistic because they recently found the courage to leave behind their old ways for something better. New converts are looking forward to better days. We should work to build upon a new Muslim’s optimism rather than tearing it down. Much possibility is found in patience, wisdom, and hard work. As Muslims, we must focus on pleasing Allah (swt) rather than on trying to please everyone. We must look for the rewards – pleasing Allah (swt) – and not merely dwell on the worldly outcome of our actions. Some Latino Muslims can’t understand why Latinos come to Islam, which simply shows we’ve forgotten why we converted in the first place. We need to renew that sense of discovery within our own selves that is found in the eyes of new Muslims. We can certainly gain much strength from the optimism, courage, and sense of discovery of new Muslims. We must let our faith be our source of strength and courage.
We can gain much strength by learning about the earliest United States Muslims. Albanian Muslims are recognized for establishing the first effective mosque in the US in Biddeford, Maine in 1915. They built another mosque in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1919. Their organization was one of the first Islamic associations in the US. In 1922 Polish Muslims established “The American Muhammadan Society” in Brooklyn, New York and built a mosque in 1926. An Arab Muslim employee of the Ford Motor Co found a mosque in Highland Park, Michigan in 1921. In 1922, an Islamic association was established in Detroit, Michigan and built a mosque in 1926. In 1928, “The Islamic Propagation Center of America” opened in Brooklyn, New York. In 1929, Syrian Muslim farmers built a mosque in Ross, North Dakota. In 1930, African-American Muslims built a mosque in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After 15 years of renting a building for their mosque, Lebanese Muslims opened the first classically designed, American mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1935. The Muslim community of Cedar Rapids, which began with three brothers in 1885, is generally recognized as the oldest established Muslim community in the United States. And, these are just the best-known early US Muslims.
Although the first mosque was built in the US in 1915, few mosques were built until 1960. Amazingly, 87% of the US mosques were found within the last three decades according to the Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey. Of these mosques, more than 62% were found in the last two decades, or more specifically, 32% in the 1980s and 30% in the 1990s. The growth rate of US mosques between 1990 and 2000 was 42%! Today, more than 1,200 mosques can be found within almost every major city in the United States. We can gain much inspiration by considering the accomplishments of the United States Muslim community. Certainly, many Muslims have strived diligently for the benefit of future American Muslims. Every time we attend a mosque in our own communities, we enjoy the fruits of cooperation and sacrifice among our Muslim brothers and sisters. Truly, we have many reasons to be grateful. Alhamdulila.
We can be thankful to the various American Muslims who have developed organizations as a response to the needs of American Muslims. Across the country, we see many local Muslim organizations answering our Creator’s call as they struggle to finance their mosques and organizations. We also see national Muslim organizations struggling to serve the American Muslim community by holding conventions, conferences, and distributing literature. Muslim organizations should exist for the purpose of pleasing Allah (swt) and move forward in suitable ways to serve the various needs of American Muslims. A Muslim organization can only call itself an organization after a group of Muslims finds a purpose for its existence.
A Call to Organize
We generally assume Muslim organizations are primarily religious in nature, but some Muslims have also developed political, charity, professional, cultural, and social organizations. Although an organization may serve various purposes, the primary purpose, or the nature of an organization, determines how it classifies itself. For example, some Muslims have developed political organizations as a response to the discrimination against Muslims and their lack of representation in American politics. Many Muslims join or develop organizations after considering how Islam in America can make the most of their interests, skills, and knowledge. Because Islam is an all-inclusive system, Islam requires people from all fields, such as religion, science, education, medicine, politics, and the social sciences. Because all good comes from Allah (swt), we should use and build upon the truth that is found in every field that benefits us and reject the falsehood.
An organization’s purpose determines decisions concerning various aspects of the organization including activities, membership, and leadership. For example, membership, leadership, and activities in political and dawah organizations usually vary because both types of organizations have different purposes. The purpose of a political organization is political whereas the purpose of a dawah organization is dawah. Many Muslims do not understand the difference between political and dawah organizations, because they do not understand the difference between politics and dawah. In Arabic, dawah means “invite” or “invitation,” but religious speaking, dawah is our responsibility to “invite” non-Muslims to Islam. Dawah-related activities include regular visits to a mosque, befriending Muslims, distributing Islamic literature, and attending interfaith dialogues, whereas political-related activities include regular visits to the state capital, befriending politicians, distributing political literature, and attending political rallies. A political-related activity includes encouraging your members to educate themselves and others about the history and current events of Muslim political issues. A dawah-related activity includes encouraging Muslims to educate themselves and others about Islam. Talking about Islam is different than talking about politics, because dawah means discussing the oneness of God, Prophethood, and the Day of Judgment.
Although dawah is our responsibility, seeking justice is also our responsibility. Let us respond to Allah’s call as mentioned in Quran 4:135, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” Whatever hurts this society hurts us, because we are a part of it. American Muslims are not immune to America’s social problems, such as poverty, crime, and drug addiction. We must demonstrate our love and concern toward non-Muslims with good deeds. Indeed, charity and politics have drawn many people into Islam. A question or comment about politics often begins a conversation about Islam. Malcolm X’s struggle against racial injustice has brought many Americans to Islam and continues to be an inspiration for both Muslims and non-Muslims. We are much more willing to set aside our differences when faced with the danger of ignoring injustice. Our commonality is often built upon hatred for a particular injustice, which is merely the manifestation of our common human values of love and concern for one another. An important aspect of educating others about injustice is establishing alliances to end it. Without non-Muslim support, for example, we will have difficulty in calling attention to Muslim political interests in the US. Many non-Muslims agree with Muslims about many political issues, and even some non-Muslim magazines draw attention to Muslim political issues.
Although an organization usually classifies itself either as religious, political, charity, professional, cultural, or social, other people may classify the organization differently. For example, people outside the organization tend to classify an organization by its emphasis on certain activities, members, beliefs, and values, which may or may not be consistent with the organization’s stated purpose. Because a dawah organization is a type of religious organization, the activities of a dawah organization should be centered on the religion of Islam, or more particularly Islamic education. Dawah organizations understand that non-Muslims won’t come to Islam if they know nothing about Islam, and Muslims won’t become better Muslims if they don’t study Islam. Because religious and political activities are different, political activism can be a disturbance for a dawah organization. Political activism will almost always overshadow dawah work, because political activism can be more controversial, tangible, and entertaining than dawah work. A dawah organization wants to be known primarily for its dawah, whereas a political organization wants to be known primarily for its politics. We need to recognize when our dawah organizations are losing focus of their main objective. Otherwise, the focus of the dawah organization will shift to something else, specifically, political, social, or cultural.
A Call to Islam
Whereas some Muslim organizations serve many purposes, Latino Muslim organizations are primarily dawah organizations. Latino Muslim organizations agree about the importance of a full-fledged dawah effort to Latinos and agree that effective dawah to Latinos includes working with other Latino Muslims. Latino Muslim organizations also address the various needs of Latino Muslims by working to keep them as Muslims and to help them reach their full potential as Muslims. Latino Muslim organizations are a response to the various needs that are not being filled by the general Muslim community. Because Latino Muslims are an underrepresented segment of the Muslim community, the general Muslim population is not aware of many problems of interest to Latino Muslims. Most American Muslim organizations focus on serving the typical Muslim, but a Latino is not the typical Muslim. The dawah of most American Muslim organizations is directed toward the typical potential convert, who generally knows English, but not all Latinos know English. My biggest struggle with Latino Muslim organizations was the idea of Latino Muslim organizations, because I feared contributing to the disunity of the Muslim community. I have come to realize that the best way for me to present Islam to all non-Muslims is to focus my dawah efforts to Latinos within the US, and Latino Muslim organizations are an important aspect of our efforts.
Certainly, all American Muslims can find reasons why dawah to Latinos is needed. As Muslims, we have a responsibility to share Islam with all non-Muslims. In Quran 5:4, Allah (swt) states, “This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” Because Islam is true, we should desire to present Islam to the masses. As American Muslims, we know that many Latinos live in the United States. According to the 2000 US Census, 32.8 million Hispanics live in the United States. The US Census has even stated that there are now more Latinos in the US than African-Americans. And, the US Latino population continues to grow very fast. The Latino population in the US is expected to grow to 63 million by 2030, and 88 million by 2050. By then, one out of every four Americans will be Latino.
Did you know that the rate of conversion among Latinos is lower than that among Caucasians and African-Americans? According to the 2001 Mosque in America Report, there’s an estimated growth of 20,000 Muslim converts nationally each year. Of these converts, 63% of converts are African-American, 27% of converts are White, and 6% are Hispanic. Only 6% converting are Hispanic! There are also few Latino Muslims. Although there are six million US Muslims, only 40,000 are Latino Muslims. Using these figures, Latino Muslims only make up 0.6% of the US Muslim population. Only 0.6% of US Muslims are Hispanic! The Latino Muslim community is not keeping up with other segments of the American Muslim population if the conversion rate among Latino Muslims and the number of Latino Muslims are signs of progress.
A leading barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Spanish Islamic literature because many Latinos only know Spanish. Much Spanish literature, whether printed, audio, or audiovisual, needs to be developed. Although Latinos are the largest minority in the US, few Islamic book companies offer Spanish Islamic literature. As Latino Muslims, we are also more familiar with Latino culture than are non-Latinos. People are often more interested in Islam when it comes from people like themselves. Latino Muslims can change the negative perception of Islam within the Latino community. After all, Latinos are essential and influential within all spheres of American society – political, social, and economic. For example, because Latinos influence the decisions of lawmakers, it’s only logical that we Muslims would want more Latinos to support Muslim causes.
As more Latinos embrace Islam, we will see more conversion to Islam from the general American population. Latino Muslims spark a curiosity about Islam. Why are Latinos converting? What is it about that religion? Islam in America strengthens from the additional human and material resources that result when more Americans embrace Islam. As more Americans embrace Islam, we will see more dawah, more activism, and other types of volunteer work. Converts will also help establish and/or strengthen American Muslim institutions such as mosques and universities. We appreciate the various Muslim organizations that have reached out to the emerging Latino Muslim community.
A Call to Unity
All Muslim organizations, including those by Latino Muslims, agree about the importance of dawah and unity. Unity among Muslims is certainly a worthwhile aspiration. In fact, Muslims are those who seek to unify all of God’s people by calling them to return to their true nature of worship and belief in one God. Although our paths to Islam may vary, we all believe that Islam is true, and thus, acknowledge the oneness of our Creator and His guidance and mercy onto mankind. In Quran 3:102-103, Allah (swt) advises, “O you who believe, observe your duty to God with right observance, and die not except in a state of submission (to Him). And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of God, and do not separate, and remember God’s favor unto you: how you were enemies and He put love between your hearts so that you became as brothers by His grace: and how you were upon the brink of a fire and He saved you from it. Thus God makes clear His revelations unto you so that you may be guided.” The rope is the message of Islam, and many Muslims continue to act as distant strangers. New Muslim converts love that Islam is a religion for everyone and everywhere. Indeed, we are now brothers and sisters with Muslims from around the world.
Because Muslims are a community of believers, Latino Muslims and the general Muslim population must not isolate themselves from each other. Some Muslim converts have isolated themselves from the general Muslim population because they feel alienated, lonely, and out of place around Muslims who were raised in Muslim families. Some raised Muslims think Latinos are incapable of becoming ‘real’ Muslims, but some new Muslims hold similar ideas about raised Muslims. Negative personal experiences have left some Latino Muslims frustrated. Unfortunately, some Latino Muslims believe that we must have our own unique, separate institutions. Some Latino Muslims are frustrated by lack of progress and want to see immediate changes, but they see raised Muslims as the problem rather than as part of the solution. We should not let our struggles lead us away from our Muslim brothers and sisters. I deal with each Muslim as an individual and avoid negative stereotypes and suspicions that endanger our relationship with one another.
American Muslim mosques, organizations, and scholars are our mosques, organizations, and scholars because we are American Muslims, too. Latino Muslim organizations should strive first to incorporate Latino Muslims into the general Muslim community. By separating among ourselves, we lose the strength in numbers that unity provides. Unity can give us access to resources such as people, location, literature, and technology that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Working with more Muslims means more skills and knowledge. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “The believers, in their love, mercy and kindness to one another are like a body: if any part of it is ill, the whole body shares its sleeplessness and fever” (Bukhari 8/40). The haddith illustrates the interdependence among Muslims. If you’re sad, I’m sad, too. If you become sad, I become sad, too. If you’re happy, I’m happy, too. If you become happy, I become happy, too. The general Muslim community needs us, and we need them. It would be the height of arrogance for the Latino Muslim community to assume we don’t need other Muslims.
Many non-Latino Muslims are sympathetic to Latino dawah needs. We must not turn our back on good Muslims willing to lend a hand. In Quran 49:13, Allah states, “O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God’s sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” And, indeed the most successful are those with the most taqwa, regardless of color and nationality. Working with people from diverse backgrounds encourages tolerance, appreciation, and a free flow and diverse exchange of ideas. We need to be active in our local mosques and organizations. We should befriend local imams and other Muslim leaders. Working together with mosques and good Muslims also strengthens our iman. If other Muslims see your good deeds, they will encourage you to be even more active and help you as much as possible. We focus on calling non-Muslims to existing mosques rather than calling Latino Muslims to build their own mosques. Mosques will be built but that will be a result of more people coming to Islam.
Whereas similarities encourage unity within an organization, differences within an organization may threaten unity depending on how central the differences are to the organization’s main purpose, because every organization seeks to accomplish its main purpose. For example, a Muslim organization, whose main purpose is developing and maintaining unity, will directly or indirectly suppress differing beliefs, certain issues, and dissenting opinions that threaten or prevent unity within the organization. As with any organization, members and leaders, especially leaders, may have to compromise or suppress their beliefs and ideas for the sake of the organization’s purpose, because their personal opinions, beliefs, and comments may be interpreted as those of the organization.
Muslim organizations deal with individuals, and each individual is unique, complex, and imperfect. Each person has his or her own personality, emotions, needs, opinions, and thoughts. Each person has been influenced by his or her friends and experiences. People are the most unpredictable and uncontrollable aspect of any organization. We can’t control every thought, belief, and intention of each person nor can they control our thoughts, beliefs, and intentions. Each person is more likely to work with certain people more than with others and more willing to overlook the faults of those like themselves. Some people will never be our partners, and others will always be a distraction. We can’t make some people happy regardless of what we do. Each person believes they are right. Indeed, an organization is composed of individuals who have organized because they all agree that they are right.
A Call to Truth
If you want any unity among Muslims, compromise is unavoidable because no other Muslim will understand everything about Islam exactly as you do. But how much are you willing to compromise, and how will it affect your organization in the long run? In Quran 3:104, Allah (swt) states, “Let there arise out of you a group designed to carry out God’s order in inviting people to what is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. And it is they who are the successful.” Dawah organizations cannot invite non-Muslims to Islam if they can’t tell non-Muslims their religious beliefs. They must be free to tell non-Muslims what is right and wrong, true and false. The message of Islam is the greatest resource for Muslim organizations. Indeed, the truth has brought us to Islam and continues to be our inspiration.
The various aspects of a dawah organization should be consistent with the purpose of a dawah organization. For example, because the purpose of a dawah organization is to call non-Muslims to Islam, Latino Muslim organizations must reach a common ground concerning acceptable religious belief. We can never change certain religious beliefs, because they are what keep us in Islam. Unlike differences in religious belief, differences in legal understanding don’t take you out of Islam. Although we share the same religion, we may have minor differences concerning our common religious belief. Unity of belief is called unity of heart, because unity of belief develops and reinforces tolerance, trust, support, and love for one another. We are one community of believers, because Islam is one religion. Because dawah organizations must emphasize religious belief and education, differences in religious belief and even differences in religious understanding can become a huge source of contention and infighting. People who constantly fight among themselves cannot deal with others outside the organization, and enemies can take advantage of their weaknesses.
Although disagreements are expected and can be a good thing, we should not disagree on the authority of the Quran and Sunnah. Effective dawah and unity require truth, because truth brings about lasting unity. In Quran 103:2-3, Allah (swt) states, “Verily Man is in loss, except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.” Muslims should not fear that they will be accused of division for telling the truth. Lasting unity allows members to have differences and small disputes without destroying the organization. Members should be free to evaluate the organization without fear of destroying it. We cannot reconcile belief systems that are fundamentally different. Because shirk undermines the essence of Islam, it is not in the best interests of the Latino Muslim community to have everyone who considers himself or herself a Muslim to join their dawah efforts. When similar religious beliefs take a secondary role within a dawah organization, political, cultural, or social beliefs become emphasized, and thus, Muslims may end up hating those whom they should love and isolating themselves from those whom they should work with.
Indeed, differences in religious belief can become a threat to unity for dawah organizations, because Muslims and various Muslim organizations will be concerned about the various aspects of the Muslim organization. For example, members want to know what other members teach, about the literature other members distribute, and about the religious beliefs of other members. They will also be concerned about the direction of your organization and try to influence various aspects of your organization, which may be good or bad. Muslim leaders are concerned about what literature is offered alongside their own, and they don’t want to speak alongside just any other presenter. Muslims should have standards that are guided by truth, and dawah organizations should strive to uphold these standards.
Dawah organizations need to provide non-Muslims accurate information about Islam. We also should not confuse non-Muslims by offering contradictory religious beliefs. With differing religious beliefs, we will disagree about what literature to distribute. If your organization emphasizes unity, you will feel pressure to distribute non-Sunni Muslim literature. A Muslim organization may even choose not to distribute any religious literature to avoid offending each others religious beliefs. Because Sunni Muslims generally agree about certain basic principles, a Sunni Muslim organization may choose to distribute only literature to non-Muslims limited to the fundamentals of Islam. However, Muslims should not limit their knowledge to the basics. Perhaps, one of the most complex questions for future organizations will continue to be how to manage the demands for truth with the demands for unity. We can begin answering this complex question by considering what is in the best interests of the Muslim community. We must avoid the path that leads to ignorance, and Islam points to the better path.
Latino Muslim organizations will be acceptable to the general Muslim population if their religious beliefs and dawah are consistent with Islam. Latino Muslim organizations shouldn’t expect trust and support just because they call themselves a Muslim organization. We will get more support from other Muslims when they know what we believe. If we don’t express our religious beliefs, other Muslims will think that our religious beliefs don’t matter to us or to our organizations. Latino Muslims, especially those associated with the organization, will also not feel the need or pressure to vigorously express their own religious beliefs. Instead, they can focus their time and energy on dawah activities. We can expect much resistance if we present Islam as something entirely different than Al-Islam. An organization and its leaders should not make dawah work for local Muslims difficult. A local Muslim community may be reluctant to grant its various resources to its Latino Muslims merely because they are associated with your organization. They understand that working with some groups can become a sign of disbelief under the right circumstances. Latino Muslims should not be viewed as a threat because we are not nor should we be. We don’t want to jeopardize our credibility and respect.
A Call to Individual Responsibility
While attempting to understand why few Texas Latinos seem to embrace Islam, I soon realized the various reasons were similar across the country. I wanted to develop or join a national Latino Muslim organization to encourage cooperation among US Latinos, especially Texas Latino Muslims. The organization would enhance dawah opportunities to Latinos by encouraging Latino Muslims to work together to fulfill their common needs. Much of my own work has been a result of my desire to fill the need for Latino dawah in Texas and around the US that I still believe exists. Because the organization would give Latino Muslims a sense of direction, they wouldn’t feel like a ship without a rudder. The national Latino Muslim organization would help get the credibility and assistance needed to succeed. The organization would help bring more participants into dawah work. Our requests concerning the need for Spanish literature would also more likely be heard. I also figured working with such an organization would help me become a better Muslim. I knew I could learn much from Muslims who were already involved in the work I wanted to do.
After deciding to work with the Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO), I began finding Muslims to work with me by contacting various Latinos from Texas and around the US. LADO was founded in 1997 in New York City. One Latina couldn’t believe I wanted to be a part of a national Muslim organization. She sent me an e-mail stating that one brother gives dawah by simply being a good Muslim, and when non-Muslims show an interest in Islam, he gives them an Islamic brochure. She mentioned that one time he gave an older lady a brochure after pumping her gas. She said that Islam is about beauty in small deeds. Indeed, it is easy to trivialize small deeds. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Don’t consider anything insignificant out of good things, even if it is that you meet your brother with a cheerful countenance” (Muslim 1209). Like many new Muslims, her own journey to Islam was marked with small deeds along the way. She traces her own conversion back to college when a classmate answered her questions about Islam. Her questions led to a discussion about Islam. She was given Islamic literature. She was invited and later driven to a mosque. She was taught how to wear hijab. She took shahada. She learned to pray. She has received and continues to receive many words of encouragement. Most Muslims consider the conversion of each non-Muslim special and beautiful. The Latina was concerned that national Muslim organizations would cheapen that beauty.
After the printing press was invented, Muslims were reluctant to use the printing press in mass-producing the Quran. Muslims believed that that the Quran was too sacred to be printed by a printing press because until that time, Muslims would write each letter of the Quran by hand. The printing press simplifies our dawah responsibilities by making Islamic literature more accessible to all people. Technology is acceptable when it is not contrary to Islam, but technology can only go so far. Although technology offers many benefits, new Muslim converts need the personal assistance of other Muslims. Learning about Islam is usually more enjoyable and understandable when the knowledge comes from a person rather than from a book or computer screen. New Muslim converts also need to befriend other Muslims, because new Muslims often have a difficult time dealing with family and friends. National Muslim organizations think nationally by acting locally, because by helping Muslims in their local dawah efforts, all American Muslims benefit. National Latino Muslim organizations have the capacity to refer Latino non-Muslims to Muslims who can help them on a more personal basis, because they encourage networking among Muslims and non-Muslims around the US. In our efforts to organize Latino Muslims nationally, we must appreciate the important role of local Muslims and their communities. National Latino Muslim organizations encourage mosques to identify Spanish-speaking Muslims, who are not necessarily Latino, who will train non-English speaking Latinos how to pray, to read Qur’an, and to teach them about Islam, in general. Mosques should also have information about local Latino Muslims and about national Latino Muslim organizations to direct Latinos for information and support.
The strategy of Latino Muslim organizations is to increase the level of interaction among Latino Muslims, Latino non-Muslims, and the general Muslim population, because interaction among Muslims and non-Muslims is the primary reason for conversion to Islam in the US. For example, Muslim converts usually began learning about Islam from a spouse, coworker, classmate, friend, or associate. Who is more convincing than the one Muslim who takes the time to discuss Islam with those who are near? We encourage local dawah work because it’s easier to work with local Muslims than to work with those across the country and easier to reach non-Muslims within your neighborhood than to reach those in a neighborhood across the country. Muslims who spend all their time dealing with issues miles away cannot deal with issues in their own neighborhood. National Latino Muslim organizations help Latino Muslims establish their local Latino Muslim communities by empowering those Muslim communities with fewer resources. National Latino Muslim organizations also help local Latino Muslims get the recognition they deserve. Because national Latino Muslim organizations encourage Latino Muslims to work locally, local Latino Muslims find satisfaction in helping within their own communities. Latino Muslims with little interaction with other Latino Muslims also feel a sense of hope by being a part of something beyond their own neighborhoods. They know other Latino Muslims are out there who share their concerns and who want to help them.
Although Muslim organizations thrive on truth, a Muslim organization is as strong as its people. Many Muslims agree that dawah begins with you, then your family, neighborhood, city, state, nation, and world. In Quran 66:6, Allah (swt) advises us, “O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is people and stones; over it are angels stern and strong, they do not disobey God in what He commands them, and do as they are commanded.” We call others to Islam as we understand it, and we should ensure that we are calling to an appropriate understanding of Islam. We need knowledge to discern between right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Much knowledge is a waste of time because it is baseless. It is true that many people know many untrue things. The greatest problem facing Latino Muslim organizations is the lack of Islamic education. It’s not what we know that’s holding us back; it’s what we don’t know. We must become better Muslims. Certainly, dawah organizations need to develop an atmosphere that promotes Islamic religious education.
A Call to Knowledge
We need to raise the status of Islamic education among ourselves. Unless we educate ourselves, we can’t expect more Latinos to come to Islam, and the purpose of a dawah organization is to call non-Muslims to Islam. Before educating others about Islam, we must begin by spending our limited time in educating our own selves about Islam. We can’t do bigger things without first doing smaller things. Education about Islam comes before all Muslim activities. We can’t have successful events, small or big, without knowledgeable Latino Muslims. Muslim study groups are also limited by the knowledge of their members. We will have more Muslim activities, speakers, leaders, and so on after more Latinos come to Islam, but education precedes conversion. Your knowledge and the knowledge of other Muslims determine our potential as a Muslim community. Alhamdulila.
We shouldn’t let the number of Latino Muslims within our local Muslim communities prevent us from the work that we know needs to be accomplished. Those cities with the most Latino Muslims are at an advantage. Indeed, your city may be years ahead of my community simply because more Latino Muslims live in your community than in my own. Because different American Muslim communities may have different problems, concerns, and advantages, an approach in one location may not be appropriate or even possible in another. You need a group of local Latino Muslims before starting a weekly group, but even some larger Muslim communities have difficulty putting together such groups. Many Muslims do not necessarily make a dawah organization successful. In addition to knowledge, communication, and cooperation requirements, Latino Muslims may not have the free time to make the needed commitment. Muslim communities with few local Latino Muslims may focus their efforts on literature distribution and networking with Latino Muslims and other Muslims interested in their progress. Even the smallest Muslim communities can make a sincere intention to develop programs for new Muslims. Regardless of limitations, local Muslims know their communities best and should move forward in suitable ways. Dawah regardless of location should be consistent with our religion.
Latino Muslims need the assistance of knowledgeable Muslims who have wisdom and foresight. Oftentimes, new Muslims have more energy than knowledge and wisdom. Dawah efforts need sources of wisdom that consider possible outcomes to our decisions. When we don’t know or when we disagree, we need to ask an expert. Many problems and disagreements can also be avoided by first taking the issue to an expert. For dawah organizations, experts are usually people of knowledge. Shura, or consultation, is limited by those we choose to include within the decision-making process. We should not exclude knowledgeable Muslims from our work, because they are the most important voices for a dawah organization. We should not limit our knowledge to Latino Muslim sources. We need to learn to accept knowledge for the sake of truth. We should avoid the dangers of nationalism, which include putting our trust in other Muslims primarily because they are from our race, our nation, or our predecessors. Muslims call people to Islam and not to anything else, be it a nation, organization, sheik, etc. Because the aim of dawah is one of guidance, it is better to work with good non-Latino Muslims than to work with bad Latino Muslims. With competing interests, who will speak for the common good of Muslims? We need the help of Muslims who have the good of the Muslim community at heart. Otherwise, we may always be deceived and led astray.
By seeking knowledge, we will have excellent leaders, because leaders come from among us. We certainly won’t be effective leaders if we are ignorant about Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock”¦” (Muslim 1826). You and I are leaders, and we are responsible to others. The Muslim community needs good leaders in every neighborhood, every city, state, and nation. InshAllah, in a few years, qualified Latino Muslim imams will be among the major leaders within the American Muslim community. When we have better educated Latino Muslim leaders, the Latino dawah work of today will look like child’s play. We await future Muslims to do what we do better, because we anxiously await any advancement.
A Call to Hope
We can choose to let the problems facing the Latino Muslim community discourage or motivate us. In Quran 3:138-139, Allah advises, “Here is a plain statement to men, a guidance and instruction to those who fear God. So lose not heart, nor fall into despair: For you must gain mastery if you are true in faith.” Our problems don’t have immediate solutions. Yet we should not despair, and we should not lose hope. Our Creator’s true religion will prevail above all other religions. In Quran 2:212, Allah states, “The life of this world is made to appear attractive to those who disbelieve; and they scoff at those who believe. But those who fear God shall be above them on the day of resurrection; and God bestows His gifts on whomsoever He pleases without reckoning.” We have to start somewhere, and we can always do something. Why should we not have great hope? Without dreams, we will do nothing. Both small and big things begin with an intention. Indeed, every great achievement begins with a great intention. Certainly, we can find much to strive toward. Any accomplishments are a success for all Muslims, because we Muslims are one Ummah. The measure of success of Latino Muslim organizations won’t be if they continue to exist but rather that we’ve helped others. Knowing we have given the smallest deed for the sake of Allah (swt) is most rewarding.
If I have offended anyone, please forgive me, and may Allah (swt) forgive me. That was not my intention. May Allah forgive us of our shortcomings in our Deen and in our worldly activities. May Allah protect us from the mischief of Shaytan and from Shaytan getting the better of our weaknesses. And may Allah out of His mercy allow those in Islam to live and die as believers. May Allah use us in a way in which He will be pleased on the Day of Judgment. Ameen.