Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bergen Record: Many Hispanics finding faith in Islam

Sunday, February 26, 2006
By ELIZABETH LLORENTE
STAFF WRITER

Last year, Gaby Gonzalez wore black nail polish and black eye shadow. She had a messy room, standoffs with mom and occasional drinks.

Today, the Honduran-born 20-year-old is known as Sister Gaby.

She proudly wears her jade-green hijab, which forms a nearly perfect frame around her delicate features and large brown eyes. She prays several times a day and does not wear makeup, eat pork or even utter the phrase "happy hour" – that is all haram, she said, or prohibited in Arabic.

"In my past, I focused on myself. I didn't think about other people, about my parents, just myself and my circle of friends," she said. "Now, every day I strive to be better, to do good, to help others. I stopped being selfish and arrogant."

Gonzalez, who majors in anthropology at Montclair State University, is one of thousands of Latinos who have converted to Islam. So many Latinos have thronged to Islam in recent years that many mosques, including some in North Jersey, have set up special "Latino Muslim"
groups within their congregations. And many now offer simultaneous
Spanish translations as part of their religious services.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, mosque leaders saw the fear and anger mushrooming against Muslims and decided to reach out to non-Muslim organizations and community groups to demystify Islam and to condemn terrorism.

"When we reached out, we weren't even thinking of Hispanics; we didn't know much about Hispanics," said Mohammed Al-Hayek, the imam at the Islamic Educational Center of North Hudson, in Union City. "But they were the ones who responded. That's when we realized that our outreach focus had to be specifically Hispanics."

Al-Hayek brought in the head of a mosque in Ecuador and asked him to go out into the immigrant enclaves of Hudson County and talk about Islam. For four months, the Ecuadorean went out into the crowded streets of Union City and the surrounding towns, and encouraged people to ask questions about Islam and Muslims. He also visited homes and spoke to local organizations.

"Here was a Latino, someone the people in the Hispanic community could relate to, speaking to them in their own language about Islam," said Al-Hayek, a thin man with a friendly face and wide smile. "It wasn't Arabs speaking to them, and at the beginning especially, that made a big difference."

The mosque's efforts have paid off. Since Al-Hayek began the outreach
program five years ago, some 500 Hispanics have visited the mosque,
sitting in prayer sessions as guests and attending seminars on Islam.
Many converted, usually from Catholicism. Now, Al-Hayek said, of the approximately 1,000 people who regularly worship at the mosque, nearly 200 are Hispanic converts.

Mohamed El-Filali, the outreach director for the Islamic Center of Passaic County, held an "open house" for Hispanics last summer.

"Many of the Latinos who accept Islam are looking for what many people are searching for when they turn to religion in general, which is a way out of one kind of life and a means by which to reach divine acceptance."

Hispanics and Muslims note that their communities have much in common – tight-knit families, reverence for their elders and a tendency to dote on children. They also note that Islam is a core part of the history of Spain, where Muslim Moors ruled for about 800 years. And many Spanish words, they say, come from Arabic.

"They're coming back to their roots," Al-Hayek said.

The sound of Spanish now fills the air at many mosques. On Wednesday night at the mosque in Union City, a group of Hispanic converts spoke Spanish among themselves, with the more veteran ones teaching the newest mosque members how to put on a hijab.

"I don't understand a word they're saying," said Mariam Abbassi, an Oradell business owner, whose eyes darted back and forth as she strained to figure out the conversations. "I'm trying to learn. But it's a pleasure having them here. They're very enthusiastic, very warm; we Muslims feel very strongly about seeing others in our religion as Muslims, not Egyptians or Colombians or Puerto Ricans or Saudis."

Like many Hispanics who embrace Islam, Gonzalez came from a family of devout Catholics. Back in Honduras, her grandmother insisted that Gonzalez strictly adhere to the religion.

"My grandmother whipped me if I didn't go to church, if I didn't read the Bible," she said. "It wasn't something for me that was allowed to develop naturally."

Here, she discovered punk rock music and the punk lifestyle, and for a sheltered Honduran in her teenage years, it was alluring and liberating. "Punk girls wore tight pants, things that showed their figure," she said. "My hair was uncombed."

She was marching to her own beat, but she was still unhappy, she said.

"I was always stressed out, doing things I shouldn't do," Gonzalez said. "I prayed to be led to the right path."

During a college course that looked at different religions, Gonzalez became intrigued by Islam.

"I read more and more about Islam," she said. "I wanted to know what it was that led so many people to submit entirely to this religion.
When I read the Quran, I found the truth. It spoke about serving
others, putting others first."

Islam made her feel anchored.

But Gonzalez learned that becoming Muslim comes at a price. Some Hispanic converts say they encounter objections from relatives, some
of whom have disowned their newly Muslim daughters, sons and
grandkids. They find themselves defending their new lifestyles against taunts and warnings by fellow Hispanics about getting recruited into terrorist organizations and losing their freedom to cult-like pressures.

"Most of my family is bigoted against Muslims," said Vincent Gallardo, a student at William Paterson University who converted to Islam two years ago. "A close friend stopped speaking to me," he said. "My mother was very hurt. A Latino co-worker always called out to me: 'Hey
Taliban, how's it going?' "

Gonzalez's conversion stunned her friends; some stopped speaking to her. Her parents objected, and she stayed at a friend's home for a while. Even when she found acceptance among some relatives and friends, she said, people disapproved of her veil – a common point of
contention, for it is a very tangible, very public expression of
devotion to Islam.

Gonzalez's family has come to accept her conversion, she said, and appreciate the positive changes that have occurred in her.

"Islam means submission to God, not that you are chosen to go out and bomb a place – that is a specific group that is not practicing Islam the way it was intended," Gonzalez said. "We don't drink alcohol, we don't eat pork, we pray five times a day, and people look at that and call us fanatics."

E-mail: llorente@northjersey.com

Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

PRAISE GOD IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "The first to be summoned to Paradise on the Day of Resurrection will be those who praise God in (both) prosperity and adversity."

Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 730

When the Prophet saw something good and pleasing, he would say: "Praise be to God with whose blessings all good deeds are perfected." And when he saw something displeasing, he would say: "Praise and thanks be to God in all circumstances."

Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 4, Number 125A

Monday, February 27, 2006

SHOW SELF-RESTRAINT

While the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sitting with some
of his companions, a man insulted one of them. The person who was
insulted remained silent. He was again insulted, but controlled
himself. He was insulted a third time, and then he retaliated. At that
point, the Prophet got up (to leave). The man who was insulted said:
"Are you angry with me?" The Prophet replied: "(While you were not
reacting to the insults) an angel came down from Heaven and was
rejecting what had been said (against) you. (But) when you retaliated,
a devil came down. I was not going to sit when the devil came down."

Sunan of Abu-Dawood, Hadith 2295

Friday, February 24, 2006

THE GOLDEN RULE

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Whoever wishes to (enter Paradise)...should treat people as he wishes to be treated by them."

Sahih Muslim, Hadith 852

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Letter to NY Times Editor

I am tired of reading scores of letters and commentaries attacking the beliefs of one billion Muslims because of the actions of a few.

Let's set the record straight: we did not vote for Osama bin Laden or any of his followers. In fact, we suffered from their actions more than anyone else.

Let's examine the actions of those who are attacking us. They twice elected a self-proclaimed born-again Christian president who invaded another country in a war that has taken many civilian lives and that has involved torture, spying and the detention of people without due process.

Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Iman Osman
Jersey City, Feb. 7, 2006

from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/09/opinion/l09cartoon.html

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Beautiful Illustration of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him:

Muslims didn't need or drew an image of Prophet Muhammad but they have this description told by an Arabian old lady (Umm-e-Ma'bad) after she first saw the prophet:

"Pious in habit; smart in appearance; appealing in etiquette; proportionate in physique; luxurious in hair; handsome in countenance; eyes black and wide; hair long and full; voice deep and rich; neck long and strong; forehead wide and brilliant; eyes filled with modesty; eyebrows thin and long; hair black and slightly curled; with a silent dignity that makes a place in the heart; appears very attractive from afar; but is ever more so handsome from close; sweet, enchanting, manner of speaking; speaks clearly, without excess or deficiency of words - as if pearls have been joined into a necklace; medium in height, so that appears neither short nor too tall - like the fresh stem of a fresh tree; impressive and magnetic presence; cynosure of his companions; he speaks, and they listen with intent silence; he orders, and they hurry to obey; stately, regal, neither reticent nor talkative!"

from http://isre.blogspot.com/

Monday, February 06, 2006

We love our prophet

I was amazed to read in some websites that the reason Europe does not respect Islam and Muslims is because the position of women in Muslim societies. This is the worst justification I ever read.


I want to tell all those who use women as a pretext to insulting Islam and Muslims that we Muslim women are the first ones to get hurt from this. We love our prophet, we love our religion, and if somebody does not like it, it is his or her problem.

What Would Muhammad Do?

What Would Muhammad Do?
By Ibrahim Hooper

“You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

That description of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad is a summary of how he reacted to personal attacks and abuse.

Islamic traditions include a number of instances of the prophet having the opportunity to strike back at those who attacked him, but refraining from doing so.

These traditions are particularly important as we witness outrage in the Islamic world over cartoons, initially published in a Danish newspaper, that were viewed as intentional attacks on the prophet.

Peaceful and not-so-peaceful protests have occurred from Gaza to Indonesia. Boycotts have targeted companies based in Denmark and in other nations that reprinted the offensive caricatures.

We all, Muslims and people of other faiths, seem to be locked into a downward spiral of mutual mistrust and hostility based on self-perpetuating stereotypes.

As Muslims, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, “What would the Prophet Muhammad do?”

Muslims are taught the tradition of the woman who would regularly throw trash on the prophet as he walked down a particular path. The prophet never responded in kind to the woman’s abuse. Instead, when she one day failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about her condition.

In another tradition, the prophet was offered the opportunity to have God punish the people of a town near Mecca who refused the message of Islam and attacked him with stones. Again, the prophet did not choose to respond in kind to the abuse.

A companion of the prophet noted his forgiving disposition. He said: “I served the prophet for ten years, and he never said ‘uf’ (a word indicating impatience) to me and never blamed me by saying, ‘Why did you do so or why didn't you do so?’” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

Even when the prophet was in a position of power, he chose the path of kindness and reconciliation.

When he returned to Mecca after years of exile and personal attacks, he did not take revenge on the people of the city, but instead offered a general amnesty.

In the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, God states: “When (the righteous) hear vain talk, they withdraw from it saying: ‘Our deeds are for us and yours for you; peace be on to you. We do not desire the way of the ignorant’. . .O Prophet (Muhammad), you cannot give guidance to whom you wish, it is God Who gives guidance to whom He pleases, and He is quite aware of those who are guided.” (28:55-56)

The Quran also says: “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance.” (16:125)

Another verse tells the prophet to “show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant.” (7:199)

These are the examples that Muslims should follow as they express justifiable concern at the publication of the cartoons.

This unfortunate episode can be used as a learning opportunity for people of all faiths who sincerely wish to know more about Islam and Muslims. It can also be viewed as a “teaching moment” for Muslims who want to exemplify the prophet’s teachings through the example of their good character and dignified behavior in the face of provocation and abuse.

As the Quran states: “It may well be that God will bring about love (and friendship) between you and those with whom you are now at odds.” (60:7)

Source CAIR-NET.org

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

CAIR Voices Concerns About Cartoons to Norwegian Ambassador

CAIR Voices Concerns About Cartoons to Norwegian Ambassador

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 2/2/2006) – Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) met today with the Norwegian ambassador to the United States to discuss the controversy surrounding publication of cartoons that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.

The cartoons, one of which depicts Islam’s prophet as a “terrorist” with a bomb in his turban, have caused protests, diplomatic actions and threats of boycotts across the Muslim world. They were originally published in a Danish newspaper.

Read More from CAIR Website

WA JUDGE APOLOGIZES FOR EJECTING MUSLIM WOMAN FROM COURT

(SEATTLE, WA, 2/1/2006) - The Seattle, Wash., office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Seattle) today thanked a Tacoma judge who offered an apology to a Muslim woman who was ejected from court for refusing to remove her religiously-mandated headscarf.

CAIR-Seattle also applauded a new policy being formulated to allowing religious exemptions to rules prohibiting head coverings in that state's courtrooms.

The Washington, D.C., based group had intervened on behalf of the woman who was ordered to leave the courtroom of Tacoma Municipal Court Judge David B. Ladenburg on January 25. That incident prompted the decision to alter the head covering policy to allow both religious and medical exemptions.

SEE: Judges Revise No-Hat Rule (News Tribune)

In a letter to CAIR Legal Director Arsalan Iftikhar, Judge Ladenburg wrote:

"I offer my sincerest apology for any discomfort, embarrassment or
humiliation she may have felt as a result of my request. My request
was a result of sincere and earnest desire to maintain a policy that would be fair to all individuals. There was never intent to
discriminate based on religious preference. I will be glad to offer my apology personally should she so desire."

In letters to Judge Ladenburg and Presiding Municipal Court Judge Jack Emery, CAIR contended that Ladenburg's actions were a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the First and 14th Amendment rights to freedom of religion and equal protection under the law and Washington's "Law Against Discrimination" (RCW 49.60.030).

"We thank all those involved in this incident for their quick and decisive actions in defense of tolerance and religious diversity," said CAIR-Seattle President Rami Al-Kabra. "The new policy will be of benefit not only to Muslims, but to Sikh men wearing turbans, orthodox Jewish men and women wearing yarmulkes or head scarves, Christian women wearing religious head coverings, and people of all other faiths who wear religiously-mandated attire."

CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 31 offices
and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.