By Najwa Awad
June 3, 2007
In the late morning of May 12, 2007, Muslims and non-Muslims, Hispanics and non-Hispanics gathered at Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in northern Virginia for an extraordinary event. It was the first ever Hispanic Muslim Day. People of various ages, ethnicities, and religions gathered for a day of meaningful and insightful dialogue.
Although the event was specifically geared toward the Hispanic community, organizers of the event were successful in fostering a friendly environment and welcoming all to participate and contribute to the open discussion.
Introduction to Basic Beliefs
During the first segment of the program, men and women separated into groups, each led by a Hispanic Muslim, to learn about important tenets of Islam. Organizers of the event had put up posters in Spanish briefly explaining the basics in Islam, such as the pillars of faith, tawheed, and the Qur'an.
The group leaders spoke in Spanish and engaged the listeners while at the same time they welcomed questions about the role of women in Islam, what Islam says about terrorism, who was the last prophet, and what the Qur'an says about Jesus and his mother Mary. Pamphlets were distributed among the attendees to supplement the discussion.
Keynote Speaker: Muhammad Isa Gracia
The introduction to Islam was then followed by the keynote speaker Muhammad Isa Garcia. In his presentation, "The Beauty of Family in Islam," he spoke of his journey to Islam and the importance of family. As he narrated his inspiring story in Spanish, non-Spanish speakers eagerly surrounded the interpreters for the translation:
Brother Muhammad Isa Garcia was born in Argentina to a Catholic family. His family were not strict Catholics, but instead held more liberal views.
The children in his area were required to go church in order to get passes to play soccer. Muhammad would go for the soccer, but he did not agree with Catholicism and would ask his priest questions about the fundamentals of the religion.
Muhammad wondered, if God was the Creator, how could He have a mother and who created her? He would sit with his priest and discuss this, but never felt that his questions were answered.
As he grew older he wanted to study the matter further because he did not feel that Catholicism was correct. He looked to many different Christian groups for answers, but was still not satisfied. He then began to study Confucianism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but repeatedly failed to find a connection to the Creator.
One night in desperation he raised his hands to the sky and asked God to help him. The very next morning his father's friend came to the door. He told Muhammad that he was Muslim and wanted to teach him about Islam.
The confusion Muhammad had felt all his life was eased after the two spoke for a few hours. He felt the description of God in Islam corresponded to what was in his heart. That same day he went to a masjid and declared his Shahadah.
After this part of the presentation, Muhammad focused upon the importance of kinship and family in Islam. He emphasized that family members should be treated well whether or not they are Muslim. He shared with the audience that although his father remained Christian, his mother accepted Islam ten years later.
Muhammad said that in the beginning he had not been advised to nurture relations with his family. He was so eager to be a good Muslim and do all that was obligatory and Sunnah, that he did not consider how uncomfortable his family was with how he was changing.
No one had advised Muhammad to be patient or to understand that it was difficult for his family to see him change. Over time Muhammad had learned of the importance of family in Islam and wanted to relay this to all who attended.
An Uplifting Moment
The lecture was followed by the noon prayer and lunch. At this time two individuals declared their Shahadah, an uplifting moment shared by all.
Getting to Know Dar Al Hijrah
Following lunch Imam Johari, one of the event's hosts, gave a brief talk about Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center. He explained the times of the prayer, the direction of prayer, and why the mosque is not decorated. He spoke of the food bank operated by Dar Al Hijrah to help those in need and also of the community iftars (meal to break the fast) held during the month of Ramadan. This short talk was important in familiarizing the non-Muslim audience with Dar Al Hijrah and the services it offers.
Following Imam Johari's talk, a panel of Hispanic-American converts spoke in Spanish of their personal experiences finding Islam. Again, the non-Hispanic audience members listened to the translation of the interpreters:
Panelist Yvette Chaupis-Guadalajara is a Mexican-Peruvian revert of six years who began to learn about Islam from her coworkers while she was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska.
There she was invited to attend an event similar to Dar Al Hijrah's Hispanic Muslim Day. Yvette was raised Baptist but could not understand the concept of the Trinity. After three months of studying Islam she became Muslim.
Her mother was present in the audience and remarked how much she respected her daughter for becoming Muslim. Her mother felt that people look at her daughter differently because she wears a scarf and said that the non-Muslim public should not judge Muslims without having any knowledge of Islam. Non-Muslims need to be educated about what Islam really is.
Another one of the panelists, who is of Puerto Rican descent, presented her story while her family sat in the audience. She embraced Islam almost seven years ago.
One of the major things that guided her to Islam was the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Prior to reading the autobiography she had unanswered questions about her religion. The book impressed her so that she began asking about Islam.
She had Muslim friends and would ask them questions in hopes of finding the answers she was looking for. She found the answers according to Islam to be logical, and eventually decided to accept Islam.
A Perfect End to the Day
After the panelists shared their personal journeys to Islam, the floor was opened for questions. During this time panelists gave advice about matters such as how Muslims should interact with family members and how Muslims should give da`wah (invite people to Islam).
One important thing a panelist said to the audience was that if your non-Muslim family is scared of Muslims, then you are doing something wrong. In other words, Muslims should be the prime example in their family of Muslim behavior and ideals.
As the day drew to a close, another person stepped forward to accept Islam. It was a perfect end to the event. That day something momentous had taken place: the Hispanic community was formally received at the mosque, meaningful questions were answered, important stories were shared, and the Muslim community embraced new converts.
The impact of Hispanic Muslim Day continued on into the following week, as the father of one of the men who embraced Islam during the event also became Muslim. As the theme of the event suggested, it is important to show non-Muslim family what Islam is all about.
Najwa Awad is a Palestinian-American who has lived in northern Virginia all her life. She graduated from George Mason University in 2005 with a Bachelorís degree in psychology and recently graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Masterís degree in social work. She has been a practicing Muslim for about five years.