Interview with LADO / Piedad
By Yasmin Essa
My interview with Sr. Nylka Vargas, P.I.E.D.A.D National Coordinator.
I would like to thank Sister Nancy from NJ for inspiring me to essentially include articles catered towards Latino Muslims and therefore reaching out to LADO for this interview.
For those who don’t know, what is the LADO network?
How did you first get involved with LADO?
As you have shared with me, you are the coordinator for the PIEDAD sisters dawah organization. Please tell us more about that, including it’s birth, growth, etc.
Sister Khadijah founded PIEDAD in 1988 in NYC. Literally, PIEDAD means “Taqwa, piety or God-fearing.” In its acronym form it reads “Propagación Islámica para la Educación y la Devoción a Aláh el Divino” (Islamic dawah to educate and worship Allah the Most High). Our first seminar was at a club where we brought food and invited our extended non-Muslim families. The founders of PIEDAD were not all Spanish-speaking. In fact, we had a Kashmiri sister and a Pakistani sister who understood the importance of da’awah to Latinos. Although we are known for our numerous seminars with speakers like Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Mohammed Nasim, Dr. Thomas Irving, Dr. Omar Kasule, and others, the truth is that these events were never as productive as our one-on-one da’awah. It was this personalization of the deen that assisted us. Here we could speak freely and clearly use the dua that releases our tongue so that we may be understood.
PIEDAD began as da’awah directed to the overlooked Hispanic women in NYC. It has continued its specialization to that intimate group without keeping others from assistance and participation. Working with women was especially rewarding because we come from the same place. Our first step has always been to form sincere and deep friendships that allow mistakes and are non-judgmental. Secondly, to teach only what we are sure is correct and for deeper questions always have a sheikh or imam available for advice. Our religious advisor to date is Imam Ali Siddiqui of California. Third, and most important is to assure the new Muslimah that Islam is for everyone and that we are not to separate ourselves from any other Muslims as “only Hispanic Muslims.” And last but not least, to seek Islamic knowledge for the rest of their lives and never be satisfied with their comprehension but to have the thirst of learning in their hearts solely for the pleasure of Almighty Allah, SWT.
After a sister learns to make salat and has an elementary understanding of Islam, she is directed to the nearest Islamic center to continue her studies and she is referred to books that she can study to further her knowledge. If a sister wishes to go further in order to serve Allah SWT she may want to join us in da’awah and for that we do Daiyett training. It is basically a continuation of their studies in Islam and the practice of the deen in the service of Allah SWT.
What has LADO/PIEDAD accomplished?
What are the future goals for LADO and PIEDAD?
In your opinion, what struggles do Latino Muslim women face that other Muslim women may not encounter?
I recently watched a nice YouTube educational broadcast put together by www.CasaIslamica.com from Houston, Texas, where the Latina Muslimah educator tackled with this issue in a matter of fact way. I enjoyed the show and commend them for airing the advice for all to benefit. So it returns to the issue of education and the Islamic toolbox, an issue facing all reverts, nevertheless a struggle. And with that comes the responsibility and importance of having more advanced Islamic books translated into Spanish. The struggle is disseminating that information through sister’s halaqas, masjid programs and the likes.
Another struggle is with our non-Muslim families. Muslimahs are often criticized, or blatantly rejected because of their new-found faith. The sisters may initially be torn between choosing to practice Islam and choosing the family. Islamophobia is as widespread in Latin America as it is in the US. When Latina Muslims get together, network, and form study groups, the cognitive dissonance of choosing between culture and Islam decreases. The relatedness factor Latina Muslims can give to another Latina-Muslim thus plays a major role in communicating the message that Islam is a way of life; and that leaving all the haraam of your upbringing is essential but eliminating your cultural identity altogether is not a prerequisite to being a faithful practicing Latina Muslimah.
There then follows the socio-economic issues. I’m being very general here, but many sisters that I’ve encountered come with numerous social issues and concerns: low income families, recently divorced, illegal status, unhealthy marriages, etc. More work is needed to link the spiritual component of Islam with the urgent needs facing our sisters (and brothers). This of course goes beyond all gender or ethnic labels. We constantly talk about how Islam is a “way of life,” and it most certainly is. Now, the struggle is to live it in our communities.
As we know, there is no nationalism in Islam. However, as human beings, we identify with those of our culture in certain instances. There is such a large community of Latino Muslimah women out there! However, many Latino women who are new to Islam often tell me that they feel alone and don’t realize this community until much later. What advice can you give to a Latino who has converted to Islam and feels this way?
PIEDAD hopes to emulate the Ansari model. Social support is key. I wasn’t really part of the Muslim community when I reverted to Islam for various reasons. It wasn’t until I joined the Muslim community that it became much easier to practice my faith. My advice to a Latina Muslim who feels this way is that support is out there today, wal-hamdulillah!
If you have a question about Islam, you may dial toll-free 1-877-WhyIslam to talk with a Hispanic hotline associate.
Stay connected with PIEDAD events by joining firstname.lastname@example.org or email correspondence to email@example.com.
We’ll even help to connect you to sisters in your area, break the ice for you, or send you literature if you need it. Do not give up! Also, do not be judgmental. It may be that you had a negative experience at your local mosque or with another Muslim. For whatever reason you’ve analyzed the situation to be, remember that we’re all humans. Also, remember that you must take the risk of getting to know others and opening up too. Establish and keep Salat, read the Qur’an, and make plenty of duas. Ask Allah SWT for assistance constantly, for He listens to the dua of his servants.
How does Islam keeps you inspired?
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I‘m married to a Syrian brother. I work as a full-time mental health counselor at a day program for people with addictions disorders and severe mental illness diagnosis, with the professional ambition of becoming a psychologist in the near future. As for my Islamic pursuits, studying Qur‘an recitation and learning more about the deen takes precedence over all. I try to volunteer my time, give back to the community, and just offer a helping hand to those that may need it: PIEDAD, LADO, mosque‘s various programs and events.
As far as my typical day, I love my solitude: morning sip of coffee, admiring the beautiful pleasantries of nature, laughing at small nuances, trying out a new recipe, coordinating my outfits is a must, remembering my mother‘s indomitable spirit, and my husband‘s great sense of humor!
In this issue, the theme is desires. As we know, Islam advocates that we do everything within the halal boundaries rather than leading a hedonistic lifestyle. Can you elaborate on this from your point of view?
Likewise, desiring to have the fine riches and luxuries are quite alright in Islam, so long as we do not lose sight of our ultimate purpose in life, worshipping Allah SWT. Desiring to be in a position of power is halaal, so long as we are treating those under our authority with justice and fairness. Our religion keeps us in check. Our very action is a form of worship, Subhana’Allah!
Even in our food consumption habits, overeating can lead to Type II diabetes, coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, and selfishness. If we follow the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) in a standard meal sitting we should be consuming 1/3 food, 1/3 beverage, and 1/3 air! How many hungry mouths could we feed then indirectly or directly by the mere thought on cutting back on our consumption?
Thus, to lead a hedonistic lifestyle is to lead an unchecked lifestyle that not only has negative consequences to the self but also affects others. And, our Islamic faith is a comprehensive faith that does take into account the mundane and intrinsic nature of all creation. What a blessing indeed. Alhamdullilah.