Islam in Cuba
Sheikh Muhammad Al-Aboudy
Sheikh Muhammad bin Nassir Al-Aboudy, the Assistant Secretary-General of the Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL), has expressed the hope that the government of Cuba would respond positively to a request for the establishment of an Islamic organization that would take care of the affairs of Cuba’s Muslim community. Among the other aims of the proposed organization would be the setting up of prayer places and mosques where the Muslims could congregate for their five daily prayers, and also the dissemination of Islamic culture among the Muslims.
He said a delegation from the MWL recently visited Cuba and discussed the proposal with some senior officials here, and added that such a move would strengthen the relations between Cuba and the Muslims peoples in the world and would also consolidate the cultural relations between Cuba and Islamic countries.
Aboudy said that at the moment the Muslims in Cuba perform their prayers at home, because even in Havana there is no mosque in which they could congregate for prayers, adding that the only prayers that are performed in public are the Friday Prayers that are conducted in a place known as The Arab House, into which Cubans are prevented from entering.
Sheikh Aboudy’s visit covered not only Cuba, but also the other Caribbean island nations of Haiti, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and then Portugal.
Aboudy said that The Arab House belonged to a wealth Arab immigrant who had lived in Cuba in the 1940s, and it was built on Andalusian architectural designs. The House encompasses an Arabic museum, an Arabic restaurant, and the place is used by Muslim diplomats for Friday Prayers, but is off-bounds to Cuban Muslims, even for prayers.
Qatar donated a sum of US$ 40,000 for the remodeling of the House, but it is opened only on Fridays, and only for three hours, for the Friday Prayers.
However, Cuba’s Muslims say their prayers in their homes, since the state does not allow the construction of mosques, and there is no Muslim organization to protect the interests of Cuban Muslims.
Aboudy said his trip to Havana was for the purpose of obtaining permission from the Cuban authorities for the setting up of an organization that would take care of the interests of Cuban Muslims, and for this purpose met the director of the Middle East and North African Desk and discussed the proposal with him, including the construction of a mosque in Havana. He also met t he director of the Gulf Affairs desk.
Aboudy said he made a representation to them about the building of a mosque in Havana, and explained to them the importance of a mosque in the life of a Muslim. He said his Cuban hosts replied: “This is impossible, because once the Cuban government agrees to the setting up of an Islamic organization, it has also to agree to the setting up of similar organizations by other religious denominations, such as the Christians, whose Catholic denomination make up 90 percent of the population.” He added: “We are not religious-minded, because we are socialists, and do not allow any religious societies in our midst.”
Sheikh Aboudy said he insisted that Cuba’s Muslims be allocated a house which they can use as a mosque, and that the MWL would aid the mosque, without interfering in the politics of the country. He said he told the officials that such a move would symbolize a degree of cooperation with the Muslim world. Their reply, he said, was that they would present the request at the next meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, and that his would take time.
Sheikh Aboudy said the Cuban government does not prevent the Muslims from performing their prayers, though it does not encourage it. He said recently a Cuban woman who had embraced Islam donated her house for the performance of prayers by the Muslims, adding that there is no animosity against Muslims in Cuba and therefore it is fertile ground for Da’awa activity.
The MWL official went on to say that in the town of Pilaya de Rosario 40 percent of its population is Muslim, and that the MWL was prepared to help in the construction of a mosque, particularly now that the new Muslim lady has donated her house for the purpose.
Among the international Islamic organizations that are carrying out charitable work among Cuba’s Muslims is the Qatari Charitable Society, and there are estimates that indicate that the population of indigenous Cuban Muslims is not less than 1000.
Aboudy concluded by saying that the MWL is prepared to help the Muslims of Cuba learn more about their religion, by sending Da’awa workers and Islamic literature, and the like.
Discourse Havana, Safar 5/May 9