Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Good , the Bad and the Ugly among us!

By Sr Khadijah Rivera

During Winter break from school I had had the opportunity to fly to Houston to visit my lovely daughter. I was distressed to find Homeless people everywhere. From the airports to the downtown areas and even in the residential areas one could not stop and feel the cold in their stark eyes. Several times my daughter would force me to pull over to give a handout to a stranger. Personally I don’t believe it is ever too early to expose kids to homelessness. According to a CNN broadcast the National coalition for Homelessness states 39% are under the age of 18! The stats in Tampa are no better with over 10,000 homeless. For over 11years the Tampa Bay Muslim Alliance has done a beautiful job of showing charity to non Muslims via an annual festival

Certainly this Sunday festival was a memorable experience. I saw some wonderful people come out to volunteer their money and physically set up and distribute gifts to the poor and homeless of Tampa. Their Niyyat, or intention was to follow the directives of Islam by helping those that at this time in their lives could not help themselves. These were the best of mankind and I applaud them.
During the day the poor humbly waited in lines in the hot sun to register for Free sneakers, bikes and toys. I had met a few of them days earlier to tell them it would be worth a trip to the Islamic Charity festival to get the gifts.
The Friday before the festival an elderly man by the name of Cliff Z. had been waiting by a street corner while I handed out sandwiches. He did not dare approach me as some stronger men had given him a warning to stay clear of the feeding area. With the police crackdown to keep Homeless folk away from the center of town, the regular feeds done by charities are scarce. This means an almost eminent fight to get scarps. The strong survive and weak are threatened or beaten into submission. When another homeless man approached me about Cliff not only did I walk over with sandwiches but I invited him to the festival on Sunday. He showed me his shoes which were badly worn and told me how he was making out in the streets.
Many showed up on Sunday and left with bikes in tow Al Hamdulilah, Cliff was one of them. I had personally wanted him to have an escape route should someone come after him, as his face had unhealed tears from past beatings. Cliff was grateful to the Islamic charity, he knew little if nothing about the religion but he left with one thing: goodness in Muslims.

Food lines were constant and the food came hot and delicious off the grills. Around three o’clock the toys were supposed to be won by lottery but we had so many that the brothers with the microphones told the children to just all go at once to pick their toys. For those of us that were in the toy booth this bewildered us. Over a hundred children flocked us tearing down displays and pushing younger ones to the side. This was mere enthusiasm and joy, but when the adults followed in by pulling toys into the empty baskets one could see the needy being avaricious. During this period they actually dove into my safely hidden bike locks, taking them without forethought if they had a bike or not. A man came to me over six times asking me about the bike lottery I finally told him that the stage would make an announcement, he figured since he had volunteered he would definitely get a Free bike. I told him no and he harassed me and cursed me out till even I lost my temper. Although poverty does not justify these actions just think of the people receiving Aid packages across the world and the reaction when they must hustle to get a grain. I consider this group bad.

The Ugly !

I saw a sister who received two new bikes the year before for her children. She insisted in getting more new bikes as her children had outgrown them. I attempted to convince her to give the poor a chance but she left in a hurry. Throughout the day several Muslims asked me to give them toys for their grandchildren, put their husbands on the free bike list or for new sneakers. To all of them including friends I said no! These were working families and have steady incomes. This was a festival to celebrate Muslim charity; certainly our generosity was being tested. Many left angry with me and it was not surprising when at the end of the day one man who had “found” one of my bike locks stated that he was on the list for Free bikes. Ya Allah… He was a Muslim and known in the community as a working man. I went home cried for having lost my patience with the man who harassed me for the bike and cried for our lost Ummah!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Latinas embrace islam....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

An article by Cloe Cabrera.

"The converts hail from throughout Latin America. In Islam, some say they see a devoutness and simplicity they find lacking in Catholicism. Like the tightknit Latino culture, Islam places emphasis on family, which can make it easier for converts to adjust... Yet some are as motivated by feelings of alienation in a nation that is divided over immigration. Latino women find what most westerners rarely see a respect for women, unlike, some converts say, the machismo culture in which they were raised."

-Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post Staff Writer

TAMPA - As a child, Amy Perez attended different Christian churches, praying at Catholic Masses and singing at Baptist revivals. But she never felt satisfied with the answers those faiths provided to her questions.

At 12, Perez left Webb Middle School for the Universal Academy of Florida, a Muslim school in Tampa, because she did not like the cliques and social scene at Webb. And she wanted to learn more about Islam.

Perez read about the Muslim faith and asked her classmates questions.

After much research and contemplation, Perez took the Shahada, the declaration of faith to become Muslim.

She was 14.

"I finally found peace," said Perez, 22, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent. "A peace that I had never known. Everything made sense to me. Every question I had, there was an answer for. It was truly remarkable."

Perez's sentiments seem to resonate with U.S. Latinas, who are embracing Islam in increasing numbers. They join a faith dominated in the United States by blacks, who make up about half the estimated 6 million followers, according to a 1990 study by the American Muslim Council, the most recent available. Followers of South Asian and Arab descent constitute about 35 percent.

Numbers of Muslims are difficult to determine since faith is not included in the U.S. census, but there is abundant anecdotal evidence that more Hispanic women are adopting Islam.

"We're definitely seeing more Latina converts," said Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida Office of the Council on American Islamic Relations. "It's really a phenomenon because the stereotype is that Islam oppresses women, so why would they want to choose a religion that would restrict their lifestyle?"

Helping fuel the growth is an increase of information available to Hispanic converts, Bedier said.

Korans written in Spanish and other works are available, and distribution has been on the rise, he said.

There is support online for Hispanic Muslims from groups such as the Latino American Dawah Organization and

Familiar Culture

Mohamed Moharram, head of the local Muslim American Society, is not surprised by the growth in Latina converts.

"At the last open house we had four Latinas in one day convert to Islam," he said. "The fact is, Islam elevates the status of women. Muslim women see it [the faith] as a liberation from undue hardships that society puts upon them."

When Perez converted eight years ago, she was one of a few Latinas at her mosque. Now she sees more.

"When I converted it was me, my mother, and four of my friends and their moms," Perez said. "Now there are a lot more."

Some convert because they marry Muslims; others are searching for a more fulfilling spiritual path. Most say Islam's teachings mirror many of their Latino values.

"Growing up it was all about familia," Perez said. "You're taught to respect your elders and your mother; you don't even raise your voice to your mother. That's the old school way of thinking, but that's Islam. When I wasn't a Muslim, that's the way we did things."

Islam has a history in Spain stretching back to the rule of the Muslim Moors from the 700s to the 1400s.

Spanish words such as abuelo (grandfather), arroz (rice) and naranjas (oranges), have Arabic origin.

A Questioning Catholic

Alexandra Briones was a Catholic from birth. She attended church regularly with her parents and received her first communion. But as a teenager, she began to question Catholic doctrine.

"Why should I confess to another human being when they are the same as I?" she asked. "I was just supposed to believe and that's it."

She began looking for answers in Islam, researching on the Internet and reading the Koran.

Briones, 30, of Ecuador, says Islam's teachings, particularly its respect for women, spoke to her.

"I had to work out and look good so men would want to be with me," she said. "God didn't create me for that. If a man wants to be with me because of my body and how I look, that's not the man I want to be with. It all made sense to me."

When Briones visited a mosque for the first time, she found it life-altering.

"I cried," she recalled. "I felt like I belonged there. Everything was logical and seemed to be what I needed and couldn't put into words. I felt very comfortable for the first time."

She converted a month later.

Eventually, she married her boyfriend, Radouane, who was not a practicing Muslim at the time.

Briones stresses a woman should never accept Islam to please a Muslim boyfriend or husband.

"I would never have converted for a man," she said. "I would never make such a dramatic change to please somebody else. I did it for myself - because it was right for me."

Leslie Centeno, 23, of Puerto Rican descent, said she felt a similar disconnection from her Pentecostal Christian faith.

A friend invited her to visit a mosque, and she began reading the Koran. When she told her family and church pastor of her new interest, they encouraged her to remain true to her faith.

Six years ago, she converted. The lack of intermediaries between God and the Muslim faithful appealed to her.

"I can have a direct relationship with God," she said. "It sounded so interesting and intriguing to me. It was different than anything I had ever heard. I thought about it for days before I made the decision. I'm not an impulsive person."

Family Reactions

For the most part, the three women say family and friends have supported their decisions to convert.

But explaining the hijab, the head covering, to her grandmother was difficult, Perez said.

"She told me to take that trapo [rag] off my head. I told her this is an order by God for me to wear and I wouldn't take it off," Perez said. "In the end, they're family, so they learn to deal with it."

Many Latinas have a more difficult transition.

"The biggest challenge they can face is telling their families they've converted," said Jane I. Smith, professor of Islamic Studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut and author of "Islam in America."

"It cuts two ways, religiously and culturally."

For conservative Protestant and Roman Catholic families in particular, the news may come as a blow.

"It's a sense of leaving the family itself. And all of a sudden, the person acts differently," Smith said. "Often it is very painful and difficult."

Also, the Sept. 11 attacks put the religion under more scrutiny.

"The events of 9/11 raised the curiosity of Americans [including Latinas] about Islam," Bedier said. "However, the anti-Muslim backlash created as a result of the same events caused relatives of new Muslim converts to be worried for their safety."

With her long, loose dress, and hair tucked neatly inside her hijab, Perez said she often is mistaken for a Middle Eastern woman, until she speaks her native language.

"When they [non-Muslim Hispanics] hear me speak Spanish, they're like, 'Oh my God, you speak Spanish?' " she said. "It's really a chance to educate people and show them you can be Hispanic and be Muslim; you don't give up your ethnicity to become a Muslim."

She hopes her daughter, Anisah Miranda, who she often cradles in her arms as she is praying, will someday embrace the religion she shares with her husband, Michael Miranda, and calls her salvation.

"I don't miss the partying, the clubs, the drinking, any of that," she said. "I don't need to be out there. Islam isn't just about religion; it's a way of life."