Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Spanish-Speaking Muslims Find a Home

Hispanic Family in N.J. Makes Leap of Faith From Catholicism to Islam
June 13, 2008 —

A common misconception about Islam is that all Muslims come from the Middle East. In fact, there are an estimated 6 million Muslims living in America. Not only do they come from all corners of the world, but many are born and raised in the United States. Here is one Spanish-speaking family's story.
These days, the Hernandez family starts the day at 6 a.m. The children get dressed and ready for school, while parents Danny and Marleny take advantage of their time together to enjoy breakfast.
But before all this, in the early hours of the morning, the family of five come together for the morning prayer. Facing east, they rest their foreheads on the ground and raise their hands in supplication together. Like thousands of other Hispanics, the Hernandez family followed a path that led them to Islam.
The family lives in North Bergen, N.J. , a city with a Hispanic population approaching 60 percent. Indeed, Hispanics are the nation's largest and fastest growing minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, emerging as a potentially pivotal constituency in the presidential election.
The exact number of Hispanic Muslims in the United States is difficult to pinpoint, but the population appears to be growing. Separately, both groups are concerned about issues such as immigration, job security, civil rights and heath care. They also share similar family values, helping Hispanics, who are generally rooted in Roman Catholicism, manage the transition from the faith of their upbringing to Islam.
Such a conversion is common in the United States, where 40 percent of Americans leave the faith with which they were raised, according to a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Danny Hernandez, 30, was born in Queens, N.Y., to Puerto Rican parents who raised him as a Roman Catholic. As a teenager, he became involved with gangs and eventually landed briefly in jail. It was behind bars where he made the decision to change his life. "I'm here in this cage living like an animal," he said to himself. "I don't want to do this."
The transformation began with the holy book of Islam, the Koran. He stole a copy from a library. After studying it for nine months, Hernandez decided to become a Muslim.
His path was not easy. With a bottle of beer in hand, Hernandez headed to the nearest mosque, waiting for a good opportunity to enter. He hoped the beer would throw any friends he might run into off his path, convincing them that he was just "hanging out." He never made it to the mosque that day; his apprehension holding him back from walking in alone.
The following week, a friend introduced him to the religious leader of the Islamic Education Center in North Bergen. By this time Hernandez had given up drinking and smoking. As the congregation stood up to pray, he was instructed to sit and watch, to which he replied, "I didn't wait nine months to watch. I want to pray." He joined the prayer and accepted Islam in 1999.
He adopted the name Abdullah, or "slave of God," to his given name. He also started teaching Islam to his parents and brothers, who accepted the religion shortly thereafter.
His wife's path to Islam also started with a Koran from the library. Born in Hackensack, N.J., to Dominican parents, Marleny Vargas grew up as a Catholic. At the age of 18, she had her first child, Bianca Rosa, and moved out on her own.
She first learned of Islam when she met Muslim men at work. Impressed by their conduct, she pressed them with questions until they told her more. She went to the local library and picked up the Koran. Like her future husband, she made the decision to become Muslim after reading it on her own. It was a 2002 decision she would keep to herself for the subsequent 12 months. It would take that long for her to work up the courage to tell her family about her life-changing decision.
Marleny Hernandez, 25, adopted the Muslim name Fatima. Her family was not happy with her decision and she was shunned. She went to the local mosque, looking for support. She found it in the form of other Muslims, of all backgrounds.
"There's such diversity," said Hernandez, who attends the Islamic Education Center in North Bergen. "We have people from all over, united for the same reason."
She started attending a class to learn the fundamentals of Islam. It was taught in Spanish by her future husband. With her dark brown eyes, dewy skin and a million-watt smile, she attracted plenty of admirers before she married. But what drew her to Danny Hernandez was his spirituality. Friends joked that the two of them were meant to be and a few months later, they were married. Shortly after the wedding, her mother came by with a wedding present and reconciled with her daughter. They have been fixtures in each others' lives ever since.
In 2005, Danny and Marleny Hernandez, now with three children, moved to Cairo, Egypt. For the next three years they studied Arabic and the fundamentals of the religion, hoping to instill Muslim morals and etiquette in their children before returning to the United States. Of their time there, Marleny Hernandez said, "We were fortunate. We had a lot of time to ourselves to study and to spend with the children."
Arriving home at the height of holiday season last year, the family faced their first challenge: Christmas. Marleny Hernandez told people, "I believe in Jesus, Abraham and Moses," but insists that the children celebrate the holidays of their faith. "I just think all of these things are materialistic," she said. "We celebrate other things."
To help the children deal with the pressure they experienced at school, the parents did their best to make the children's Eid holiday as special as Christmas. Eid is the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.
The house was decorated, the presents stacked. The Hernandez clan spent the day with family and friends, and spent the evening on Broadway, with a performance of "Mary Poppins."
For Danny Hernandez, it was a lesson worth teaching. "This way they learn how to respect other people's holidays and other people respect their holidays," he said.
As the sun sets, the family sits down for dinner, a traditional spread of rice and beans, grilled meat and Marleny Hernandez's childhood favorite, a dish of plantains called mangol.
If there's time they'll watch a television show, carefully chosen by the parents, who insist the kids only watch educational programming. As they prepare for bed, the parents read Koran with the children, ages 9, 7 and 4, in place of a bedtime story.
Marleny Hernandez says when most people meet her they assume, "You must be married to an Arab," she said.
She responds that her husband is a "boricua," or proud Puerto Rican, and that she is an equally proud Dominican. She surprises people around town, often breaking out in Spanish while onlookers listen wide-eyed in wonderment to the strong, veiled Hispanic woman.

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

Monday, June 16, 2008

NO room for sisters in Puerto Rico's Masjids

Assalamu alaikum My brother islam:

Do you think for one moment that I would ALLOW you to cancel your trip to Puerto Rico? NO my brother, I know all about these conditions for years. It is your answer to the salat of istikarah. This is a sign that you must not falter, that there will be challenges and that YOU WILL conquer them for more rightous ideals.

ALLAH blessed you with years of training for this mission if only the big organizations like ISNA and ICNA could understand that ALL Latinos are crying along with you. We need you , moreover the UMMAH needs you. Don't let anyone stop you or believe for one moment that someone ELSE can do it better than you. That's exactly what I thought before I started PIEDAD.. "Oh dear,, I don't feel I can do this" That my friend was not me but the intervention of the cursed one. YOU have the commitment / NIyyat of purity that others do not have and I trust you wholeheartedly for this mission as do my beloved sisters in Islam.

Sending you there is not enough we must keep you based there and have you train others. Sending our sisters too as time permits for ALLAH's pleasure.

Wasalam, Khadijah

--- On Mon, 6/16/08, yusef maisonet wrote:

From: yusef maisonet
Subject: Fwd: FW: No rights for Sisters in Masjids
To: "Khadijah Rivera" , "siri carrion" ,
Date: Monday, June 16, 2008, 6:45 PM

As Salaamu Alaikum, first i had do dry the tears from my eyes , knowing that the sister that wrote this is from my Hometown Hatillo , Puerto Rico and she probaly knows my Family, The Maisonet's , i was cancelling my trip but after reading this Allah will not let me be still knowing that this is going on in my backyard, so please any brothers or sisters that can help me out with some expenses so i can make this badly needed trip please do.

Al Hajj Yusef Maisonet

asalaam ualaikum wahramatullah wabarkatuh
insha'allah you are all in the best state before Allah.

As Muslims, we become defensive when non-Muslims criticize our ummah. In particular, when comments arise concerning the hot topic of women and their "status" in islam—whatever this has come to mean.

The proof is in the pudding I always say, and on a recent trip to Puerto Rico to visit family members, I got a taste of some bad pudding. On our first Jummah there, my husband and I headed for the Masjid located in Rio Piedras San Juan. A small masjid which sits practically empty now.

Men and women are separated, placed in different rooms which becomes quite annoying because the women have no way of communicating any of their needs or questions unless they walk outside and back in to the men's section. We were in completely different rooms, ours being of course the lesser of the two. And by lesser, I mean they shouldn't have bothered to build the room for the women at all, what with the conditions that the rooms were in. There were many hazards—and I call them as such because they are hazards to the religious well-being of the women of this ummah and their offspring.

The room was a closet of a space that reflects not an ounce of distinction that the women have entered a place totally different from their own living rooms. There was not a stick of literature for the women to occupy their times until the commencement of the khutba and thus were left to jibber-jabber and waste the time away in futile activities. There was only one Qur'an in the entire women's section, with no translations for the mostly Puerto Rican attendees. What about the woman I spotted walking in without a hijab, curious and cautious? Where were the pamphlets to explain to her what Islam was? Where were the translation headsets that could allow her to clue into what the khutba was about? Oh did I forget to mention that the headpieces didn't work and the one's that did simply transmitted the Arabic khutba, because no Arab in the men's section was willing to translate. Why didn't the Imam translate?
Well here in lies another problem. The Imam's in these Masjids only speak Arabic. I find it strange that whoever is sending over these Scholars from the Arab world, fails to train them in the native language of the country they will be embarking Islam upon. And this was true when I went to other masjid in Puerto Rico, as well as Venezuela and Spain.

Our second Jummah was to the recently constructed masjid in my hometown of Hatillo. A beautiful two-story masjid, that looks like it was plucked right from the Arab world. But the place is a shell of a building now that the imam who was there died, may Allah have mercy on him and be pleased with him. Once again, the women were stuck behind a wall, the khutba was read in Arabic, and the only translation taking place was from an Arab brother who sat within a group of the latino brothers. Obviously, all of us in the female sections heard nothing, only weak fans to cool us from the heat and our hijabs, no headsets to hear the translation and no reading material. No one even thought to check in on us to find out if we were okay, or to ask if any Arab women was there to translate. We were all Puerto Ricans in the room and as one of the sisters so eloquently put it, "we walk out of here the same way we came in…empty". If the khutbah takes the place of two rakahs, then the sisters Jummah was incomplete that day.

Yes, yes, I've heard the script before…."more men attend Jummah for obvious obligatory reasons as opposed to women who can choose whether or not to attend." But the fact is that many women do attend Jummah. Jummah is packed with women, in all masjids I've ever visited, at times, crammed in together unnecessarily like cattle in a pen. The old-fashioned notion that we need to build a smaller section for women is ridiculous and does not fit what the reality is—especially with the issue of conversions. With more and more people converting everyday, and the rate distinctly higher amongst women, we need to bring ourselves from the outdated past in order to better accommodate our sisters.

These women attend jummah to learn something, to grown within the context of their new lives. And even if only one woman attended jummah in a particular masjid, the facilities where she must pray and learn should be an extraordinary space to bring her the comfort, refuge, and knowledge that she must carry to her children and the outside world. If we stuck to the absurd notion that women don't come to the masjid, and build masjids according to this obsolete way of thinking, how will we be able to fulfill our duties when hit with the reality? And the reality is this….

Adequate spaces for sisters is not enough…they must be sections that are exceptional for the sisters. Roomy so that each sister can attain a spot, in back of the men following the Sunnah of our Prophet, with sufficient reading material to occupy the minds, clean, catering to those sisters who bring have children, offering classes for all levels of learning and more. We must make sure the imam's being sent over from the Arab world learn to speak to the native tongue of the host country and we must ensure that classes, information and all types of growth are readily available to the Muslim women. If we boast about the status of women in Islam being superior to those of non-Muslim women, and then continue with such inadequate facilities and teaching modes to provide for them, then all we are doing is lying to the outside world and to ourselves. And what we are creating is a world filled with ignorant women who breed ignorant children. And for this, we will all be held accountable.


Say your prayers before prayers are said for you.

AL Hajji Yusef AL Ain