Monday, October 12, 2009

Homeless in America....

On August 28th the students of Project Downtown-Tampa ( had a great idea. Why not cook a delicious meal and break their Ramadhan fest with our homeless friends? Every Friday ,come rain or shine the Muslim students of our fair city bring their smiles and friendship along with sandwiches to feed the homeless, but this time PIEDAD our dawah group of American/ Latina sisters cooked Arroz con Pollo (Rice and Chicken). Over 12 trays of that fabulous dish arrived as the students and sisterhood spread out among them. Although, this was truly a night full of blessings we still left with a bit of pain in our hearts when we turned to walk away.

One of the most affluent society’s in the globe has an ever increasing problem; Violence towards the Homeless. Cliff was sleeping on the streets as he has done for several years. No one truly knows how he got there or why. But we do know that he loves his beer more than this sedentary world. Cliff often takes his daily walk either to look for work in Tampa’s downtown or seek nourishment. He was dreaming of a Turkey dinner with all the fixing’s and perhaps someone to give him seconds when he felt strange hands hold him down while another set of hands opened his eyelid and lit a firecracker on his eyeball. This was a senseless crime perpetrated against a human with no hate in his heart or ill will towards anyone. What would make anyone attempt to blow a human beings eye off? The criminals were just teens who played a joke on Mischief night which is as some called a celebration before Halloween night. Cliff felt blood all over his face and screamed in terror as he thought that they had blown off his face. No one seemed to care for this lonely man as he struggled with the teens or when he walked the streets in agony knowing well that no one would stop to help him.
Every year thousands of homeless men and women are treated like this. What kind of modern society do we live in where the homeless are not only forgotten and shunned but lured into situations that not only humiliate but also physically injure them?
What is astounding is the indifference that people feel towards this crime it’s as if they acknowledge its presence but deny culpability. Homeless men and women are subject to Physical and Sexual abuse in astounding numbers. This victimization must be halted now. To get more information please read the report by the National Coalition for the Homeless :
“Florida leads the nation in violent attacks against our homeless neighbors for the 4th year in a row. What a shameful title.” Homeless coalition of Hillsborough County.
60% of homeless are African American and Latinos. The Latinos have traveled east looking for employment. Tampa is not the city for them to find work they need to travel a few more hours south to Miami. But the saddest numbers come from children. With 1.35 million homeless children across the nation it sends chills to the strongest for their safety in the streets.
“While some cities and states have taken positive steps, there are still many parts of the United States that continue to dehumanize homeless persons by creating and enforcing laws that criminalize their homeless status. These laws contain restrictions on sitting, sleeping, storing property, or asking for money in public spaces4. Laws that criminalize the homeless encourage the belief that homeless persons are not human, are unworthy of respect, and attacks against the homeless will go unnoticed.” Hate_report 2008

We need to make violence against the homeless a Crime and not just look the other way. Muslims should take the lead in their communities to protect the rights of those that cannot speak up for themselves. Seek out organization that fight for them and join their coalitions and protect God’s people as they are our brothers and sisters. Make abuse of the homeless a HATE Crime!

Dedicated to my pal Murphy (Pictured)who was beaten to death and found lying under a Palm tree in Downtown Tampa. No police investigation was conducted. Why?

Khadijah Rivera

Islam es para Todos!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Convention: Latino Renaissance workshop

"Islam at a Crossroads to America"-
International Museum of Islamic cultures
Friday, July 10, 2009 at 9:00am
End Time: Saturday, July 11, 2009 at 10:00pm
Location: Jackson Convention Center , Mississippi
Street: 105 E. Pascagoula St.
City/Town: Jackson, Mississippi
Phone: 6019600440

“Latino Renaissance workshop”

The Renaissance (from French Renaissance, meaning "rebirth";was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historic era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not uniform across Europe, this is a general use of the term. To the Muslim world, “Latino Renaissance” is a catch phrase for the ‘rebirth’ of Islam among Spanish-speaking people. For 700 years the glory of Muslim Spain was heard around the world. The fear that Islam would be a global power shook Europe into the most horrendous period in history the “Inquisition”. In response, genocide and torture worked hand in hand to destroy the art, literary works, medical contributions and architecture of a unique and vibrant society. Today from Cuba to Spain, Latino Muslims are taking charge of history by spreading Islam from East coast to West. They are involved with art, Hip Hop, and the political forefront, in addition to spreading the teachings of Islam and attending learning centers throughout the world. This workshop will touch upon the contributions of Hajj Malik Shabazz aka Malcolm X to present day.

Islam es para Todos!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Historical trip to Puerto Rico unites islanders to the mainland.

For Imam Yusef making history seems to follow him everywhere. Although he converted to al Islam at the tender age of 16 he has constantly been among the movers and shakers of Dawah to Latinos.

Historical trip to Puerto Rico unites islanders to the mainland.

By Imam Yusef Maisonet and Sr Khadijah Rivera

A man may plan but ALLAH is still the best of planners. Everything comes at the time that it was meant to be. For over 25 years I had dreamed of returning to Puerto Rico. But my work as a Merchant seaman took me to ports in Central and South America with work turned into Dawah . All that time Puerto Rico was in the back of my mind.

Last year I prepared to take that ground breaking trip to Puerto Rico which was brought about by a New York Puerto Rican who felt that there was a lacking on the island of dawah among her people and a lack of Islamic education to the native Latino Muslims of the island. Although, I yearned to feel the rich Boriquen soil beneath my feett we felt some slight hostility there and some obstacles here on the Mainland. It was as if the native Puerto Ricans and the immigrant Muslims on the island could not figure me out. They thought I was out for some selfish reason. Little did they know this old man who had no illustrious reasoning behind going to Puerto Rico except to understand why the spread of Islam was not flourishing considering the rate of reverts here in the USA. But in December of “08 , a trip came about to accompany some Latina Sisters to the UAE for American Leadership Program.. And there under the Abu Dhabi dessert and under impossible odds three Latinos discussed our dreams for Puerto Rico. Face to face with Sr Shinoa who had written the initial letter and Sr Khadijah who had broadcast it nationally. We discussed the need and how we could make this trip benefit ALL Latinos.

On the 20th of March my dreams came to a reality as I took off to what we call the Island of Enchantment ( Isla Del Encanto) Puerto Rico. Did you know that there are more Puerto Ricans living outside Puerto Rico than there are on the Island? For starters , it was a well thought of and considered trip that I discussed and planned with the Latino Muslim Community of the mainland. We agreed that it was time for a Representative of the Latino Community to go on a fact finding Mission and see how we could bridge the gap between Puerto Rico and the Muslims in the U.S.A. The trip was planned with input from PIEDAD of Florida/Metro NJ , ALMA from Atlanta , LALMA from Los Angeles , the Latino Muslim Community of Chicago and Mobile, AL they fundraised to make this historical trip a reality.

I flew out off Mobile, AL and was later met by a dear friend: Diaab Ali from Shorter, AL who found out about my trip on a visit to Mobile and wanted to share this experience with me. We were met by brother Yasser Reyes and Hajji Wilfredo Amr Ruiz a Lawyer and a Chaplain in the Prison system in Puerto Rico , we had made Hajj together in 2007 but we never saw each other until that day in Puerto Rico. Subhannallah what a plan!
After our salat together we made proceeded to meet with the Muslim youth and the Muslims I had been talking electronically via phone and mail with, to address their concerns .

Palestinian refugees resettled in Puerto Rico and raised families. As their families grew they built Masjids and opened weekend schools for their children. Khutbahs are in Arabic but with little or no translation. Thus leaving an entire Muslim population in the dark in their own land.

Almost immediately we had our first meeting was with the youth in San Juan at the Islamic Center of Puerto Rico. They received me with warm and open arms they described their concerns which were

1. Khutbas in Arabic only- The Latino Muslims would attend Khutbahs they could not decipher. With so many beautiful masjids throughout the island there were a seeming emptiness that accompanied them. Attending Salatul Jumaah without translation when it is a known fact that the khutbah must be in the language of the people. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States although most Boricuas as they are called speak English . Few speak Arabic.
2. No Puerto Rican imam is available on the entire island.
3. Urgent need for Islamic Literature mostly Qur'ans and Prayer Books.
4. Daiis and Daiyettes-Need for brothers and sisters willing to give Dawah in Puerto Rico , and wanting to have some kind of bridge between , the Indigenous Puerto Rican Muslims and Latinos in mainland USA..

Diaab Ali and myself we were invited to eat some of those delicious dishes that the island is so famous for. Salat followed and our next appointment for a Masjid in Vega Alta . Here a Palestinian , Imam Zaid offered Khutbahs in Arabic and Spanish and had just begun classes for the youth on Sundays.

After getting much needed rest that evening , we started our day with Fajr in Hatillo and we went to a Puerto Rican Restaurant , Later we went to the next town which is called Camuy to visit my friend Yasser Reyes and Wife Fatima who dared to cook an island delicacy of Fish soup followed by Halal Chicken with Spanish rice(Sabroso). As a Self proclaimed connaiseur of fine Latin dishes it was hard for me to keep all those dishes out of print to make room for our Islamic purpose.
Accompanied by Hajji Wilfredo Amr Ruiz and Siste Migdalia Rivera of Ponce,( Puerto Rico) we headed towards Vega Alta to Masjid Al Faruq to meet with the Imam Zaid. All of us were pleasantly surprised by his dedication and spirituality. While there we met with the sisters and the youth during some classes that were at the mosque and since our visit they have started Arabic classes for the Latinos on Sundays. He is a dedicated Imam and a beautiful human being, may Allah give him Jannah for all of his work. While in Puerto Rico I established him to be the only Imam that I found whole heartedly caring for the Latino Muslims.

After Camuy we headed for Mayaguez to visit some inmates that br. Wilfredo and br. Yasser had made arrangements for me to visit while I was in Puerto Rico. We went to the youth section first and we were able to give Da’wah to 6 inmates. We also noticed that the both the male and female guards were just as interested to learn about Islam. They treated us with the utmost respect and led us to the bigger population of awaiting inmates. These men were so happy to have a Muslim visitor from the states and gave us their full attention for over an hour for a taleem in Spanish. With Allah’s plan , three wonderful brothers took Shahadah , we gave them El Sagrado Coran (Quran) , prayer books and lots of other Islamic literature. I later visited several of the 12 mosques located throughout the island and found some to be abandoned. This wrenched my heart to see the possibilities vs realities of the fall of the empire so to speak.

After a fruitful day we went to another town called Hormiguero to visit my brother and sister from my father’s side and my brother had called Hajji Wilfredo to find out what to cook and what not to cook for the Muslims. My brother Miguel and my sister Edna just couldn't contain themselves, so while they cooked (Arroz con gandules with bisteak encebollado)rice with ganduls and steak with a lot of onions, brother Yasser and myself were able to make salat in total peace with plenty of love for Islam, after that my dear freind Yasser broke out with a little Dawah . It was received with warmth and believe me they loved it, the people in Puerto Rico are just waiting for someone to step forward to bring them some truth.
After spending a day like this is Puerto Rico my Brother and Sister just weren't ready to let me go so I had to drive brother Yasser back to Camuy , so that night we drank Puerto Rican coffee which I know to be the best coffee in the world and we exchanged stories about our father . That night I rested peacefully under the palm trees and moonlight of the Caribbean wonderful as it was Mobile, Al is my home.

As I woke and made my Fajr and remembered that I make a commitment to an incarcerated brother back in the states in Jessup, Ga that i would visit his mother who lives in Carolina, Puerto Rico. I started to get dress again, by this time my sister in law was making that Puerto Rican coffee and I just had to drink two cups and tell my brother the news that I was not going to be able to spend the day with him Alhamduillah that he understood and I was able to get on my way to Carolina which is next to San Juan it took me 2 hours driving to get to San Juan to my Hotel to change clothes and also to phone Ms Norma Rivera to let her know that I would visit her about 2 o'clock , it took me longer than I thought to get to her house but i finally found the house and was able to give her a hug and a big kiss from her son whom she had not seen in 18 years! I told her that her son found Islam while incarcerated and had acquired a PhD while in prison and would inshallah regain his freedom by the end of the Year . With this I could finally say” Mission accomplished “ on my trip to Puerto Rico.
At the airport I was shopping for some souvenirs, a young lady working there mistook me for a singer and was asking about my names origin , I took this as an opportunity for da’wah. She said she had always desired a Qur'an in Spanish. She also stated that she had never quite accepted the trinity and had secretly always believed in one G-d. It just so happened I had a Spanish / Arabic Qur'an in my briefcase and that was my final good deed in Puerto Rico.

Revisiting my homeland fortified my beliefs that Islam could change the face of our people. It could end racism, gangs and poverty. It could bring about positive changes in our attitude and way of conduct as a people. I love a little pic I found of this sister holding up some plaques and how Islam alters your personality in a positive way.

In order for Islam to flourish in Puerto Rico they need Spanish Language Islamic Literature on all levels . A library in Vega Alta would be a good start. Puerto Ricans need scholars to visit and teach Quran, Fiqh, Seerah, Aqeedah and Hadiths etc. They need the most sincere and bright minds to further their studies overseas and to prepare them to run the masjids and integrate the Muslims with the community at large. Whether we are speaking of interfaith work alongside Christians on service programs or Intrafaith among immigrants and natives. There is a lot of work to be done and it is ONLY the beginning. I would like to see the sisters participate and develop more Islamic weekend schools and possibly a Madrassa. To do this we need dedication and pure intentions to serve and seek ONLY the pleasure of ALLAH swt.

We need a united front with the Latino organizations in the mainland. I am speaking of the ones run by Latinos themselves. We need a concerted effort to make this happen now and by the end of the year to see definitive results. Anyone who wants to contribute books for the library or sponsor a scholar should contact me until we can get a working organization to bridge island to mainland Latinos.

On July 10-11, 2009 The international Museum of Islamic Culture in Jackson, Mississippi will be hosting a national conference workshop entitled “Latino Renaissance” . Join me and other Latinos who are reviving and working on the framework of this Renaissance. Be part of the journey!

Start a Library to benefit the Latinos on the island. Send your New or gently used Islamic literature, prayer rugs and videos .
For more information or to contact me at:

Latino Islam
Imam Yusef Maisonet
1319 Bay ave
Mobile, Al 36605

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Immokalee Documentary.. in Tampa

By Nora Zaki... High School student in Tampa

When you eat a piece of fruit or some type of vegetable, do you think twice about where this sweet, scrumptious and healthful treat came from? Yes, it did come from God. But, what about the workers who grew and cultivated them? Perhaps one should think every time they choose to eat fruits or vegetables because they may very well be consuming products in which forced agricultural labor was employed so people such as ourselves could conveniently go to grocery stores and purchase them.
This forced agricultural labor isn’t in another far away country where we cannot understand the language of its people. Rather, this modern day slavery, as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has dubbed it, has taken place for nearly 12 years. And, this forced farm labor has happened in a city called Immokalee, a few hours southwest of Tampa, FL.
There have been state court cases revealing the barbarity faced by these farmers. Mostly of Hispanic descent, these men and women have endured work weeks of 10-12 hours per day, six days a week, for $20 per week, to quote some of the court case U.S. vs. Flores. But, it’s not so much the actual conditions that are deplorable but the coercion of having to remain, therefore being deprived of freedom. Several of the court cases, which are summarized by CIW, also note the following of those workers to try to escape their plight: pistol-whipped, assaulted, run down with a vehicle; enslaved by crack cocaine; receiving threats and violence; and repeated attempts by enslavers of holding these workers at gunpoint. These are just a sampling of the unfortunate abuse dumped upon the people of Immokalee who work under fear and subjugation to provide an abundance of produce for the consumers.
This can be changed, and speaking out is essential. The court cases were undertaken because of individuals who held high values of morality, respect, equality, and fairness towards other brethren, regardless if those who spoke out were of different heritages and religions as the agricultural laborers of Immokalee. Join the Muslim American Society, Project Downtown and PIEDAD on Wednesday May 20 at USF to learn more about the plight of the workers through a documentary, but to also take away hope. Yes, people may have the power to enslave other people. But, there are those who also have the power to fight back. Justice will prevail in the end. Educate yourself and learn about these workers who provide for us the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy so often.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Those dirty hands........ by Sr K

Today I saw your filthy hands.
I grimaced at the earth beneath your nails,
Your fingers were swollen,
Your knuckles bruised.
Hands shaped more like a shovel than a limb.
I saw you crawl on the dirt as you pushed your bucket
You picked the fruit and I looked away
as you winced in pain to lift it up.
You looked at me and with an ounce of strength and rose the bucket
over our shoulder ..
'Just once for your children you whispered to your self
'Just once for my wife and the baby soon to come.'
I turned away from those dirty hands, its Taco Bells problem or someone else.
So what if I make a salad for my houseguest.
I didn't bring him here or pay his bus.
He walks a hundred paces to drop the bucket to the truck.
In exchange he gets a ticket for a mere 45 cents
This makes no sense I shout.
To pay a man slave labor wage or see him lose his fingers to the dirt.
My eyes feel wet , I don't know why it hasn't rained in awhile
I only know that I too must fight,
not just for the man with the dirty hands but
with my dear brothers and sisters in Immokalee!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Our trip to Immokalee with the farmworkers!

On Saturday, April 4th a dozen Muslims drove two hours south from Tampa Bay to visit members from "Coalition of Immolakee workers" CIW in Florida. We spent the entire day learning about their exploitation and getting first hand education at the way they live and work. We met Nelly,Oscar and another leader. Most of the farm workers are from Guatemala, Mexico and Haiti. All suffering the same injustices.
No real raise in 30 years.

I came out of interest for Latino migrant workers. I had no idea of the mistreatment that they were under. But I left with a indignation at their misery and a deeper sense of the impact it had not just on Latinos but human rights violations. It crossed racial and religious borders.
A few years ago a man escaped from a truck that had workers chained during the night and let out during the day to work for the same boss. He alerted authorities who had the owners arrested.
Another time a man who had been beaten by one of the growers contractors came to the coalition with blood streaming down his shirt after a beating. In response the entire town refused to board buses to go to work to show that if they beat ONE man they beat all of them. This unity strengthened the coalition and made the farm workers understand the meaning of "United we stand, divided we fall". Al hamdulilah

These workers come to the USA under different conditions , not all are illegal, some left their countries due to civil unrest, others for asylum while others have visas. All fall under the category of Economic Refugees. As Muslims we are ordered to support them. Our beloved Quran says in 4:135
"O ye who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against ourselves, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor."

The come vulnerable and there only desire is to work and care for the their families. If everyone would just go to the website read more about their plight we could educate others and turn things around. This fight is not their fight this fight belongs to all of us. Muslims and non Muslims must understand that NO one has the right to mistreat another.

Special thanks to Unaiza Malik of USF for organizing the trip. It educating us on Modern Day slavery here in Florida. It also allowed Muslims to get involved. Not to fight for the farm workers but to join them as a Human Rights issue. I am so proud of Heather Vega taking a lead and all the wonderful people that fight for the right to work under respectful conditions with dignity. Imam Mohamed Al darsani of The Islamic center for Peace met us there and encouraged us to take the fight back to Tampa Bay and educate others. We won't let him down. Do expect to read more updates here and to see pictures from our historic Muslim trip to visit our brothers and sisters there. "None of you has faith unless you love for your brother what you love for yourself" Hadith
Khadijah Rivera.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a farm worker led organization in Florida made up primarily of people from Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti. They organize to receive a higher wage for the work they do-- primarily picking tomatoes but also in the citrus industry-- and for better working conditions that exclude the threat of physical abuse and forced labor, i.e. modern-day slavery. The current pay and sweatshop working conditions are elements that give way to slavery.

Florida tomato pickers currently receive 40-45 cents for every 32lbs. of tomatoes they pick. This wage hasn't changed in the past 30 years. The CIW has assisted in the successful federal prosecution of 7 cases of modern-day slavery in the last 11 years. In these cases workers were held against their will to work, trapped into indentured servitude, and physically abused. Over the years, since the beginning of their formation which began approximately in 1995, the CIW has realized that those that have the most power to make these changes in the tomato industry are the large tomato purchasers (fast food, supermarkets, food service provider purchasers); and that they are largely responsible for these working conditions and pay. When the CIW started the Campaign for Fair food they began with Taco Bell; calling on them to take responsibility in their tomato supply chain and work with the CIW to make concrete changes in the tomato industry by:
1. agreeing to pay a penny more per lb. of tomatoes they purchase
2. enforce a code of conduct to the FL companies they purchase tomatoes from to ensure the human rights of the farm workers are protected. 3. that a three way dialog exist between the CIW the purchaser (Taco Bell for ex.), and the tomato company(supplier)

Since Taco Bell the CIW has reached agreements with McDonalds, Burger King, Whole Foods, and most recently Subway. Now the the largest buyers of tomatoes in the fast food industry have signed the CIW is now targeting the supermarket and food service provider (Aramark for example) industries to come to the same agreements.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ACMY by Al Hajj Yusef Maisonet

Dr. Raffas , Dr. Bassen , Dr. Bassam Alzain , Director Khalid Marzouki , with Khalid Ahmed
Twenty One American Sisters made this historical trip to Al AIN , UAE to attend this program,of leadership and cultural exchange thanks to Brother Khalid Ahmed and also to Khalid Marsouki the director of the program, they were so impress by how the brothers program went so well last year that they wanted to see how the American sisters would take advantage of this program,we had sisters from all corners of America and little by little they came to Washington D.C. ,Abimbola Bishi , Intisar Rashid , Lola Al-Uqdah , Michaela Elizabeth Corning , Anton Patricia , Shaakira Raheem , Erica Charves , Khadijah Shareef , Tahanie Aboushi , Vita Milagros Rivera , Zarinah Zakiyyah Shakir , Joann Skinner , Angelique Lynn Godley , Loretta Al-Uqdah , Shirley Cooper , Shelia Watson , Maryam Rashid Washington , Malika Rushdan , Shinoa Matos , Aseelah Rashid and Khadijah Rashid.

We visited while in Washington D.C. with the second Muslim Congressman Andre Carson of Indianapolis and with members of the ACMY American Congress of Muslim Youth and were able to share some good points of being involved in the American Process of changing for the better and getting to know a little about the Political vision that America is going. Our stay in Washington D.C. was very short as we got ready to depart to the UAE. We departed Thursday Dec. 11 at 10:00pm we flew Qatar Air Lines , the economy class felt like first class beautiful Airline its was a 12 hour flight to Doha, Qatar and another 55 minutes to Abu Dhabi, UAE, they were waiting on our arrival and they welcome the sisters like Queens , no waiting on lines all passports taken care of baggage everything, they just had to drive to AL AIN about an hour away, on arrival to AL AIN the sisters just had to decide who was going to be their room mates in Villas to accommodate 3 sister per Villa everything that they will need for the next 30 days was provided. The next morning after an Emirate style breakfast they were taken to Oasis Hospital for check ups and to issue them insurance cards for any medical needs that they would experience while attending the School. The United Arab Emirates was founded in 1971 by the late Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan( may his soul rest in peace). The Eastern Arabia peninsula has been predominately Muslim since the time of the Prophet Muhammed(peace be upon him)there are over 170 nationalities in the Emirates population.

Zayed House of Islamic Culture was reestablished by presidential decree in 2005 as center for Islamic culture a place for exchange and promotion of the values and ideas of Islamic culture, Zayed house is an independent government entity funded by the Crown Prince. And their goal is to teach moderate Islam to the American Muslims and to have an intercultural exchange with their friends and brothers and sisters in America. The visits that they have graciously attended have served to strengthens the friendship that these two countries share for the world (Peace). The sisters represented all aspects of Islam in America Latinos , Caucasian , Africans and Afro American sisters and myself that attended the Imam Training Program have to give it up for the sisters , they are learning all the knowledge they can get , and as Khalid Ahmed says we have to continue to educate our brothers and sisters in the United States Of America to make this world a better place for our children.

Imam Yusef Maisonet

Thursday, January 29, 2009

American Muslim Women’s Leadership Training, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

By Malika Rushdan

It was an honor and a grand privilege to be chosen as a participant in the American Muslim Women’s Leadership Training, organized by Br. Khalid Ahmed, director of the Washington based American Congress of Muslim Youth. The program, funded by the UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, provided for 21 American Muslim women to travel to the UAE for an in depth Islamic studies program and cultural exchange for a period of 5 weeks. We were provided accommodations at the Zayed House for Islamic Culture (ZHIC), I beautiful campus in the Emirate of Al-Ain.
Before embarking on our journey to the UAE, participants traveled to Washington, DC where we were afforded the opportunity to meet and greet with our hosts and each other before making the 14 hour journey to the Emirates. A representative of the ZHIC, Br. Saeed Salim traveled to the US to accompany us during our travels and ensure that our needs were attended to. While in DC, we were received by the Congressional Muslim Staff Association on Capitol Hill, who congratulated us on being chosen as leaders and introduced us to their work on the Hill. Congressman Andre Carson graciously attended the reception and welcomed us as guest. Congressman Carson is an American Muslim convert representing Indiana-D.
Upon arriving in Abu Dhabi, we were escorted to a reception area where we were greeted by the Director General of the ZHIC; Br. Khalid Al Marzouqi and the glitz of cameras documenting our arrival. From the very moment we stepped foot on Emirati land we were treated as royal guest. Our host had arranged for refreshments in a relaxing atmosphere within the airport after our long journey, as they took care of our visas and baggage claim without the hassle of customs.
After a little over an hour drive, we arrived at the Zayed House for Islamic Culture in Al Ain, UAE our home for the next 5 weeks. Our accommodations were more than we had hoped for, on a beautiful campus with private villas well equipped with all the comforts of home. Classes began early the next day with a full schedule including; Fiqh, Aqeeda, Adab, Hadith, Seerah, Arabic Language and Tajweed. We were in classes 5 days per week taught by professional, diverse teachers including visiting scholars. Though the classes were fast paced, we welcomed the challenge and opportunity to study our Deen in an Islamic environment, without the distraction of our day to day lives.
Twice weekly we were treated to field trips, visiting government agencies and cultural sites throughout the UAE; in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Al Ain. At each visit we were greeted with formal receptions exhibiting the generosity of the Emirati people; Arabic coffee, sweets, fresh juice blends and gifts were presented at each reception. We were truly spoiled by our host which included the;
The Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain Cultural & Islamic Center; Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department
The Ministry of Foreign Trade
The Ministry of Foreign Relations (USA Division)
The Gov. of U.A.E. General Women's Union
Dubai Courts; Shariah Judge
U.A.E. Islamic Endowment Fund
The US Ambassador to the U.A.E. who presented us with our Graduation Certificates
A privileged meeting was at the home of Sheikh Ali Al Hashimi, Advisor in Religious and Judicial affairs to the President of UAE. We were afforded a personal Khutbah with Sheikh Hashimi advising us on religious tolerance and establishing a culture of Islam in America which takes into consideration our own individual traditions as long as they do not contradict Islamic teachings. He spoke about finding the middle ground and not going to extreme in our practice of Islam. I was impressed with his view that converts to Islam play an important role in reviving the true spirit of Islam.
Sister Rowda M. Al Otaiba of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; American Section welcomed us into her home where we shared an amazing dinner with her family. Sr. Rowda’s mother showered us with handmade gifts of Attar and Bakhoor, her father presented us with the book; Don’t Be Sad. It was a lovely evening where Sisterhood overcame language and cultural differences.
An additional high positioned female was the UAE Minister of Foreign Trade; Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi who we had the opportunity to meet with at her office in Abu Dhabi. Sr. Lubna is an amazing woman who is establishing the UAE as a major economic player. She has proven herself to be an asset to the UAE government with her major dealings with prime global companies.
In fact, Emirati women play major roles in all aspects of society in the UAE, from a newly appointed female judge, 2 district attorneys, several Ministers and numerous business women, Emirati women are respected and valued for their contributions. The founder of the UAE; Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan ensured women’s rights and education by establishing several universities dedicated to the empowerment of women and numerous foundations which ensure the fair and equal treatment of women. For a country which is only 37 years old, it is greatly advanced in women’s rights. Women in the UAE are assured equal pay as men while women in the West are still fighting to receive. Emirati women have been able to strike a healthy balance between having a career and raising a family due to Islamic family values being well intact.
I must say, Emirati women are very fashionable putting together sleek and eloquent styles. Modest attire in the UAE is high fashion black abayas with matching Shaylas which are extremely feminine and beautiful. The female staff of the ZHIC hired a tailor who came with various samples and styles, having custom abayas made for each of us. They have taken the traditional plain black abaya to a whole new level, pairing them off with custom bags and accessories, Emirati women take pride in Islamic dress.
A highlight of our trip of course was the safari in the desert. Four wheeling in SUV’s over the desert dunes beats any roller coaster at 6 Flags. However, the camel ride really made you reflect what it must have been like for the earlier followers of Islam. The slow clumsy stride of the camel must have been a difficult journey for the dedicated followers of Islam when making Hajj or Hijrah. I was humbled by the vast openness of the desert.
The culminating moment of our trip was the lavish graduation ceremony where the US Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Richard Olsen presented us with our certificates and beautiful ZHIC trophies. It was a bitter sweet ending, saying goodbye to all our Sisters and staff of the ZHIC. The experience will stay with me forever. I feel very humbled and blessed to have been a part of the American Muslim Women’s Leadership Training, while I owe great appreciation to Br. Khalid Ahmed for choosing me, it is Allah who made this opportunity possible at a time in my life when I needed some spiritual awakening.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A perspective from a sister in ACMY

A perspective from a sister in the American Muslim Women’s
Leadership Training Program from Zarinah Shakir

This was such a whirlwind journey for a planned five weeks of Islam from an UAE perspective starting from America in Washington, DC in December, 2008 with the night meeting at the Washington Plaza Hotel with a very ethnically, diverse group of professional sisters, two students (undergraduate and law), and invited guests to see the sisters off.
The next day started with a breakfast meeting of twenty sisters chosen for the program. The idea of the program germinated with Brother Khalid Ahmed from America for a group of imams who attended the Zayed House of Islamic Culture the previous year from America and it was through some cajoling that he decided to address the needs of sisters for this year. As the coordinator of the program, he greeted the “chosen” women along with Imam Yusef Maisonet from Mobile, Alabama (an attendee from last year’s Imam’s program and our resident photographer). Additionally, in the afternoon a gathering was arranged for the group to meet on Capitol Hill with Congressman Andre Carson (D-Indiana) and members of the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association before leaving the United States.
As we prepared to depart from Dulles Airport the sisters took time to get to know each other. The flight from Washington, DC to the United Arab Emirates was about twelve hours. Once we arrived at the Abu Dhabi Airport, we were greeted by our sponsors from the Zayed House of Islamic Culture located in Al Ain, part of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Unlike most arrivals into another country, we received the “royal treatment” in a beautiful waiting room at the airport. We were treated with beverages, sweets and picture taking from the Zayed House and airport staff. And, we didn’t have to wait for the usual long line at customs.
Upon arriving at the Zayed House, we were all given villa assignments to room with several sisters. I chose to stay with three sisters (blood-related and African-American) originally from Jackson, Mississippi. I felt because I knew their mother, Okolo Rashid, the director and founder of The International Museum of Muslim Cultures, that I could act as a surrogate mother and get to know these delightful young ladies all with their own talents and individual personalities.
The first day in Al Ain we were all taken to a local hospital to have very, general health checkups. I was in the group with the older and more experienced sisters. Also, since I am the second oldest one on the trip, it gave us an opportunity to converse with one another, share “war stories,” and beginning to genuinely get to know each other.
The program was an experience of a lifetime designed with classes to enhance us with additional Islamic knowledge: fiqh, shariah, aqidah, hadith and, of course, Arabic and Tajweed in Quranic recitation. Some of the sisters were born into Islam and many of us converted/reverted as adults. I was exceptionally pleased with the structure of the curriculum. Although, it seemed to be highly accelerated and quite intensive, the pace was not beyond our capacities to be students again. For those of us who have procrastinated in learning some of the basics of the Arabic language it has been a dream come true. The instructors, staff and all were incredibly kind and thoughtful.
One of the highlights of this program was the opportunity to meet and peripherally get to know new sisters in Islam from America.  However, the star of our group was a young and upcoming leader, Tahanie Aboushi.  She not only participated in all the classes and other programs, but she took on the duties of "In residence" liaison for the sisters, Zayed House and Brother Khalid Ahmed.  She handled herself with the utmost of respect, dignity and sisterly adab while also dealing with the plight of her own people, the Palestinians and a mini-holocaust occurring only a few miles away.  Lookout New York and the world you have a Human Rights activist and lawyer preparing to take center stage, InshaAllah.

I want to thank the Zayed House of Islamic Culture for all of the outstanding programs and sessions both on and off premise that we participated in and enjoyed. Upon returning to America, requests for presentations have already been emailed for different audiences Muslim and non-Muslim. I am preparing to do press duties for the Muslim Inaugural Gala in Washington, DC and the advent of a new President, Barack Hussein Obama. Again, I am thankful to add this to my other interfaith travels abroad. This one has been especially grand.
Finally, this especially must be said, I thank Allah for this blessing and may Allah continue to bless us to assist in the spreading of this wonderful deen. Alhamdulillah.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stress Management 101

A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a
glass of water and asked, "how heavy is this glass of water?" Answers
called out ranged from 20g to 500g. The lecturer replied, "The absolute
weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it."

"If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an
hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll
have to call an ambulance. "In each case, it's the same weight, but the
longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."

He continued, "And that's the way it is with stress management. If we
carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes
increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on." "As with the glass of
water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it
again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden."

"So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don't
carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you're
carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can." "Relax; pick them
up later after you've rested. Life is short. Enjoy it!

And then he shared some ways of dealing with the burdens of life:

* Accept that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue.

* Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

* Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.

* Drive carefully. It's not only cars that can be recalled by their maker.

* If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.

* If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

* It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

* Never buy a car you can't push.

* Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won't have a leg to stand on.

* Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

* Since it's the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.

* The second mouse gets the cheese.

* When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

* Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.

* You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world
to one person.

* Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.

* We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty
and some are dull. Some have weird names, and all are different colors,
but they all have to live in the same box.*********THIS ONE IS TRULY

* A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

Journey into Islam by Akbar Ahmed

About The Journey
How do Muslims fit into contemporary American society? And how have the uniquely American ideals of pluralism, openness, and cultural integration held up in post-9/11 American society? Those are the driving questions behind “Journey into America,” a cross-country adventure led by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, renowned Islamic scholar and author, and his team of enthusiastic young Americans. They will explore America and American identity in a post-September 11 world during their journey, which will take them to cities big and small, from Birmingham, Alabama, Nashville, Tennessee, and Salt Lake City to New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

A similar journey through the Muslim world resulted in the book Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization. The result of this adventure will be a unique anthropological study of American identity as seen through the eyes of Americans—both Muslim and non-Muslim.