By Rahim Ocasio
Assalamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah
This is a recap of the two day event and my assessment of this historic event.
Muhammad Isa Garcia, el argentino who recently translated the Qur’an into Spanish, gave a video introduction from Colombia where he currently resides. Abdullah Danny Hernandez gave the English intro, primarily inspirational, centering on faith and its proper contemplation and regard for the ramifications of tauhid.
It was followed by a scholarly historical presentation on Al Andalus by a fluently Spanish-speaking Egyptian researcher named Maryam Saadeh. It covered 903 years of Islamic presence on the Iberian peninsula with special attention paid to the Morisco period.
Next, Mujahid Fletcher and Wilfredo Amr Ruiz elaborated on the theme of convivencia, the importance of staying true to its spirit and avoiding those things which rupture relationships and prevent beneficial cooperation. In short, egos need to be checked at the door for true cooperation, co-existence, and convivencia to take place: no gang mentality, no super-organization. Convivencía for the service of humanity is integral.
Maryam Saadah added that convivencia is a gift, integral in contemporary society.
The Juma khutbah was given by Reymundo Nur, un afro-panameño, on the theme of convivencía that was well received by the primarily Desi/Arab congregation that was in attendance for the main TDC convention.
A surprise came in the next session honoring the pioneers. This is the panel I declined to be on and it turned out to be nothing like the one I was apprehensive about. Panelists were brought up singly and given a crystal award for their years of Islamic service and given time to speak about their history. When the panelists were all seated, Abu Sumayya, who was moderating this session began to present awards to individuals and organizations in a display of gratitude and recognition. Two elderly Mexicanas from Chicago were presented awards along with organizational awards to LADO, LALMA, and Alianza Islamica. I accepted the award for Alianza Islamica, dedicating it to those of us who have returned to Allah, Azza wa Jall. I also took that opportunity to mention that the theme of convivencía so bandied about that day was the fruit of a suggestion Yahya had made last November and that it was, in essence, a continuation of an Alianza Islamica tradition.
Of note, Maryam Saadah accepted the award on behalf of LALMA and Yusuf Maisonet made a note of my presence in the audience and the inappropriateness of my absence on the stage.
The next session was interesting for it included FBI public relations official Cristina Garza. That session dealt with the importance of maintaining good relations with law enforcement. Garza explained the scope of the agency. It was maintained that the focus should be on civil rights for all (ie, immigration). But Muslims must provide a check against abuses. Law enforcement must be held accountable. She ended by mentioning that it was the last day for applying to work with FBI, a recruitment ploy. It was later mentioned that if they had known she would do that, she would never have been invited.
The first day ended with a women’s session where women came up to the mike with Arab/Desi abuse cases and other issues which mainly centered on mixed-culture marriages
The topic of extremism was dealt with in some depth. Fletcher reiterated that the job of the FBI is to catch criminals and that they must be prevented from causing catastrophic loss of life. He equated the current FBI practice of entrapment with way undercover drug busts are conducted. I was uncomfortable with that.
In the panel discussion that followed, however, there was a consensus that Muslims should be vigilant when their fellow brother or sister seems to be going off the rails and that the proper tactic is to counsel and guide him away from deviance. FBI has a different approach based on their agenda and Muslims should be on guard.
Next session dealt with the problem of obtaining the correct knowledge of Islam. The pros and cons of using the Internet were discussed (Shaykh Google) along with the pros and cons of studying overseas versus studying stateside in institutions like Mishkat University. The value of having a shaykh or mentor rather than relying on books or audio and video tapes was highlighted.
It was also announced that IslamInSpanish has partnered with Muhammad Isa Garcia to develop a Colombian chapter of IslamInSpanish with the express purpose of establishing a Spanish language Islamic academy.
Abdullah Danny Hernandez and Reymundo Nur heavily emphasized the importance of the Arabic language for the proper study of Islam.
There was a general session for all attendees on the “Trump Effect” with Tenessee lawyer Paul Galloway and Mujahid Fletcher. Galloway believes our strategy should be based on our constitutional religious rights as current anti-Muslim attacks are based on legally classifying Islam as a political philosophy and not as a religion that would make us subject to all manner of devastating legislation if not an outright ban.
Fletcher told the pack crowd of hundreds if not thousands that Muslims will remain vulnerable if they do not engage civically, render service to the community, and demonstrate that Muslims are an integral and beneficial part of society. The converse to that would be weakness and vulnerability with no societal support when inevitable attacks occur.
In another session Fletcher talked about one of the great strengths of IslamInSpanish was its strong emphasis on leadership. He himself said that he was certified with the John Maxwell Group, a leadership training organization that works major corporations. IslamInSpanish conducts weekly leadership training.
It ended with a general Q&A and a raffle for umrah which went, alhamdulillah, to one of the elderly Muslimahs previously honored.
There was a lot of energy there. I talked to few people on the side and heard testimonials of how IslamInSpanish has brought Islam into their lives. My assessment is that, though they are undermanned, they are firing on all cylinders and aggressively expanding. Their close cultivation of ties to Spanish media (Telemundo and Univision) and their association with key supportive members of the Arab/Desi community has given them credibility and considerable leverage.
All in all, even with the inevitable first-time flaws, it was a resounding success that Latino Muslims can build on for the future.