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Islamic World News

A Catholic Church Becomes a Mosque on Fridays

Puerto Rican-American Rapper Hamza Pérez's Spiritual Journey to Islam

A Catholic Church Becomes a Mosque on Fridays

Lady of Assumption of Ponzano VenetoA Catholic Church turns into a mosque every Friday, to enable the Muslim believers to offer their Jumha prayers. In the parish of Our Lady of Assumption of Ponzano Veneto near Venice, the romantic city of Italy, the main hall is converted for use for Jumah prayers.The pastor of the parish, Don Aldo Danieli, 71, affirms, "It's useless to speak of religious dialogue and then bang the door on their face. Pope John Paul II addressed them as, 'dear Muslim brothers'. How can we close our church doors to them?"

At Ponzano, there live some 11,500 people of whom 232 families are immigrants, making their number roughly 650. These are mainly immigrants from North African countries and Eastern Europe. Two years ago, Don Aldo decided to open the doors of the church to these Muslim immigrants and keep a portion of his own parochial house, including a kitchen at their disposal. On Fridays, an average of 200 Muslim believers gather in the church and offer prayers. But in the month of Ramadan, the number swells to 1000-1200. "They requested me and I said yes, moreover, the kitchen and hall were a home for spiders".

The decision of Don Aldo has disturbed the peace of mind of more than a few parishioners. The protests of even the local bishop and priests have reached his ears. "I haven't asked the express permission of the bishop, because it's an act of charity. No permission is needed to do charity. For the rest, I am older than the bishop and been his professor in the seminary too. Even if he had prohibited me, I wouldn't be obliged to obey him," Don Aldo is firm in his resolve. He does not hesitate to proclaim, "Better praying Muslims than non praying Christians. If you brand me a racist, you are wrong". In the last two years Don Aldo has received a number of emails and letters advising him to "remain with his own flock". Don Aldo has taken into confidence the Parish Pastoral Council and is unrelenting. "The pope has exhorted to open wide the doors to Christ: Christ lives in Muslims too."

Our Lady of Assumption Muslim prayerItaly, of late, has been a favorite destination for immigrants, especially for North African and Eastern European Muslims. The public opinion with regard to immigrants is divided. "At last, a tangible gesture of openness and acceptance", comments one. "It's useless to preach openness and then hold on to one's own prejudices. This priest makes us trust in the future," writes another. "The saddest thing is that the church of Our Lady of Assumption has a larger congregation on Fridays than Sundays", comments another. "Hope one day the pastor does not convert himself to Islam", quips another. Yet the majority is supporting the gesture of the pastor, Don Aldo.

In the changed circumstances of globalization, Italy is slowly getting used to immigrants of religions and cultures other than Christian. Cases like Don Aldo's give rise to regional and national debates on integration and immigration, which are so important to a country in which the Heart of Christianity is situated.


Puerto Rican-American Rapper Hamza Pérez's Spiritual Journey to Islam

RapperPuerto Rican-American rapper Hamza Pérez moved from Massachusetts to Pittsburgh along with other Muslims to start a new religious community. Hamza Pérez, born Jason, was a drug dealer on America's mean streets.

The child of Puerto Rican parents, he had two recurring competing dreams at night: in one he was in prison by age 21, and in the other he was dead. New Muslim Cool is the story of how, as Hamza laughingly puts it, "both [dreams] came true," albeit in unpredictable ways. The death he experienced was "a death of all my past, the negative," he says. He gave up drugs and the street life and converted to Islam. He then went further, becoming active in forming a community of Latino and African- American Muslims, many of whom, like Hamza, were former street hustlers and drug dealers.

The community ultimately moved from Massachusetts to Pittsburgh, Pa. As part of their efforts to build a community that would reconcile their heritage with their new faith, Hamza and his brother, Suliman, formed the rap group Mujahideen Team (M-Team). M-Team strives to use knowledge gained in the streets to put Islam's religious message into a familiar context. Hamza and Suliman joke about the exotic hybridization their faith and community embody. "See, we don't speak full Arabic," says Hamza, "but we know Arabic Spanglish Ebonics."

Ultimately, Hamza would bring that message to prisons, fulfilling his other dream in a way he had never imagined. What makes Hamza so memorable is his ability to come across as completely relatable, a rarity in media depictions of Muslims. Just as comfortable in his Kufi and Jalabiya as in his oversized T-shirt and sideways cap, Hamza, an American Muslim rapper, relates himself to many different types of people through his music. In the film, Hamza dedicates his personal struggle for self-improvement for the sake of Allah and declared jihad on his old ways. Jihad, he explains, is just a struggle and does not include any kind of violence. He considers himself a Mujahed, someone who is engaged in struggle, because he believes it to be his obligation to help other drug dealers through self-empowerment and education. Not only a hip-hopper, Hamza is also a spiritual counselor that gives Dawa for Islam.

However, his main goal is to promote unity of humanity and human brotherhood. Bad habits such as drugs, anger, greed, jealousy, among many others cause people to become enemies. By studying and teaching the life of the Prophet (S), he believes we can all have more mercy towards one another and become better people. Though hip-hop is not the conventional way of Dawa, it seems to be the best way for him to reach his message to the people he is trying to help.

Read his moving and touching conversion story in detail under "How I Embraced Islam."


The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186

September 2009
Ramadan 1430
Note from the Editor
Letters to the Editor
Everyday Dua'a
Islamic World News
How I Embraced Islam
Let's Make A Change
A Sad Passing
Islamic Beliefs
and Practices
Common Mistakes
In Ramadan
Feeling Confused?
Day Of Judgment
How Not To Miss Fajr
You Can Do It
A Love Story
Cook's Corner
Women in Islam
The Qur'an & Science
Kids' Corner
Parent's Corner
A Request
Beauty Tips for Sisters
Who Is Your Best Friend?
How to Concentrate
In Your Prayers