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Over the years we have traveled to different countries throughout the world to revive the effort of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) and remind the Muslims of their responsibilities and good qualities. The word 'dawah' (invitation) is actually a term that originates way back to all prophets of mankind and to our beloved Prophet Mohammed (S). Many times, Muslims who have relocated to other countries have forgotten Islam. So, by our visiting these countries we hope to correct ourselves, remind the local Muslims to establish 5 amals (activities) and reintroduce the essentials of Islam, and be better Muslims and establish the local effort.
Although many brothers representing a vast array of ethnicities have been fortunate to take part in this dawah effort of visiting and spreading the Word of Allah, I was part of the group travelling to Colombia, which consisted of 7 brothers from the Bay Area. For the next 40 days, these brothers and I would form a bond together; we would share the same small living space, we would cook together, eat together, experience the same hardships and tribulations and along the way, forge a friendship and brotherhood that many times can last a lifetime. So, when we finally got our visas and scheduling taken care of, the brothers and I said our goodbyes to our families. We departed from San Francisco to Mexico and arrived in Colombia.
We were the first group ever from the Bay Area to have visited Colombia so we were a bit apprehensive. Not having any contact information or prior routes to our destination, we were quite aware of the fact that Colombia has a huge drug cartel that patrols the streets. Our looking different was sure to take notice. But we put our trust in Allah that everything would go well. Being that we have had our share of discrimination in the United States, we were not quick to condemn a people by the actions of a few. Judging the country of Colombia by the drug cartels was wrong, and we would not permit ourselves to become prejudiced with fear.
The statistics for Islam in Colombia estimates a total Muslim population of 10,000, representing 0.02 percent of the population. There are a number of Islamic organizations in Colombia, including Islamic centers in San Andrés, Bogotá, Maicao, Guajira, Nariño, and Santa Marta. There are also primary and secondary Islamic schools in Bogotá and Maicao. Maicao plays host to the continent's second largest mosque, the Mosque of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab.
The Muslim presence in Colombia is vast and varied. A large wave of immigrants came from the Middle East in the 1940s, making their permanent home in the town of Maicao in northern Colombia. These immigrants were mostly Muslim and were attracted by the thriving commerce of the town, which was benefiting from the neighboring Venezuelan oil bonanza. It is estimated that Colombia has a population of 840,000 Lebanese immigrants.
After arriving at 11pm in Bogata, we took a taxi and proceeded to go to the local masjid. To our dismay, we found the masjid closed. The mosque in Bogota is actually a converted 4th floor retail area in the downtown, busy shopping district. With the masjid being closed and having no way of gaining entrance, we found a local hotel and stayed the night; thankful that the first part of our journey had gone so smoothly.
The next morning we went to the mosque. It was here that we spent the next 5 days of our trip. The days here were busily involved visiting the local Muslim community. In addition to Colombian Muslims who were of Middle Eastern descent, there were also Indo-Pakistani Muslims and Muslims who were native Colombian. We were fortunate to meet and befriend Brother Nelson, a Colombian convert, the President of the Islamic Center in Bogata. Brother Nelson was an extremely hospitable host, showing us around the city and taking us to visit the Muslims that he knew. Another Colombian convert, an English teacher named Brother Luis, was our guide throughout the rest of our stay in Colombia.
When news spread throughout the community that visitors had arrived, Muslims from America, Muslims from near and far were eager to come and listen to talks about Islam and the reviving of the effort of the Prophet (S). Other Muslims from neighboring cities invited us to visit them. So we rented a large van and decided to travel to Medellin. It was decided that Brother Nelson and three other local Colombians would join us on our trip; we were appreciative of having Brothers who were familiar with the country to navigate our way around. The local brothers cautioned us that the problem of guerrillas was very real, that we would need to travel by day to avoid any danger, and that the government would close many of the roads and highways at dusk to further protect the citizens. We prepared ourselves to be leaving the next morning after prayer. In all, we felt very successful of our short time spent in Bogata. In addition to meeting and befriending a great Muslim community, four Columbians converted to Islam, including a Flamingo band leader David (Dawud) and a 70 year old grandmother. Just before leaving, a young Colombian man who had recently accepted Islam came to the mosque accompanied by his father. This father said that since his son had converted to Islam, his son started respecting him and behaving differently – kinder and more thoughtful. The father mentioned that he had wanted to see for himself the reasons behind this change in his son. This young man ended up traveling with us on our journey and by the end of our trip, he was so thankful for the knowledge that he had gained and for the experience that made him a more patient person – qualities he said were sure to please his father.
Now accompanying our group as we traveled was Nelson and four other Colombian brothers. We were now a group of 12 brothers traveling by van to the city of Medellin. Although we drove as fast as we could, we were unable to make it to the city limit by sunset and were forced to sleep the night on the outskirts of town. Since we had not planned on doing this, we were unsure where to sleep the night. It was dark so we parked outside a nightclub. Some brothers slept in the van while others put their sleeping bags outside and slept. When we woke up and were preparing to leave, a customer came up to us and told us that we had scared him out of his wits–he thought that we were angels and were here to take his life.
We continued on our journey and saw a sign that said San Francisco. Being from the Bay Area, we all agreed that the city of San Francisco was where we wanted to stop to pray and have a bite to eat. Upon seeing a few of the brothers dressed all in white, the restaurant owner explained to us that his wife, who was almost 9 months pregnant, were making her uncomfortable and they preferred us not to eat there. We were told that we could pray outside. We prayed outside and when we finished the restaurant owner came and told us that his wife felt so much peace watching us pray. We were about to leave but they insisted that we have café con leche (coffee with milk) and apologized for their prior behavior. San Francisco, a small town in the mountains, had never encountered Muslims nor heard about Islam. Alhamdullilah, Brother Nelson gave an introductory talk about Islam and then talked about Mary's (Maryam's) pregnancy in the Quran. We had distributed dates, brought from the States, and offered them to the locals. Nelson donated the Spanish Quran to the owner of the restaurant who had expressed interest in reading it. His wife ate some of the dates and wanted to choose a name from the Quran for their newborn. They asked us to return to their city in several years so we could talk to their child to explain the importance of the name they chose.
We drove to another town as we saw a sign for delicious fresh fish. We stopped to eat at this restaurant near a lake. After eating a delicious meal of fried fish and salad, we decided to make our prayers there. After praying, the locals asked us to pray for them. We told them that we pray to God directly and that they, too, can do the same. One parent insisted that we pray for her sick child who had been ill for many days. We weren't prepared for this but our amir (leader) told us that we could all collectively make dua'a for this child. We made dua'a and read Surat al Fatiha as there is shifa (cure) in this surah. By the time we finished making dua'a, other people had gathered around us asking us to make prayers for them, too. We told them that we were normal people who were seeking help from God. We explained to them about the oneness of Allah and the basic principles of Islam. Two people wanted to take their shahada. We gave them some Islamic materials in Spanish and directed them to the closest Muslim community.
We finally arrived in the city of Medellin. Our stay in Medellin was a very pleasant memory for many of the brothers. We were warmly welcomed by the local Muslims who were so excited to have a foreign group visiting them. We bid farewell to Brother Nelson who had to get back to his job and family. Our stay in Medellin was busily spent visiting the Muslim community which consisted of families from the Caribbean and some native Pakistanis, in addition to native Colombians. The community in Medellin is very active. During our stay here, a Colombian converted to Islam and the next day he brought his wife who was also ready to convert, Alhamdulillah.
We continued by van on our way to Cartagena and while stopped at a traffic sign in the city of Bucaramanga, people were selling what looked like roasted peanuts. The local Colombians who were traveling with us wanted to stop and buy these snacks, excitedly offering them to us. We were told they were yummy so naturally we were eager to try this roadside snack. However, upon closer examination, they didn't look like peanuts; they looked darker than the ones we have in the US. They invited us to go ahead and taste them. We asked what they were. They then laughed. "If we tell you what they are, you will never eat them." That was our clue to not eat them! "Go ahead, take a bite and let us know what you think?" They told us that the delicious snack tastes like burned popcorn and is super crunchy. With each bite, there is a crackle sound. Realizing that we were not going to join them in the eating of this snack, they finally told us what they were eating, "hormigas culonas" (toasted queen ants)!! We decided to pass on this delicatessen, while our fellow local Muslims munched on–the cracking sounds evident with each bite. It seems that Colombians have been eating ants for centuries.
We finally arrived in Cartagena and then took small canoes to the nearby island of Playa Blanca, which was inhabited by Muslim fishermen. We were surprised to see how Islam had reached this island in Colombia. The island was beautiful, with the reflection of the brilliant sun shining on the sand and sea. The ocean had the most striking colors of blue you had ever seen. Located on this island, there was a small house that had been converted to a mosque. The local imam there was a Colombian convert who had donated his house for a mosque. Brother Carlos was so strong in his dawah efforts that he had introduced forty houses in a radius around the mosque to Islam. He had even been interviewed by the local TV station; Brother Carlos said that the way he attracted people to Islam was how he dealt with his neighbors. And if a person had good qualities and was honest and generous, then your friends and neighbors will look to those qualities and want to emulate them. His house got too small to accommodate the growing population of Muslims so he built a larger prayer place (musala). We visited the local Muslim fishermen and they were so happy to see us; the fact that we had come to visit them from so far had truly touched them. They constantly supplied us with fresh coconuts and other delicious tropical fruit. We passed the warm evenings gathering with the local Muslims, sipping delicious coconut juice and reminding the Muslims about their duties and obligations to keeping Islam active.
Most of the people on this island were fisherman by profession and very humble people. Their main diet consisted of fish. Since we were considered their special guests, they crossed the island just to bring back halal meat so as we would not tire from eating fish. As a special treat for the brothers, the amir (leader) of our group allowed us to go swimming in the clear blue ocean. He must have seen us sweating in the hot weather and without cold, icy drinks. This has been an experience that we'll never forget.
Just before leaving the island, a Muslim brother donated an electric water cooler, either as an encouragement to stay longer or for the next group that comes by to visit. When we were leaving the fishermen were in tears and asked us to stay longer, but our remaining days were few and we had already extended our stay on the island of Cartagena. We said, "Ojalá we will come back." "InshAllah we will return." Ojalá is a term used in the Spanish language which was originated by the Muslims of Spain about 800 years ago. The Spanish phrase, ojalá (que), and the Portuguese phrase, oxalá (que), both meaning "I hope (that)," "would (that)," "would to God (that)," etc., are both derived from the Arabic insha' Allâh. When asked why they use the word "Ojalá," they will say that they use it as an expression for something in the future. "Ojalá, I get the job, house, car, etc." When the Spaniards shout olé at the bullfighter or the flamenco dancer, they echo the Muslim invocation of God, Allah! In fact, thousands of Spanish words have their origins in the language of the Muslims whose stay in Spain lasted eight centuries. Examples which can be easily appreciated without much knowledge of Spanish are sugar, azúcar, originally assukar; and cotton, in Spanish algodÃ³n, from al-qutun. Olive in Spanish is aceituna, and olive oil aceite, from the Arabic for olive, alzeitun. When Spaniards bid one another farewell and say "Hasta mañana" they are, quite unconsciously as with most of these words, using the Arabic hattá which still means what it did in the Middle Ages when it entered Spanish - "until". Many of the brothers were surprised to discover that the people of Colombia were using so many words as part of their language.
From Cartagena, we were expected to visit the Muslims in Maicao. There are about 10,000 Arabs, both Muslims and Christians in this city. However, due to limited time we would not be able to visit them. We had to think of getting back to Bogota, which was about 1046 km from where we were. We had limited daytime travel and police blocks, so we made mashura (consultation) and decided to head back south and stopped in Barranquilla. We went through security checkpoints; the government has set up these programs aimed at eradicating drugs. Although 90% of the cocaine entering the U.S. is processed in Colombia, Colombia has made real progress to weaken drug trafficking organization.
Throughout our trip the Colombian Muslims were beautiful people to meet–friendly and hospitable. The Islamic quality of honoring the guests has surely not been lost in this beautiful country. We were welcomed, embraced and made to feel at home. From our wonderful experience in Colombia, we now have a love and attachment to Colombia and can't wait to come back!
The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186
|Vol. XX, No. 25|
|Note from the Editor|
|Letters to the Editor|
|Islam in Colombia|
|The Purpose of Life|
|Inna Lilahi Wa Inna|
|Ask and He Gives|
|How I Embraced Islam|
|Salaahtul Janazah -|
|Salaahtul Janazah -|
|Learn to Perform and|
Correct Your Wudhu
|How to Perform |
|The Last Sermon|
|The Prophets Quiz|
|Monthly Prayer Calendar|
Surah Al Asr
|The Past is|
|Speaking of Time|
|Stories of the Sahabah|
|Sayings of the Prophet|