On Saturday, January 28th, the Diyanet Center of America (DCA) opened its doors exclusively to the Hispanic community for the first time since its grand opening almost a year ago. With the help of Latino/Hispanic Muslim volunteers from the DMV region, DCA organized a memorable event which featured Quranic recitation, a special address by Imam Ali Tos, an introduction to Islam in the Spanish language, interactive Q&A session, free refreshments and gift bags, and a tour of the mosque and facilities.
The open house, named Let’s Talk Peace: A glimpse at the Life of a Muslim (Hablemos sobre la paz: Un vistazo a la vida del musulmán), seemed especially appropriate after a week full of turmoil sparked by several controversial executive orders signed by President Donald Trump which directly impacted both the Latino and Muslim communities in the US. The heated political climate and social outrage has brought many people together in protest and solidarity, and provided a medium to discuss similarities rather than focus on differences. Let’s Talk Peace presented an opportunity for Muslims and Latinos to engage in dialogue and get to know one another in a relaxed setting.
During the week prior to the event, the Diyanet Center’s massive scrolling light banner suspended across its two towering minarets, swayed in the chilly breeze with its very first message in the Spanish language: “Puertas abiertas al público el sábado a las 10am” (“Open house on Saturday at 10am”). After a light breakfast, the program opened on Saturday morning with Imam Ali Tos’s melodious recitation of the Qur’an. He read verses 20-27 from Surah Ar Rum, Chapter 30, which center around the creation of mankind and the diversity in nature as signs of Allah’s infinite power and wisdom.
Imam Ali welcomed guests cheerfully and expressed his delight at hosting the Spanish-speaking crowd. He said, “We are all embracing the blessings of diversity which is a clear sign of God, Who created everything on earth in diversity. What I observe in this meeting is quite compatible with the universal principles of Islam…” He explained DCA’s mission to provide religious, social, and educational services to Turkish immigrants and Muslims living in the US, as well as the establishment of the community center as an example of Islamic heritage in America. He urged all guests, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to support and attend future events at DCA and to form an alliance of “harmony, peace, and understanding.” He condemned intolerance, sectarianism, and distrust between neighbors, colleagues, and coworkers, and called for all Muslim Americans and fellow citizens to come together in compassion and love.
Hernán Guadalupe, founder of Hablamos Islam, Inc. (We Speak Islam), served as the Spanish interpreter for Imam Ali, as well as the moderator. He also presented a segment on the Islamic influence on Latino culture, which drew a positive response from the audience. Special guests included Abu Sumayyah Wesley Lebrón and his family from New Jersey. Lebrón, a Puerto Rican convert and graduate of Mishkah Universtiy who serves as a national speaker for IslamInSpanish, gave a brief introduction to Islam, explaining its basic principles and teachings, as well as addressing questions from the audience during the Q&A session. Spanish-speaking volunteers donned name badges adorned with a flag from their country of origin and also tackled questions from participants.
Visitors were encouraged to enjoy refreshments, which included coffee, tea, and other beverages, an array of delicious pastries, bagels, hummus, and fresh bread. A babysitting area provided parents the opportunity to freely enjoy the program as their children colored geometric patterns and snacked from special goody bags filled with granola bars, fruit juices, and gummy snacks. Tables were decorated with colorful Latin American flags and bright green tablecloths. Guests signed in at the information table to receive a gift bag and gather free literature about Islam, including copies of the Spanish translation of the Qur’an, WhyIslam Spanish brochures and books, the Message International Magazine’s bilingual Spanish/English editions, children’s books by Hablamos Islam, and CD’s of Islamic lectures provided by IslamInSpanish.
Guests were able to partake in a tour of the mosque and witness the Muslim prayer; as well as visit the sports complex and Turkish bath. Some Latino Muslim converts brought non-Muslim family members so they could learn about Islam from other Spanish-speakers. One of the main attractions for them was the facility tour, given that some had never visited an Islamic center. A sister from the Dominican Republic and a Laurel resident said, “It’s hard for me to explain my faith to family members because I’m the only one (Muslim in my family).” She and her non-Muslim mother were happy to have an opportunity to attend a program about Islam in their native tongue.
There were approximately 40 attendees, not including children, and organizers felt it was a great start in engaging with the Latino community. While most Hispanics in attendance praised the Muslim community for its hospitality, some expressed previously feeling alienated. However, their visit opened for them a desire to learn more and to attend future such events. In these trying times, such occasions will help bring together two communities facing similar challenges to build a strong bond of camaraderie and unity.