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The Muslim Link

WhyIslam Goes South of the Border PDF Print E-mail
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Community News - Community News
Written by Wendy Diaz Muslim Link Staff Reporter   
Thursday, 14 June 2012 10:45

A new convert  takes his Shahadah with Imam Isa Rojas (left) at the Al Hikmah Center in Mexico City, pictured below. Photos courtesy of Al Hikmah Center

When Nahela Morales, an Administrative Assistant and National Coordinator for Spanish Dawah at WhyIslam, decided to plan her family vacation a year ago, she never thought she would be taking her work with her. Now, she is spearheading a joint effort between WhyIslam and seven other organizations, most of them Spanish-dawah oriented, to deliver necessary Islamic material to the growing Muslim community in Mexico.

Morales, who was born in Mexico City, grew up in California and moved to New York in 2000, five years later she accepted Islam and now lives in Union City, New Jersey.  She has worked for the Islamic Circle of North America’s (ICNA’s) WhyIslam Project for three years, taking phone calls from curious non-Muslims through the 1-877-WhyIslam Hotline, arranging mosque visits nationwide, and coordinating Latino and reverts sessions for the annual ICNA-MAS conventions, among other responsibilities. She is also an active volunteer with the North Hudson Islamic Education Center in Union City, NJ, a mosque which hosts about 400 Latino Muslim families, making it one of the largest Latino Muslim communities in the United States.

Four years ago, Morales visited Mexico alone for the first time as a new Muslim, and had to withstand the backlash from her Catholic family members who opposed her Islamic attire and likened her new faith to trading her identity. During a visit to non-Muslim relatives, she was attacked by one of her cousins who ripped off her headscarf and told her to “stop trying to be an Arab”, an incident Morales attributes to a lack of education about Islam. This time, Morales will be traveling alongside her husband and son and decided to prepare ahead of time.

“One of the main purposes of my trip was to give dawah to my family, especially my grandmother, who is 103 years old,” Morales said. After much research, she found the email address of another Mexican convert, Isa Rojas. “I contacted Brother Isa Rojas, the Imam of Masjid Centro Al Hikmah in Mexico City, Mexico, back in January 2012 through email to ask him for directions to the masjid, to see how far it was from my grandmother’s house.” After acquiring the phone number for the center, she decided to call ahead to let them know about her visit.

D uring the call, she introduced herself and WhyIslam to Imam Rojas, who assured her that any material in Spanish would be welcomed. Because he was not familiar with ICNA or their dawah efforts, he was unsure of what to expect from this newcomer.

Morales recalls, “I didn’t feel the enthusiasm from him that I felt within myself! I think others may have promised to visit (the masjid) before and never made it.” However, what started off as a simple promise to deliver Spanish brochures has snowballed into a collaborative effort to deliver everything from modest clothing to siwaks to audio and Islamic children’s books. These are the type of items which are scarce in the small Muslim community surrounding Al Hikmah Center, according to the imam.

Imam Isa Rojas, who also accepted Islam in the year 2000 and was later accepted to study in the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudia Arabia, completed studies in the Arabic language and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sharia in 2009. Upon his return to Mexico, he transformed his home into a fully-functioning masjid, now Al Hikmah Center in Mexico City, offering prayer services, Qur’an studies, and Arabic classes. Through his tireless efforts, many of his family members have accepted Islam and are hoping to educate others about the faith.

The majority of Mexico’s inhabitants are Catholic; however, because of growing tensions between Latin-American countries and the Catholic Church due to sex abuse scandals, division within the church hierarchy and severed ties between these countries and the Vatican, Mexico is fertile ground for Islamic propagation. Although it has the smallest Muslim minority group in Latin America, according to studies, it houses an entire town of indigenous converts to Islam called Nueva Esperanza or “New Hope” with an estimated population of 300 in the state of Chiapas, over 500 miles from Mexico City, and an Islamic resort with its own hotel called, El Centro Cultural Islámico de Mexico (Islamic Cultural Center of Mexico), in Tequesquitengo, Morelos. However, because of the huge distances between Islamic communities, resources remain limited.

When Morales approached her supervisor at WhyIslam with her idea, his response was positive. “This is a fantastic opportunity to expand the dawah work,” said Tariq Zamir, Director of the New Jersey Chapter of WhyIslam’s Dawah Project, who admired the initiative and prays for the success of the trip. Morales also shared her plans with friends and colleagues involved in other Islamic organizations and they expressed their desire to support the effort. She created a promotional page on Facebook, called “Unidos para Dawah en Mexico/United for Dawah in Mexico,” asking for donations of clothing items, Islamic material, and financial support.

She said, “Everyone is involved in their own world and they forget about the dawah. But there is a lot to be done.” She encourages others to volunteer with organizations such as WhyIslam and to donate to the groups that are working with the Spanish-speaking communities because they are low on funding.

As of June 9, 2012, she has raised $444, a meager amount considering the quantity of material she must purchase, the overage in her luggage, distribution costs in Mexico, and other expenses.

Morales has continued to correspond with Imam Rojas and his wife, Monseratt Pimentel, who have also begun to make arrangements for her to teach workshops about topics such as hygiene in Islam and how to better educate non-Muslim family members about Islam. Pimentel, who is impressed by the level of commitment and uniformity of the Latino Muslim presence in the US, is eager to meet Morales.

She said, “[Her trip] is a great blessing for the Muslims living in Mexico, not only because of the help and the material they [organizations] want to give us, but also because it will enrich our small community with ideas, plans, experience, and hopefully open a dialogue between Mexico and the Islamic community living in the US. At the same time, it is nice to know that the Latino brothers and sisters worry about us although they don’t live in Mexico, and in that manner express to us affection and brotherhood.”
So far, the entities that are supplying the material for Morales’ trip to Mexico are WhyIslam; Muslimahs Covered With Care (MCWC), a charitable organization that distributes Islamic clothing to needy Muslim women; RadioIslamico, a 24 hour Islamic radio channel in Spanish; IslamInSpanish, experts in audio/video production and Spanish dawah; Hablamos Islam Niños, a bilingual Spanish/English Islamic children’s books publisher; PIEDAD, a support group for Latina women and converts; and Muslimahs Couponing, one of Morales’ own personal efforts, which will supply toiletries. The North Hudson Islamic Education Center in Union City, NJ is allowing Morales to fundraise throughout the month of June in their masjid and will be donating any money gathered towards covering extra costs. In addition, individuals from all over the world have contributed by donating through Paypal or contacting This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Sister Nahela Morales leaves for Mexico City on June 26, 2012 and will remain there for three weeks.

Comments (5)
  • Tracie Fennell Stockton  - Dawah in the USA
    I am so very excited for the Muslim Community in Mexico. I converted in 2000 also but have had such a hard time keeping it together. The masjid here that are majority Arab are not welcoming to American Muslims. I live in Texas and was raised Christian. All of my family live here and no one else except one aunt has converted so no one gets it. I went from totally covered to looking like everyone around me because my deen is not strong enough to take the criticisms of my family. When I reach out to the women in the masjid near me, I get the cold shoulder. They are all Arab and generally stay within their own circle. Any suggestions on getting myself and my husband back on track ?
  • Ali A.  - About Arabs
    Dear Tracie, You are facing a harsh reality of division between Muslims. However, the treatment you have been receiving from Arab Muslims is also related with suspicion of working for intelligence agencies. Anyhow, to deal with this problem you need to find different Mosques and try not to talk about how you are a convert or any other stories form your background. I suggest you learn dominant cultures of Muslim nations such as; Arabs, Turks, Pakistanis, North, West, East Africans and etc. It is always good to know some traditions of other cultures. However, if you still cannot connect with Arab community, I suggest you go for Turkish, Bosnian and Pakistani people. There are a lot of Muslims from different backgrounds and I am sure that they will be able to help you to connect with the Muslim community around you lot easier.
  • NR
    Dear Tracie, These are some of my personal reflections on what you wrote and I hope they are of some benefit to you, and maybe other convert(s) reading this. This really is a lifelong struggle of ups and downs. I agree with some of the other suggestions to try to find other masajid and groups and find a place where you feel comfortable. I would suggest trying the African American community. Give several places a shot, and keep trying. You will always be the "new kid on the block" for a while - this is natural. In any new group, muslim or not, there is always a time of getting to know others and being accepted. I don't know if it's just me, but I'm a convert too -- and over time I concluded that most people who go to the masjid are simply living their own lives and have their own stresses and struggles, and don't intend to hurt our feelings. They are going through their own spiritual struggles too. Sometimes as converts we expect the welcome wagon to be constantly greeting us at the masjid door. I came to realize it is just as much my duty to smile at others and initiate salaams to them and be patient with others as much as it is others' duty to smile, give salaams and be patient with me. Most immigrants are facing different issues than we are, but they are still facing challenges. Their masajid might cater to them in ways that they don't cater to converts, but that is because they are immigrant focused masajid. As a Christian did you go to, for example, the Korean christian community or Spanish-speaking services? Probably not. I know I didn't. If we had, we would have experienced many of the same issues we do in immigrant dominated masajid. Did we feel that Korean-only or Spanish-only services and sermons were alienating or non-welcoming? Again, you or I probably never had to consider this because our own cultural background was dominant in the churches we frequented. That's because Christianity is the dominant religion in this country, and we had plenty of other choices besides the churches catering to immigrant communities. In accepting Islam we have truly become minorities in our own country and sometimes it is hard to fully comprehend what that will mean in our daily lives. In terms of "going off track" as you put it, in my case, I had to make an inner commitment to Islam early on that was not dependent on people's treatment of me, or my satisfaction or dissatisfaction with masjid services, or really anything external. I tried to practice it on my own and interact with a variety of communities. I tried to be respectful of those communities and pick up their ways to the degree that it is normal to blend in to any group you are trying to be connected to. I tried to disconnect from situations or people that were hurtful or I couldn't handle. Basically - Life. If you have a husband, this can bring you closer to be a team. Together, you are your own community and you just grow your circle wider one or two persons at a time. Focus on the basics, like salaah. Getting it right externally and internally can be a very satisfying journey. And commit to some form of learning - there are many online courses to choose from and again this can be a source of deep satisfaction. There are many avenues to connect to Islam through, depending on you and your husbands interests, hobbies, and personalities. And finally, keep making du'a. This is the time that you are really realizing your reliance on Allah for guidance and help. It is really not about people, and about how they will - and they will - disappoint you, it is about Allah and how He won't. This is very precious time for spiritual growth and deepening your commitment, and really opening the heart. Yes, there are many issues with the muslim community. Yes, you will find people you dislike, who give you the cold shoulder or who are even mean to you. But none of us is perfect. Things were not perfect in our lives before, and the people weren't all nice before either (and we converts have our bad days and mean streaks too - let's be real!). There were plenty of challenges before Islam, and there will continue to be after. And believe me - the really good, decent people who are there for you, who teach you, who stick by you, who forgive you when you make mistakes, who make du'a for you in secret and you don't even know about them -- all these people, they often get little or no air-time. But they are there too in our communities, they far outweigh those who might irk us, and we should treasure them immensely. All of "them" are our brothers and sisters in Islam, and "they" are "us". Keep the faith. Keep making du'a. You'll find your solid ground soon in sha Allah.
  • Jowairiyya Abdullah  - We need more translator
    Praise be to ALLAH You are very much needed, I live in a community where there are a lot of Mexican, and no one to give them dawah. because there is language problem. What is needed is a masjid that speak to Spanish speaking people. I do not know of any here in Atlanta Georgia (USA)
  • Roomana H Songerwala  - How to keep it together
    My dear Tracie: I really understand your feelings. I have been through a similar struggle. Wanted to give you some practical advice: Maintain and strengthen your relationship with Allah first and foremost and then, try to move to a place where you can practise your Deen. Remember, we depend and need people like ourselves to goad us on, and we cannot live in a vacuum. Try to join the masjid Sr.Nahela is at and move to Union City. If that is not an option, try to live in a place where you are that is more friendly to muslims, stay near a masjid. I lived in Houston and it has a growing muslim community. Also, try to find masjids and homes in places where the make up of the residents is cosmopolitan. Arabs dont know the language, nor do Indians or Pakistans or Americans. Try to find those who speak your language and dont try to fit in, but set an example. You might be singled out once in a while, but face the challenge for Allah's sake, and Allah will make it easy for you inshAllah.
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