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