Islam in Bolivia

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El Camino de la Muerte (Road of Death), Bolivia

I was fortunate, by the grace of Allah, to travel with a group of 6 Muslim brothers to the country of Bolivia. Our mission there was to visit the Muslims in Bolivia so that they can establish the effort of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW), and spread the word of Allah-to give Dawah. The word Dawah means to invite. In this particular case, we were inviting the Bolivians to the word of Allah, to the deen of Islam. I was very excited to be leaving. For the next 40 days, I would be leaving my family, my job, and all the comforts of home. Although I had anticipated some hardships, I knew my presence and the fact that I was the only Spanish-speaking brother in the group would be very helpful to the group. So, we departed San Francisco International Airport on our way to Bolivia.

We landed in Bolivia and the first thing we did was to rent a van. After finding accommodations for the night, we flipped through the local phone book and searched for “Muslimsounding” names. Thanks to Allah, the next day we found a Muslim man, who was originally from Pakistan, and now living in La Paz, Bolivia, to show us around the city. He was also very generous to permit us to use a one-bedroom apartment. Alhamdullilah we started a musallah (prayer place) in his house, and invited the local people. Their “downtown musallah” consisted of an extremely run down, one-room space in the market-place, that was open only for Jumha salat. There was no bathroom, nor was there any water to make wudu.

The altitude was so high in some cities in Bolivia that we could hardly breathe. In fact, each night our chests would tighten so much that we couldn’t sleep. I then remembered the ayah in the Holy Quran where Allah (SWT) says:

“Whomever GOD wills to guide, He renders his chest wide open to Submission. And whomever He wills to send astray, He renders his chest intolerant and tight, like one who climbs towards the sky.” (Quran, 6:125)

I said, “SubhanAllah. There was no way that at the time this ayah was revealed in the Arabian Peninsula, more than 1400 years ago, that people would have known about this altitude pain. We were always out of breath, and amazed at how the local men and women would play soccer and run like it was nothing. The locals offered us an herbal drink, “mate”, which was a tea-like drink and kept telling us that the more we stayed, the more our hearts would open up and the less the altitude would bother us. Our hearts opened up to feel concern for the Bolivian people. In total, Alhamdullilah, 25 Bolivian people accepted Islam. In fact, the name “La Paz” means peace in Spanish and it did bring a lot of peace. Only Allah (SWT) knows just how many others were affected by our peaceful religion.

We stayed in the city of La Paz for one week. Each day, we went out visiting the Muslim brothers and encouraging them about their prayers, dhikr, and the importance of remembe, and establishing the effort of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW)ring Allah. Everywhere we traveled in the city of La Paz, we would stop at prayer times to make Salat. The local people would gather around us and watch in amazement for they had never seen anything like it before. Many would ask us what we were doing and inquire about Islam.

Our next stop was the city of Santa Cruz. The roads to Santa Cruz were so tight and narrow that two buses couldn’t pass at the same time. We were so scared that our van would fall over the side of the mountain. In fact, Bolivia is known for “El Camino de la muerte” which translates to the “Road to Death” and is known as the most dangerous road in the world. Whenever we arrived to a new city, the police always met us at the border. They were very weary of us and suspicious. They would ask us the same questions-where we were going? Who we were going to visit? Where would we be staying? And each and every time we would answer politely and honestly. We had nothing to hide. We explained Islam to them in hopes that they, too, might be touched by the beauty of Islam.

Alhamdullilah, after arriving in Santa Cruz and met a brother named Isa. Isa is a Bolivian of Palestinian heritage. Isa, along with his father, offer free Arabic classes to the local people. Due to the media coverage of current events in Islam, this has had a great impact on the Bolivian people attending these classes wanting to learn more about the Muslim people. This father and son duo has brought many people to Islam. While we were in Santa Cruz, I had the opportunity to visit their Islamic library. We noticed that many of the Islamic books had been translated from the Arabic language to Spanish. Brother Isa, who had studied in Madinah, Saudi Arabia and was fluent in both the Arabic and Spanish languages, had translated many books into Spanish. He then asked me my opinion about which would be a good book to translate from English into Spanish and started showing me his collection of English books. When my eyes saw a familiar book entitled “What Everyone Should Know about Islam and Muslims” by Suzanne Hanif. I told him that this is a great book to translate into Spanish. To my amazement, when I opened the book, it had my name and address in it. I said “SubhanAllah” How did this book come to Bolivia? He then told me that while he was attending school in Madinah he met this brother from Argentina who had given him the book. I then remembered the story of this book. I had actually purchased this book when I visited Pakistan and brought it home with me to San Francisco. At the time I received a call from this Argentinean man that I had never met. He was very interested in Islam so I mailed him the book. Alhamdullilah the man accepted Islam and went back to Argentina. I did not even know that he had gone to Madinah to study. This whole incident brought tears to my eyes.

While we were riding back, our van broke down in the mountains and had to be towed to the next town. Our group then had to buy bus tickets to get to the airport to fly back to San Francisco. While traveling on the bus, the other bus passengers were surprised to be riding with a group of Muslim foreigners. At the time of prayer, the brothers asked me to ask the bus driver if he would stop the bus to enable us to pray. The bus’ music was so loud and distracting that it would have been impossible to have prayed in this environment. At first, the bus driver refused, as this was a direct bus and made no stops. But when we offered him a little coffee money for his trouble, he agreed. When the bus suddenly stopped and all 6 of us brothers stood up simultaneously to exit the bus, the other passengers became alarmed. “What’s going on? What’s happening? Just to make sure that the bus driver would not leave us stranded in the Andes mountains while we prayed, we prayed directly in front of the bus’ tires. All the passengers stood in astonishment watching us pray. After offering our prayers, the bus driver and his assistant asked us to sit in the front of the bus and explain our religion, Islam, to him while the others slept. For the next 8 hours, we explained Islam to him. By the end of the ride, he told us that this was the best thing that he had ever heard in life. He wanted to embrace Islam but was hesitant. He asked, “Could I have been wrong for the past 40 years? How can I suddenly leave all this after an 8 hour drive?” He asked for some literature on Islam and we gave him the few that we had.

El Camino de la Muerte (Road of Death), Bolivia

In addition to these two cities, we also visited other cities and had many stops along the way. We met Muslims who were originally from India, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Palestine. And at every stop, we encountered non-Muslim people hungry for Islam. May Allah (SWT) reward the efforts of the Bolivian Muslims and grant their dua’ for a permanent Masjid.

Approximately 6 months after we had left Bolivia, we were told that a Muslim brother from England had visited Bolivia and loved the community. In fact, when this brother went back to England he began to fundraise to establish a Masjid in La Paz, Bolivia. Alhamdullilah, a brother in England heard about the project and purchased the Masjid (see photo below). The 3-story building he purchased for the Masjid included a large prayer hall for the men and women, a kitchen, a children’s classroom, and an apartment for the Imam. Seven days after it was purchased, this brother passed away. May Allah (SWT) build a house for him in Jannah. Hanging in the Masjid doorway in La Paz, Bolivia is a plaque in memory of this brother.

“And whatever good you send ahead for yourselves, you will find it with Allah, better and having a great reward.” (Quran 73:20)

As Muslims, we should always give the best of our wealth and time because we have control of it now. Who knows when death will take us? Is anyone really prepared? Every good deed we do, every charity we give, every kind word we speak–all wis being recorded.


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