Last week, the Islamic Society and Latin Women hosted an event on Latin American Muslims. The event featured two Ecuadorian Americans who converted to Islam from Catholicism.
The event, entitled “Latin Muslims: the Sons and Daughters of Golden Spain,” focused on two seemingly different cultural groups, Muslims and Latinos, and their respective cultures. The event was attended by over 50 students.
Ahson Mahfooz, vice president of the Islamic Society, served as master of ceremonies for the event and introduced the two speakers, brothers Yusuf and Hernan Guadalupe of Hoboken, New Jersey.
“The reality is that prosperity lies in this world and the next. Islam is not a religion, but a lifestyle,” said Mahfooz. He added that not all Muslims are Arabs. “There are 80 million in China and thousands in Brazil,” he said. There are an estimated 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide. Mahfooz then gave the microphone to Hernan Guadalupe.
“I grew up Catholic in Ecuador. I was an alter boy,” he said.
Guadalupe went on to say that from an early age, he was plagued by questions he couldn’t find satisfactory answers to.
“If God is everywhere, why must I go [to church] to be close? The contradiction of values between what’s said and what’s going on, the monotone voice (during the Mass) wasn’t capturing people,” he said.
Guadalupe said that he always believed in God and he explored many religions, including Hinduism, Budhism and Judaism. He also looked into science and Darwinian evolution theories. He recalled that at age 15, “I felt completely lost, I looked up at the moon on a clear night and I couldn’t stop crying. I said ‘O God, please guide me.’ It didn’t come right away.”
He then spoke of his college years at the Stevenson Institute in Hoboken.
Guadalupe recalled becoming very interested in Latin politics and pledged for a Latino fraternity. He said he enjoyed debating religion and politics, and that his Muslim friend from a Pakistani and Saudi Arabian background always gave the best answers.
“What shocked me was that his answers were more profound and clearer than priests, scholars in their fields,” he said.
He began learning more about Islam, and reading the Quran on his way to work.
“It scared me. I wasn’t ready to commit and give up parties…but in my heart, I knew this was the right way,” Guadalupe said.
Guadalupe accepted Islam on September 11, 2001. He recalled going to school in Hoboken that day and finding, to his excitement, that his chemistry course was cancelled that morning. He then learned that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.
“The environment on campus was dark; everyone was hoping that everyone would be OK. Then [the Twin Towers] collapsed. At that moment, I realized everyone woke up for a regular day, but today was their last day and they didn’t know it. I thought of the Quran- accept Allah or go to Hell.
I thought it could be my time right now. Death comes to you without you knowing, I’m being arrogant thinking I could enjoy it and ignore what Allah chose to show me. At that point my friend said, ‘I have to go pray,’ and I went with him. It’s been that way since.” Guadalupe said.
He concluded his remarks by saying, “Allah has a plan and he knew that was the day to change. Now I’m the happiest man alive. I now have a wife and an eight-month-old son and my brother, mother and three cousins [have since] converted.”
Mahfooz then introduced the event’s second speaker, Guadalupe’s brother, Hernan.
“My brother was the leader and when he accepted Islam I didn’t want to change my friends, dress…I had a totally different lifestyle, but by the mercy of God he put into my heart to accept Islam. I accepted it blindly and began learning all that I had done wrong; my disrespect to my parents and what not. I wanted to obey my friends more than my parents or Allah’s laws,” Guadalupe said.
He went on to explain that he began partying at age 14, and that it was hard for him to change his lifestyle. He changed after he survived a car accident.
“My parents asked me, ‘How are you still alive?’ and my brother told me, ‘Allah has given us all of this bounty and we take it for granted.’ I thought my purpose was to hang with friends and do things that aren’t permissible and not submitting to the will of Allah,” Guadalupe said.
He concluding his remarks by saying, “As Muslims, we possess a treasure, whether you see it or not. We have the example of the best person in mankind: Mohammed.”
Mahfooz then began a question and answer session. Women wrote questions and passed them up, while the men asked theirs orally.
The first question concerned how Guadalupe’s parents reacted to the news that he (Diego) had converted to Islam.
“Mom said, ‘At least you found God.’ My father asked, ‘Why are you doing it at this time?’ He was worried for my safety. They asked a lot due to misconceptions by the media, but they’ve been supportive. They saw the dramatic change to people focused on serving God. We were lucky, they’re truly understanding. Others aren’t as lucky,” Guadalupe said.
The next question was about the historical ties of Latino culture to Islam. Guadalupe answered that, before Columbus discovered America, there were Muslims there. Guadalupe said Columbus described them in his travel diary as “people who were peaceful and committed to God. They probably spoke Arabic and didn’t eat pork. He called it Mohammedism, a popular term until the 1970s, as opposed to Islam which means to submit.”
Guadalupe said that he juggles the Latino lifestyle and Islam. “We speak Spanish and cook Spanish at home, but there are things [Latin culture] considers permissible that we don’t practice, such as drinking wine. We follow the example of Mohammed first, and whatever doesn’t go against it, we do. We don’t eat pork, but growing up, we ate it almost everyday,” he said.
Those in attendance found the event, which featured Halal Chinese food, informative. “It was interesting. I learned some new things. I liked the speakers,” said freshman Ifedapo Oyeyemi, a biology major. “It was very informative. I’ve learned more about the Muslim religion which isn’t much publicized in the media or on campus,” said Steven Buffett, a member of the Sigma Lambda Beta Fraternity. Some students enjoyed the cultural exchange of ideas and beliefs.
“It was nice to have a room filled with different cultures. It was an opportunity for people to get informed of something that they weren’t informed of,” said Norma Hirsch, president of Latin Women.
“It was good to hear their experiences and point of view, coming from Catholicism to Islam. They were very articulate in what motivated that chance,” said senior Yousra Abdelhadi, a double major in chemistry and biology.