The revival of Islam came about in the Arabian Peninsula but today in every corner of the world, we find a Muslim practicing Islam, reading the Quran and living a lifestyle of peace. Those that were not raised as a Muslim sometimes think that they have to somehow make a choice as to whether or not they will continue to acknowledge their cultural heritage when they become a Muslim. The beauty of Islam is that it does not ask an individual to destroy their individuality. We can still follow customs and traditions that we were raised with, just as long as they are in accordance with Islam. Today we see Islam on every continent, small in some areas but thriving in those that have found their happiness with Islam. Within the U.S. there are communities that have shattered the idea that Islam is exclusively for people from Africa, Middle East or Asia. In reality, the Muslim community is inclusive of everyone. The diversity in Islam is something to be valued and embraced as a means to unify and rekindle it’s lost kinship. The diversity is a reminder that we came from a singular being, Adam (may peace be upon Him) and have sprouted to a hodgepodge of political lines, customs and beliefs. Yet, thanks to God, we are united as one body and can pray side by side with an individual from a different background that we may never find in our own cultural enclave.
Still unbeknownst to many, there is a Latin Muslim community thriving within the US and in Latin America and growing day by day. The phenomena of the growing and diverse Latin Muslim community received exposure in the 50th Annual Hispanic Day Parade in NYC, which gathered 18 Latin American countries in a single event. This annual gathering is one of the most colorful scenes in NYC, as it features the folkloric culture of every Latin American country. The themes are played in music, dance and costumes. The Hispanic Parade committee that organizes the event allows each group that participates to demonstrate their unique character.
Our goal in participating in this parade was to demonstrate that within the mostly Christian Hispanic Community, there exists a diverse Hispanic Muslim community from countries such as Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Dominican Republic. We wanted to show that we are just as proud of our heritage and that our faith does not separate us from our roots. It in fact brings us closer to these roots as it is a community-oriented way of life, which praises fellowship among humanity. Hispanic Muslims still share the same passion and love for their family as the rest of the Latin Community throughout the world. Islam does not restrict anyone from participating in such events and marching peacefully with our Christian friends that share our cultural heritage. What mattered most in our participation is that it was a public venue with thousands of spectators who have probably never witnessed Muslims gathered in one of largest parades in NYC. Our participation demonstrated that we are not closed off from society, and that our beliefs do not separate us. It unifies us all.
Our theme of unity was displayed through a colorful float which consisted of an arch displaying the words “Un Creador, Una Familia, Una Planeta” (One Creator, One Family, One Planet), with a two dimensional globe underneath that. On the back panel of the float we displayed the message “Somos Musulmanes Hispanos”-the headscarves on each women and men donning long beards and thobe’s, and the Latin American flags we held were the real symbols of who we are. Our float was designed to give a message of unity and to show Islam in a positive light.
In preparing for this event, many of us wondered how the crowd would react to our participation. As this is a day where thousands of people are gathered with a sense of pride and happiness to see their country being represented, I knew that the overall happy nature of the event would be reflected in the spectator’s view of us. As we passed them in our float, there were flags waving back at us, shouting the name of their country at us and some glaring while taking a moment to read the message on our float. The NYPD officers that were guarding the event were mostly serious in their gestures. On the other hand I noticed a few officers crack soft smiles at us and one that snapped a picture as he stood in front of a divider. There was one particular spectator that showed his enthusiasm when he saw us passing by throwing his fist in the air followed by a kiss on his knuckles, in what I see as a symbol of solidarity with the struggle Muslim’s are facing. Further on, a man waving his flag yelled “Alhamdulillah”, a commonly used Arabic word meaning all praise be To God. A man and a woman from Columbia whom were parade participants there to march with a different group, decided to jump in along with us instead, and asked a fellow participant, Abdullah who was holding a Palestine and Guatemalan flag, for his Palestine flag. The two proceeded to walk among us and wave the Palestine flag to the crowd. These situations were unexpected by us, but it made me feel as if though the struggle we are facing is not as deep as some of us may think.
What I learned from this event is the impact a positive message has on the way people view us. When we show the world a positive message, the only thing that we can get in return is even more love and positivity. This is extremely valuable in a time when hateful speech towards Islam is louder than the kinder rational voice in Islam. It helps to discourage listeners of hateful speech towards Muslims to accept this rejection and hatred as something reasonable. On the contrary, justifying our beliefs through endless debates creates a notion that it’s okay to use a person’s faith to understand why bad things happen. It creates an atmosphere where it’s okay to generalize and categorize people by the actions of a smaller group. It promotes bigotry and justifies hostility among people. What we do not see in the media are the people who support us, empathize with our struggle and want to see the Muslim community demonstrate even more acts of peace that refute what the media says. It does not showcase individuals that want to march with us and show their solidarity by waving their fist in the air when they see us striving. These people do exist and will continue to stand with us as long as we continue to show our gratitude and desire for peace.