The Islamic Center of Hatillo, one of several mosques that dot the island of Puerto Rico.
In the difficult climate and contentious debate over ground zero mosques and wayward pastors, it is heartening to hear of Muslims living on the tropical paradise of Puerto Rico who are maintaining exceptionally good relations with their local non-Muslim community.
This â€˜Eidul Fitr, about 40 Muslim prison inmates were allowed to visit a mosque together in order to celebrate â€˜Eidul Fitr in more religious circumstances than what they could do in their prison.
The imam of the AlFaruq Mosque, a Muslim community in Alta Vega, about 20 miles west of San Juan, Imam Zaid, explained to The Muslim Observer about the Muslim community in Puerto Rico, saying that there is a Muslim community in Puerto Rico of about 5,000 souls, about 3,500 of whom are immigrants, mainly Palestinian but with Lebanese and Egyptians among them. Additionally, he explained to TMO that there are â€œabout 1,500 converts–about 300 converts inside prison.â€
The process by which this happened shows the mysterious way in which God works, since as Imam Zaid explains, â€œone Muslim or two Muslims were inside, and they kept propagating for the past three years–the work started from within the prison.â€
Then, Zaid explains, â€œcapillanillas, churches, started to request our servicesâ€ in the same way that Christian outreach groups organize Christian religious ministry to Christian inmates. â€œWe taught them, gave them classes–thatâ€™s how the massive conversion to Islam began. We began with two or three here or there, prisoners talked to each other, thatâ€™s how people started to enter Islam in more numbers.â€
Imam Zaid speaks fluent Spanish and English. Heâ€™s also young, an American from Chicago, who moved to Puerto Rico about 12 years ago. Puerto Rico is a tropical paradise to which Americans can travel with no visa or passport; so with just a driverâ€™s license people are able to visit–and this is in part why some Muslims have gone there.
Imam Zaid explains that â€œWe asked the corrections department, which we worked with as religious people giving religious instruction–can you allow the prisoners to come out and be with us during â€˜Eid celebration.â€
Speaking before the â€˜Eid, Imam explained, â€œThey accepted that–and not only that, before the â€˜Eid, we asked for special arrangements for suhoor, and they accepted that also. Alhamdulillah it worked out, it was something beautiful for the Puerto Rican corrections system to adjust. We were allowed to have 40 prisoners coming out to our mosque–and the secretary of the corrections department will also do â€˜Eid–heâ€™s not a Muslim, but he wanted to show a good gesture, to participate.â€
â€œPuerto Rico is a very beautiful awesome island,â€ Imam Zaid said. â€œAllah has blessed this island with animal life, plant life. Itâ€™s very small, about 100 miles long, 35 miles wide. The population is big with respect to space, the population is about 5,000,000–it has the only rain forest in American territory, Alyuque.â€
â€œWe have about eight mosques–it is a small community, and the community is spread out.â€
However small and spread out, it appears that the Muslim community in Puerto Rico has manifested the beautiful and peaceful nature of their island through peaceful and warm relations with local non-Muslims, and perhaps this warm relationship is one that we in mainland America can look to as an example during the time of controversy in which we find ourselves.