Less than a dozen Muslim men and women gathered not long ago in an abandoned playground in Alameda, a coastal town outside Havana to observe Jummah, the weekly Muslim congregational prayer held every Friday.
Although the setting was not the most ideal for the important Islamic ritual, the faithful patiently bore the summer heat and the stares of curios onlookers while the Muezzin enthusiastically pronounced the words of the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. Moments later the Imam read few verses in Arabic to a keenly listening congregation and translated into Spanish reminding those gathered of Allaah’s injunctions in the Quran and some sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
Like in Alameda, Muslims in Havana for now have to create space in private homes for their prayers or they’ll have to congregate at the only officially sanctioned Muslim prayer area -in a museum in Calle Oficios in Old Havana.
However for many young Cuban Muslims, Islam does not belong to a museum. As a living, breathing and continuously expanding religion in the communist island, the growing youthful Muslim population says there is the need to accord space to the more than 10,000 adherents to worship in ways most befitting to their religion. New converts are striving hard to learn all aspects of their religion, but this is difficult to accomplish without a Mosque that will serve as a centre for all Muslims. That wish will soon come to fruition.
Saudi Arabia has sent the earth movers to the island to begin work on the largest mosque in Latin America, so Cuban Muslims will soon have a central location for their worship. To Iman PEDRO LAZO TORRES the President of the Islamic League of Cuba and his fellow Muslims, the Saudi intervention is a timely one.
How Do Cubans View the Rise of Islam on the Island
For many Cubans, Islam is a religion that they know little about-except for the characterizations they see in the media of Islam and Muslims. That perception of Islam and its adherents is set to change thanks to the way Cuban Muslim converts comport themselves.
Hassan Jan is a Muslim convert in his mid 40’s running a print shop in Santa Clara, a university town in central Cuba. He wears a Muslim robe and dons on the Kufi, the hat that is a favorite for many men in predominantly Muslim countries. Hassan’s wife Shabana and both of their two teenage daughters also wear the Muslim veil.
Together the Jan family, like many Cuban Muslim converts always find themselves answering questions about Islam and Muslims. While many in their extended families were initially confused regarding why they had to change faiths, many Cuban Muslims have told stories of how their families have largely accepted their conversion without much hate.
In an Island where pork is a staple food and the local brew is cheaper than soft drinks, new converts require a lot of determination to stay on course and not to fall into the temptations that are everywhere. Perhaps the deep rooted perception of Cuba as a party island is why Iman Torres feel it an obligation to tell everyone that they do not follow a ‘cubanized’ version of Islam, but an Islam rooted on the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
With a new mosque that will soon start sounding the Adhan in Havana, and good gestures from Saudi Arabia such as the largesse of late King Abdullah few years ago funding the Hajj trip for Hassan Jan and his wife, the rest of the world will soon realize that Cuba is a home to a small but enthusiastic number of Muslims aspiring to live life in accordance with the Quran and the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
Written by Mamudou Jallow