Islam Comes to Merida
Before we settled in Merida, we had traveled the world. We had been to Europe, at least, and Southeast Asia, and Nepal. We had seen communities of many kinds. And everywhere we had been, we had seen Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques. One of our first impressions of Merida initially was how dominant the Christian, and mostly Catholic, religion was in the culture, to the seeming exclusion of almost every other world religion. We did find one small Buddhist gathering spot, but mostly what we saw were evidences of Christianity.
Over the years, we have seen the Church of the Latter Day Saints increase its presence in Merida's centro in a big way (the Mormon tabernacle is on Calle 70, just south of Calle 65, and now takes up almost the entire block). We have seen various evangelical Christian sects expand in Merida as well, and now it seems that almost every religion is represented here in some way. What we still had not ever seen was any evidence of Islam.
Then the other day, we got this email:
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Dear Editor: Assalamo Alaikum - Greetings of Peace!
I am here in Mérida along with Imam Rana Noman, to open the first center in Mexico, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. We would like to meet with you to enter the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and discuss the objectives of our presence in Mexico. If possible, we would like to come during the next week at any time convenient to you.
Thank you and God bless. Was-salam - and peace!
A. Waseem Sayed, PhD
Member National Executive
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA
We Asked Some Questions
After reading some of the articles to which Dr. Sayed referred us, we emailed back and explained that we could not conveniently meet for awhile, but could we do an online interview. In the light of all that has gone on in the news associated with Islam and the Muslim community, we thought it would be important to share what we have learned with our readers. A summary of our question/answer session, supplemented with information from various Spanish-language articles written about Dr. Sayed and his community, are below.
Muslim Community Arrives in Merida
Finally, the religion of Islam has come to Merida. In particular, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, "a dynamic international movement, reformist and fast growing within Islam. Founded in 1889, the Community has spanned more than 200 countries with membership exceeding tens of millions of followers."
Last November, they announced their presence by having a booth at the annual fair at Xmatkuil. They have rented a space in Merida's centro, and someday hope to build Merida's first mosque. According to an interview they gave to polemicarevista.com, they said that they had tried to establish a presence in Mexico before with no luck. Now, they have opened a center, and they "currently have approximately 100 members throughout Mexico, distributed in Mexico City, Puebla, Merida and a community in Chiapas composed of 70 people." In another interview, in this article, they mentioned that they are still in Mexico in a provisional status. After a few years, according to the law, they will be able to register as a religious association, at which point, they will be able to have all the rights that religious organizations have in this country. At the moment, they are registered as a civil organization. Dr. Sayed also mentioned that his group "opened the first mosque in Guatemala. I was in charge of that. In 1989 that mosque was opened by the Vice President of Guatemala and the head of our community."
The Mission of the Ahmadiyya Community
In another article, Dr. Waseem Sayed, a theoretical physicist by trade, communicated that his group's mission was to "spread the message of peace and brotherhood that must exist between all cultural groups in the world, and to eradicate misconceptions linking the practice of Islam with negative practices such as war, terrorism, and many other incorrect issues that people in general have about Islam." (translation from this article).
In that article, he also explained that the Islam religion believes that all religions come from God, that all prophets, including Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses and others are all prophets from God.
He added that the concept of the Islamic faith includes "Every religion taught mankind how to live alone and in peace. And the recipe of all religions to establish peace, we believe, is to know and worship God and serve humanity, the creatures of God. Worship means that everything that God has bestowed upon us must be used in the best suitable way and the most appropriately. If a human being has knowledge of how to do surgeries and to serve humanity, then by doing so, he is thanking and praising God. In Islam the concept of worship is constant."
Dr. Sayed shared that he had been asked about the status of women in the Islamic faith. "I explained the true teachings of Islam about women. Islam teaches that women have the rights of inheritance, for instance. In the Quran, it is written that women and men are equal before God spiritually, a statement made by Mohammed 1400 years ago. In the Islamic faith, women have the right to divorce, as well as many other rights that are not given to women in many other religions around the world."
Dr. Sayed also said "Our community exists in more than 206 countries... We have no desire to conquer any land. We have, as a spiritual obligation, no funding from any government, group or interest. Everything is funded by donations from members themselves. We have been blessed with some really great opportunities since arriving here a few months ago to explain to all our neighbors here in Merida the beautiful message of true Islam, as we understand it, summarized in our motto, "Love for All, Hatred for None." We believe this summarizes, in practical terms, the profound implications of the unity and uniqueness of God who has created all of us. If we love God, then how can we hate anyone or not love every one of God's creatures?"
YL:When was the Islam community first established in Merida?
Dr. Sayed: About six months ago a couple of our Imams came to do some exploratory work and get to know the town and found it to be wonderfully peaceful and secure place - so they looked for and found a suitable location for a center/mosque - a place that would serve as both a center of operations as well as a place where Muslims could meet and offer the five daily prayers.. During this time they also took the steps to register 'Comunidad Musulmana Ahmadia' as an organization.
YL:If you are the person who has established it, where did you move from? When did you move to Merida?
Dr. Sayed: I was sent in mid 2014 to help establish the center/mosque and to get the word out to the local population about the existence of our center and mosque. Imam Noman Rana will be the one who will be taking the helm of our organization here moving forward. He has been serving as Imam in the USA since he arrived there a few years ago from Canada. In Canada, he completed seven years of training in the Jãmia Ahmadiyya Canada (the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's Muslim Missionary Training College). He will be serving as Imam in Mexico once all the formalities are accomplished. Imam Rana has a wife and two young children currently in New Orleans. They will join him as soon as the necessary paperwork is finished.
YL:Does Imam Noman Rana speak English?
Dr. Sayed: His family and he speak English, and he is becoming very fluent in Spanish, by God's Grace and his ongoing efforts.
YL:How did you announce your presence in Merida?
Dr. Sayed: I wrote to all consulates and governors of the Autonomous University and the Anahuac Mayab. The US Consul General (Sonia Tsyros) responded, and we went to talk to her. We spent almost an hour talking, explaining and telling her about our plans. We are the first Muslim community established in the USA in 1920. We are the oldest Muslim organization that exists there. We also have the oldest Muslim magazine in the United States. Our meeting with her very interesting and very informative and she was very grateful. One Sunday we went to talk with the Secretary General of the Yucatan Government, but as representatives of our sister organization called Humanity First, which provides humanitarian aid in 37 countries.
YL:How many people do you estimate are in the Islam community now in Merida?
Dr. Sayed: Since coming here we have been surprised by the number of calls and enthusiasm with which we have been greeted by people - Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I really have no concrete numbers but based on the number of calls and responses we have experienced to the very limited dissemination of info about ourselves I suspect there are many Muslims in the area maybe even in the hundreds. Several Egyptian students have come to our Friday prayers from UADY. So there are Muslims from abroad also here.
How does your community relate to the entire world of the Muslim religion?
Dr. Sayed: There are about 73 main divisions within Islam. We are the last to come, the youngest sect. We believe that our Holy Founder said there is no violence in religion. We don't believe in jihad. Around the world, many other Muslims agree with us. The prophet told us that "only if you are attacked, then you have the right to defend." Everything is happening with ISIS and others, that has nothing to do with Islam.
YL:What else can you tell us about your particular sect?
Dr. Sayed: The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Islam is the only Islamic organization to believe that the long awaited Messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian, India. Ahmad claims to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus of Nazareth and the divine guide, whose advent was foretold by the prophet of Islam, Muhammad. The Community believes that God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and to restore morality, tolerance, justice and peace. The coming of Ahmad has brought an unprecedented era of Islamic revival and moderation in relation to other faiths. He condemns Muslims fanatical beliefs and vigorously defends the truth of Islam and its essential teachings that emphasize the mandate: no compulsion in religion.
YL:Do you have one mosque here in Merida? more than one?
Dr. Sayed: I believe ours is the only one formally registered and advertised. I believe there are other places where Muslims have been gathering informally to offer their Friday prayers in particular.
YL:What is the purpose of establishing Islam in Merida?
Dr. Sayed: Our purpose is to disseminate the beautiful message of love and peace that true Islam teaches. Ours is a purely religious organization that was established in 1889 in Qadian, India by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, peace be on him. He claimed to be the Messiah in whose person the prophecies regarding the metaphorical second coming of Jesus were fulfilled. He came to put an end to religious wars, establish peace and unite humanity. Our basic message of, "love for all, hatred for none," stems from this belief in the absolute unity of God. If we love God and He is the Creator of all of us, how can we harbor hatred towards any of His creatures and not love all of them?
YL:Were there already people of the Islamic faith in Merida? or have you come here to encourage people to join the faith?
Dr. Sayed: There are Muslims everywhere in the world. But even if there had been no Muslims here, we would have come for the reasons I just mentioned above... to spread the beautiful message of love and peace that true Islam teaches. We believe the universality, uniqueness, and unity of God is a message that needs to be conveyed to every human being. Through this we can all begin the work to recognize and accept the equality of all of humanity, which is the first step to peace. These are fundamental truths that we want to share with everyone. This is the extent of our work. The rest has to do with how people take our message and in the hand of God. The Holy Quran teaches clearly, "There is no compulsion in matters of faith."
YL:What brought Merida to your attention?
Dr. Sayed: A member of our community in the US has some business connections here and this was the reason why we came to Merida. It was a wonderful choice. It is such a beautiful and peaceful place and everyone is so very devoted to civic affairs and activities.
YL:What has been the reaction to your arrival in Merida so far?
Dr. Sayed: This has been truly amazing. We have been welcomed by one and all. Wherever we have gone we have found the people friendly and inquisitive and very receptive to our message of 'love for all, hatred for none." The nature of questions has been also very impressive. Many professionals have come to our meetings and all of the people have been asking us some very profoundly important questions that have to do with concept of God and modes of worship in Islam.
YL:Many Americans (and others), after 9-11, are wary of the Muslim religion. What would you say to them specifically in regard to the violence that is reportedly visited by Muslim fanatics upon the world these days?
Dr. Sayed: When I came here on November 4, 2014, the first thing I did was write to Sonya Tsiros, Consul General of USA in Merida. She very graciously invited me to come and meet her and we spent a good hour discussing our purpose here and all over the world - that of spreading the message of Islam of love and peace and our own Community's basic understanding that the Unity of God and our love for Him demands that we practice 'love for all, hatred for none.' We believe our faith has been hijacked by terrorists who are abusing our faith for their own nefarious objectives. They seem to be working hard to try and influence our Muslim youth all over the world. We feel it is OUR responsibility to counter all such efforts and not just tell others about the peaceful message of Islam but also teach these values to our own children and youth. Much more than this, actually. We believe we must not just focus on speeches and sermons but also involve ourselves as Muslims in the service of God's creatures. This is precisely what the Holy Quran teaches. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been doing this since its inception 125 years ago and its record is not unknown to the world. The struggle to emphasize the prohibition against violence and to involve everyone in the doing of good is ongoing. By God's Grace and Mercy, these efforts have not been without fruit. Now we are established in 206 countries of the world and winning the hearts of Muslims all over the world to these views of peace and love. We now number more than 160 million members. I could discuss this in an ongoing basis if anyone wants. Also, anyone who wishes can look at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and its writings, speeches and works the world over. They can easily do so by scanning their own country's media going back 125 years. The Muslim Sunrise (linked below), the longest running Muslim Magazine in the US (established in 1921) provides a permanent record of our activities in the United States.
I have been interviewed by CNN en Espanol, Radio 104.9 FM EXA, Diario Yucatan, Por Esto, Libertad de Expresion, La Verdad Yucatan etc and all their reports are available on our Facebook page "Comunidad Musulmana Ahmadia de Mexico" if you would like to see these also.
YL:I notice that you have events inviting people to learn about the Islamic faith. Are these conducted in Spanish? English? Any other languages?
Dr. Sayed: We do everything in every country in the local language. So although our Spanish may not be very good we conduct everything in Spanish. Sometimes we do translate if there are people in the audience who cannot understand Spanish.
YL:I also notice that you are teaching Arabic to anyone who wants to learn. Do these lessons cost money? If so, how much?
Dr. Sayed: This has been the most popular program. And there is a cost. It is the person's time and his or her attention. But we do not charge anyone any money for these lessons.
YL:Does someone need to accept the Islamic faith in order to attend the language classes?
No one needs to accept Islam to attend any of our programs. Our center/mosque is even open for anyone Muslims or not, so long as they wish to worship the One God.
YL:What plans do you have for the future for the Islamic community in Merida?
Dr. Sayed: It is too early for future plans. Of course we have a strong desire to build a mosque here and to move to our own permanent location but this is very early. We are currently focused on trying to get everyone to know we are here and we also want to involve ourselves in humanitarian work. We have made some good progress so far on both fronts and we ask everyone to pray for us. We do want to thank everyone for their help and their warm welcome. May God bless everyone.
Want to find out more yourself? The following are regular programs that take place at the Muslim Center in Merida located at:
Comunidad Musulmana Ahmadia de Mexico
Calle 60 No. 453A x 51
Yucatan CP 97000
Every Day: Five Daily Prayers at the appointed times.
Every Friday: Jummua Prayers at 1 PM
Every Thursday: "Cafe, Pastel e Islam" at 7 PM
Every Saturday: 'Basic Arabic Class' at 4 PM
Every Sunday: "Mi Casa es Tu Casa" get together at 3 PM with light snacks.
Admission: All meetings are open to the public. The only cost for entry to any of our meetings is your time and interest.
Want a way to think about Islam in light of the news of recent weeks? Watch this video, where Reza Aslan explains Islam on CNN.
Read about the founder of this community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
The charity organization Humanity First.
Read about the Comunidad Musulmana Ahmadia in their own words on their blog.
Read the Muslim Sunrise magazine.