Well, do I need to state that today’s piece is from the City of the Prophet – Madeenah? But it is. Madeenah is brimming with worshippers who have come to witness the middle of the month of Ramadan, adorn it with devotion before they move to Makkah for the last 10 days of this holy month.
Riyadh-based Alanood Philanthropic Foundation (Saudi Arabia) has made it a tradition to organise series of lectures in Princess Alanood Mosque, Riyadh every Ramadan with Iftar Dinner for participants.
What is most interesting in this year’s weeklong series is the invitation extended to Christians and other non-Muslims to come and be part of the programme.
And they responded in large numbers. Muslims and non-Muslims sat in the mosque together to eat and listen to the topic of the day The History of Islamic Culture in Latin America delivered by Mustafa Gustavo Perez, the Guest Speaker.
The lecture dwelt on historical account of the Muslim presence in Latin America and the Caribbean covering a millennium starting from the year 996.
Perez said that ‘we have numerous’ proofs from Muslim as well as western sources establishing the fact ‘that Muslims from Spain and West Africa arrived in the Americas at least five centuries before Christopher Columbus.’
He also added: “Columbus himself mentioned in his diary that while his ship was sailing near Gibara, on the northeast coast of Cuba, he spotted a mosque on top of a beautiful mountain. Ruins of mosques and minarets with inscriptions of Qur’anic verses had been later discovered in Cuba, Mexico, Tecas and Nevada.”
According to Perez ‘the introduction of monotheism by Spanish colonizers paved the way for the Latino mind to comprehend and embrace the Islamic belief in monotheism’; that “during the last 200 years the Muslim presence in Latin America and the Caribbean increased from just a few thousands to around 6 million, or 1 per cent of the total population of 591 million. A major factor contributing to this increase is the immigration of Muslims, mainly from the Middle East”.
Perez saw a bright future for Islam in Latin America because “most governments there are not Islamophobic and the religion is increasingly appealing to the people.”
At the end of the lecture, Andrea Quattrocchi, an attaché at the Italian Embassy in Riyadh, said: “It was the first time for me to do so. I think it was very important to have such opportunity to know better the Islamic culture in both Latin America and Saudi Arabia.”
Rossmond Ramos, a Filipino accountant at Veolia Water Company, said: “I have entered mosques in Cairo and Abu Dhabi, but it is the first time here. I expected the lecture to take place in a function hall but not in a mosque. Letting us in here is more welcoming and it implies that Muslims are reaching out to non-Muslims.”
In another development, Al-Eqtisadiah Arabic newspaper reported (July 29th) that more than 3,000 non-Muslim expatriates watched a special video program on Islam, arranged as part of the Ramadan camp in the Eastern Province, during the first week of the holy month.
A special “cinema center” at the camp draws a large number of foreigners who avail themselves of the opportunity to know more about Islam and its basic tenets and rituals.
You can call it a viewing centre or a cinema theatre with a huge screen and about 50 chairs; the facility is superintended by a preacher who is well known among all nationals in the region.
Showing documentary films and videos that focus on various aspects of Islam and its rituals is the major highlight of this year’s Ramadan camp where non-Muslim expatriates are invited to Iftar as participants in the programme.
Seeing non-Muslim invitees sitting alongside Muslims inside the Princess Alanood Mosque, Riyadh, listening to the lecture and eating together; and the non-Muslim expatriates having iftar with Muslims as they watch Islamic videos in the viewing centre, made me think of our situation in Nigeria.
If Saudi Arabia will open the doors of its Islamic centres and mosques to non-Muslims, its most sacred place during the holiest month, Ramadan, why can’t there be similar programmes to be spearheaded by Nigerian Islamic organisations for the purposes of educating non-Muslims, especially Christians, on Islam and its traditions?
Nigeria is more in need of this type of activities than Saudia Arabia which has less non-Muslim population.
Inviting non-Muslims to our mosques will familiarise them with what we do in the mosque, dispel misconceptions and enhance mutual respect and understanding.
Whenever I take visiting non-Muslims round the Abuja National Mosque I notice aversion in the eyes of some Muslims. I wonder what these people may say if I was not acting on the warrant of the Executive Secretary of the mosque or the Chief Imam’s approval. Why are we reluctant to admit non-Muslims into our mosques?
Authentic traditions have it that the Prophet (SAW) hosted non-Muslims in his mosque on various occasions: captives, refugees and Christian deputations. His mosque served as the seat of government, defence headquarters and a place of worship.
The church will do well to open its doors to non-Christians who desire to understand how Christians worship and have first-hand knowledge on the functions of the church. It is only by coming close to each other, understanding and respecting our differences that we shall overcome and shame the devils that purpose to set us against ourselves.