A Colombian Ramadan, Vamonos!

By: Paras Qureshi

Have you ever sat down and wondered what the other 1.57 billion Muslims in the world are doing this Ramadan?  Where are they?  Well, nestled amidst the mountainous backbone of South America, you will find Bogota, Colombia… and yes, they have Muslims!  This city has its own mini-Ummah, which is growing leaps and bounds, day by day.  With three mosques and one Islamic Cultural Center, one can seek out members of the growing population and the community they have established.

Islam in Bogota is the same and yet a slightly different experience all in one breath.  La Mezquita Estambul (The Mosque Istanbul), a brownstone converted into a 2 floor mosque, fully loaded.  It included a kitchen, bathrooms, sitting area, even a classroom with a chalkboard; the standard setup (even a bit more advanced than some of the NYC mosques I’ve seen!).  They face the same obstacles every mosque needs to conquer: funding, cleanliness, cell phone use, background noise from the outside community (just swap Eminem with reggaeton), etc.  There were the same kinds of sisters I’ve known all my life, chatting about the shortage of prospective husbands, showing off their new haircut, etc. behind closed doors; the same religious practices with very minor variances: fasting, tasbih, taraweeh, iftar, etc.  I broke my fast with a spread of dates, milk, juice, empanadas (the Colombian equivalent of samosas), chicken and rice.  The mosque served as a melting pot of culture and language – with easily five languages spoken between its walls at any given time.

There were some variances of course – beyond the language and food.  Sometimes the breakdown of the rakah’s for a certain prayer was a bit different.  The Qur’anic excerpts used for taraweeh prayers were a bit shorter.  The position of the hands throughout the prayer was slightly different.  The biggest difference, however, was perhaps the most breathtaking.  There was a new individual taking shahadah every week (sometimes more than one person a day).  The rate of growth is mind-boggling and the environment reflects it accordingly.  You’re surrounded by converts – people who are simply dying to learn more, craving more knowledge, more information, whatever they can get their hands on.

Not only that, but there was a sense of welcoming.  All the newbies – lost or confused or just downright scared – were hugged and welcomed in English, Spanish, Urdu, Bengali or Arabic along with smiles and attempted sign language – whatever worked.  They were embraced and granted a community in one fell swoop.  New members were dragged into the community’s daily fabric even if they did just come in to quickly pray.  One brother told us, with a slight tinge of embarrassment, that he was sorry but when they get someone new, they just want to keep them.  This was something that left me with the feeling that perhaps we have something to learn in our home-grown mosques.  Are the doors wide open to anyone and everyone and do we befriend so easily?  Are our communities only open to those we know and are comfortable with?

Either way, I can tell you this: the beauty of Islam radiates in every corner of the world – seen or unseen, large or small, it’s there.  The message is the same.  The rituals are the same.  The principles are the same.  The fervent enthusiasm and love for the religion is the same.  Language, location, date of conversion, and minor variances in practice do not serve as obstacles.  They do not stand in the way.  Those 1.57 billion Muslims are praying alongside you, breaking fast with you with milk and dates (and their version of samosas), and marveling at this truly universal community.

So, Allah nos protega y bendice todos los esfuerzos nuestros en ese mes de Ramadan, de los meses pasados, y en los meses futuros – Insha’Allah (May God protect us and bless our efforts in Ramadan, in the past months and the months ahead, Insh’Allah).  Ramadan Mubarak!



One Comment

  1. Although I am not a Muslim, I think that this article was beautifully written. I have been passing by the mosque every day as I do my errands and have watched it become a beautiful landmark in the city. I am elated that this has finally come to pass! Bogota really is a city that’s growing and it’s great to see the diverse people!

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