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Vibrant Muslim community in Hawaii

Muslims offering prayer in a mosque in Hawaii.

By Abu Tariq Hijazi | 15 Sep 2012

Hawaii is the dreamland for holidaymakers. Annually thousands of tourists spend their winter in the comfortable climate of Hawaii which is like an earthen pot lying in the heart of Pacific Ocean. It is 2,300 miles from the US coast and 3,400 miles from the Asian coast of Japan.

In 1820 the first American missionaries came to preach Christianity and teach the Hawaiians Western ways. They succeeded converting many natives to Christianity. Now, there are thousands of Muslims living in Hawaii.

Muslims in Hawaii are like a rainbow presenting various colors in one arch. Muslims from the Uighurs of China to the Touareq of Mauritania, to the Aloha people of Hawaii, all merged into one community. Islam transcends the superficial boundaries of nationality. This is demonstrated in Haj every year where an Indonesian Muslim prays next to the British, American, Spanish, Iranian, and South African Muslims. Muslim men and women of different backgrounds, races and cultures pray next to each other in peace throughout the year facing the Holy Kaaba in Makkah.

A group of non-Muslim visitors recorded their observation during a Friday visit to the Hawaii mosque, they said: “The mood was light as men and women gathered outside, lining the edges of a rug to hear a Moroccan immigrant and his Oahu-born wife, Janine, repeat vows of Nikah. ‘Islamic marriage is to be a comfort for the couple. ... You should be the source of mercy for each other,’ the imam told them.”

The small crowd that day represented the multinational Muslim community in Hawaii - from Pakistani and Arab professionals to American-born converts and recent immigrants from Palestine and Iraq. The mosque serves as a social center for all of them. About 200 men attend the Friday prayers. There were nearly 700 people at the Eid prayers.

Muslims of Hawaii form a vibrant society. The mosque arranges various program for Muslims and awareness programs for non-Muslims. The following are some of the programs organized by the mosque:

Imam holds classes twice a week between Maghrib and Isha prayers in the mosque. On Saturday nights after Isha prayers, Imam Ismail gives lecture about the lives of different prophets.

Women’s classes are held on Monday and Wednesday nights.
A welcome house is being planned at the mosque that will be open to the public and will distribute Islamic books and DVDs free of charge to Muslim and non-Muslims visitors.

There are facilities for the memorization of the Holy Qur’an.

The Muslim Association of Hawaii (MAH) supervises and integrates Muslim activities in Hawaii. The current president of MAH, Hakim Ouansafi is from Morocco. He was 21 when he came to America to attend college in Rhode Island, where he met and married Vermonter (who later converted to Islam) and become an American citizen. Nine years ago he came to Hawaii. Now 42, he is the president and CEO of Diamond Hotels and Resorts.

Less than three weeks from 9/11 Heather Ramaha, a navy petty officer stood among a group of women at the mosque in Manoa Hawaii and recited the Islamic Shahada in Arabic, and entered the fold of Islam. Ouansafi, MAH president, said that prior to Sept. 11, there had been an average of three converts per month. In the two months since then, there have been 23.

Most converts are African-Americans, who make up about a third of US Muslims, some of whom found the guidance while they were in jail or while recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. On the West Coast, the men are mainly military, said Ouansafi, and most of the O’ahu converts are former Christians. One is even a single cosmetics saleswoman. “We believe, as Muslims, that once a person reverts to Islam, all his past sins are forgiven by God,” Ouansafi said. “He or she starts just like a baby born.”

Now, Ramaha is incorporating her Islamic faith into her life as a navy officer stationed at Pearl Harbor since July. Ramaha said she struggled with the Christian view of the Holy Trinity. In March, she took an online world religions class through a California university. “I’d been a Christian for 18 years.” As a follow-up, she took an introductory class on Islam in Hawaii. She started reading the Qur’an, and “something clicked.” She converted soon after. “I’ve always felt drawn to something out there, otherwise, there’s an emptiness,” she said. “The only way I feel complete is when I have a religion, a God to pray to.”

Hawaii’s state Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill in May 2009 to celebrate “Islam Day on Sept. 24 every year.” The bill seeks to recognize “the rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions” that Islam and the Islamic world have made. The date of Sept. 24 was selected as the Prophet Muhammad’s (may peace and mercy on him) arrival at Madinah in the first year of Hijrah.

Sen. Will Espero, a Democrat, said: “It does not call for any spending or organized celebration of Islam Day. We are a state of tolerance. We understand that people have different beliefs. We may not all agree on every single item and issue out there, but to say and highlight the negativity of the Islamic people is an insult to the majority of believers who are good law-abiding citizens of the world.”

A center for Islamic art and culture:
Shangri La stands for a beautiful and rich collection of Islamic art from the Muslim world. Its founder Madam Doris Duke was one of the richest ladies of the world. She was born in 1912 to Mr. Duke, a baron of tobacco business. On her honeymoon in 1935 she visited many Muslim countries in the Middle East and later stayed at her seasonal home in Hawaii for long. She was much impressed and captivated by the Islamic art. She collected thousands of artifacts and designed her Hawaii home in a museum form. Architectural design was influenced by the objects collected and the objects to be collected were assessed for their potential place within the built environment. From her first foray into collecting while traveling in the Islamic world until her death in 1993, Duke’s pattern of collecting for design remained remarkably consistent, yet it also matured.

For nearly 60 years, Doris Duke commissioned and collected artifacts for Shangri La, ultimately forming a collection of about 3,500 objects, the majority of which were made in the Islamic world. Massive painted ceilings, elaborately carved doorways, intricate mosaic tile panels, colorful textiles and numerous other art forms enliven the interiors and create an environment rich in texture and pattern.

Today, Shangri La serves as a center for Islamic arts and cultures. It is owned and supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA), which Doris Duke created in her will to promote the study, understanding, and preservation of Islamic art and culture.

Praying toward the north:
The direction of Qibla in Hawaii lies in the north through North Pole. The writer visited Hawaii twice. Once in Ramadan, he was invited by an Afghan family for iftar.

Wherever Muslims live, they have strong bond of brotherhood. There is no inhabited land on the earth, where Allah-o-Akbar is not declared from the minarets of a mosque.


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