Today I, Akhi Muslim will be asking you to join me on my visit to Cuba, 90 miles from Florida, but a World Away.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Cuba and have never been so amazed and intrigued while traveling. Cuba truly is the land time forgot, as the architecture, atmosphere and overall scenery takes you into a breathing time capsule circa 1950. No gaudy mc mansions or fast food joints here, Cuba is authentic to the hilt. Vacationing in Cuba has something for everyone with the focal point being historic and cultural in nature. Downtown Havana near the Malecon’ (Sea Wall) one can take a stroll, breathe in the sea air silently or practice Spanish with one of the friendly Cubans eager to share their culture with you. “Hola’!”
While most tourists are happy to stay along the Malecon and explore Cuban Antique Cars and Colonial-era castles, I wanted to find a more meaningful deeper side of Cuba, The Spiritual Side.
Cuba is officially a Communist country, which up until 1991 banned Cuban nationals from having membership in any organized religion. The majority of Cubans are Roman Catholic with many Cubans concurrently or independently practicing Yoruba, a tribal religion based on the cultural practices of southwest Nigeria. Yoruba is akin to an African cultural concept of Buddhism, with focus on Karma and reaching Nirvana. Cuba has many other small and growing religions, one that is Islam. Officially Islam in Cuba has traditionally never been present until the past 10 years where currently according to the Muslim League 6,000 Muslims reside in Cuba. However, there is wide evidence that Muslims have been in Cuba since the arrival of the African slaves brought by the Spaniards. In the book Servants of Allah author Sylvaine Diouf claims that Islam in the New World has been practiced in “some form or another” for the past 500 years. Recently in 2014 the Saudi Embassy opened the first public Mosque in Havana giving access to a public prayer space to visitors, travelers, and Cuban natives.
Upon my conversation with a native Cuban Muslim I was told that the state of Islam in Cuba is one of infancy. Muslims in Cuba gather what knowledge is available to them and practice Islam to the best of their abilities. Havana has access to an Imam from Azhar university, Shaykh Abdur Rahman. Which is of the utmost importance for the spread of knowledge and Islamic orthodoxy. Smaller towns, cities and the countryside have no access and rely on the knowledge of elder converts.
Most Cuban natives crave more knowledge of Islamic Orthodoxy but the Muslims sincerity and love for Islam is a driving force. This honesty coupled alongside Cuban Muslims with orthodox knowledge teaching Islam to their fellow countrymen gave me great hope in their message of love and spirituality.
Muslim Women in Cuba typically do not adhere to Middle Eastern cultural notions of hijab, instead preferring to dress in traditional Caribbean long dresses and blouses. Mostly of brightly colored floral print, draping scarves around their shoulders and covering their hair in a turban like style. While many a Man will debate whether or not this is permissible, the Muslim women of Cuba view this as a reflection of their love for their Lord and faith in Islam. May Allah grant them rewards.
Muslims tend to reflect their understanding of Islam via their own personal cultural and ethnic lens, Muslims in Cuba are no different.
Allah’s Messenger said: “Verily, all actions are but driven by intention and for everyone is what he intended.”[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]