And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say: Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return. [Quran 2: 155-156]
In the past months, news outlets have covered international efforts to build a mosque in the center of Havana, Cuba. Although some countries have shown interest in making the project a reality, it is Turkey who has taken the lead. The most recent visit of Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, brought an occasion to revive the over six-month-old announcement of what promises to be a beautiful architectural addition to one of the most beautiful cities in the America's.
It is well-known that the struggle for freedom of religion in Cuba suffered dearly since the advent of the revolution over half a century ago. Since then, Cuban people's spiritual practices have found constant obstacles hindering them from fully living and enjoying their spirituality. It was not until Pope John Paul II's visit to the Caribbean Island some 17 years ago that the society started to experience a somewhat less restricted religious practice. Cubans have progressively departed from an institutionalized and generalized atheism to embrace or re-engage in a diverse spectrum of religious practices, including but not limited to, Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Judaism, Santería and other African Religions, and yes, also Islam.
It is really unfortunate to hear from those that believe that the Cuban mosque would be detrimental to Cuba. They are quick to raise stereotypical and xenophobic arguments that Muslims equal terrorism and extremism. Moreover, they argue that Cuban Muslims do not deserve a mosque, that according to their distorted and vicious vision, a mosque would be a place that fostered terrorism. Nothing is more distant from reality. The Cuban Muslim community is a relatively small community, not exceeding five thousand worshipers. They are educated, humble and God-fearing believers. Additionally, this Cuban community is in great need of the very basics to practice their faith. They have very little or no access to their Holy Books (Qur'ans), prayer rugs, scented oils and what is worse, they still do not have a single designated place of worship, a Cuban Mosque, in the whole island.
The few Cuban Mosque project detractors really defy logic. On one hand, they want to portray themselves as flag-bearers of democratic values; and on the other hand, they present themselves as an obstacle to a Cuban religious minority exercising their basic human right of freedom of religion. The detractors would like to practice their religion as they want, or probably even no religion at all. They are truly a shame. They represent the new breed of oppressors for those religious minorities that have stood tall before their oppressors, refusing to give up their most precious treasure: their beliefs in the one God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and what lies between them.
A Cuban Mosque represents not only the place of prostration for the Cuban Muslims and those Muslims who visit Cuba, but also a monument for basic human rights. These are values that history has proven are not only very hard to obtain and protect, but also easily lost, often at the expense of cheap hypocritical talk.
Inshallah (God willing) I will soon be one of those prostrating in prayer in the Cuban Mosque. A mosque for the world.