SHAFAQNA– Masuma Assad de Paz is President of the Union of Argentine Muslim Women (UMMA). In an exclusive interview with Shafaqna, she has explained about Islam in Argentina.
Masuma Assad de Paz has had an exclusive interview with Shafaqna Spanish about her life, her activities in her home country Argentina and general matters surrounding Islam and Muslims in the South American country, which is home to large Arab communities.
Shafaqna- Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Masuma Assad de Paz: My name is Masuma Assad de Paz, descendant of a Lebanese man and born in Argentina. I am married and have three daughters. I got interested in Islam in my teenagehood. My studies on Islam began at the At-Tauhid Mosque in 1983 and I traveled to the holy City of Qom in Iran in 1990 to continue my studies at Jameat al-Zahra (Shia seminary for women). I retuened to Argentina with my husband Sheikh Abdul Karim Paz in 1993 to begin my missionary work. That period took more than 12 years.
Alhamdulillah they were very fruitful years not only for organizing the female population located in the vicinity of the At-Tauhid Mosque through the Union of Argentine Muslim Women (UMMA) and the social assistance to local people area through Social Assistance Foundation (FIAS), but because I managed to study at university.
I studied at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and I graduated in Sociology. Thanks God, I had the opportunity to return to Iran and finish my studies at the Hawzah in Qom with a specialty of Usul Feqh and Feqh (Principles of Jurisprudence and Jurisprudence).
Shafaqna- Tell us about the the At-Tauhid Mosque, its activities and the services it offers to Argentina’s Muslims.
Masuma Assad de Paz: The At-Tauhid Mosque is Latin America’s first mosque founded in Buenos Aires’ Floresta neighborhood in 1983. There is no Shia community in Floresta district but there are Christians and Jews. The mosque is located in an area with churches and synagogues at a very close distance. Since its foundation, the At-Tauhid Mosque has always had numerous activities. In its early stages, there was not much knowledge about Islam or Islamic literature in the Spanish language. Therefore, the first most basic books for introducing Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims were translated. The “Book of prayer” was among the books translated by the At-Tauhid Mosque. It is illustrated with pictures and shows praying step by step.”Practical laws of Islam” by Imam Khomeini (founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran) is a very important book, as we did not know much about shari’ah and we did not have many books in this topic.
Another important book was “The light of eternity” on the history of Islam from its beginning. Among the most successful and requested books translated by the At-Tauhid Mosque was the “Supplications of the believer”. It was later expanded and entitled “Keys of paradise.” We also expanded our learning with readings books translated from other language into Spanish; they were mostly about the Islamic worldview and women’s rights. Sisters and brothers who attended and studied at the mosque suggested publishing magazines and newspapers, so we published “The message of Islam”, “The path of happiness” as well as the monthly “El Muecín” and other publications for special events. There were courses on ethics and moralities, practical laws (ahkam), reciting the Holy Quran, Arabic, the history of Islam. We also commemorated the birth and martyrdom anniversaries of the Prophet and the Imams. In addition, we organized Islamic courses for children and participated in annual book fairs, seminars at different universities, inter religious dialogue and attending Radio and Television programs: An-Nur TV, Radio al-Qiblah, website www.organizacionislam.com.ar are our media products.
There was a group of sisters attending the mosque from its earliest years, with their cooperation we established the Union of Argentine Muslim Women (UMMA). It was initially a de facto association and become a Civil Association in June 2004. The At-Tauhid Mosque has a campaign dedicated to Social Assistance through Social Assistance Foundation (FIAS) since 1995.
It is noteworthy that this mosque, for many years, was a school of Islamic theology (or Hawzah), for Argentine students and students from other South and Central American countries. The first students who traveled to Qom in 1986 established the At-Tauhid Mosque, today they are religious leaders of various Islamic centers. In 1987: Sheikh Abdul Karim Paz, Sheikh Mahmoud Aid, Sheikh Ali Pul. In 1991 other Latino students who studied of the mosque traveled to Qom, they included Sheikh Abdul Karim Orobio (Colombia), Sheikh Munir Valencia (Colombia). Then, in 1995 Sheikh Suheil Assad, Iusif Chambi (Bolivia).The At-Tauhid Mosque has been working with different Islamic institutions for approximately more than 35 years. It send religious teachers and trainers to other centers when required.
Shafaqna- Does At-Tauhid Mosque offer services to non-Muslims?
Masuma Assad de Paz: The activities of the mosque are not limited to Muslims, but through established teachings and relationships, non-Muslims participate and benefit from its activities. Especially, as Islam is a way of life for the human being, many people approach the mosque for different reasons: spiritual, intellectual, art, language, politics and others. The situation in the Middle East is a very hot topic all the times, so many intellectuals, journalists and students from different universities come to ask or learn more about this subject. Routine classes and courses are open to all communities not just Muslims.
Shafaqna- What is the relationship between followers of different religions in general?
Masuma Assad de Paz: Regarding interfaith dialogue, there is sustained relationship. Every year, At-Tauhid Mosque participates in the Te Deum (Christian service) at the Cathedral of Metropolitana in Buenos Aires. People who are interested in religions attend Te Deum every year. At-Tauhid Mosque also participates in different interfaith forums. UMMA is a founding member of the “Congress of Women of Monotheistic Faith” and attended in its meetings for more than 10 years. Unfortunately, the Zionist lobby interfered and formed another “interfaith dialogue” inline with their own interests. We are not invited to those forums. After holding an Quds Day event at the At-Tauhid Mosque, the Zionist lobby put pressure on us to stop participating in the meetings of the Women of Monotheistic Faith after 10 uninterrupted years of mutual collaboration.
I can now state that now the interfaith dialogue is not a real dialogue but another means for the advancement of Zionism, so you have to be vigilant and not fool yourself.
Shafaqna- You have been involved in political and social activities in Argentina, and even founded some Islamic organizations, please tell us about those activities and their effects?
Masuma Assad de Paz: The At-Tauhid Mosque has many social, cultural and social activities, but not many political activities. Although it has a Shia ideological line in which religion is considered inseparable from politics, it has its own position. Within that framework, it connects with different sectors of society to make Islam known and, in return, different social and cultural sectors approach it to know Islam.
At-Tauhid always stands by Muslims in Argentina and other countries who face injustice. On the other hand, “Social Assistance Foundation” or FIAS was founded in 1995 in order to help Muslims and non-Muslims. The idea came following a trip my husband Sheikh Abdul Karim Paz and I made to the Buenos Aires suburbs where we saw a reality of the economic and social poverty of the people who lived there, very different from the ordinary life in Buenos Aires. When we returned, I thought we could do something from the mosque to help them, with very little we could do a lot. We started asking people to help us with basic stuff: clothes, food. We also staged several campaigns. Therefore, God guided us, assisted and our campaign grew little by little. In the beginning, we distributed some 50 packages of food, mostly among Muslims and sometimes non-Muslims, who asked help. In addition, the local government of Buenos Aires had a plan to distribute food boxes to the suburban communities and to perform this task FIAS was designated one of the intermediary institutions between the local administration and people in the shantytowns of the capital. Among the FIAS’ activities is the distribution of clothes to different suburban towns, visits and assistance to local kitchen for the poor, hospitals and homeless shelters. Participating in campaigns for flood relief or war-torn countries and helping people with repair or construction of their houses are among other FIAS activities.
About the effect of these activities? They have multiple effects. In principle, being an entity to which Muslims can resort to in case of need, although with few resources, is very significant. Secondly, keeping the mosque at the center of these activities shows that Islam is concerned with social matters as the Prophet and Imams used to do.As for our solidarity with Palestine and the cause of the oppressed people, although we have had to deal with the Zionists, throughout this journey we made more friends than enemies. Experience has shown that Islam is much bigger than what we perceive and imagine, because the more we come under attacks, the more Islam is spread.
The plots of the enemies failed to convince even their own allies.By the way, through the years, the prejudice and discrimination (against Muslims) has been growing and it got worse under the current government, but our work has grown, thanks God, and is expanding.
To be continued …
This text was originally published by Shafaqna Spanish, translated by Shafaqna English.
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