The Gracious Cuban People

Habeeb Alli at Mezquita Abdallah, in Havana

I had always wanted to visit Cuba, since childhood! Not that I haven’t visited many countries or have simply procrastinated my bucket list, but this year when I finally laid down on a resort in Varadeiro I could see Che and Fidel smiling!

I read about these heroes in my homeland of Guyana, South America and read many more tourists’ reviews on tripadvisor to not desire a Cuban experience!

So this year when my wife and myself made the trip I was so delighted that I even forgot sunscreen!

But what really I wanted to share is as I try to get people in Canada to imagine the livelihood in Cuba is based upon Government subsidised living with a meagre monthly wage. So as much as the tourism industry attracts many workers with their friendly smiles and tips- I remember one guy cut us a coconut and shared with us why he would need a tip as his daughter needed school supplies! The coconut water there is green and white by the way- the only Red Coconut is my book but that’s another story!

Habeeb Alli, Director Development
– One Parent Foundation

My best day, it seems I don’t like resort vacations where I can’t get to interact with the people, was on Juma when we had the day tour in Havana. I had so wanted to pray Juma in Cuba after learning there is a mezquita. However, during the tour we walked straight into the Arab Museum and I was suddenly alive- trying to explain to my fellow travellers what is a wudu place and translating the Arabic inscription beneath it- And we created everything from water! Yes Q: 21:30! And there was the mosque, which we later returned to pray in during our recess.

Started since in the 60s by a brother who had accepted the Nation of Islam in America, the community has been growing, constituted between Pakistani scholarship students besides Arab businessmen and diplomats and of course beautiful converts. The Musalman of Cuba is nearly 3000. They observe Ramadan and break the fast besides observing Eid ul Adha and sharing in Qurbani!

So my best moment was when I walked into the Arabesque styled newly built mosque in Old Havana and met someone who has been a student from Pakistan and presently resides in Cuba with his beautiful bride from Canada and yes they are doctors!

The place no doubt is a piece of Paradise with blue seas and copious amounts of coconut to quench your thirst. I had this experience of walking into the mosque and praying Salah. I asked around who is the Imam. There was a young man dressed in Arab gear and the guthra on his head; sitting square legged, reciting Quran. I sat next to him listening to the sweet melody of Quranic recitation emanating from the lips of an Egyptian in the heart of Spanish speaking Caribbean and I prostrated in gratitude! If you remember when Columbus arrived in the Caribbean some five hundred years ago he saw dark skinned men and women bowing! According to Dr Abdulllah Hakim Quick in Deeper Roots those were the Moors already settled in the Caribbean Islands who were forced to migrate from Spain. The routine hospitality and deeper spiritually that runs in the veins of the Cubans bespeaks of this lost heritage.

There is now a halal restaurant in Havana and I wished I had to the time to savour the shawarma with pickles! However, as one conscious of halal I binge on a fish galore and vegetables of sorts and eggs all styles were my staple cuisine in Cuba!

Of course the Muslims I have been told cater to their halal needs by visiting the farms and getting the lambs slaughtered according to the Islamic tradition of saying Bismilla!

I was just a tourist who was staying at the most beautiful resort enjoying my time and the stinging restlessness in me to pray Juma was nowhere to be fulfilled! I had booked my Tour to Havana on a Friday because that was what was available! Not knowing I would experience the mosque and museum which would trigger the most enjoyable part of my trip! And now my experience could be called the Islamic experience of a Canadian tourist, eh? When I was walking round the Old Havana you could see the relics of Muslim Spain through the windows and stain glasses with lots of domes and arches!

I visited the cathedral and watched the men and women bustle through the narrow streets. I wonder if this doesn’t resemble Morocco or Pakistan on their busiest times! The love of family and easy laughter gives rise to the thought that this man who stumbled upon Islam despite its variations may have discovered the lost and forgotten path of his ancestors unbeknown! The Africans have their various religious practices and as you know Africans came from West Africa ruled by Songay Ali and Mali empire.  As the story goes slaves hid their faith in fear of being punished by disguising their names, songs and prayers!

Now we have something in common- we may not be able to relish the Cuban cigars but epic Cubana coffee, make that a double double!

Mucho gracias for your love to Cubans and salam to their struggling Ummah!

I have not felt a more grateful and gracious people than the Cubans!


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