A Puerto Rican Muslim
I am a Puerto Rican-American Muslim. I know, you must we wondering, “Puerto Rican and Muslim? How did that come about?” Well, it all started in middle school when my parents enrolled us in Parochial school. I was a curious child that would question the nuns and the priest about different aspects of religion. Not finding the answer to my question led me to search for what I call the Truth. Years later, as an adult, I found the answers I was looking for in Islam.
I practiced Islam for two years before converting. As you can imagine I was nervous about telling my family, especially since all they knew about Islam came from the media. (Also, because I am the only Muslim in a Catholic family.) But I am fortunate to have a very supportive, loving, and opening-minded family who all accepted my decision and have come to understand the religion. Two days after I told my grandmother about Islam and why I converted, she gifted me two handmade hijab (headscarf). Her gesture was endearing and I will forever be grateful.
There are many similarities Puerto Ricans have with Islam. Many of our Spanish words come from Arabic words, as do some of our traditions. For example, when a Puerto Rican greets an older person, we say, “Bendicion,” which translates to “Bless me.” The response is “Que el Señor te bendiga” meaning “May God bless you.” In Islam, we say “Assalamu Alaikum,” translated to “Peace be upon you” and the response is “Walaikum Assalam,” translated to “Peace be upon you, too.” The words are not exactly the same, but the meaning is very similar.
Traveling As A Puerto Rican
My passion for travel started as a child when my parents would take us on countless road trips across America. With a map and highlighter in hand, we would map out our journey. We also traveled back and forth during the summers to Puerto Rico. Being exposed to a different culture had me yearning to learn more about cultures, traditions, religion, and I wanted to see the world.
After high school, I attended Travel & Tourism School. The years went by and life put my plans on hold. I had been thinking about blogging for several years, however during the Presidential race I realized that I should not sit back and watch as Mr. Trump imposed Islamaphobia upon our nation. I could no longer stay silent, so I started my journey.
Traveling As A Muslim
I started the travel blog Muslim Travel Rocks in order to feature America as a Muslim Friendly Destination. My goal is to combat Islamaphobia through travel and at the same time tackle the misconceptions that America is not a Muslim Friendly Destination. Unfortunately, many Muslims overseas are discouraged from traveling to America, as the media does not portray America as welcoming to Muslims. I don’t blame them; especially with all the turmoil since the Presidential election.
However, traveling while Muslim is not always friendly. I honestly dread going through TSA security as my hijab always attracts the eyes of the crowd waiting to go through security. Fortunately, the only inconvenience I have encountered at an airport checkpoint is being patted down every. single. time. Thankfully, I have not been pulled aside for further questioning as other Muslims have. Unfortunately, Muslims are being profiled more today than in the past thanks to Mr. Trump. So don’t get offended if you get singled out, especially if you look Muslim. Give yourself extra time to go through security and opt for a pat down instead of going through the body scanner. To the onlookers: a kind word or just a simple smile goes a long way.
On the positive side, Muslims are encouraged to travel and to seek knowledge. Traveling as a Muslim, both domestically and internationally, has been a gratifying experience. An increasing number of people want to engage in a conversation with a Muslim. However, they are not asking about the religion, but just want to convey that they accept people no matter what their religions, race, gender, or sexual preference.
On the day that Mr. Trump’s travel ban went into effect, I was in New York City and extremely nervous to have dinner alone on this particular evening. I sat next to a woman who introduced herself as Mary. We spoke as if we had known each other for years. We conversed about family, children, and life in general. As we finished our meal, we said goodbye and I headed towards the door. She called out to me and said she wanted to give me something. As I made my way back to her she said, “ I want to give you a hug.” With tears flowing down my face we embraced and she whispered, “We women have to stand together and empower each other.
Mary’s words are a reminder that America is such a diverse nation and that America has and will always continue to be GREAT. As Muslims we should keep in mind that sometimes we are the first Muslims some people have ever met, with that comes a great responsibility to shatter any misconceptions a person may have about Muslims or Islam. Simple gestures like a smile, compassion and a kind word are all it takes to leave a good impression.