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Islam in the Dominican Republic
The CIRD
The Círculo Islámico was the first fully established mosque in the Dominican Republic. The mosque is located in the center of Santo Domingo, about a five-minute walk from the National Police Department and UNIBE University, easily accessible to Muslims from around the city. In the past there were mosques around the city, known in Arabic as mobile mosques, but there was never a place where Muslims could go and worship until the current mosque was built. CIRD director Mashkoor tells how there was a small mosque on Pedro Lluberes Ave. in Santo Domingo about 10 years ago. He explained that there was the need for a mosque in order to accommodate the growing number of Muslim students in the DR, but the funds to purchase the land were limited, until one day a prayer was answered. A Muslim gentleman, only named as Foutory, heard about the need for funds to purchase the land and asked how much money was needed. He wrote a check right there and then. The land was bought and once again, when the time came for construction, Foutory opened his heart and his wallet and helped build the mosque. Currently, the mosque runs on donations from followers. The simple installations of the mosque don’t require much, but simple things like power, water and maintenance must be tended to and this is where the small community of Muslims chip in with what they can. Many followers provide as much time and resources as they can and network in order to provide the mosque with enough to keep it running. The mosque is open daily for the five prayers (salat) and offers classes on Islamic studies for ladies and children on weekends. The center also holds Ramadan and other Muslim-related activities.

Adding to the work the mosque does within the local community is the foundation of the Al-Foutory consultation office, which Mashkoor explains, provides free medical consultations to anyone in the community. In the back of the mosque is a small doctor’s office where community members can get free check-ups for their ailments and in some cases they may also receive free medicines. Mashkoor says that every other week a cardiologist comes to the center and checks on patients. He says that at times the doctor might not be able to diagnose a problem or might not have the tools or expertise to treat a patient so they call on other doctor friends in the community and send sick patients their way. What’s more is that when a patient is referred to a private clinic, the doctor may do it as pro-bono work and won’t charge the patient. Mashkoor credits the giving nature of the mosque as part of the values instilled in him by his religion.

Personal Experience
Speaking with one of the brothers who frequents the mosque, Jose Caba, provided a great deal of insight into the historical connections between Islam and the DR. Jose explained that his family originally migrated to the DR from the Middle East. As a child growing up in New York he had no idea of this and like many thought he was “just” Dominican. At one point, though he didn’t explain when, he became interested in tracing his family history and learning about his past. This personal journey brought him into contact with Islam, which was part of his cultural heritage, and he converted in 1974. Jose speaks of the beauty within the religion, and says that this is what made him fall in love with Islam. He speaks of the respect that he has for his wife and community and explains that it his faith that has driven him to be a better person. Jose travels back and forth between the US and the DR and mentions that he gets suspicious looks, especially in the US, but in the DR the looks are more curious than anything else. He jokingly adds that sometimes walking down the street, Dominicans will joke that he must be hot because of the traditional garb he wears, as well as his long beard, but adds that other than that he is respected in the community and that Dominicans have never shown any concern about his religion.

The Future
Islam has had a long, yet quiet history in the DR. Through its many emergences and re-emergence it has left some traces on the Dominican cultural map, but very few could point these out. Still, Islam is an interesting part of the DR’s past and present and will continue to be an interesting part of its future. As students continue to venture to the DR in search of educational opportunities and as the virtues of this culture and religion become intriguing to curious minds, the religion will continue to grow. The debate about Islam has not begun in this country and the hope is that once the religion appears on the social radar those who engage in it will disregard television images and particular views and allow the local members of the religion to educate on the nuances of Islam. Will we see the emergence of twenty new mosques in the DR in the next ten years? Who knows, but what is certain is that the existence of Islam in the Dominican community adds to the wealth of culture that this country already provides.
 
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