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Why So Many Latinos Are Becoming Muslims


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By Tim Padgett
 
Most Latinos know the country is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month right now. What far fewer Latinos know is that next week marks Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s most sacred holidays.
 
And yet the two observances are more related now than most Latinos realize.

Just as the U.S. Latino population is on the rise – Hispanics are now the nation’s largest minority – so is the number of Latino Muslims. And it’s not just a result of Arab Latin Americans emigrating to the United States.

According to organizations like WhyIslam.org, Latinos are one of the fastest growing segments of the Muslim community. About six percent of U.S. Muslims are now Latino – and as many as a fifth of new converts to Islam nationwide are Latino.

The American Muslim Association of North America, based in North Miami, says heavily Hispanic South Florida in particular is home to a rising number of Latino Muslims.

Not that conversion to Islam is easy in Latino society, as Marina Gonzalez knows. A Nicaraguan-American nurse in Miami, Gonzalez converted five years ago and wears the hijab, the Muslim women’s head garb. At first her family stopped talking to her.

“They [were] calling me Talibana,” Gonzalez recalls. “My mother, she didn’t like to go [out] with me because I wear the hijab.”

But now her mother “understands. When I go to my parents’ house they turn off the TV when I have to pray. I’m so happy.”

Najib Sowma’s first name was Dario before he converted six years ago. Today he’s a leading member of the Al-Ihsaan mosque in South Miami-Dade. But his Cuban mother was initially shocked.

“Now her views have changed,” says Sowma. “Prior to me being Muslim to who I am now, she sees a big difference in my character.”

Spain’s Islamic Past
If it’s a surprise that many Latinos are moving from a predominantly Roman Catholic culture to an originally Arab faith, perhaps it shouldn’t be. For one thing, like African-Americans in the 1960s, Latinos are discovering their own historical and cultural ties to Islam and the Arab world. And that starts with what most defines Latinos: Spanish.

“Our language is nurtured by more than 4,000 words that come from Arabic,” says Wilfredo Ruiz, a Puerto Rican-born Muslim who converted a decade ago and is a lawyer for the South Florida chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. “Every word in Spanish that starts with ‘al,’ for example, like alcalde, alcantarilla, almohada.”

That’s because Arab Muslims ruled Spain for some 800 years during the Middle Ages – and made the Iberian Peninsula one of the most advanced civilizations of its time. A millennium later, Ruiz says that past is an inescapable part of the Hispanic DNA.

“What most Latinos who have embraced Islam find most amazing is their cultural affinity to the Muslim culture,” says Ruiz. “It’s like rediscovering your past. That area of our past has been hidden from us.”

Ruiz points out that both Latinos and Arabs highly value the extended family and traditions like offering hospitality to strangers. In religious terms, Latinos like Gonzalez say Islam provides a simpler, more direct form of worship than Catholicism does. They also feel more structure than they see in the evangelical churches so many Latinos join today.

“The connection I have with God now is better than before,” says Gonzalez.

Yet many take comfort in the overlap between Catholicism and Islam. Muslims, for example, venerate the Virgin Mary as well as Jesus, at least as a prophet.

“At the beginning when I was reading the Koran I said, “Oh, [Muslims] believe in the hereafter, in angels,’” says Liliana Parodi, a Peruvian-American surgical technician in Miami who converted 24 years ago. “You know, it’s not so much difference.”

Appeal To Women
More Latina women convert to Islam than Latino men do. Islam is admittedly questioned for its segregation of women. But Latinas like Parodi say it’s hypocritical for a male-dominated Catholic Church – which forbids women priests, birth control and divorce – and an ultra-macho Latino society – whose Spanish-language television networks still portray women as spitfire sexpots – to criticize their new faith in that regard.

“I tell them, ‘Look at yourself,’” says Parodi. “The sad part is [when they] see women as objects.”

A decade ago, the nation’s image of a Latino Muslim was unfortunately Jose Padilla, the so-called “Dirty Bomber” who was convicted for aiding terrorists. But for Ruiz, who was also a Navy chaplain, much has changed since then – and Latinos are less fearful now of converting.

“They soon come to learn that [Muslims] abhor violence,” Ruiz says. “We have the same aspirations for social justice as a Christian or a Jew does.”

Which means, as Eid al-Adha arrives next Monday evening, more Latinos will be saying “Eid Mubarak.” Which is Arabic for “Eid Bendito.” Which is Spanish for “Have a Blessed Eid.”

Article Courtesy: WLRN, Miami, South Florida

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/dina.elabbadi Dina Elabbadi

    Alhmdullah

  • D.E.H

    This article truly warms my heart, I am of Mexican decent and Alhumdillilah I took my shahada this August. Although it is difficult to for family to adjust keep in mind that you are doing the right thing if you are thinking about reverting to Islam.

  • Roselin Ali

    Alhmdullah !!!!!!!!!

  • Darartu Shafi

    MashAllah Rosalba Soto-Vazquez

  • http://www.facebook.com/taazmin.imani Taazmin Imani

    mashallah!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mohamed.khan.37 Mohamed Khan

    Alhamdullah

  • http://www.facebook.com/fakher.ahmad.1 Fakher Ahmad

    الحمد لله علي نعمه الاسلام

  • Julio Juarez

    Because we finally found the best way to love Allah and correct path to follow

  • Iqra Shaikh

    MashAllah :) <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/fatuma.s.mohammed Fatuma Salad Mohammed

    Masha Allah

  • http://www.facebook.com/myron.johnson.7739 Myron Johnson

    I reverted back to a more natural sate of being…the only one…to serve the one and only truth! Allah hu ackbar!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jiyaad Jiyaad Naeem

    Alhumdulillah, this is awesome!

  • Rosalba Soto-Vazquez

    Darartu Shafi this is beautiful :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/travistarrant41 Travis Tarrant

    I converted to Islam three years ago and I saw on a documentary where a lot of Puerto Rican women were converting to Islam and lately at our masjid, there have been quite a few Latinos declaring Shahada-ALHAMDULILLAH!!!

  • Khaled Dardar

    Is it possible to get a copy of the data?

  • Star Noble

    I reverted to Islam about a month ago. It’s been a bit of a rough road as I am alone here, no mosques even remotely close to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.parkdale Michelle K Sullivan

    Wow didnt know all that. Bless you all and your dedication to the lord threw your faith. :)

  • Athar Ali

    Its fascinating that despite of media Islamophobia, people still finding way to see and embrace Islam. Would love to hear what prompted them to accept this new faith? May Allah Bless us All!!

  • Maqbool Malik

    May ALLAH (SWT) accept all of us. Aameen.

  • Julissa Jewels Fikri

    Allahu Akbar!!!!

  • Muslimah

    SubhanAllah

  • Huda Qureshi-Rehman

    Alhamdullilah this is just beautiful

  • Dua Friss

    i think a lot ppl relized that NT is fabricated and all dogmats, and faith base is like too much humans in it..than God guidence, things taht science juyst dicrover that Jesus pbuh didnt die on the cross…islam knew first. Its a very interesting…and anyway church really have alot problems with lead..priests are disguided…which is sad. A lot ppl relaized its juyst the organisation for making $$$. Far away from real Jerusalem stories and Jesus and Holy Family life, unfortulatelly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arif.khalil Arif Khalil

    Sarawoot Sriwannayos we need to visit upper Thailand for a week or so soon after Eid if you agree

  • Moh Riaz

    Eid Mubarak.” Which is Arabic for “Eid Bendito.” Which is Spanish for “Have a Blessed Eid.”

  • Nizam

    Eid mubarak!

  • Saima Ashraf

    This is heart warming! Alhamdullilah!!! “What most Latinos who have embraced Islam find most amazing is their cultural affinity to the Muslim culture,” says Ruiz. “It’s like rediscovering your past. That area of our past has been hidden from us.”

  • Firoz Kamal

    The greatest gift of Allah SWT ia the guidance towards His path. Those who get it they are really the blessed people.

  • Dastagir

    Say Bismillah and take the noble step of building a mosque nearby.

  • Faiza

    MaShaAllah may Allah put blessings in your way! please keep in touch with people at whyislam.org. they will inShaAllah be able to help you find more muslims in your area and if possible, you could just all get together at any fixed place where you all can pray inShaAllah! then you can work towards establishing a proper mosque later.