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LATINOS TURNING TO ISLAM - Telegram and Gazette

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  • Zafar Khan
    LATINOS TURNING TO ISLAM - TOP M. Elizabeth Roman, Telegram & Gazette, 6/6/05 http://www.telegram.com/ WORCESTER - On the door outside Juan Perez s home, a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 9, 2005
      M. Elizabeth Roman, Telegram & Gazette, 6/6/05


      WORCESTER - On the door outside Juan Perez's home, a
      hand-written sign asks visitors to respect the Islamic
      custom of removing shoes before entering.

      The sign is one of the only indicators that this young
      Latino father, his wife and four small children tend
      an Islamic household.

      Inside, a person is likely to see the Hispanic cartoon
      character "Dora the Explorer" on the television, hear
      the sound of a rhythmic salsa band on the radio, or
      smell the aroma of adobo cooking in the kitchen.

      "As Latinos, we are a passionate people," Mr. Perez
      says as he cradles his 1-1/2-year-old baby while his
      3-year-old daughter, Mia, lightly kisses the child on
      the cheek.

      "Islam covers every aspect of your life; it's not just
      going to church and praying. It deals with marriage,
      divorce, wills, orphans, what to eat, what not to eat.
      As Latinos, when we do something, we go full-fledged
      into it."

      The Perez family is among an estimated 150 Latino
      converts to Islam in Worcester, reflecting a trend
      that researchers have taken note of in recent years.

      A 2001 study on faith communities, coordinated by
      Hartford Institute for Religious Research and
      conducted by the Council on American-Islamic
      Relations, indicated Latinos made up 6 percent of all
      converts, which at approximately 60,000, made them the
      third-largest segment.

      The growth of this population can also be seen by the
      creation of bilingual Islamic centers in Chicago, Los
      Angeles, California's San Fernando Valley, San
      Francisco, Florida, New York and Atlanta. Each site
      reports having hundreds of members and offers
      publications translated into Spanish.

      In addition, chapters of the Hispanic Muslim
      organization Latino Dawah are located in
      Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas and Arizona.

      "It is easy to accept once they found out what it is,"
      said Jason Perez, who, like his brother Juan,
      converted to Islam. "It is almost impossible to find a
      Latino that is an atheist because of our struggle.
      Being poor, we know it is the miracle of God when we
      get food. We know that it is not just our own work
      that helps us survive; we survive with the help of

      In addition, many Latino converts profess that they do
      not give up any of their heritage to convert to Islam,
      but in fact learn more about their cultural roots.

      "Islam connected me with the struggle for
      self-determination and the struggles with the natives
      of Puerto Rico," Mr. Perez says, adding that many
      Latino expressions and surnames originate in Islamic

      "It's not an Arabic culture thing," said Adolfo
      Arrastia, executive director of the Worcester Youth
      Center for 10 years. "Only 15 percent of the Islamic
      population around the world is Arab. It's amazing the
      amount of people that are Muslim, including people
      from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Mexico."

      Mr. Arrastia converted 31 years ago in New York City.
      "It fit me like a hand in a glove," he said. "Islam
      tells you to be a part of the community; to stand up
      against injustice. It gives me guidelines in how to be
      an activist without hurting and causing injury."

      Juan and Jason Perez grew up down the street from the
      mosque in Plumley Village with a group of close
      friends, most of whom have also converted to Islam.
      Some of the friends, including Jason, now live in
      Pennsylvania, where they are learning how to translate
      ancient African manuscripts at the Sankore Institute.

      They were raised Catholic and even attended Catholic
      school, but when they had questions about the Holy
      Trinity and other Catholic doctrine, the brothers say,
      they were admonished, which made them move away from
      the church.

      "But I was involved in the street life and it wasn't
      bringing me happiness," Jason Perez said in a
      telephone interview from the institute.

      So despite the fact that neighborhood friends used to
      think the mosque was a satanic church, Jason decided
      to visit after his Islamic roommate encouraged him.

      "I jumped in and loved it," he said. He said his
      mother was not opposed to him converting to Islam
      because he stopped smoking marijuana and began
      respecting and helping her any way he could, as
      instructed by the religion.

      "Latinos love Jesus and Mary - the Muslims do too,"
      Juan Perez said when describing the similarities
      between Islam and Christianity. (MORE)

      More about Latinos at:

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