LATINOS TURNING TO ISLAM - Telegram and Gazette
- LATINOS TURNING TO ISLAM - TOP
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
"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
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
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
"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)
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