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Latino Muslims: More Hispanic women coverting to Islam - Miami Herald

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  • Zafar Khan
    More Hispanic women coverting to Islam BY ALEXANDRA ALTER aalter@herald.com http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/12820867.htm Ask Melissa Matos why she
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6, 2005
      More Hispanic women coverting to Islam


      Ask Melissa Matos why she converted to Islam, and
      you'll likely get an answer that spans 13 centuries.
      She may refer to seventh century Arabia, where Muslims
      believe the Prophet Mohammed received the Koran from
      the angel Gabriel. Or she might describe Islam's
      golden age in medieval Spain. Or she'll recall Sept.
      11, 2001, when fear and curiosity drove her to read
      about Islam on the Internet.

      Matos, who comes from a family of Seventh-day
      Adventists from the Dominican Republic, has answered
      the question countless times since converting to Islam
      in April. She now covers her hair, prays five times a
      day, and today will observe Ramadan, a month of
      fasting, prayer and reflection, which began at

      ''Sometimes it does get a little difficult,'' said
      Matos, a 20-year-old political science student at
      Florida International University who lives with her
      parents in Miramar. ``I feel alienated from my family
      and my old friends, but Islam is so beautiful, it's
      worth it. And with Ramadan, I'm just doing it by
      myself, just me and God.''

      Though Hispanic women make up a small fraction of the
      nation's 6 million Muslims, those converting to Islam
      are exerting influence beyond their numbers, teaching
      Spanish-Arabic classes, forming Hispanic-Muslim
      organizations and distributing the Koran in Spanish.

      Matos, for one, plans to organize a lecture series
      this semester at FIU on the religion's little-known
      history in Latin America, including two lectures that
      will be in Spanish, she said.

      Some have founded support networks. Piedad, a network
      of Muslim women that seeks to educate Spanish-speaking
      communities about Islam, has more than 344 members
      nationally. Other groups, like the Latino American
      Dawah Organization , which was formed in 1997, promote
      the legacy of Islam in Spain and Latin America.

      ''It's a movement that is growing, particularly in
      urban areas,'' said Manuel Vasquez, a professor of
      religion at the University of Florida. ``It's part of
      the cross-fertilization that's occurring among
      immigrant groups.''

      There are some 40,000 Hispanic Muslims in the United
      States, according to a spokesman for the Islamic
      Society of North America. The largest populations live
      in New York, Texas, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami,
      American Muslim organizations say.

      Jameela Ali, 26, became a Muslim seven years ago after
      she dreamed she was praying in a mosque filled with
      light. Her mother, who is from Peru, had converted to
      Islam several years before. Now her brother, 22, and
      sister, 21, have converted.

      ''You feel a much closer connection to God,'' said
      Ali, who lives in Pembroke Pines and teaches two other
      Hispanic Muslim women to read and write Arabic. ``You
      give up everything of your old lifestyle -- your old
      clothes, you're not going to clubs, you're not
      drinking, you're not smoking.''

      Islam's growth among Hispanic women may result from
      the broader Muslim outreach following the Sept. 11
      attacks, said Aisha Musa, an assistant professor of
      religion at Florida International University.


      Sofian Abdelaziz, the director of the American Muslim
      Association of North America in Miami, said his group
      often gets requests for the Koran in Spanish. In the
      last several years, they've given away more than 5,000
      Spanish translations of the Koran to South Florida
      mosques and prisons, he said.

      Converts and Muslim leaders are quick to note that
      Muslims accept Hebrew and Christian scripture as
      revelation, but maintain that the Prophet Mohammed
      provided the complete word of God. Muslims follow the
      Koran, the holy book revealed to Mohammed. Islam's
      five central tenets include professing faith in God
      and his prophet, Mohammed, performing daily prayers,
      showing charity, fasting during Ramadan and making
      hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's holy city in
      Saudi Arabia.

      Islam spread rapidly after Mohammed's death in the
      seventh century and today is one of the
      fastest-growing religions in North America, scholars
      say. Hispanic converts in urban areas say it's become
      easier to find like-minded communities.

      ''It's so great to meet other Latin people because we
      all know each other's backgrounds,'' said Fatima
      Narvaez, 30, who converted in 2002 and now studies
      Arabic with two other Hispanic women on the weekends.

      But convincing families that conversion is the way to
      go hasn't always been easy.


      ''They think I've rejected my way to salvation because
      I don't believe Jesus Christ is the son of God,''
      Matos said of her parents, who are Seventh-day

      Roraima Aisha Kanar was raised Roman Catholic by her
      parents, Cuban exiles who settled in Miami in 1959.
      Kanar, 52, considered becoming a nun before converting
      to Islam at age 22. Her parents, devout Catholics,
      didn't want their grandchildren to be raised Muslim,
      she said.

      ''It was very hard to know that my own mother didn't
      respect my belief,'' said Kanar, who with her husband
      raised their three children as Muslims.

      But others have found support from their families.
      Narvaez, who lives with her grandparents in Davie, was
      worried they wouldn't understand her new dietary
      practices. Islam forbids pork and meat that isn't
      halal, or slaughtered according to Islamic law.

      ''With Puerto Ricans, there's pork in everything,''
      said Narvaez, who works in marketing. ``But they
      accommodate all my issues and cook halal food for

      Ali said she's renounced aspects of Hispanic culture
      that conflict with her beliefs, like cooking with wine
      or eating pork. But she still marks Christmas with her
      Peruvian family and cooks South American dishes.

      ''Islam is a way of life, but you don't suddenly have
      to start listening to Arabic music,'' said Ali. ``We
      still keep our heritage.''

      More about Latino Muslims at:
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