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Latino Muslims: More US Hispanics drawn to Islam

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  • Zafar Khan
    More US Hispanics drawn to Islam Marriage, post-9/11 curiosity, and a shared interest in issues such as immigration are key reasons. By Amy Green | Contributor
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 29, 2006
      More US Hispanics drawn to Islam
      Marriage, post-9/11 curiosity, and a shared interest
      in issues such as immigration are key reasons.
      By Amy Green | Contributor to The Christian Science
      September 28, 2006 edition


      ORLANDO, FLA. – With her hijab and dark complexion,
      Catherine Garcia doesn't look like an Orlando native
      or a Disney tourist. When people ask where she's from,
      often they are surprised that it's not the Middle East
      but Colombia.

      That's because Ms. Garcia, a bookstore clerk who
      immigrated to the US seven years ago, is Hispanic and
      Muslim. On this balmy afternoon at the start of
      Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, she is at her mosque
      dressed in long sleeves and a long skirt in keeping
      with the Islamic belief in modesty. "When I was in my
      country I never fit in the society. Here in Islam I
      feel like I fit with everything they believe," she

      Garcia is one of a growing number of Hispanics across
      the US who have found common ground in a faith and
      culture bearing surprising similarities to their own
      heritage. From professionals to students to
      homemakers, they are drawn to the Muslim faith through
      marriage, curiosity and a shared interest in issues
      such as immigration.

      The population of Hispanic Muslims has increased 30
      percent to some 200,000 since 1999, estimates Ali
      Khan, national director of the American Muslim Council
      in Chicago. Many attribute the trend to a growing
      interest in Islam since the 2001 terrorist attacks and
      also to a collision between two burgeoning minority
      groups. They note that Muslims ruled Spain centuries
      ago, leaving an imprint on Spanish food, music, and

      "Many Hispanics ... who are becoming Muslim, would say
      they are embracing their heritage, a heritage that was
      denied to them in a sense," says Ihsan Bagby,
      professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the
      University of Kentucky.

      The trend has spawned Latino Islamic organizations
      such as the Latino American Dawah Organization,
      established in 1997 by Hispanic converts in New York
      City. Today the organization is nationwide.

      The growth in the Hispanic Muslim population is
      especially prevalent in New York, Florida, California,
      and Texas, where Hispanic communities are largest. In
      Orlando, the area's largest mosque, which serves some
      700 worshipers each week, is located in a mostly
      Hispanic neighborhood. A few years ago it was rare to
      hear Spanish spoken at the mosque, says Imam Muhammad
      Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central

      Today there is a growing demand for books in Spanish,
      including the Koran, and requests for appearances on
      Spanish-language radio stations, Mr. Musri says. The
      mosque offers a Spanish-language education program in
      Islam for women on Saturdays. "I could easily see in
      the next few years a mosque that will have Spanish
      services and a Hispanic imam who will be leading the
      service," he says.

      The two groups tend to be family-oriented, religious,
      and historically conservative politically, Dr. Bagby
      says. Many who convert are second- and
      third-generation Hispanic Americans.

      The two groups also share an interest in social issues
      such as immigration, poverty, and healthcare. Earlier
      this year Muslims joined Hispanics in marches
      nationwide protesting immigration-reform proposals
      they felt were unfair.

      In South Central Los Angeles, a group of Muslim UCLA
      students a decade ago established a medical clinic in
      this underserved area. Today the nonreligious
      University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic
      treats some 16,000 patients, mostly Hispanic, who see
      it as a safe place to seek care without fear for their
      illegal status, says Mansur Khan, vice chairman of the
      board and one of the founders.

      Although the clinic doesn't seek Muslim converts, Dr.
      Khan sees Hispanics taking an interest in his faith
      because it focuses on family, he says. One volunteer
      nurse founded a Latino Islamic organization in the
      area. Another Hispanic woman told Khan she felt drawn
      to the faith because of the head covering Muslim women
      wear. It reminded her of the Virgin Mary.

      The trend is a sign that Islam is becoming more
      Americanized and more indigenous to the country, Bagby
      says. As Republican positions on issues such as
      immigration push Muslim Hispanics and blacks in a less
      conservative direction, Islam could move in the same
      direction. Muslim Hispanic and black involvement in
      American politics could demonstrate to Muslims
      worldwide the virtues of democracy, eventually
      softening fundamentalists. He believes the Osama bin
      Ladens of the world are a small minority, and that
      most fundamentalists are moving toward engagement with
      the West.

      "The more Hispanics and other Americans [who] become
      Muslim, the stronger and wider the bridge between the
      Muslim community and the general larger American
      community," Bagby says. "Their words and approach have
      some weight because they are a source of pride for
      Muslims throughout the world."

      Garcia left Colombia to study international business
      in the US. Always religious, she considered becoming a
      nun when she was younger. But her Catholic faith
      raised questions for her. She wondered about eating
      pork when the Bible forbids it, and about praying to
      Mary and the saints and not directly to God.

      In the US she befriended Muslims and eventually
      converted to Islam. Her family in Colombia was
      supportive. Today she says her prayers in English,
      Spanish, and Arabic, and she eats Halal food in
      keeping with Islamic beliefs.

      "It's the best thing that happened to me," says Garcia
      in soft, broken English. "I never expected to have so
      many blessings and be in peace like I am now."

      More on Latino Muslims AT:
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