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Latino Muslims: Hispanic Converts to Islam Say They Feel Closer to God

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  • Zafar Khan
    Hispanic Converts to Islam Say They Feel Closer to God By SAMEERA IQBAL Nov. 20, 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 24, 2007
      Hispanic Converts to Islam Say They Feel Closer to God

      Nov. 20, 2007


      Olé! Allah! Most people would guess that these two
      words are worlds apart, but they're actually not.
      Surprisingly, nearly 200,000 Latinos in the United
      States identify themselves as Muslims, according to
      the American Muslim Council.

      What accounts for the growing acceptance of Islam
      among the members of the country's largest minority?

      Across the United States, many Latino communities are
      in close proximity to Muslim centers, especially in
      states like Florida, Texas, New York and California.
      As Latinos learned more about Islam, they became more
      connected to the Muslim heritage, making their
      religious transition easier.

      Both Latino and Islamic culture share a deep
      appreciation for religion and family. Alex Robayo, who
      has been Muslim for over a decade, was drawn to the
      same values in Islam that he grew up with. "There are
      a lot of similarities with our culture, with the way
      our families are. It's almost like if you replace the
      religion and the language, the families would be
      almost the same," he said of his attraction to Islam.

      Women have historically been drawn to Islam and Latino
      women are no different. Sixty percent of Latino
      converts are women, estimates Latino American Dawah

      Irene Abbasi, a native of Puerto Rico, has been Muslim
      for more than 30 years.

      "When they say Islam deems women as second class
      citizens, I find that ridiculous," she said. "In
      Islam, if you're in a miserable marriage, you have the
      option of getting a divorce and getting your rights …
      right now it's called a prenuptial. Well, Islam had
      this in the 13th century."

      For some Latinos, embracing Islam meant giving up
      familiar things, such as pork alcohol, and dating.
      While many Latinos find these restrictions
      challenging, their focus on aspects of the new
      religion helps them adjust.

      Islam introduced spiritual practices that were
      different from the Catholic upbringing of many
      Latinos, such as five daily prayers, fasting and a
      more direct connection with God. "Prayer was the first
      thing that bought me closer to being a Muslim. It
      became a source of strength and peace," said Ibrahim
      Gonzalez, who became Muslim when he was 17.

      Some Latinos feel a special connection with Islamic
      heritage, owing to the rich history of Muslims in
      Spain. Before Christopher Columbus arrived on the
      scene, the Muslim empire ruled for 800 years. The
      Muslim empire left its mark on architecture, food and
      language of Spanish culture, which was then bought
      over into Latin America through the conquistadors.

      Hundreds of Spanish words have Arabic roots.
      Historians have concluded that "olé" is the Spanish
      adaptation of the Arabic word for God, Allah.

      Today, some Latinos feel they are reclaiming their
      Muslim heritage by returning to the religion. Gonzalez
      said, "We felt Islam, within our culture, was a hidden

      Even while embracing the Muslim culture, the Latin
      heritage remains highly prized. Islam calls upon
      followers to celebrate their heritage and remember
      their forefathers. Abbasi proudly proclaims, "I'm
      Puerto Rican, I'm Boricua."

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