Latino Muslims: Hispanic Converts to Islam Say They Feel Closer to God
- Hispanic Converts to Islam Say They Feel Closer to God
By SAMEERA IQBAL
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."