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News on Latino Muslims: Hispanic Americans leaving Catholicism for Islam

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  • Zafar Khan
    Changing faiths: Hispanic Americans leaving Catholicism for Islam http://theislamawareness.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/changing-faiths-hispanic-americans.html
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 27, 2013
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      Changing faiths: Hispanic Americans leaving Catholicism for Islam

      http://theislamawareness.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/changing-faiths-hispanic-americans.html

      [VIDEO]
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      Hispanic Muslims: Why Are Catholic Hispanic Americans Converting To Islam?
      By Susmita Baral, Aug 21, 2013 11:06 AM EDT

      http://www.latintimes.com/articles/7619/20130821/hispanic-muslims-latino-catholic-americans-converting-islam.htm#.Uh0EDhua6NC

      Islam is most commonly associated with the Middle East and the Arab world, but the simple truth is that 85 percent of the world's Muslims are non-Arab. Current estimates suggest that one-fourth of the world's population is Muslim (roughly 2.6 billion). When looking at the countries with the largest Muslim populations, most are from the Eastern World: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Ian, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China, Syria and Russia. But the prevalence of Islam doesn't just lie in the Eastern world, as new reports are suggesting that Hispanics are converting to Islam.

      The Hispanic community is one that has strong roots in Catholicism, but yet BBC reports that the U.S. Census finds that Latino Muslims number between 100,000 and 200,000. BBC reporter Katy Watson spoke with Yousef, a half Colombian and half Ecuadorian. "I was very, I guess ignorant," said Yousef. "And I think what I saw enraged me -- I saw people falling from the towers. In the end, I hated Muslims. My hatred was diminished, it was extinguished really, my learning about Islam. My project I was given to learn about Islam in college. And once I did that, I made the decision to come to the faith."

      In fact, in Union City in New Jersey, where more than 80 percent of the population is Hispanic, mosques and Islamic religious centers are popping up. One local mosque has a 30 percent Latino population and classes are held in Spanish to help converts learn more about the Qur'an. "We are a minority within a minority, growing very rapidly," says Nahila, a Mexican convert who works at an outreach center. "I think they're looking for that niche." Nahila goes on to explain that the hardest part of converting for a Latino is the feeling that they are leaving their family.

      CNN reports that a 2011 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 2.75 million Muslims live in the United States and in 2008, four percent of America's Muslims identified themselves as Latinos. The vast majority of the Latino Muslim community were found in major cities, such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and the Bronx. As for why Latinos are converting, the reasons are across the board ranging from marrying into the faith, disatisfaction in their birth faith, exposure to the religion during prison or attending interfaith events. One common factor found; however, is that most of the converts switch faiths in adulthood.
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      Islam Flourishes in Mexico
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Wednesday, 31 July 2013 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/americas/463800-islam-flourishes-in-mexico.html

      MEXICO CITY – Two decades ago, a Muslim visitor to Mexico would have strived to find a place of worship in the crowded city. This fact has changed.

      “It’s growing fast, incredibly fast,” Said Louahabi, a Moroccan national who arrived in Mexico City in 1994, told Fox News Latino.

      Back in 1994, Louahabi and his fellow Muslims used to attend religious services at the Pakistani embassy because there were no mosques or Islamic centers.

      “I started looking for Muslims and a mosque when I first arrived,” Louahabi, an English teacher, told Fox News Latino.

      “At the time, we met at the Pakistani embassy, and there were only about 80 people — most of us were foreigners.”

      Currently, he prays alongside hundreds of other Muslims — foreigners and Mexicans alike — at the three-story Muslim Community Educational Center in the city’s upscale Anzures neighborhood.

      Serving a diverse community of Mexican converts to Islam, expatriates, and embassy staff, Friday prayers at the Islamic Center are given in Arabic and Spanish.

      A large number of this community represented converts who found Islam.

      The 9/11 attacks and the internet were two key factors in the increase of Muslim converts in Mexico City.

      “I think Islam is expanding mostly because of the Internet, and what happened on September 11,” he explained.

      “People were waking up, digging and searching to see whether we are really terrorists.”

      “We are just the opposite of what the media proclaim,” he added.

      “Islam is against terrorism.”

      Mexican convert Alexander Huttanos, an airline pilot who goes by his Islamic name, Ahmed Abbas, agreed.

      “I used the Internet and books to learn about Islam,” he said.

      “Islam has come a long way in Mexico.”

      “Allah’s path is very mysterious,” said Omar Remy, a Mexican who adopted Islam after a visit to Egypt in 1979 and now works for the Community Educational Center.

      “The Internet has helped. It allows people to communicate and investigate the religion.”

      Diverse Community

      Thought growing rapidly over the past few years, Islam has long been established in Mexico, dating back to the Spanish conquest.

      “In all of Latin America, not just Mexico, Islam arrived with Spanish colonialism,” Zidane Zeraoui al Awad, a professor of international relations at the Technological Institute of Monterrey, said.

      Zeraoui added that while the children of many Muslim immigrants in Mexico have lost their religion, the number continues to grow because of Mexican converts.

      “On one hand, the children of (immigrant) Muslims in Mexico tend to be non-Muslims,” he said.

      “But Islam is growing through converts. They are compensating for the loss of Islam among those with Muslim origins.”

      Among the most prominent members of Mexico’s Muslim community is British-born convert Mark Omar Weston, formerly a world-class professional water-skier who runs an Islamic Center and hotel in the Mexican state of Morelos.

      “There is a bit of a cultural divide between immigrants that already came as Muslims and have taken their religion seriously and Mexicans converts who are curious,” noted Omar Weston.

      “But generally speaking, teenagers and people in their 20’s have been around and see that there are other options,” he added.

      “I think that education as a whole helps people be more open to it (Islam).”

      Estimates of the number of Muslims in Mexico vary widely.

      While the Mexican government put the number at about 3,700 Muslims in the country, the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimated there are approximately 110,000.

      Numbers aside, among Muslims in the country, there is little doubt that the community is already robust.

      “It will keep growing,” Eduardo Luis Leajos Frias, a Mexican convert who adopted the Islamic name Lokman Idris.

      “It will be comparable to the growth of evangelicals we’ve seen in recent years.”
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      Mexico’s Growing Muslims
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Friday, 29 March 2013 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/americas/462014-mexicos-growing-muslims.html

      TIJUANA, Mexico — Gathering from different countries at the sleepy beach of Tijuana, a growing number of the city’s population are becoming Muslims, finding Islamic values close to the country’s Catholic traditions.

      “The Catholic emphasis on family and family values meshes a lot with Islam,” Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, a professor of Islamic and religious studies at San Diego State University, told KPBS network on Thursday, March 28.

      “The difference, however, is that whereas many Catholics see the Roman Catholic values being eroded in the United States in particular, a lot of them are seeing in Islam a difference in that there are more Muslims trying to stick to the traditional Islamic values than leave them aside," Mohammed added.

      Enjoying a welcoming atmosphere from Tijuana people, the Muslim population was growing steadily in the small city, with people coming from India, Costa Rica, the Middle East, Mexico and the United States.

      At the city, Muslims have established a new Masjid al-Islam mosque to give the estimated 200 practicing Muslims in Baja California a place to worship.

      This mosque is one of two new Islamic centers within a mile of one another, both of which have opened within the past three years.

      “I never thought 'I'm gonna live in Mexico,' honestly,” Muhanna Jamaleddin, the imam (spiritual leader) and founder of Masjid al-Islam, said.

      “So all these reasons come from God, and we thank Allah.”

      According to WhyIslam’s 2012 annual report, 19 percent of the some 3,000 converts it assisted in 2011 were Latinos, and more than half of those (55 percent) were women.

      The 2011 US Mosque Survey, which interviewed leaders at 524 mosques across the country, found the number of new female converts to Islam had increased 8 percent since 2000.

      Of that number, Latinos accounted for 12 percent of all new converts in the United States in 2011.

      Life Changing

      Though Tijuana was not the first choice for many immigrants, finding Islam was the greatest gift they have ever got.

      “It changed my life, you know,” Amir Carr, a native Californian, and a convert to Islam, told Fronteras Desk.

      Carr, a tall man wearing glasses and a taqiyyah, or prayer cap, sits in a wheelchair across from his wife, Na'eema, who is wearing a loose blouse and a head scarf.
      “I was a — a street kid, you know. I got put in this wheelchair for hanging out and hanging out with gangs and stuff like this, and I got shot.

      When he got out of prison in California, his wife Na'eema, a Mexican national, was deported.

      “They pulled us over for speeding, and they deported her within about an hour. It was so quick that you just couldn't even believe it," Carr says, shaking his head.

      Coming to live in Playas, Tijuana, he was introduced for the first time to Islam, which changed his life for good.

      “And for the first time I sat down in my life and listened, and when I listened to Islam, it actually changed my life,” Carr said.

      Same as Carr, the life of Samuel Cortes, another convert, changed when he came to live in the sleepy beach city of Tijuana.

      Growing up Glendale, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Cortes was a longtime gang member who was deported after spending time in prison for aggravated assault.

      “I started gangbanging when I was 9. I stopped when I was 21. When I decided to put that aside, if it wasn't other gang member from other neighborhoods who were trying to kill me, it was my own neighborhood that was trying to come after me because I wanted to change my life," Cortes said.

      Though Tijuana was not his first choice, he is happy with the turn his life has taken after getting married and receiving his first baby daughter.

      “I left everything back there [in the United States] and that's fine. I mean, hopefully, one day I'll be able to get my visa and go back forth and just visit my family,” he said.

      “But for the time being, I'm just mostly concentrated on my daughter, Islam, and work.”

      Coming to Tijuana either by choice or no, many Muslims ended up staying in Mexico rather than trying to get back into the United States.

      “When we open a masjid here they don't even blink," Carr said.

      They look with curiosity and they ask, but for sure they don't march. I mean, for sure nothing negative comes out of them.

      “They just accept it as they would accept anybody else.”
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      Hispanic American immigrants increasingly finding home is Islam
      Published 25 January, 2013 11:30:00 By Wendy Diaz / The Muslim Link

      http://www.pri.org/stories/politics-society/religion/hispanic-american-immigrants-increasingly-finding-home-is-islam-12754.html

      A growing community of Hispanic American immigrants, as well as Hispanics in their home country, are choosing to convert from their predominantly Christian religions to Islam. It's especially common for women.

      Tucked away in a quiet rural neighborhood in Somerset, N.J., is an old brownstone that houses the New Jersey Chapter of the Islamic Center of North America’s WhyIslam Project.

      Within its confines, in a second floor office decorated with rose-colored walls, sits the administrative assistant and only female employee of the department, Nahela Morales.

      In a long black garment and gray headscarf, Morales sits in front of a computer entering notes and taking phone calls from the program’s hotline, 1-877-WhyIslam, a resource for individuals hoping to learn more about the religion. A Mexican immigrant and recent convert, Morales is the national Spanish-language outreach coordinator for the program, part of ICNA’s mission to disseminate information about Islam nationwide.

      But Morales’ efforts go beyond U.S. borders: the 37-year-old recently led a trip to bring Islamic literature, food and clothing to her native Mexico.

      Morales, who was born in Mexico City but later moved to California and then New York, is part of a growing population of immigrant Muslim converts from Latin America, many of them women, now helping to bring the religion back to their home countries.



      Immigrant Latinas find a place in Islam

      “Many immigrants are here by themselves,” said Morales, noting that Latina immigrant women are drawn to Islam because of the sense of “belonging” they find within the Muslim community. “When they come into the mosque and see smiling faces, they feel welcome.”

      According to WhyIslam’s 2012 annual report, 19 percent of the some 3,000 converts it assisted in 2011 were Latinos, and more than half of those (55 percent) were women. The 2011 U.S. Mosque Survey, which interviewed leaders at 524 mosques across the country, found the number of new female converts had increased 8 percent since 2000, and that Latinos accounted for 12 percent of all new converts in the United States in 2011.

      Experts attribute the phenomenon to recent migration trends.

      Muslim and Latino immigrants are increasingly living side by side in urban neighborhoods across the country, from California, Texas and Florida to New York and Illinois, states that according to data from the Migration Policy Institute constitute 72.5 percent of the total foreign-born population from Latin America in the United States. At the same time, these five states are also home to the highest number of mosques, The American Mosque 2011 Report shows, reflecting a growing Muslim presence as well.

      Wilfredo Ruiz, a native of Puerto Rico who converted to Islam in 2003, is an attorney and political analyst specializing in the Islamic world. In addition to working with various non-profit organizations, including the American Muslim Association of North America (AMANA), he also serves as the imam at his local mosque in South Florida.

      “More women than men convert, both in AMANA offices and in the mosques in Southern Florida,” Ruiz said.

      Latina immigrants, he explains, often feel exploited both in Latin America and the United States. The higher status afforded women in Islam and their modest dress, he believes, offers a sensible alternative.

      “I have heard from Latina women that they seek protection, and they find (that) protection and respect in Islam,” he added.

      Juan Galvan, executive director of the Latino-American Dawah Association and author of Latino Muslims: Our Journeys to Islam, believes that Islam may also hold another, distinctly religious appeal to Latino immigrants because it reveals to them what he calls a more profound understanding of monotheism.

      “Most Latino Muslim converts have had personal experiences with Muslims that first drew them closer to Islam,” he said. “These Muslims may be their friends, acquaintances, classmates, coworkers, bosses, marriage partners or others. By interacting with Muslims, a non-Muslim learns about Islamic monotheism for the first time.”

      Because Islam emphasizes God’s, or Allah’s, oneness, Galvan says, it presents Latinos with a unique alternative to traditional Christian theologies that accept the existence of holy deities – Jesus, the Holy Spirit, saints and miracle workers — which are connected to, yet distinct, from God.

      “While Protestantism may have fewer intermediaries than Catholicism, Latinos come to Islam because they believe in a concept of God that acknowledges him as the most powerful and therefore, needs no son,” said Galvan, who is himself a Mexican-American convert to Islam.



      Prayers answered

      Morales found her own place in Islam after a turbulent past.

      In 1979, Morales’ mother risked crossing the border into the United States illegally and alone, leaving her infant daughter behind in Mexico under her grandmother’s care. When Morales was 5 years old, she was finally reunited with her mother, who by that time had settled in Los Angeles. Mother and daughter gained amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. However, even as a U.S. citizen, Morales recalls feeling out of place.

      “It was a very difficult adjustment since I did not speak English,” Morales said. “I remember entering the school system and not being able to communicate with my teachers or peers. I wanted to go back home (to Mexico).”

      Adding to her difficulties, Morales was the victim of years of neglect and abuse at home, and as a pre-teen she was removed from her mother’s custody and placed in foster care and group homes, until ultimately she was able to settle on her own and finish college.

      She moved to New York in 2001. Shortly after her relocation, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred. When news reports blamed Muslim extremists, Morales began to research Islam.

      “I was watching the news and they were always showing (Muslim) people shouting ‘Allahu-akbar,’ God is great, so I thought, if your God is so great, why is he allowing you to kill people? If Muslims say Islam (is about) peace, then this doesn’t make sense,” she said.

      She decided to find the answers herself and purchased a copy of the Quran, Islam’s holy book. Morales also began befriending Muslim women on MySpace.

      “They were so nice, and I became more curious. One of the Muslim women I met happened to be Puerto Rican, and she got in touch with someone in California that could send me an information package about Islam with books, a Quran, a prayer rug and a hijab (headscarf)," Morales recalled.

      Morales continued to make contact with Muslims through the Internet and searched online for the closest mosque to her new home in North Bergen, N.J. She began visiting the mosque and eventually converted in 2003. She continues to be an active member of the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center, or NHIEC.

      Situated in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, 30 percent of NHIEC’s congregants are Latinos. The Latino influence is so great that the mosque offers simultaneous Spanish translation of its Friday sermons and Islamic studies classes, and even hosts an annual “Hispanic Muslim Day.”

      During one of her visits to the NHIEC mosque in 2009, a WhyIslam worker overheard Morales speaking Spanish and asked if she would be interested in a bilingual position with the company.

      “I asked (God) to please send me a job where I would be able to worship and wear my veil. I knew right then my prayer was being answered,” Morales said.

      She's been working with NHIEC for more than three years, and recently led a campaign to deliver Islamic literature and audio, clothing, and toiletries to a needy Muslim community in Mexico City.

      During that trip, Morales met with her own family members, who are mostly Catholic. She says that initially they were not accepting of her decision to practice Islam or of her modest style of dress. They accused her of turning her back on her culture. But on her most recent trip to her hometown of Cuernavaca, she took the opportunity to talk to them more about her religion.

      “It is obvious that Islam is still very strange in Mexico,” said Morales, adding that since her last visit her own family has become more receptive. “But it is also very clear that people want to learn about it.”



      Latina Muslims, at home and abroad

      Isabela Duarte has been in the United States since the age of seven. A Muslim convert living in Chicago, the 30-year-old left Mexico with her family in 1990, crossing the border illegally and moving to the Windy City, where she attended school while her parents worked. After high school, she says, she had no other choice but to follow in her parents’ footsteps.

      “I figured that there was no possibility of furthering my education because I’d lack assistance due to my status,” she said.

      She eventually landed an administrative position in a social services agency, but thanks to the recession she lost her job.

      “That’s when my real struggles began. I searched for jobs everywhere. Immigration laws became tougher ... most places of employment denied me any type of opportunity regardless of the experience I had,” she said.

      She ultimately settled for babysitting jobs that paid under the table.

      In the winter of 2008, while her parents faced foreclosure, unemployment and a divorce, Duarte had an emotional breakdown. Seeking help, she came upon a YouTube video of Quran recitations. Her best friend, who was Puerto Rican, had already become a Muslim and Duarte soon followed in her footsteps.

      But while she has found solace and community, participating regularly in events held by the Latino Muslims of Chicago, an Islamic group that serves the needs of Latinos, she says her immigration status continues to be a struggle.

      “This is my home,” she said. “Chicago has been my home and I don’t recall any other.”

      Part of a growing Hispanic population in the United States, Duarte is also among a Muslim community that, according to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, is expected to increase dramatically over the next 20 years, thanks largely to immigration from South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

      An estimated 5.3 million Muslims live in North and South America as of 2010. That number is expected to more than double by the year 2030.

      Liliana Anaya, a 34-year-old Muslim convert from Colombia and a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., is familiar with the trend. The mosque in her hometown, Barranquilla, Colombia, reports an average of four conversions a month.

      Anaya, who converted to Islam in June 2002, is a graduate of Rollins University in Orlando, Fla., where she majored in political science and international relations. She later attended American University to complete a master’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution.

      After graduating, she got a job at a non-profit organization offering mediation for court systems in northern Virginia. At the same time, she met her husband, a Muslim convert from Argentina, and together they applied for U.S. citizenship.

      While Anaya was expecting their first child, she decided to travel back to her country to give birth. After their arrival, she and her husband discovered the Othman bin Affan Mosque in Barranquilla, a small Muslim community that lacked adequate resources. Because Anaya’s husband had earned a degree in Islamic Propagation from Umm Al Qura University in Saudi Arabia, they became involved in the mosque, organizing and teaching classes.

      “I felt that Muslims in the states are already part of the fabric of the society,” Anaya said. “But here (in Colombia), we are in the baby steps. If I want something, I have to create it. If I want Islamic classes for my children, I have to create them.”

      Anaya and her husband are now in the process of establishing an Islamic school for the Muslims of Barranquilla. Both say that given their commitment to the work, return to the United States is unlikely.

      “The Muslim community here needs us,” Anaya said, “so we can’t move.”


      This story was made possible by a grant from Atlantic Philanthropies and was produced as part of New America Media’s Women Immigrants Fellowship Program. It was edited to conform with New America Media’s and Public Radio International's style guidelines. This story also appeared in The Muslim Link.
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      Latino Muslim Ambassadors
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Saturday, 19 January 2013 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/americas/460944-latino-muslim-ambassadors.html

      SOMERSET, New Jersey — Finding themselves in Islam, a growing number of Latino immigrant converts are working to bring the religion back to their home countries, becoming special ambassadors of Islam.

      “I asked [God] to please send me a job where I would be able to worship and wear my veil,” Nahela Morales, an administrative assistant at New Jersey Chapter of the Islamic Center of North America’s (ICNA) WhyIslam Project, told New America Media on Friday, January 19.

      “I knew right then my prayer was being answered.”

      A Mexican immigrant and recent convert, Morales is the national Spanish-language outreach coordinator for the program, part of ICNA’s mission to disseminate information about Islam nationwide.

      Morales, who was born in Mexico City but later moved to California and then New York, is part of a growing population of immigrant Muslim converts from Latin America now helping to bring the religion back to their home countries.

      “It is obvious that Islam is still very strange in Mexico,” admits Morales, who says that since her last visit her own family has become more receptive.

      “But it is also very clear that people want to learn about it.”

      Same as Morales, Wilfredo Ruiz, a native of Puerto Rico who converted to Islam in 2003, also found a new role in his community after finding Islam.

      Ruiz, an attorney and political analyst specializing on the Islamic world, works with various non-profit organizations, including the American Muslim Association of North America (AMANA) as well as serving as the imam at his local mosque in South Florida.

      He believes that the higher status afforded women in Islam and their modest dress offers a sensible alternative.

      “More women than men convert, both in AMANA offices and in the mosques in Southern Florida,” Ruiz said.

      “I have heard from Latina women that they seek protection, and they find [that] protection and respect in Islam,” he adds.

      According to WhyIslam’s 2012 annual report, 19 percent of the some 3,000 converts it assisted in 2011 were Latinos, and more than half of those (55 percent) were women.

      The 2011 US Mosque Survey, which interviewed leaders at 524 mosques across the country, found the number of new female converts to Islam had increased 8 percent since 2000.

      Of that number, Latinos accounted for 12 percent of all new converts in the United States in 2011.

      Growing Community

      While many Latino Muslim immigrants tried to serve their community in the United States, Liliana Anaya, a Muslim convert from Colombia, returned to her home country.

      “I felt that Muslims in the states are already part of the fabric of the society,” thirty-four-year-old Liliana Anaya, a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., said.

      “But here [in Colombia], we are in the baby steps.”

      Anaya, who converted to Islam in June 2002, is a graduate of Rollins University in Orlando, Florida, where she majored in political science and international relations.

      She later attended American University to complete a Master’s Degree in international peace and conflict resolution.

      Meeting her future husband, a Muslim convert from Argentina, she returned later to her country to give birth for her first child.

      After their arrival, she and her husband discovered the Othman bin Affan Mosque in Barranquilla, a small Muslim community that lacked adequate resources.

      Because Anaya’s husband had earned a degree in Islamic Propagation from Umm Al Qura University in Saudi Arabia, they became involved in the mosque, organizing and teaching classes.

      “If I want something, I have to create it. If I want Islamic classes for my children, I have to create them,” she said.

      Anaya and her husband are now in the process of establishing an Islamic school for the Muslims of Barranquilla, as returning to America became less likely.

      “The Muslim community here needs us,” says Anaya, “so we can’t move.”

      Though there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to nearly seven million Muslims.

      According to the Pew Research Center, 6 percent of American Muslims are Hispanic.

      Further, one of 10 American-born converts is Hispanic, and that figure is growing.

      The American Muslim Council puts the number of Latino Muslims in the US at about 200,000 in 2006.

      The largest communities of Latino Muslims exist in areas with the highest concentrations of Latinos, such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.

      Yet, California is the state with the most Latino Muslims.
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      Latino, former altar boy, now Houston imam
      Wednesday, June 27, 2012

      http://blog.chron.com/sacredduty/2012/06/latino-former-altar-boy-now-houston-imam/

      Growing up on the streets of New York and Houston, Isa Parada was always part of a vibrant faith community. An altar boy at his family’s Roman Catholic parish, his family regularly prayed and read Scripture together. Today it is no different for Parada, spare for one thing, he is not a Roman Catholic, instead he is a Muslim imam.

      A convert since 1996, Parada is fluent in Arabic and an expert in Muslim theology, having studied in Saudi Arabia. With family roots in El Salvador, Parada is part of a growing number of Hispanic converts to Islam in Houston and the United States.

      As the Muslim population continues to grow in the United States, so does its Hispanic contingent. According to the Pew Research Center there are 2.6 million Muslims nationwide. Of those, 6% are Hispanic, which equates to 160,000 Hispanic Muslims. Further, one of every ten native born converts are Hispanic, and that figure is growing.

      For Parada, and others like him, the conversion process is more than switching faiths, it is a cultural odyssey replete with promise and pitfall.

      “The Islamic community and the Hispanic community don’t know much about each other,” said Parada, “when I converted many Hispanics thought I was rejecting my Latino culture. They thought I had to ‘become Arab’ to be a good Muslim.”

      This tension during his conversion was felt most potently within his own family.

      “My conversion was a shock for my family, they thought I rejected Jesus, Mary, my culture,” said Parada. “My dad thought I was going to be a terrorist,” he said, “but that’s because he watches too many Chuck Norris movies.”

      Still, his family did not know how to handle their son’s conversion. Parada’s birth name was ‘Christian.’ Understandably, his conversion was trying for his family and their faith.Today, things are much better, although some uncles and aunts still ostracize Parada and do not permit their children to be with him for sustained periods of time.

      Likewise, Parada found that the Islamic faith community did not know how to deal with Hispanics and lacked resources for Spanish-speaking converts.

      Working with Mujahid Fletcher, another Hispanic convert from Houston, the pair now produce a myriad of Spanish language videos, audio files, pamphlets and other literature to educate Latinos about the belief and practice of Islam. Their website is called IslamInSpanish.

      Being interviewed for the Chronicle in 2008, Fletcher said that he found a wealth of Hispanic culture present in Islam and wanted to share that with others.

      Parada noted the similarities as well.

      “Respect for elders, parents, family, culture, marriage, similarities in food and language, there is so much in common between Islam and Hispanic culture,” he said.

      Manuel Morales, an Hispanic house church planter in the 5th ward, said he is concerned about such similarities and the appeal that Islam has for Latinos.

      “The legalism is attractive,” he commented, “and there are familiar names like Jesus and Mary, so it is easy for some Latinos to think that Islam and Christianity are one and the same.”

      While Parada notes the differences between Islam and Christianity, he believes that Islam is a completion of everything he learned growing up as a Roman Catholic altar boy. He said, “Isa is my name, it means Jesus. I still respect and represent him. I still follow Jesus, but now I follow his full teachings.”

      He mentioned that on key issues, such as immigration and gang violence, Muslims provide a deep resource for Latinos.

      “You are not going to see many Muslims look down on immigrants,” said Parada, “they know how it feels to be ostracized, looked down upon, stereotype and treated as a second class citizen.”

      His own work as an imam in Houston focuses on educating youth who he hopes to keep off the streets, out of gangs and away from negative influences.

      Parada said, “It’s what I lacked as a teenager, a consistent positive influence with clear rules.”

      For these reasons and others, Parada insists that the Latino Muslim community will continue to grow in Houston and the Western Hemisphere.

      “When I first converted there were only about 20 other Hispanic Muslims in Houston,” noted Parada, “but just the other month we had a potluck at one mosque with over 100 Latinos in attendance.”

      “I am usually the first Hispanic Muslim people meet,” he said, “and that uniqueness gives me the opportunity to educate, but I won’t be unique for long.”
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