New report explores the identity of Latino Muslims in the United States

The Latino Muslims Survey (LMS), a social science oriented study of U.S. Latino Muslims, examined the religiosity of 560 Latino Muslims via an online, bilingual nationwide survey. The historic findings shed light on the intersection of religious beliefs and practices; spiritual, moral, social, and ethical views.  The study also examined the social, civic and political attitudes of the self-identified Latinos and Muslims.  The results of the study were published June 2017 in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. 

According to, Dr. Gaston Espinosa, Arthur V. Stoughton Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College, one of the co-principals of the study, this research “is important because it is the largest survey ever conducted on the U.S. Latino Muslims and because it helps us to understand why Latinos are converting to Islam, what branches of Islam they are converting into, and their religious, social, gender, and political views.”

This comprehensive survey adds nuance to the understanding of Latino Muslims and reexamines the previously held notion that a majority of Latino Muslims coverts embraced Islam as a rejection of Catholicism.

Targeted Islamic outreach to Hispanics achieving results

February 28, 2014

 

PEARLAND, Texas (RNS) Carlos Lopez works in the United States to earn money and send it back home to his family in Mexico. But he sends back something else, too: pamphlets and personal testimonies about his new faith.

On Dec. 22, 2013, Lopez took the “shahada” — the profession of the Islamic faith — and joined the ranks of what the American Muslim Council estimates is a 200,000 strong Hispanic Muslim community across the U.S.

Unlike previous generations of Hispanic Muslims who were attracted to the faith by their own spiritual explorations, Lopez and many others like him are converting as a result of targeted Islamic outreach efforts.

This new form of Islamic “da’wah,” or outreach, aims to translate being Muslim into the Spanish cultural and linguistic vernacular.

“To reach Hispanics, we have to be practical,” said Imam Daniel Abdullah Hernandez who teaches an Islam in Spanish course in Pearland, Texas, where Lopez converted. “Islam is practical, it’s social, it’s very easy to translate it into Hispanic culture, and it’s even easier to communicate it in the Spanish language.”

According to the Pew Research Center, just 4 percent of Muslim Americans are of Hispanic ancestry, though one of 10 native-born U.S. Muslims are Hispanic. “The American Mosque 2011″ report said the number of Latino converts has been steadily increasing since 2000, more so than any other racial or ethnic group.

As they convert, many face ostracism from their families who are predominantly Christian, often Catholic, and feel the converts are abandoning their Hispanic identity. Likewise, many Hispanic Muslims do not find a ready welcome in masjids that are largely made up of Middle Eastern, North African, South East Asian and African-American Muslims.

Islam In Spanish is not the first organization to focus its efforts on reaching Hispanics. Another group, the Latino American Dawah Organization, existed before it and paved the way.

Shafiq Alvarado helped found LADO, which offers help and support to new Hispanic Muslims. Born into a Catholic family and of Dominican ancestry, Alvarado converted when he was 25 through the efforts of Allianza Islamica (Islamic Alliance) in New York City.

“People who become Muslims inevitably become ambassadors for Islam,” said Alvarado. “Hispanic Muslims are not sitting on the sidelines; they learn Arabic, the Quran, Islamic jurisprudence, and many other things to take that knowledge and give it back to their communities, their families,” he said.

 

RNS.com: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/02/28/targeted-islamic-outreach-hispanics-achieving-results

Islam in Spanish.com: http://islaminspanish.org/

LADO: http://www.latinodawah.org/

Why So Many U.S. Latinos Are Becoming Muslims

October 10, 2013

 

Most Latinos know the country is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month right now. What far fewer Latinos know is that next week marks Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s most sacred holidays.

And yet the two observances are more related now than most Latinos realize.

Just as the U.S. Latino population is on the rise — Hispanics are now the nation’s largest minority — so is the number of Latino Muslims. And it’s not just a result of Arab Latin Americans emigrating to the United States.

According to organizations like WhyIslam.org, Latinos are one of the fastest growing segments of the Muslim community. About six percent of U.S. Muslims are now Latino — and as many as a fifth of new converts to Islam nationwide are Latino.

The American Muslim Association of North America, based in North Miami, says heavily Hispanic South Florida in particular is home to a rising number of Latino Muslims.

If it’s a surprise that many Latinos are moving from a predominantly Roman Catholic culture to an originally Arab faith, perhaps it shouldn’t be. For one thing, like African-Americans in the 1960s, Latinos are discovering their own historical and cultural ties to Islam and the Arab world. And that starts with what most defines Latinos: Spanish.

“Our language is nurtured by more than 4,000 words that come from Arabic,” says Wilfredo Ruiz, a Puerto Rican-born Muslim who converted a decade ago and is a lawyer for the South Florida chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. “Every word in Spanish that starts with ‘al,’ for example, like alcalde, alcantarilla, almohada.”

“What most Latinos who have embraced Islam find most amazing is their cultural affinity to the Muslim culture,” says Ruiz. “It’s like rediscovering your past. That area of our past has been hidden from us.”

Ruiz points out that both Latinos and Arabs highly value the extended family and traditions like offering hospitality to strangers. In religious terms, Latinos like Gonzalez say Islam provides a simpler, more direct form of worship than Catholicism does. They also feel more structure than they see in the evangelical churches so many Latinos join today.

“The connection I have with God now is better than before,” says Gonzalez.

 

Cair.com: http://cair.com/press-center/cair-in-the-news/12193-why-so-many-latinos-are-becoming-muslims.html

WLRN.org: http://wlrn.org/post/why-so-many-latinos-are-becoming-muslims

Latino Muslims Search for Identity, Community in the Bronx

In Masjid Annasr’s prayer space on a Saturday afternoon, Zaynab al-Samat is in a minority of one. A slight woman dressed in a pale purple abaya and matching hijab, she is the only Hispanic supplicant at this roomy northwest Bronx mosque that almost exclusively serves a local West African population.

Al-Samat, a native of the Dominican Republic, converted to Islam in 2010 after a long period of faith exploration as she became increasingly dissatisfied with the Catholic Church. Now, she says she has found a welcoming home here at Masjid Annasr, one of several West African mosques in Morris Heights, a majority-Hispanic area increasingly dotted with Ghanaian groceries offering Halal cuts of goat meat.

 

Still, al-Samat says that she hopes to eventually pray at a Latino mosque, a niche that doesn’t exist here in the Bronx. Though she is deeply involved at Masjid Annasr, managing religious classes for children and painting henna on holidays, what she lacks here is a Latino Muslim community in which to weave together her Latino culture and a faith that some Hispanics “think is for Arabs only,” she said.

Aisha Ahmed Hernandez is the founder of the Latin American Muslim Women’s Association, a south Bronx-based organization established in 2007. The group fields telephone calls from Latino Muslims looking for Islamic answers to their problems, be it turbulent marriages or troubled faith.

 

Hernandez also created a Facebook group, called “Muslims Who Speak Spanish,” that now counts almost 500 members, not all of whom live in New York. She established the group to get a sense of just how large the Latino Muslim population is and said she was surprised by the huge response.

Encouraged, she says she hopes that her still small-scale effort will blossom — drawing together a community in which Latino converts can negotiate a common identity and support each other through a conversion process that can roil family members.

 

In the meantime, Hernandez says she straddles two cultures. A frequenter of mostly African mosques like the one in which she converted more than 20 years ago, she still celebrates Catholic holidays with her Puerto Rican friends and family, she said.

Us Latinas Seek Answers In Islam

By Christine Armario UNION CITY, N.J. – Jasmine Pinet sits on the steps outside a mosque here, tucking in strands of her burgundy hair beneath a white head scarf, and explaining why she, a young Latina, feels that she has found greater respect as a woman by converting to Islam. “They’re not gonna say, ‘Hey mami, how are you?’ ” Ms. Pinet says of Muslim men. “Usually they say, ‘Hello, sister.’ And they don’t look at you like a sex object.” While some Latinas her age try to emulate the tight clothes and wiggling hips of stars like Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera, Ms. Pinet and others are adopting a more conservative lifestyle and converting to Islam. At this Union City, N.J., mosque, women account for more than half of the Latino Muslims who attend services here. Nationwide, there are about 40,000 Latino Muslims in the United States, according to the Islamic Society of North America. Many of the Latina converts say that their belief that women are treated better in Islam was a significant factor in converting. Critics may protest that wearing the veil marks a woman as property, but some Latina converts say they welcome the fact that they are no longer whistled at walking down a street. “People have an innate response that I’m a religious person, and they give [me] more respect,” says Jenny Yanez, another Latina Muslim. “You’re not judged if you’re in fashion or out of fashion.” Other Latina Muslims say they also like the religion’s emphasis on fidelity to one’s spouse and family. But for many family members and friends, these conversions come as a surprise – often an unwelcome one. They may know little of Islam other than what they have heard of the Taliban and other extremist groups. That creates an inaccurate image, insists Leila Ahmed, a professor of women’s studies and religion at Harvard University. “It astounds me, the extent to which people think Afghanistan and the Taliban represent women and Islam.” What’s really going on, she says, is a reshaping of the relationship between women and Islam. “We’re in the early stages of a major rethinking of Islam that will open Islam for women. [Muslim scholars] are rereading the core texts of Islam – from the Koran to legal texts – in every possible way.” New views of women and Islam may be more prevalent in countries like the US, where women read the Koran themselves and rely less on patriarchal interpretations. “I think the women here are asserting more their rights and their privileges,” says Zahid Bukhari, director of the American-Muslim Studies Program at George- town University. ” Some Latina Muslims say they harbored stereotypes about Muslim women before deciding to convert, but changed their minds once becoming close friends with a Muslim. “I always thought, geez, I feel sorry for women who have to wear those veils,” says Pinet. Then she met her Muslim boyfriend and began studying the Koran with a group of Muslim women. She says she was impressed with the respect they received. “A women is respected because she is the mother, she takes care of the children, and she’s the one that enforces the rules,” Pinet says. “They’re the ones who are sacred.” Critics of the decisions of Latinas to convert to Islam say they are adopting a religion just as patriarchical as the Roman Catholic faith that many are leaving behind. “While it’s true the Latino culture tends to be more male-dominated, and there’s a tendency toward more machismo, I would venture to say it exists [in Islam] as well,” says Edwin Hernandez, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Latinos account for six percent of the 20,000 Muslim conversions in the United States each year, according to a report published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Anecdotal evidence suggests this number may be rising. But that doesn’t mean it’s getting any easier for the women who make this choice. “At first it was anger and then more like sadness,” Nylka Vargas says of her parents’ reaction when she told them she was converting to Islam and began dressing more conservatively. “They would sometimes feel strange being around me.” Pinet’s family has been more accepting, but she too has encountered some resistance in her community. It’s as if you’ve betrayed your own kind,” she says. For some, the cultural differences are the most trying. “I can’t eat pork, I can’t wear [form- fitting] clothing, I can’t dance in the clubs, I’m not gonna attend church,” says Ms. Yanez, who is of Cuban and Spanish descent. “But I keep my language, and there’s still things that we do as Latinos that they don’t have to change.” Within the Islamic community, Latina Muslims report being warmly received, although language barriers sometimes exist for Latinas who only speak Spanish. There are few Spanish services at mosques and a limited number of Islamic texts in Spanish. Grassroots organizations specifically for Latino Muslims have been created in recent years. They function in part as an informational resource for new converts and but also as a support group for those who encounter difficulties at home. Ultimately, Latina Muslims say that time heals the divisions and angst their conversion sometimes causes among friends and family. “What I had to learn was patience,” says Vargas, whose family came to accept her religious beliefs after several years. “Sometimes things are not as we want them.”