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.

Father issues fatwa on son, now refugee claimant in Canada

Lamine Yansané has been denied refugee status and is seeking a last-ditch reprieve in Federal Court on the grounds that he faces certain harm if he is deported from Canada. In his hometown of Boké in Guinea, his father is a revered imam called for his death after having married a Catholic woman and abandoned Islam for Christianity. “If you return him to his country, he is going to die,” Mr. Yansané’s lawyer, Stewart Istvanffy, told the court. He called his client “a victim of radical Islam, who is threatened by the imam of his town, his own father.”

Mr. Yansané, 37, arrived in Canada from Guinea in the fall of 2005. He told the Immigration and Refugee Board that he fled the West African nation after his father and uncle tracked him down in the country’s capital of Conakry, confronted him about his church attendance and threatened him as a traitor to Islam. His wife and three children remain in Guinea. Mr. Yansané had been issued a new Guinean passport and preparations were underway to deport him last January when Federal Court Justice François Lemieux issued a stay pending a further review of the case. It has yet to be decided whether the first judgement will be revoked.

Investment in West African cooperation stems flow of boats after 2006 crisis

Fewer than 20,000 undocumented migrants were caught trying to reach Spain via the Mediterranean in 2007 – half as many as the previous year. Government officials claim the drop confirms the success of a new strategy to tackle illegal immigration. Weekly meetings coordinates by Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega and other ministers and secretaries of state continue to take place every Friday in Madrid, to discuss the ways the country can deal with illegal immigration. Spanish embassies set up in West African countries and aid packages are believed to have successfully reduced the number of illegal migrants coming to Spain from West Africa, in addition the hiring of more security personal.