Latinos Are Shattering Stereotypes As They Convert To Islam In Record Numbers
Camisa, pantalon, azucar. These are just a few of the more than 4,000 Spanish words that derive from the Arabic language. These few words highlight the complex similarities between the Latino and Muslim cultures.
And as Latinos continue to flock to Islam, Latinos currently make up the fastest growing group of converts to Islam, those similarities will only continue to grow.
Latinos currently make up the fasted growing segment of the US Muslim population.
According to some estimates, there are between 89,000 and 250,000 Latinos practicing Islam in the country.
Latino Muslims are a particularly vulnerable group as the Trump administration takes cruel and discriminatory measures against both segments of the population. One of the administration’s first moves was a ban on Muslim refugees while a border wall and increased ICE patrols remain consistent threats.
From Houston to Santa Ana and Philly to Chicago, Latino Muslims are forming communities.
In a mosque on Chicago’s North Side, you’ll find that alongside Pakistani and Indian dishes – daal, butter chicken and endless naan – are Mexican dishes like molé y arroz. Chicago is also home to a chapter of Islam In Spanish – an organization founded in Houston.
The group, which formed in 2001 to provide Qurans, pamphlets, and videos to people who wanted to learn about the religion in their native language, has seen 160 Spanish-speakers convert in the Houston area in the last three years.
In 2009, only 1 percent of Muslims identified as Hispanic. By 2018, it was 7 percent.
According to the study, most Latino converts to Islam are women. Roughly 73 percent of participants were women. And many of them are leaders in their community, including women like Nylka Vargas who has helped develop some of the earliest Latino Muslim communities in the country.
Along with Jewish Americans, Latinos hold largely positive views of Muslims, according to a new study.
It was revealed that Hispanic Americans are fives times more likely to favorable views of Muslims as they are to have negative attitudes. This favorability rating is second only to the Jewish community.
Many Latinos have embraced Islam after discovering the hip-hop culture of the 1990s.
Malcolm X, as a civil rights leader, was an instrumental figure in driving various communities to Islam. In an interview with LatinoUSA, Parada, 43, discussed how on a school trip to New York he saw friends greeting each other with “As-salaam-Alaikum.” He wanted to be a part of that.
Other reasons that Latinos have converted to Islam range from the search for renewed spirituality in a religion that rings true to a resurgence in Latinos exploring their Andalusian roots, when Muslims governed Spain for 700 years until 1492.
Some converts families worry about their choices.
Parada was born to Salvadorean parents and was an altar boy at his family’s Roman Catholic church. His parents voiced concern about his choice to join the Islamic faith so he asked them to read a chapter in the Quran about Mary and Jesus. “Most Latinos think Muslims don’t believe in Jesus and Mary,” Parada told LatinoUSA. “That gave them a different perspective of Islam.”
Dangerous stereotypes about Muslims continue to create friction, even among Latinos.
Some converts from devout Catholic families say they sometimes are faced with skepticism and ignorance from their own relatives: “Oh, what are you an Arab now?” “Why did you join a black religion?” “Did you join ISIS?” “Take that thing off your head,” according to Parada.
But Latinos and Muslims are working hard to build bridges between the communities.
Like any good abuela, the way too make friends is with food. And that’s just what is helping connect the two communities.
From #TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque – a movement that began back in 2017 to show solidarity with the Muslim community – to community potlucks and asadas, connecting people through food is helping them find their similarities.
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