A Day for Latinos to Rediscover their Roots
By Wendy Diaz-Guadalupe
October 11, 2005 was a historical night in New York City where Muslims and non-Muslims came together as one entity to discuss untold events of Latino culture. Columbia University’s Muslim Students Association and Lamda Pi Chi Sorority, Inc., sponsored “Latinos in Islam: Rediscovering Our Roots.” The event was presented by Hernan Guadalupe of the Latino Muslim Outreach Program (L.M.O.P.), a program founded under the PrimeXample Company which aims to build relationships between non-Muslims and Muslims through Islamic awareness based on the Qur’an and Sunnah, or authentic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
Students and other spectators gathered in Lerner Hall at Columbia and enjoyed Mexican cuisine to break the Ramadan fasting, eagerly awaiting the highlight of the event to begin, the lecture which had been advertised through flyers in local universities and online. The Latino-inspired food set the mood for the theme of the night and the presentation began promptly after the prayer and iftar.
Hernan Guadalupe was warmly introduced by Lamda Pi Chi member, Sandra Jimenez, telling of his volunteer work outside and within the Islamic community and his conversion to Islam. Guadalupe, a Muslim revert of Ecuadorian descent, explained in his introduction that the goal of The PrimeXample Company is to provide information in order to bridge gaps and build better understanding and tolerance for Islam. He began the night’s topic by posing the question, “What does it mean to be a Latino?”
Although many Latinos acknowledge their many roots and rich cultural diversity, they fail to connect a part of the puzzle, which was essential to the development of Latin American society: Islam. Guadalupe explained that Muslims arrived in Spain in 711 C.E. and ruled for almost 800 years, shaping the Spanish nation and empire, which would expand to include all of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Guadalupe also informed the audience about the presence of Muslims in the Americas prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, providing evidence found in his research. Members of the audience, many of which were Latino, expressed their interest in these topics, not having been aware of them prior to this presentation.
After a detailed explanation about the historical events, which shaped the Latin American culture profoundly, Guadalupe proceeded to give details about why Latinos were now accepting Islam as their newfound faith. Day by day, Latinos are embracing the religion of Islam, and they are one of the fastest growing Muslim minority groups. There are over 4 million Muslim in Latin America, and Latinos comprise of about 6% of Muslim converts in the U.S. According to Guadalupe, many of the Muslim converts of Latino descent “rediscover their roots,” after researching about their past and realizing the role Islam played in the lives of their ancestors.
Others find simplicity in Islam whereas they struggled in their previous faith to find answers to complex questions. Most Latinos come from Catholic backgrounds and are not satisfied with this very controversial and often ambiguous religion. As Guadalupe described, they are only “culturally Catholic.” In other words, these Latinos practice their religion blindly, simply following what their families follow, but not questioning the origin of their beliefs. The research stated that over one hundred thousand Latinos leave the Catholic faith each year, an astonishing number indeed. Although not all embrace Islam, apparently many do find Islam to be the destination of their spiritual quest.
Guadalupe both captivated and charmed the audience by comparing the Islamic culture with Latino culture from similarities in family values to explaining strange superstitions. He clarified that another reason for Latinos accepting Islam was precisely these huge connections between morality and values found in Latin American communities. The talk ended with him encouraging the audience to seek more knowledge on the topic in order to develop their own conclusions. A question and answer session followed. Audience members asked questions not only about the night’s focus, but also general questions about Islam. Many expressed their fascination with the similarities between Islam and the Latino culture, stating they would like to do their own research.
Even after the question and answer session, some of the listeners approached Guadalupe to obtain contact information for both personal questions and to arrange upcoming events. Guadalupe stated, “I was pleased with the event; I believe it was truly successful. I think that it was an opportunity to inform people that Islam is not only about Arabs, but that it is for everybody. I also feel that this was a big step for the Latino Muslim Outreach Program, and we hope that more presentations such as this one can be organized in the future in order to propagate the message of Islam.”
Since then, The PrimeXample Company and L.M.O.P have successfully delivered this presentation in other universities including Stevens Institute of Technology and Montclair State University. Other presentations have been developed that cover various Islamic topics from Islamic manners to women in Islam. For more information, please visit www.primexample.com.
Sister Wendy Diaz-Guadalupe is the Chief Editor for The PrimeXample Company.