Muslim converts

Latino Muslims, Muslim converts, Stories

Help Ustadh Kenny Solis Complete his Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy!

Imam Parvez and Brother Gil from Jalisco Mexico at Masjid Al Noor in Rosarito Mexico 2018.
With Imam Parvez and Brother Gil from Jalisco Mexico at Masjid Al Noor in Rosarito Mexico 2018.


About The Fundraiser

The LADO Group is currently seeking to raise the necessary funds to provide Ustadh Kenny Solis with a scholarship in the amount of $7,000 to enable him to complete the last three courses required to earn his Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy.

A Message from Ustadh Kenny Solis

Listening during Islamic spirituality and leadership course, Fall 2019. 
Listening during Islamic spirituality and leadership course, Fall 2019. 

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh,

I was born and raised in Santa Ana, CA, Orange County. I am a Mexican-American. I now live on the East Coast but teach the Muslim community in English and Spanish in the United States and abroad.

How You Can Make a Difference

With your help, I will be able to complete my Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy from the Bayan Chicago Theological Seminary so that I may continue to grow and serve the complex, diverse, and vast Muslim and Latino Muslim communities. Bayan CTS produces world-class leaders and scholars grounded in the Islamic Tradition. There are no scholarships or financial aid options available to certificate students, and the total tuition for the certificate is $17,076. I still need $7,000 to complete the last three courses required to earn my certificate.

Bayan Chicago Theological Seminary Student Spotlight
Bayan Chicago Theological Seminary Student Spotlight

My Education Thus Far

I have finished my Master of Arts in Theology/Ethics and Social Change; Islamic Studies from Bayan Claremont School of Theology. I was the first in my family to graduate from a 4-year university by completing my B.A. in Political Science and Law from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) while simultaneously working on a Bachelor in Theology and Islamic Law from California Islamic University (CIU). I have also attended various Islamic classes and intensive personal studies in the Islamic Sciences with scholars in the United States that have given me private tutelage. 

A gathering with brothers and esteemed teachers Micah Anderson, Imam Mendes, and Dr. Meraj at Zaytuna College 2019.
A gathering with brothers and esteemed teachers Micah Anderson, Imam Mendes, and Dr. Meraj at Zaytuna College 2019.
Prophetic Teachings: A Halaqa with Kenny Solis
Prophetic Teachings: A Halaqa with Kenny Solis
LALMA Event Flyer
LALMA Event Flyer

My Teaching Journey

I have taught for institutions like New Jersey Islamic School, LinkOutside Prison Outreach, Trenton Prison, Insight Academy, Islamic Society of Orange County Garden Grove, CA Mosque, Islamic Institute Orange County Dawah Outreach, Islamic Institute of Orange County New Muslim-Mentoring, New Horizon Private School Pasadena, LALMA/La Asociacion Latino Musulmana de America, Latina Muslim Foundation, Why Islam, ICNA, Islamic Learning Center ICNA, and Masjid Noor Rosarito/Tijuana Mexico. I am also involved with educating Islam abroad in Tijuana, Jalisco, Cuidad Juarez, and Rosarito Mexico.

Introduction to Hadith Studies at the Islamic Center of Perris, CA in 2019.
Introduction to Hadith Studies at the Islamic Center of Perris, CA in 2019.

Thank You for Your Generosity!

May Allah bless us all with happiness, patience, and strength in this world and the hereafter.


Ustadh Kenny Solis

Fundamentals of Islam class at Masjid Al-Noor in Rosarito, Mexico 2017.
Fundamentals of Islam class at Masjid Al-Noor in Rosarito, Mexico 2017.
Graduate Assistant - Kenny Solis
As Graduate Assistant
Kenny Solis with Dr. Jonathan A. C. Brown
With Dr. Jonathan A. C. Brown

About The LADO Group

The LADO Group is a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose mission is to promote Islam among the Latino community within the United States. The LADO Group provides scholarships for future Latino Muslim imams and scholars, enabling them to pursue their educational goals and become leaders in the Muslim community. The organization also offers grants to help develop and strengthen Latino Muslim organizations, encouraging the growth and development of the community. Your generous contributions will play a pivitol role in empowering the Latino Muslim community. Will you stand with us in realizing our mission?

You can learn more about LADO at latinodawah.org.

Events, Humor, Latino Muslims, Muslim converts, Parodies, Stories

Unity Unveiled: The Marvel Beetle Chronicles

In an upcoming cinematic venture, The Blue Beetle, a character of Latino heritage, and Ms. Marvel, a character representing the Muslim community, are set to unite in matrimony. This groundbreaking film aims to showcase the formation of a pioneering onscreen family, one that embodies both Latino and Muslim identities.

Anticipated to be a trailblazing production, this movie will mark a significant step forward in portraying diverse and inclusive narratives. The couple’s offspring is slated to bear the name “Marvel Beetle,” signifying the fusion of their remarkable legacies.

#BlueBeetle #MsMarvel #LatinoMuslims #HispanicMuslims #LatinoDawah

Books, Dawah, Islam, Latino Muslims, Muslim converts

A Book About Our Journeys to Islam

By Aaron Siebert-Llera

As a light-skinned (Chicago winters will do that to anyone) Mexican-American, I have often had to deal with the frequent ‘you don’t look Mexican’ comments. Now that I am also Muslim (13 years & counting), I am more often mistaken for being Arab or Bosnian, so I actually blend in at the mosque. But when people find out I’m Mexican, they then ask the question ‘wait, how can you be Mexican and Muslim?’

Part of the issue for people not being aware of our presence has always been that the greater Latino/a community does not do a good job of marketing our stories. This is not totally our fault because Hollywood has not deemed us important enough to be featured in movies, even though we make up more than 30% of the movie-going audiences. Latinos/as have been even further delegitimized over the years when white actors simply put on brown face (ala West Side Story) to play Latinos/as or just chose non-Latino/a actors and actresses (an actor like Lou Diamond Phillips should thank Latinos every day for his roles) to play the roles of Latino/a characters. So it is not surprising that Latino/a Muslims are not a very well-known community since the larger community’s story is already not being told.

The importance of the book ‘Latino Muslims: Our Journeys to Islam’ is rooted in the fact that the Latino/a Muslim community deserves the opportunity to share our stories with the world.

The importance of the book ‘Latino Muslims: Our Journeys to Islam’ is rooted in the fact that the Latino/a Muslim community deserves the opportunity to share our stories with the world. Too often our stories are left unheard and this is sad to me because I know how much can be learned through the personal narrative. One can theorize for years about the reasons a group of people may be embracing a new religion, but if that same group of people is given the platform to speak and present their stories, it is so much stronger and impactful.

Book Website: LatinoMuslims.net

Take for instance the story of Ricardo Pena. His path to Islam was one that included a thirst for knowledge that started with simply reading the daily newspaper on the bus on the way to school each day. But eventually, it led to his further desire to know about various religions in a search for his own truth, finally leading him to Islam. His story holds a common thread amongst many converts to Islam, the desire to know truth and have a personal connection to a faith that just feels right, feels like home. This book is hopefully the start of many narratives to be written about Latino/a Muslims and I pray that it is one that opens the eyes of many people to the often courageous, uplifting and emotional journeys many of us have taken in our spiritual paths.

Aaron Siebert-Llera, Esq. is the Staff Attorney for the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.

Dawah, Latino Muslims, Muslim converts

Did you feel alone this holiday season?

Dear fellow Muslim – peace be upon you,

Do you remember how you felt alone during this holiday season? Well, that’s how new Muslims feel during Islamic holidays.

Perhaps, you haven’t given much thought to it because you have supportive Muslim friends, a loving Muslim family, and an active local Muslim community all year around?

What does your local community do for the new convert during Islamic holidays? What do you do for them?

Please consider giving to The LADO Group by the end of this tax year. You may know of us better as the Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO). Your donations are tax-deductible. Our EIN is 84-5056478.

By the way, that’s not a picture of me.

Your brother in faith, Juan Galvan
Do you remember how you felt alone during this Christmas holiday season? Well, that's how new Muslims feel during Islamic holidays.
April - June 2012, Muslim converts

WhyIslam Goes South of the Border

By Wendy Diaz

Muslim Link

June 14, 2012


A new convert takes his Shahadah with Imam Isa Rojas
at the Al Hikmah Center in Mexico City, pictured below.

When Nahela Morales, an Administrative Assistant and National Coordinator for Spanish Dawah at WhyIslam, decided to plan her family vacation a year ago, she never thought she would be taking her work with her. Now, she is spearheading a joint effort between WhyIslam and seven other organizations, most of them Spanish-dawah oriented, to deliver necessary Islamic material to the growing Muslim community in Mexico.

Morales, who was born in Mexico City, grew up in California and moved to New York in 2000, five years later she accepted Islam and now lives in Union City, New Jersey. She has worked for the Islamic Circle of North America’s (ICNA’s) WhyIslam Project for three years, taking phone calls from curious non-Muslims through the 1-877-WhyIslam Hotline, arranging mosque visits nationwide, and coordinating Latino and reverts sessions for the annual ICNA-MAS conventions, among other responsibilities. She is also an active volunteer with the North Hudson Islamic Education Center in Union City, NJ, a mosque which hosts about 400 Latino Muslim families, making it one of the largest Latino Muslim communities in the United States.

Four years ago, Morales visited Mexico alone for the first time as a new Muslim, and had to withstand the backlash from her Catholic family members who opposed her Islamic attire and likened her new faith to trading her identity. During a visit to non-Muslim relatives, she was attacked by one of her cousins who ripped off her headscarf and told her to “stop trying to be an Arab”, an incident Morales attributes to a lack of education about Islam. This time, Morales will be traveling alongside her husband and son and decided to prepare ahead of time.

“One of the main purposes of my trip was to give dawah to my family, especially my grandmother, who is 103 years old,” Morales said. After much research, she found the email address of another Mexican convert, Isa Rojas. “I contacted Brother Isa Rojas, the Imam of Masjid Centro Al Hikmah in Mexico City, Mexico, back in January 2012 through email to ask him for directions to the masjid, to see how far it was from my grandmother’s house.” After acquiring the phone number for the center, she decided to call ahead to let them know about her visit.

During the call, she introduced herself and WhyIslam to Imam Rojas, who assured her that any material in Spanish would be welcomed. Because he was not familiar with ICNA or their dawah efforts, he was unsure of what to expect from this newcomer.

Morales recalls, “I didn’t feel the enthusiasm from him that I felt within myself! I think others may have promised to visit (the masjid) before and never made it.” However, what started off as a simple promise to deliver Spanish brochures has snowballed into a collaborative effort to deliver everything from modest clothing to siwaks to audio and Islamic children’s books. These are the type of items which are scarce in the small Muslim community surrounding Al Hikmah Center, according to the imam.

Imam Isa Rojas, who also accepted Islam in the year 2000 and was later accepted to study in the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudia Arabia, completed studies in the Arabic language and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sharia in 2009. Upon his return to Mexico, he transformed his home into a fully-functioning masjid, now Al Hikmah Center in Mexico City, offering prayer services, Qur’an studies, and Arabic classes. Through his tireless efforts, many of his family members have accepted Islam and are hoping to educate others about the faith.

The majority of Mexico’s inhabitants are Catholic; however, because of growing tensions between Latin-American countries and the Catholic Church due to sex abuse scandals, division within the church hierarchy and severed ties between these countries and the Vatican, Mexico is fertile ground for Islamic propagation. Although it has the smallest Muslim minority group in Latin America, according to studies, it houses an entire town of indigenous converts to Islam called Nueva Esperanza or “New Hope” with an estimated population of 300 in the state of Chiapas, over 500 miles from Mexico City, and an Islamic resort with its own hotel called, El Centro Cultural Islámico de Mexico (Islamic Cultural Center of Mexico), in Tequesquitengo, Morelos. However, because of the huge distances between Islamic communities, resources remain limited.

When Morales approached her supervisor at WhyIslam with her idea, his response was positive. “This is a fantastic opportunity to expand the dawah work,” said Tariq Zamir, Director of the New Jersey Chapter of WhyIslam’s Dawah Project, who admired the initiative and prays for the success of the trip. Morales also shared her plans with friends and colleagues involved in other Islamic organizations and they expressed their desire to support the effort. She created a promotional page on Facebook, called “Unidos para Dawah en Mexico/United for Dawah in Mexico,” asking for donations of clothing items, Islamic material, and financial support.

She said, “Everyone is involved in their own world and they forget about the dawah. But there is a lot to be done.” She encourages others to volunteer with organizations such as WhyIslam and to donate to the groups that are working with the Spanish-speaking communities because they are low on funding.

As of June 9, 2012, she has raised $444, a meager amount considering the quantity of material she must purchase, the overage in her luggage, distribution costs in Mexico, and other expenses.

Morales has continued to correspond with Imam Rojas and his wife, Monseratt Pimentel, who have also begun to make arrangements for her to teach workshops about topics such as hygiene in Islam and how to better educate non-Muslim family members about Islam. Pimentel, who is impressed by the level of commitment and uniformity of the Latino Muslim presence in the US, is eager to meet Morales.

She said, “[Her trip] is a great blessing for the Muslims living in Mexico, not only because of the help and the material they [organizations] want to give us, but also because it will enrich our small community with ideas, plans, experience, and hopefully open a dialogue between Mexico and the Islamic community living in the US. At the same time, it is nice to know that the Latino brothers and sisters worry about us although they don’t live in Mexico, and in that manner express to us affection and brotherhood.”
So far, the entities that are supplying the material for Morales’ trip to Mexico are WhyIslam; Muslimahs Covered With Care (MCWC), a charitable organization that distributes Islamic clothing to needy Muslim women; RadioIslamico, a 24 hour Islamic radio channel in Spanish; IslamInSpanish, experts in audio/video production and Spanish dawah; Hablamos Islam Niños, a bilingual Spanish/English Islamic children’s books publisher; PIEDAD, a support group for Latina women and converts; and Muslimahs Couponing, one of Morales’ own personal efforts, which will supply toiletries. The North Hudson Islamic Education Center in Union City, NJ is allowing Morales to fundraise throughout the month of June in their masjid and will be donating any money gathered towards covering extra costs. In addition, individuals from all over the world have contributed by donating through Paypal or contacting Nahela@whyislam.org.

Sister Nahela Morales leaves for Mexico City on June 26, 2012 and will remain there for three weeks.

Jan - Mar 2012, Latin America, Muslim converts

Fighting Stereotypes about Latina Converts to Islam

November 19, 2009


1. I didn’t convert for a man. Don’t insult my intelligence.

2. I didn’t convert in order to wear longer clothes and hijab to protect myself from men. * Some men will be pervs and harass you even if you wear full face niqaab. I’m working on wearing more modest clothes for Allah * swt * & out of respect for myself.

3. Oh yeaaa the majority of Latinas don’t go around in revealing clothes like mini skirts, tube tops, etc all the freaking time. We are dayum sexy in whatever we choose to wear: freakum dress or abaya! Respect for women regardless of their clothes / appearance is something the entire world needs to work on.

4. Not all Latinos are Catholics / Christians. There is a significant Latin Muslim community in countries like Venezuela and Argentina for example.

5. I’m not giving up dancing completely. Dancing with non-mahrams is haram obviously and I won’t do that anymore. On that topic, I will bust a move when I
hear a classic like “La bilirrubina.”

6. This one’s my fav: when people ask me “On a scale of 0-100, what are the chances that you come back to the church?” My answer: 0!

7. We don’t all see foreign born Muslims (from Islamic majority nations) men to be more appealing for marriage than a Latin Muslim man. My opinion is that the preference is on the man’s deen & character.

8. We don’t give up the empanadas, pastel de tres leches, and tamales upon conversion and in return for ya’ll’s biryani & falafel. We admire & like your cuisine. We just make our mother’s recipes with halaal ingredients now. No pork & wine Ok?

9. My children will speak Spanish 1st. They will call their parents “Mami & Papi” not “Ammi & baba” lol.

10. My brothers are NOT IN GANGS! Nobody in my family is involved with gangs. & btw, any family can have a black sheep … even if it’s a Muslim family … what a surprise. * rolls eyes *
Somebody seriously said she was concerned abt how my family is because she had met only one lady from my Latin American country & her brother was killed in gang related stuff.

My point with all this is, I want to educate the Islamic community about having tolerance for others! Diversity is good 🙂 Sadly, racism exists amongst our ummah (I’ve had my share of muslims giving me the cold shoulder). I came to Islam because of the equality I read about in the Qur’an. I’m a Muslim for my creator. I want to be a better Muslim to serve Allah * swt * and also to put a smile on the face of my brothers & sisters in this life.

April - June 2008, Latino Muslims, Muslim converts

Latino Conversion to Islam…

Latino Conversion to Islam: From African-American/Latino Neighbors
to Muslim/Latino Global Neighbors

By Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani


In recent times, there has been a sudden increase of Latinos converting to Islam, both in the United States and within Latin America. This phenomenon has even reached the attention of some within the media. Despite an increase of Latino Muslims, there has not been (for the most part) a great effect to call the Latino population to Islam. Indeed, Muslims have a long way to go in when it come to calling Latinos to Islam. For those Muslims in the U.S. who are concerned with da`wah (calling to Allah), there are many unanswered questions as to how or why there has been an increase in the number of Latino Muslims. Chief amongst these unanswered questions is, “Under what factors and environment does Islam thrive?” While thinking of ways and approaches to better facilitate conversion to Islam, one is forced to ask himself/herself, “Why do Latinos convert to Islam?” One method of analysis that can be used to attempt to begin to answer some of these questions is the social sciences approach.

In this essay, I have tried to use the social sciences methodology of analysis to help better understand these processes which are taking place on a societal level to try to understand Latino conversion to Islam. Better understanding the factors that have lead Latinos to accept Islam at certain times and places can help assist Muslim du`aat (callers), organizations, masjids, and daw`ah groups to better facilitate the process of Latino conversion to Islam. This essay is an attempt to try and answer some of these unanswered questions. This however is just a beginning step to try and answer some of the important questions related to Latino conversion to Islam.

I will give a brief description of the history of Latino conversion. My analysis is based primarily upon my own personal and intimate knowledge and understanding of the history of Latino Muslims in New York. This understanding has broadened after coming in contact with the Latino Muslim community of Union City, New Jersey. I came in contact with the latter community in 2006. I have also come into contact with Latino Muslims in Puerto Rico in 1999 and 2006. Moreover, I have been in contact with Latino Muslims in the United States and throughout the world through the medium of the internet. However, it was after several visits to Union City that it became apparent to me that there are new factors leading Latinos to Islam. Thus, Latino conversion seems to have occurred in five key areas. These five areas are: (1) Puerto Rican/African-American interactions, (2) the internet, (3) Latinos living among immigrant Muslims, (4) prisons, and (5) marriage. The first three areas are time-based; the first occurred from the 1960s until the mid-1990s; the second phase began in the mid-1990s and continues until the present; and the third area began in the post-9/11 era. The last two areas are not based upon any particular period of time.

In this article, I have used the term ‘phase’ or ‘era’ when referring to the first three time-based areas. The use of these terms is most appropriate to divide these periods. I chose to use time as an appropriate way to divide these shifts. That is since like any other phenomenon phases, or periods of time do not necessarily have an easy point of demarcation. In other words, one phase may overlap into another phase. The mid-1990s and post-9/11 are significant points in time in which to express the major shift of conversion in the Latino community for the time-based sections of my essay.


The first area and phase touches upon the first Latinos who converted to Islam. Those Latinos who converted were mostly Caribbean Latinos – namely Puerto Ricans in the New York City area. The majority of the younger generation of Puerto Ricans of the 1960s were U.S. mainland-born and English-dominant. At the time, the Puerto Rican community was coming of age. Furthermore, Puerto Rican barrios and colonias (colonies) in New York City were not exclusive Latino communities, but tended to have large populations of African-Americans living within these same communities. The younger generation of Puerto Ricans was quite familiar and at home with the issues affecting African-Americans and shared much of the same concerns (such as racism, discrimination, housing, education, prisons, and poverty). There was a high level of intertwining and intermingling of traditional Caribbean Hispanic and African-American cultures amongst young Puerto Ricans. This can be seen in the Puerto Rican musical creations of the era, such as in the musical genres of Latin soul, Latin boogaloo, and even salsa.

Politically, the greatest influence on these young Puerto Ricans was the Black Consciousness movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It helped to spark a Puerto Rican movement in the 1960s and 1970s. In that era, conversion to Islam for Latinos, as with African-Americans, was a continuation of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. (See Imam Al-Amin’s Revolution by the Book). These movements were not unfamiliar to Puerto Ricans in New York, and many of them were at the forefront of these movements. In addition, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans shared many commonalities and shared spaces in neighborhoods, parks, schools, prisons, and nightclubs. They are both, “New York’s quintessential resident minorities.” (Rivera, 45). That is not to say that all was harmonious between the two communities, however, there was more in common than there was different. Nonetheless, there was also a common historical connection to Africa. This is due to the fact that Puerto Rican culture has many of its roots within African culture. This is as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, when many African slaves (or runaway slaves from neighboring islands) came to Puerto Rico. (For more on African roots as part of the foundation of Puerto Rican culture, see José Luis Gonzalez’ “El Pais de Cuatro Pisos”).

The first Latinos who became Muslims were mainly Puerto Ricans in New York. Prior to accepting Islam, a sizeable amount of Puerto Ricans had taken part in such groups as the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X’s (Malik Ash-Shabazz) group, The Five Percent Nation, the Black Panther Party, and the Young Lords Party. These groups can be seen as pre-cursers or (to borrow a term from Sherman A. Jackson) “Islamizers” to Islam. (Jackson, 28). The Young Lords Party, unlike all the other organizations mentioned, was a Latino-dominated organization. The Young Lords Party was originally part of the former Chicago gang-turned-political organization known as the Young Lord Organization. It was the culmination of the Black Consciousness Movement, the Students’ Movement, and the Puerto Rican Independence Movement.

Due to the close proximity of Puerto Ricans to African-Americans – culturally, politically, racially, and most importantly demographically – Latinos began to learn about Islam. This is an important point that cannot be overlooked. Puerto Ricans actually lived next to African-Americans in many parts of New York City in such neighborhoods as East Harlem, the South Bronx, the Lower East Side (Loisaida), Hell’s Kitchen, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Bushwick. In fact, Puerto Ricans in New York live in closer proximity to African-Americans and have closer ties to them than any other Latino community in the country. With the movement of Islam (and pseudo-Islamic groups) among African-Americans, in this era, it was only inevitable that Puerto Ricans would also become Muslim. This reality may explain why the oldest Latino Muslim group, Alianza Islamica, was started by Puerto Ricans in New York and not by other Latino in another part of the country.

For Puerto Ricans in New York City, Islam was an outgrowth and product of the era of change and struggle from which they and African-Americans participated. Besides the political and cultural factors, history played a big role in informing these early Latino Muslims about a Muslim past coming from two lines of Puerto Rican heritage, namely Africa and Spain. As far as the conversion of Latinos in other parts of the United States, such as in California and Texas, the author does not know how far back conversion can be traced. The Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s may have had a similar effect on the Latinos from the Southwest. However, that is something to be further explored.

The first area and phase of Latino conversions also took place chiefly in the 1960s and 1970s. There was somewhat of a continuation of this movement in the 1980s and 1990s, but it was not as pronounced it was in the two preceding decades. Those Latinos who came to Islam in this later period looked towards the movements of the 1960s and 1970s with a sense of pride and honor. Those who converted in the 1980s and 1990s may or may not have participated in the then-defunct organizations of the former period. The 1980s and 1990s saw the rise hip-hop, the direct descendant of the Civil Rights, Black Power, and the wider Black Consciousness movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It played a huge role in the conversion of Latinos in the short-lived Consciousness Movement (not to be confused with the Black Consciousness Movement) within hip-hop in the late 1980s. The fact that Puerto Ricans were co-founders of hip-hop is also very relevant to my analysis.

Looking at the role of Puerto Ricans in hip-hop can give us much insight into the rifts and widening gap between Latinos and African-Americans in the post-Black Consciousness period. It may also be argued that the Consciousness Movement within hip-hop could have also ostracized Latinos away from hip-hop. During the late 1980s, Puerto Ricans had been written out of hip-hop’s history. (For more on New York Puerto Ricans’ role in early hip-hop, see Raquel Rivera’s New York Puerto Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone). The Consciousness Movement within hip-hop espoused an African-American urban identity and had no room for Latinos. With the rise of Gangsta Rap in the 1990s, hip-hop exposed and glorified a ghettoistic identity. Newly arriving Latinos and those already living within the U.S. who wanted to get ahead in life would not look towards hip-hop (in this new form) as a good model for progress and self-development. This stigma attached to hip-hop, and by extension African-American culture, was a model that was seen as one not to emulate if one wanted to become successful in the U.S. By extension this stigma, therefore led to a stagnation of Latino conversion to Islam. Islam even within the African-American community was no longer seen as a way of life that African-American youth wanted to embrace. The lifestyle of Dr. Dre and not Malcolm X was the one that African-American youth aspired to emulate. Gangsta Rap had a devastating effect on the African-American community. The glorification of ghettoism (in all negative senses of the term) has led many young African-Americans to not look beyond the ghetto and progress within life. Unfortunately, African-American culture became synonymous with ghettoism. Both African-American youth and those outside of the African-American community viewed ghettoism as the only authentic expression of African-American culture, as opposed to the vast shades of expressions of African-American culture that truly exists.


The second area and phase of Latino conversion to Islam began during the mid-1990s. In this phase, Latino conversion was a direct result of the explosion of the internet. With this explosion, many Latinos have gotten connected to other people around the world. Latinos were no longer living within their own isolated worlds of New York, California, Mexico City, San Juan, Buenos Aires, Bogotá or Caracas. Prior to having access to the internet, they may have never met a Muslim; but now they were in communication with Muslim peoples through the medium of the internet. This communication was not exclusive to cross-border communication but also included intra-border communication. For example, a Latino from San Antonio, Texas could now easily meet a Muslim from Dearborn, Michigan, as a result of this new medium. This evidences to the fact that two individuals from two different communities within the continental United States could meet, exchange ideas, and share each others culture. Latinos communicating to Muslims took place both within the United States and between Latin America and the Muslim World. Due to this new medium of communication, more people had greater access to information about Islam and Muslims. The technological age and global exchange continues until the present. The internet still tends to be a principal medium and factor which has led many Latinos to Islam in the U.S. and Latin America. Within the Latino Muslim community new groups arose to accommodate these new Muslims within this space. The Yahoo! group Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO) is a prime example of Latino Muslims who banded together to speak about Islam on a national and even international level. (See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LADO/ or http://www.latinodawah.org/ for more information on this group).


After September 11, 2001, many Latinos wanted to learn more about Islam. This leads us to the third area or factor to consider in Latino conversion to Islam. That horrible event had led many to go out and speak to Muslims and/or go to the internet searching for answers. This phase (as well as the second one) also saw a greater diversity in the ethnic, national, and racial background of Latinos converting to Islam. In the post-9/11 period, we also saw the increase of non-Puerto Rican Latinos coming to Islam. Formally Puerto Ricans from New York had dominated Latino Islam. Ironically, in the post 9/11 period, New York Puerto Ricans seem to be the least affected among all Latino groups by this new wave of conversion. I would even argue that although New York Puerto Ricans (by this I mean those born and/or raised in New York, even if no longer living there) were once the main Latinos converting to Islam (and truly pioneers) they are now the least likely to convert to Islam. There is also no longer a Latino Muslim organization that is dominated by Puerto Ricans. This era also saw the decline and eventual dissolving of Alianza Islamica, a Muslim organization that early New York Puerto Rican Muslims helped establish.

Although the earliest Latino converts to Islam were Puerto Ricans, the whole nature of the lifestyle in New York and the country has changed drastically since the 1960s and 1970s revolutionary era (discussed earlier in the first phase). Nowadays, what we see is that Islam is not as strong in the African-American community, as it once was in the 1970s. This has had a spill-over effect on the Puerto Rican community. There seems to be a short-term memory amongst Puerto Ricans that cannot remember that in the recent past there was a sizeable number of Puerto Rican Muslims amongst them.

During the post 9/11 phrase, many Latinos coming to Islam live near Muslims or know at least one Muslim. The immigration of Muslims after the immigration reform of 1965 has led to the formation of large immigrant Muslim communities. In our times, the primary contact that Latinos have come to Islam is through their interaction with Arab and Pakistani/Indian Muslims. In places like New Jersey, Latinos share neighborhoods with Arabs. Latinos live with and amongst Arabs in many places. Latinos interaction with Arabs has led to conversion in such places as Sunset Park, Brooklyn; Union City, New Jersey; and Puerto Rico. While in other places as Queens, New York and Chicago, Illinois there are a lot of Latinos interacting with Muslims from the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent.

In the post-9/11 period, most Latinos have come to learn about Islam primarily from their interactions with immigrant Muslims and not from African-Americans. This phenomenon can be seen with the rise of Latino Islam in cities such as Union City, New Jersey which has had large numbers of Latinos converting to Islam. There are also many new non-Puerto Rican Latinos within New York City converting to Islam. As stated earlier, some of these Latino communities, such as in Queens, New York, live in close proximity to Muslims – especially those from the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent. A parallel development is the fact that New York City is currently seeing a decrease in the population of Puerto Ricans. The relationship between New York Puerto Rican migration away from New York to other parts of the country (such as Florida) and the decrease in Puerto Rican conversion is yet to be explored. Nowadays, those who are converting to Islam are not, for the most part, New York Puerto Ricans. The fact that many Puerto Rican Muslims have moved out of the city and that there is not a stable epicenter for Puerto Ricans is one factor, however there may be many other reasons for this lack of conversion among Puerto Ricans. The question of Puerto Rican conversion to Islam with the greater study of Latino conversion must keep in mind that, “[t]his momentous pan-Latinization over the course of a single generation make is necessary to rethink the whole issue of Puerto Rican culture and identity in the United States.” (Flores, p. 142).


The fourth area of Latino conversion is conversion in prison. This area and the last one are not restricted to any particular time period. However, there is some relationship to various points in time which will be discussed. Prison conversion tends to also be an area that is exclusive to male Latinos. Latino conversion to Islam in prison, to a large degree, depends upon the level of exposure Latino have had to Islam in prison. It, like the first area of Latino conversion discussed earlier, is closely related to relations between Latinos and African-Americans. These relations have had ups and downs in various places and at various times throughout the United States. Two factors are relevant to this factor of conversion: (1) African-American have been and still are the largest ethnic group of Muslims within the United States; (2) African-Americans and Latinos statistically make up the largest ethnic groups within the United States penal system. These two factors have to be considered for a full understanding of Latino conversion in the United States.

Latino conversion to Islam has been higher when Latino and African-American shared struggles have been higher. The mere shared sense of oppression does not necessarily help for good relations between the two ethnic groups. It is when there is a level of consciousness amongst Latinos and African-Americans having a shared lot within side the prison walls that Islam can be studied and explored by Latinos. Perhaps the highest point of time for Latino conversion was when there was a united front around prisoner’s struggles and rights during the 1971 Attica Correctional Facility riot in upstate New York and the 1971 San Quentin State Correctional riot in California. These riots were the result of a shared struggle. Prior to these uprisings, both African-Americans and Latinos suffered from inhumane treatment by White correctional officers. At the time, indiscriminant killings were quite common. African-Americans and Latinos struggled just to stay alive. Some of the thirty-one demands of the leaders of the Attica riots were gains for all African-American, Latinos, and Muslims in prison. It was after this historical event that Muslims were given some of the most basic rights in prison.

There are many cultural similarities that can be considered for this area of Latino conversion that are not dissimilar to the first area discussed in this essay. While during the late 1960s and 1970s there were many ties between African-Americans and Latinos both on the streets of New York City and inside the prison system of New York State; this was not the case in places such as Chicago and California, for example. In the latter places mentioned, Latino/African-American ties were not as strong “on the outside” as they were “in the inside” of prison walls. So how can we account for Chicano conversions during the period the 1960s and 1970s time of Civil Rights struggles? Whereas Latino conversion in New York at this time was an extension of African-American/Latino coalitions and ties on the streets, Latino conversion by Chicanos was an anomaly of the situation (for the most part) on the streets. The situation of the shared situation in prison forced Latinos and African-Americans to become more united against a common nemesis (i.e., racist White prison guards and a racist prison industrial complex). This area of shared struggle has lead to and allowed Islam to spread among Chicanos, and it has also led to conversion at various times among many different Latino nationalities throughout the country.

Another example of an African-American and Latino front that had prison roots is the “Rainbow Coalition” of Chicago in the late 1960s and 1970s. This was a coalition between the Black Panthers, an African-American group; the Young Lords Organization, a Puerto Rican group; and the Young Patriots Organization, a White group. The Young Lords originated as a Puerto Rican gang, but became politicized when its leader, José “Cha-Cha” Rodriguez was imprisoned. During his imprisonment he met the leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, Fred Hampton. It was after discussions with Fred Hampton that Chi-Chi decided to transform his gang from a criminal organization to a political one for the betterment of his community.

While good relations between Latinos and African-Americans has had a positive effect upon Latinos converting to Islam, conversely decreased relations between Latinos and African-Americans has lead to a decreased Latino conversion or the non-existence thereof. This was the case during the late 1980s in the New York State prison system. At the time, relations between African-Americans and Latinos in the urban centers were at one of the lowest they have ever been. Competition for resources, increased schisms between the two groups, and “scrounging for crumbs” from the government were not an isolated situation for “the outside,” but this bad state of affairs spilled over into the prison communities of the state. Latinos in prison not only felt oppression from “the man,” but they were also being greatly wronged by African-Americans. To further compound the problem, not only did African-American enjoy a higher status in the prison social hierarchy, but African-American Muslims or African-American pseudo-Muslims were at the very top. Many Latinos looked upon Islam as a “Black thang” (i.e., an exclusively African-American religion) that had not place for Latinos. African-Americans in the prison system professed a more narrow vision of Black Nationalism (read African-American nationalism). This narrow vision was quite different from the more Pan-African Nationalism or Third-World Consciousness movements that made room for Puerto Ricans or other Latinos in the 1960s and 1970s.

The terrible relations between Latinos and African-Americans at that time even promoted the spread of the Latin Kings gang in the New York State penal system, which further compounded the situation between the two groups. The Latin Kings came about as an organization for protection of Latinos from African-Americans injustices. (Brotherton and Barrios, 97-98). After spreading throughout New York State prisons, it spread to the streets of New York. Despite a less hostile (though not that less hostile) state of affairs between African-Americans and Latino “on the outside,” the situation was not nearly as brutal. Nonetheless, during this time, Islam was far from being considered a viable option for many Latino males who were at one time “locked up” in prison.

Despite the type of situation at that time in New York, the relatively good treatment (or perceived thereof) of African-American Muslims or pseudo-Muslims in relation to other inmates has also had a slightly positive effect upon Latino conversion. Muslims in the prison system tended to eat better and have a more tightly-knit brotherhood that could defend fellow believers. This higher status has prompted a small number of Latinos to accept Islam in prison. Unfortunately, most of those Latinos who came to Islam seeking a better lot “on the inside” did not remain long in the fold of Islam “on the outside.”

Another matter that needs to be considered in this discussion of Latino conversion vis-à-vis Latino/African-American relations is the percentage of Muslims among African-American in a given area. Islam among African-Americans in the United State has traditionally been stronger in urban communities of the Northeast. Outside of the Northeast, there are also large pockets of African-American Muslim communities in places such as Chicago and Los Angeles. In places where Islam has been weak or hardly existent among African-Americans it has naturally, by extension, been likewise among Latinos.


The last area of Latino conversion to Islam is conversion through marriage. It is not related to any particular time or place. The Latinos who have converted to Islam through marriage are almost always females. Data for this type of convert is much harder to tract. Latinas who have married Muslim men are of two main categories: those who converted just before marriage and those who converted after marriage. Those who converted to Islam just before marriage (or more accurately as a pre-condition for the marriage contract) have ranged from those who are only nominally Muslims (and may have returned to their former religion if the marriage were to cease) and those who have become very piously devout Muslims. A similar issue which could be explored is conversion and the relationship between divorce and retention in Islam. While there are those who became nominally Muslim, there are also those who have been very devout and committed Muslims yet had a very difficult marriage, and as a result when the marriage ended they may have become nominal Muslims or have even apostatized from Islam.

The first Latina Muslim converts through marriage have been Puerto Ricans who married African-American men in places such as New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Latinas (of many nationalities) continue to marry African-American Muslims. In addition, after 1965, when Muslims as well as many different Latino nationalities started to immigrate to the United States in large numbers, marriage between Latinos and immigrant Muslims also took place. Since Arab and Indo-Pakistani Muslims have been the two largest immigrant groups, naturally marriage between them and various Latino groups have been the largest among marriages with immigrant Muslims. Therefore, Latinas converting to Islam have not been confined to marrying any particular Muslim ethnic group, but marriage has occurred more with African-American Muslims, Arab Muslims, and Indo-Pakistani Muslims simply because those are the largest Muslim groups in the United States. Latinas who have converted to Islam through marriage have been for the most part exogamous marriages, whereas endogamous ones have less been less common. Ironically, conversion due to Latinas marrying Latino Muslims has not occurred as often as marriage to non-Latino Muslims.


In conclusion, the connection Hispanic (in the broadest sense of the word) peoples have to Islam and Muslims is not something new. Muslims ruled Spain for over 800 years. Some Latinos also have a connection to Islam through Africans ancestors. There are many aspects of Latino culture that have its roots in the Muslim civilization of Spain. In the second half of the twentieth century, Latinos have reconnected to Islam in the United States. Globalization has allowed Islamization of Latinos to occur at an ever-increasing rate. The future is yet to be seen as to how deeply rooted Islam will become in the Latino communities of the United States and Latin America. Latino conversion to Islam is not quite different than other ethnic group converting to Islam in America. There are, however, many particularities to Latino conversion to Islam that needs to be further explored. This essay is the result of my own research, interactions, and experiences. If there is anyone out there who would like to be interviewed or would like to share their experiences or would like to contribute information about Latino Muslims and/or Latino conversion in his/her area, so that I can further refine thesis in future essays he/she can e-mail me at jazirapr2 at yahoo.com. I am also extremely open to hearing from those whom disagree with anything I have stated in this essay. La paz sea con aquellos que siguen la guía.


Al-Amin, Imam Jamil, “Revolution by the Book: The Rap Is Live” (Beltsville, Maryland: Writers’ International, 1993).

Brotherton, David C. and Reverend Luis Barrios, “The Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation: Street Politics and the Transformation of a New York City Gang” (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

Flores, Juan, “Pan-Latino/Trans-Latino: Puerto Ricans in the ‘New Nueva York,’” From Bomba to Hip-Hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity (New York: Columbia University, 2000).

Gonzalez, José Luis, “El Pais de Cuatro Pisos (Notas para una Definición de la Cultura Puertorriqueña,” El Pais de Cuatro Pisos y Otros Ensayos (Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Ediciones Huracán, 2001), pp 11-42.

Jackson, Sherman A., “Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Rivera, Raquel Z., “New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

Muslim converts, Oct - Dec 2007

My Conversion Story

By Ali Melena

My name is Ali. I’m a 27 year old Mexican American or as some would say a Chicano. I thought I would write my story to tell how I became a Muslim. I think it will Insha’Allah, God-willing, help people understand Islam and why it attracted me. People have a wrong perception about Islam and Muslims, what little they know is usually from movies and television, which is almost all the time false. I think that Islam is the answer for the problems of the youth and society in general. I hope my story Insha’Allah will attract more Latinos and people of all races to the light of Islam.

My life before was bad I had no direction in life. I was wasting my life away by dropping out of school in the 11th grade. I would hang out in the streets with my friends “partying”, getting high, drinking, and selling marijuana. Most of my friends were gang members. I myself was never in a gang. I knew most of them before they were criminals and drug dealers so it was not a problem. I slowly began to use harder drugs. I had dreams but they seemed too far away for me to make them reality. The more I became depressed the more I turned to drugs as a temporary escape.

One day a friend of mine told me that he knew where to get some good marijuana. I was eager to sample and buy some, so I agreed to go check it out. We arrived and went inside this apartment. There were a couple of people inside. We sat around and talked for a while and “sampled” the weed. My friend and I bought some, and we were getting ready to leave when my friend said one of the guys there invited us to his apartment to give him a book.

We left for this guy’s apartment when we got there. He gave my friend a book and asked him to read it. He said that it might help him out with his problems in life. On the way home I asked my friend to show me the book that the guy gave him. It was the Qur’an. I had never in my life heard of “The Holy Qur’an.” I began to briefly read some pages. While I was reading, I knew that what I was reading was true. It was like a slap in the face, a wake up call. The Qur’an is so clear and easy to understand. I was really impressed and wanted to know more about Islam and Muslims.

The strangest thing is that I was not looking for a new religion. I used to laugh at people that went to church and sometimes said that there was no God. Although deep down, I knew there was. I decided to go to the library a couple of days later and check out the Qur’an. I began to read it and study it. I learned about Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the true story of Jesus son of Mary (Peace be upon him). The Qur’an stressed the fact that God was one and had no partners or a son. This was most interesting to me since I never understood the concept of the trinity. The Qur’an describes the birth of Prophet Jesus (P.B.U.H) and his mission. There is also a Surah, or Chapter, called Mary and tells her story as well.

As a child I always went to church, my mother was a Seventh Day Adventist and took my sister and me every Saturday. I never was really religious and stopped going to church when I was about 14 or 15.The rest of my family is Catholic. I always wondered why we were Seventh day Adventist, but the rest of my family was Catholic. When we would go visit my family back in Mexico, we went to a Catholic Church for weddings and Quencenira’s, a sweet 15 celebration.

Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last Messenger of God sent to all mankind. The Qur’an tells the story’s of all the Prophets such as Adam, Abraham, Noah, Isaac, David, Moses, Jesus (Peace be upon them all) told in a clear and understandable manner. I did months of research on Islam. I bought a Holy Qur’an at a bookstore and studied about World History and Islam’s contributions to Medicine and Science.
I learned that Spain was a Muslim country for about 800 years and that Muslims were expelled from Spain by the Christian King and Queen Ferdinand and Isabella. Later, Christian Spaniards came to Mexico and forced the Aztecs and others to become Catholic. History and my Islamic roots were all becoming clear to me.

After months of study and research I could not deny the truth anymore, I had put it off too long, but was still living the life I was before and knew that if I became Muslim I had to give all that up. One day while reading the Quran, I began to cry and fell to my knees and thanked Allah for guiding me to the truth. I found out that there was a mosque by my house, and so I went one Friday to see how Muslims prayed and conducted their service. I saw that people from all races and colors attended the mosque. I saw that they took off their shoes when entering and sat on the carpeted floor. A man got up and began to call the Adthan, or call to prayer. When I heard it my eyes filled up with tears. It sounded so beautiful. It was all so strange at first but seemed so right at the same time. Islam is not just a religion but a way of life.

After attending the mosque for a couple of Fridays, I was ready to be a Muslim and say my Shahada, or declaration of faith. I told the Khatib, the person giving the lecture, that I wanted to be a Muslim. The following Friday in front of the community I said my Shahada first in Arabic then in English. I bear witness that there is no other God but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad (P.B.U.H) is His Messenger.

When I finished a brother shouted, “Takbir!” Then, all the community said, “Allah O Akbar!” (God is great!) a few times, then all the Brothers came and hugged me. I never received so many hugs in one day. I will never forget that day; it was great. I have been Muslim since 1997. I’m at peace with myself and clear in religion. Being Muslim has really changed my life for the better thanks to Almighty God. I have received my G.E.D. and work in the computer field. I had the blessing of being able to perform Hajj, or Pilgrimage, to the Holy city of Mecca. It was an experience of a lifetime. About three million people from every race and color in one place worshiping one God. Islam is amazing!

Jan - Mar 2007, Muslim converts

My Journey to Earthbound Paradise

By Zeina Mena

How unpredictable is life! I never thought that I would be sitting here writing about a conversion story. Nevertheless, I never knew how much meaning it would pose on my life. I come from a broken family, which is almost normal in America. I was born and raised in New York City, and I am of Dominican descent. I grew up Catholic, went to Catholic school, and went to Catholic Church along with completing all of my rituals except for marriage. I always saw myself as a person that was close to God, especially after my parents’ divorce, which devastated me emotionally in ways imaginable. I needed emotional peace and often found myself seeking it through church.

Two years after moving to Miami, and graduating high school, I met a Palestinian friend at a dental office which I worked in who taught me so much about the Middle East crisis and took the time out to explain things to me which were completely oblivious to my knowledge. Then I began to realize how ethnocentric people in America are. Time went by and my learning of politics continued. At the same time, my empty heart kept screaming out for love and happiness. One Sunday while feeling depressed, I decided to go to church, after a few months that I had not gone. I wanted to hear soothing words and know that someone cared. Forty-five minutes later, I walked out of church, and I never went again.

My interest in finding religious fulfillment grew stronger, so I decided to look into the various religions that were available. Although I was searching with an open mind, I did not want to go to anything that was not monotheistic. I chose to learn about Judaism. I read so much, went to a temple, and tried to learn and figure out if I could live my life as a Jew. I then decided that in order to grasp the essence of the Judaic teachings, I needed to go to the source and that is the Torah. That night after I finished reading the Torah, I lay down to sleep and the most confusing (at that time), yet most amazing dream happened to me.

In the dream I wake up in a hotel room where I seem to be confused about why I am there. I decide to go outside to the lobby, and I find myself in a religious convention. I walked to my left, and there was a table about Judaism. I was trying to fit in with them, but they did not want me to be part of them. I then walked away and walked straight ahead from the room and there was the Christianity section. Everyone in that section seemed to be in his or her own world, and no one paid attention to me. I again walked away and I wondered into the right side of the hallway and found people walking peacefully, all of them dressed in white.

To me this seemed weird and honestly, I did not know what it was, so again I walked away, this time heading to my room. Suddenly, this man appears behind me, and starts telling me “convert.” Frightened, I told him, “leave me alone” and started walking faster. Although he seemed to be walking slowly, he was able to keep up with me and again told me “convert” to which I again replied, “Leave me alone!” The man refused to give up and followed me all the way to the room. I hid behind the bed when he again told me in a stronger voice “convert!” I, frightened and confused, told him, “Leave me alone. I am a Muslim!” For some time, I never knew the meaning of that dream. What puzzled me was the fact that I was learning about Judaism and that I would actually say that I am a Muslim in the dream. I kept asking myself why I would say that.

A month passed and my Palestinian friend invited me to an Arabic restaurant knowing that I loved the culture. I excitedly agreed and went. That was three days before Ramadan. There I met her friends which all happened to be Muslims. She was Palestinian Christian. I became friends with them immediately. There was one friend in particular who took the time out to explain to me about Islam and what its teachings were.

I learned about the five pillars and basic things like it was even bad to torture insects. Although I had already learned about it, and I thought it to be interesting, I liked what I was reading about Judaism, and I did not want to change now that I had learned so much. That idea changed a few days later. It was already Christmas vacation, and Ramadan had started. My friend went back home to Syria, to be able to spend the last ten days of Ramadan there. I being the inquisitive type of person said to myself let me just see what this is all about. I logged on to my computer and from the encyclopedia printed out information about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and read it. It seemed really interesting and made me want to read more about the religion itself.

I printed out the information about Islam and that too ignited my interest to speak to Muslims to see how they were and how they thought. I logged on to the web and went to a Muslim chat room where I just stared at the conversation. So many instant messages popped up in my screen asking me if I was Muslim or if wanted to learn about it. They were all telling me about Islam, the five pillars and everything but there was one particular person that took their time explaining everything, and if I asked any question, it was answered. That person was a Muslim brother who was enthusiastic about teaching me. He taught me so much and even went on to explaining to me the importance of covering.

He also sent me my first Qur’an and many books on basic Islamic information. As I read the Qur’an my heart felt as though I was going to explode. I felt that I had found what my heart was searching for. So many emotions bombarded me that I broke down in tears. This holy book was speaking directly to me and with all its power it soothed my soul. I gave in to Islam in heart on the 21st of Ramadan in the year 2000. It was then that the door to a new enriching world opened up for me. It was the day that marked the turning point in my life.

It was again time to go back to college for the spring semester, and although I was already Muslim and was praying on my own from a piece of paper, I needed someone to teach me and guide me. God knows what you need before you need it because that first day of class, while I was walking in to the campus a Muslim girl was walking out. I immediately ran up to her and asked her if she was Muslim, to which she replied yes. I told her I had converted and that I needed to learn how to pray correctly. She automatically offered herself to do the job, and also invited me to a get together at her house that day. I was so excited! After school I rushed to the mall to find a headscarf, something that a month before I was disputing because I felt that women shouldn’t have to cover, and I wore it to her house.

Everyone was amazed and happy to see that I had already worn the veil. I felt so much happiness that day to have found her and her sisters. They were so nice to me and were eager to teach me. The following day, I woke up for school, got dressed, and again put on my scarf. My mother watched me as I dressed and started laughing when I put it on thinking that I was joking. When I told her “bendicion mami” which is asking for the blessing of your mother in Spanish. She replied, “You are not planning to go like that to school, are you?” I told her, “Yes, I am”. She couldn’t believe it and thought I was going crazy.

I went to school that day and although people looked I felt good that I was identifying myself as a believing Muslim girl. My friendship and my learning grew stronger with my two new friends. They taught me everything from the Fatiha to prayer, to ethics in Islam. I read so much and interestingly enough I learned more about my previous religion when I converted then when I was a Catholic. I often found myself in situations where people would ask me questions and that pushed me to learn more and to compare the Bible and the Qur’an.

Although that was the beginning of a new life for me, it was also the beginning of family torture. I never knew how much religion could affect a family, and I never thought that just because I now believed something different that they would cause me so much pain. Everyday I woke up in the morning, I woke up happy to know that I was Muslim, and anticipating the challenge of my mother and stepfather along with everyone else that was close to me. My mother believed that I was going crazy. She shouted at me telling me to take that ugly veil off. She called me names and told me that I needed to see a psychiatrist, and I, all the time in tears refused to take off my veil. My stepfather also made it very hard on me to the point that one day he told me, “Either you take that off, or you don’t come into this house.” I turned around and walked away flushed with tears in my eyes yet holding them back because I knew that choosing to keep it on was the right thing. That day I went to my friend’s house, and I ended up staying there for two weeks. I never felt so much peace. I felt so loved and welcomed. I woke up with the Adhan every morning to pray with my Muslim sisters and to get ready to go to school.

During this time I kept in touch with my mother although the conversations were really weird. When she realized that it was not a “few days thing”, she called me crying asking me to go back to the house, that she missed me. I must admit that I love my mother very much, and it was such a hard decision. I did not want to hurt my mother, but I felt so happy where I was, because I was able to be me. I went back home with the agreement that I was going to be allowed to wear my hijab. It was fine for a few days, but then other things started bothering them.

It bothered them that when a man came to the house I quickly went to my room and that I wouldn’t share much time with them anymore. Yes, it is true, I did start drifting away, but not from them, just from the things that they did, that are prohibited for me to be around. When my mother saw me praying, she would mock me. Everyone in my neighborhood thought I was going crazy. I did not hear from my “friends” anymore and before I knew it, my life was heading in a different direction. My goal was not to be skinny and in fashion anymore. It was to please Allah.

Throughout the year, I did shed many tears, but my faith was stronger. I knew in my heart that someday it would be ok. My first Ramadan was very emotional for me because I remembered all that I went through. I realized how blessed I am to be a Muslim, and because I felt alone in my house. No one in my family celebrates it, and no one cared. It was just me and God. This was the completion of my first year as a Muslim, but it was also the beginning of my second year.

When I ponder on all that has passed. After the first year, everything was easier. My family, although not convinced that this was right, they acknowledged the fact that it was not a phase that I was going through, and that whatever it was, I was staying with it. I learned to practice my religion, avoid the wrong, and still fit into my family. I realized that as long as they knew that I was only becoming a better person, and did not “bother them” with anything, it was ok. Today, my mother knows many things that are “haram.” My little sister can tell you how judgment day is going to be. My family cooks a second dish for me when I am visiting them and best of all, and they accept the fact that I am Muslim girl.

How amazing is the plan of God. So many things in my life seem to be clearer. Still until this day, I ask myself, “Why did God choose me?” I don’t know the answer, but I do know that even if it has been in small ways, I have touched the lives of many people around me. They now know about a religion that they had no idea of. And it’s no longer “those Muslims”, because they have one in the family.

My struggle still continues, and I am sure it will for the rest of my life. I have learned that this experience has only taught me to be stronger, and it made me realize how much my belief means to me. I also know that I cannot ever imagine myself not being a Muslim. Islam has given me the peace that was taken from me. It has taught me to appreciate life. It has educated me in all aspects of life, but best of all it has taught me that my journey on earth is short. With all the hardships that I encounter everyday, my heart leaps of joy knowing that although I am not in paradise, I have found something like it on earth. That is Islam.

Muslim converts, Oct - Dec 2006

The Conversion (Shahaada) of Mariely

By Mariely Torres

I was born Mariely but now I am Maryam. I am very happy that I found Islam. It was very hard at first to find a person who could help me with this. There are not that many Muslims in Puerto Rico. I came upon Islam in New York when I saw a documentary. I heard the adhaan or call to prayer and I was very curious to know what that was. It brought an inner peace to me and I just had to know about Islam. I saw people conducting their prayers and it seemed so peaceful. They seemed so connected to God. I started reading and an elderly person gave a book about the Hadith. With lots of research, I eventually decided that I wanted to be part of this beautiful experience. So I started to contact many different mosques and websites until I came upon LADO which helped me a lot.

One day while reading at Borders Book Store in Plaza Las Americas in Puerto Rico, I was in the religion section reading about Islam. I saw a Qur’an was out of place. I started reading it and as I was turning the pages a card fell out and it contained information about the Islamic Society of the Caribbean. I contacted them and they helped me. I was finally able to do my shahaada, alhamdulillah. I was so happy. They meet every Saturday at the park and have a study group. ISC helps us with prayer and any doubts you might have. I am very grateful. The imam from ISC is Imam Anis. He is from Egypt. Insha’Allah, I will be relocating to Michigan. I look forward to going as there is a big Muslim community there.

La Conversión (Chaháda) de Mariely

Por Mariely Torres

Nací siendo Mariely pero ahora soy Maryam. Soy muy feliz ya que encontré Islam. Al principio fue dificil encontrar a una persona que podría ayudarme con esto. No hay muchos musulmanes en Puerto Rico. Descubrí al Islam en Nueva York cuando vi un documental. Oí el adhán o la llamada al rezo y a me sentí curiosa a saber que era eso. Me trajo una paz interna y apenas tuve que saber sobre el Islam. Vi que había gente que conducía sus rezos y parecían tan pacíficos. Se parecían que conectaron con Dios. Comencé a leer y una persona mayor me dio un libro acerca de l Hadiz. Con mucha investigación, decidí ser parte de esta experiencia hermosa. Comencé a contactar muchas mezquitas y sitios en el Internet hasta que me encontre con LADO que me ayudó mucho.

Un día mientras estaba leyendo en la librería Borders Book Store en Plaza Las Américas en Puerto Rico, yo estaba en la sección de religión leyendo sobre el Islam. Vi que un Corán estaba fuera de lugar. Comencé a leerlo y como daba vuelta a las páginas se cayó una tarjeta que contenía información sobre la Sociedad Islámica del Caribe. Me puse en contacto con ellos y me ayudaron. Podía finalmente hacer mi chaháda, alhamdulil-láh. Estaba tan feliz. Nos encontramos cada sábado en el parque y tenemos un grupo de estudio. El SIC nos ayuda con los rezos y cualquier duda que pueda tener. Estoy muy agradecida. El imám del SIC es Imám Anis. Él es de Egipto. Incha’Al-láh, me mudaré a Michigan. Espero ir allá porque hay una comunidad musulmana grande allí.

April - June 2005, Latino Muslims, Muslim converts, Organizations, Other, USA

The LADO Genesis

By Juan Alvarado

Evolution of the Latino American Dawah Organization

Since childhood I always noticed that I was spiritual to say the least. I was baptized, did my communion and confirmation. I was even an altar boy. By the time I was 19, I renounced Christianity once and for all due to my lack of belief in the basic teachings of Christianity. However, I continued my search for truth. This search led me to read on a non-stop basis, something that I still do. After studying Islam for a couple of years, I was sufficiently comfortable that I decided to convert in 1992. The only twist in my conversion story is that I took two shahadas rather than one because of my experience with a Black Nationalist movement called the Ansar cult, or the Nubian Islamic Hebrews. Thankfully, a Latino Muslim brother noted my error and gave me a book by Bilal Philips about the Ansars called, “The Ansar Cult in America.” I lasted two years in this movement before taking my shahada with Alianza Islamica in El Barrio in Spanish Harlem.

In the late nineties, I was a savvy Internet chatterbox. I would look for any Islamic chat rooms and message boards on AOL. Their message boards were very active at that time. The Islam message boards used to have 100 posts a day – from Muslims, talking about Islam, which is certainly not the case now. I’d say the year was 1996. There were many people online; each person had many opinions. We would discuss Middle Eastern and world politics and all aspects about Islam – the permissible and forbidden, questions and answers, rebuttals, etc. In this melee of ideas, many non-Muslims visited just to disrespect Islam saying some of the most audacious things. However, many non-Muslims were interested in Islam or at the very least were tolerant and respectful of our different beliefs. They were there to learn about Islam, Muslims, Islamic culture, the Middle East and/or specific Islamic countries.

During those times, I was happy to have met many, very good people. I learned much about Islam from many knowledgeable Muslims. I also learned about the bad things that happen within cultures that claim to be Islamic but are not. As a Muslim revert, I can only hope to show others the beauty of Islam and somehow incline them toward Islam. In the Qur’an 16:125, Allah SWT states, “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” Allah SWT guides whom He wills. I love Islam, and I would like others to love Islam, too. As such, I have tried to find ways to disseminate Islam. I have come across non-Muslims interested in Islam, and I have spoken with them at length trying to answer all of their questions. I have had some great online/written conversations, too.

Among the good people that I met was a young lady interested in Islam. She was a Bronx native like myself named Samantha Sanchez. She was not yet a Muslim. She was a graduate student writing her master’s thesis about Hispanics coming to Islam. I was one of her thesis interviewees. Samantha’s inspiration to seriously begin learning more about Islam happened after coming across an acquaintance on campus. Samantha couldn’t believe her eyes. While standing in the middle of a Jesuit college campus, she was dressed in modest clothing with her hair covered. “How? When? Why?” Samantha asked herself. From that moment on, she was hooked, but not on Islam. She was hooked on finding out why a Latina would choose Islam.

After answering those questions, the Latina Muslimah told Samantha that she would give her a book about Islam. They promised to stay in touch. After reading that book, she made an intense study of the Qur’an and Islam. She also contacted various new Muslims online including myself. After many conversations, I noted that Samantha was clearly seeing the light of Islam. I don’t remember exactly when she decided to become a Muslim. There is no doubt she was on a quest for the truth. I encouraged her in her quest as I would anyone interested in Islam. We must in any case thank Allah SWT for opening her heart and giving our Ummah such an educated lady. We continued our online friendship and conversations for more than a year.

Saraji Umm Zaid met Samantha through another sister who had met her on the AOL message boards. Saraji was very active on the Islam message boards. She was one of the most intelligent Muslims on the boards. She would answer tough questions, respond to various misconceptions, and give advice to anyone interested in Islam. Although Saraji made her shahada as a teen in private, someone insisted that her first shahada needed witnesses for it to be valid with Allah SWT. She renewed her shahada with a Latina sister from New Jersey in 1997. A few days later Saraji found out that Samantha had made her shahada on the same day at the large Islamic Center in Queens.

Little by little, a group of Muslims had developed, which had the ambition of spreading this deen to others. Together, we immediately recognized the need for some type of group that would cater Islam to the unique Hispanic community within the United States. We were not quite sure how we could accomplish this. Nevertheless, we exchanged thoughts, articles, and topics of interest through e-mail. This was in effect our first Latino Muslims e-mail newslist. We all recognized that communication would be a prerequisite for the cooperation needed to begin a national grassroots organization among Hispanics. In the beginning, we were in a quandary as to what we could do. Many ideas were up in the air. We came to an agreement that we needed an organization that would encourage Latino Muslims from around the United States to work together to fulfill their common needs. By identifying those needs, the organization would struggle diligently to fill the void. Consequently, the organization and anyone interested in dawah to Latinos would have a sense of direction.

Our hope was to establish an organization that would give credence and assistance needed to succeed. Insh’Allah. For example, an organization of this scope would help bring more participants into dawah work. Our requests about the need for Spanish Islamic literature would also be more likely to be acknowledged. At the time, very little attention was paid to any converts to Islam, let alone Latinos. We wanted it to be an organization where Latinos could speak for themselves. As Saraji said, “I wanted something established so that by the time my daughter was old enough to think for herself and notice how the world works, she would see Latinos represented in the Ummah.” On a more personal level, we hoped that by working with this type of organization we would become better Muslims, as our ideals would be put into practice. Each of us could contribute our own unique skills and knowledge.

Next, we needed to come up with a name. We wanted to choose something that would express our ethnic and religious identity as Latinos/Hispanics and as Muslims. We also wanted to emphasize that this would be an Islamic organization whose primary purpose would be dawah and education to Latinos. The word ‘lado’ came to Saraji’s mind after a few hours of trying to think of an acronym that would mean something in Spanish. From the word ‘lado’, she came up with Latino American Dawah Organization. Today, our organization is known by most Muslims as simply “LADO” and as “The LADO Group.” In Spanish, LADO is known as “El Grupo LADO.” The acronym LADO means ‘side’ in Spanish.

Samantha came up with “¡A su LADO!” as a motto, which in English means “At your side!” By 2001, the motto evolved to become the following: “¡Puro Latino! ¡Puro Islam! ¡A su LADO!” Far from being an exclusive club, membership is open to all Muslims regardless of race. Members are also actively encouraged to assist, join, and even begin other Muslim organizations. LADO emphasizes a full-fledged, comprehensive dawah effort toward Latinos. Encouraging Latino Muslims to organize to enhance dawah opportunities is one aspect of that effort. Hence, “¡Puro Latino!” With dawah, though, comes responsibility. By continuously learning and practicing Islam, we seek to become better Muslims and hence preserve the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Hence, “¡Puro Islam!” And of course, LADO is at your side!

LADO is a grassroots organization founded in September 1997 by a handful of Latino converts to Islam in New York City. “¡A su LADO!” is the essence of our mission statement. LADO’s mission is “to promote Islam among the Latino community within the United States by becoming better-educated Muslims and by working with like-minded Muslims.” We openly acknowledge and emphasize the importance of education and cooperation as a prerequisite to dawah efforts. In Islam, the most important way of identifying ourselves is by belief. Therefore, part of our mission statement includes a statement of Islamic faith. Patiently, we will work with what we have today, actively working for a better tomorrow. As stated in the Qur’an 13:11, “Verily Allah will not change the condition of people until they change it themselves.”

Thousands of miles away, a person with a similar story to ours became interested in LADO. Juan Galvan was introduced to Islam after seeing a Hispanic Muslim in prostration. Juan wondered, “What’s this Hispanic guy doing praying to Allah?” Juan had many questions, which the brother patiently answered. Juan instinctively knew that this was what he was looking for because it answered life’s unanswerable questions. However, he would continue studying Islam for three more years before officially embracing Islam. After taking his shahada, he pondered why there seemed to be few Latino Muslims in Texas. From these types of questions came his eagerness to serve Allah SWT.

After deciding to work with LADO in 2001, Juan Galvan began finding Muslims to work with him by contacting various Muslims from Texas and around the United States. One Latina Muslimah from Oklahoma couldn’t believe Juan wanted to be part of a national Muslim organization. She sent him an e-mail stating that Islam is about beauty in small deeds. She said that the best way to be a good caller to Islam is to be a good Muslim. Like most new Muslims, her conversion was marked with small, good deeds along the way. Her journey toward Islam began in college when a classmate answered her questions about Islam. Her questions led to deeper discussions about Islam. She was given Islamic literature. She was invited and later driven to a mosque. She was taught how to wear hijab. After taking shahada, she was taught how to pray. She has received and continues to receive many words of encouragement. Most Muslims consider the conversion of each non-Muslim special and beautiful. This Latina was concerned that large Muslim organizations would cheapen that beauty. Our intention is not to make conversion less special but rather to show the beauty of Islam to more people, so that they may also see the beauty of Islam. And, there are many things that one person cannot do alone.

As LADO members, we seek only the pleasure of Allah. We pursue opportunities only for Allah, not for LADO or for our own selves. Like the disciples of Jesus PBUH said in the Qur’an, “We are Allah’s helpers. We believe in Allah. And do bear witness that we are Muslims.” (3:52). We seek to aid all Muslims and non-Muslims by sharing the beauty of Islam as expressed in our mission statement. LADO disseminates Islam by providing Islamic literature in the form of books, brochures, and other media in English, Spanish and whenever possible, Portuguese. Because few materials are available to the Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking communities, we emphasize this aspect of Islamic diffusion. In addition to educating anyone about Islam, we will also guide whom we can to the right resources. As a way of educating our own selves and others, we are committed to attending, visiting, and working with mosques, attending special Islamic events, interfaith talks, various lectures, translating existing literature, and writing articles and editorials among other things.

In addition to its other dawah contributions, LADO has been recognized for its very beneficial website. Our first attempt at a website was really Samantha’s. We thought a website would be the most cost efficient way of offering free information about Islam. She used her free personal AOL homepage as our preliminary website. We then added information to the website as we saw fit. Today, the LADO website is available at www.latinodawah.org. The website contains LADO’s online newsletter, useful links on Islamic information and websites, and a library with Islamic resources for beginners in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. From the LADO ‘Contact Us’ page, you can find Latino Muslims from around the country. From the LADO website, you can join the LADO Yahoogroup. The purpose of our newslist is to provide a way for networking, discussing Islam, current events, and Latino Muslim issues and upcoming events.

We have always believed that there was more to dawah to Latinos than simply translating some pamphlets into Spanish. Certainly, Islamic literature in the Spanish language is extremely important. Who can, for example, deny the importance of Spanish Islamic audio literature? However, we also need to address the emotional needs of new or potential Muslims. Our dawah efforts have attempted to address these needs in various ways. For example, Saraji offers practical advice for new Muslims in her article: “How do I tell my parents and family I’ve become a Muslim?” I attempt to address common misconceptions about Islam in a lighthearted way in my article: “Is Your God Black?” Saraji recalls that the mother of one Latina Muslimah complained because her daughter stopped eating her pastels. Pastels and tortillas do not necessarily have to be haram, or prohibited in Islam. We have been fortunate to address these kinds of misconceptions among Latinos. Many articles by Latino Muslims can be found on LADO’s online newsletter.

Life’s twists and turns are strange. After some time, I lost touch with Samantha and the other LADO people. After regaining Internet service, I either forgot all of the people’s e-mail addresses or they had been changed. Years later, while working for the Los Angeles Times, I came across an article in the New York Times mentioning LADO and Samantha. Alhamdulillah, I was able to contact her and Juan to find that LADO continued. I have found a good ‘virtual’ friend and brother with Galvan. I am only one of the many Latino Muslims who are grateful for the opportunity to have met other Latino Muslims through LADO. We will continue to emphasize the universal principle of brotherhood and sisterhood in Islam. Insha’Allah. We are trying to break down the barriers that separate Latino Muslims, Latino non-Muslims, and the general Muslim community. This is certainly a great endeavor. I have since contributed to LADO whenever I can. And, the rest as they say is history.

Since it’s founding, the Latino American Dawah Organization has had its focus on promoting Islam to anyone interested with emphasis on the Hispanic community. Since then LADO has had the opportunity to speak with many non-Muslims interested in Islam. We have also had the opportunity to work with Muslims from all walks of life. Insha’Allah (or ojalá), we will continue to encourage potential Muslims to learn more about Islam and provide information about Islam. Insha’Allah, we will also become better Muslims while we’re at it. In Qur’an 110: 2-3, Allah SWT states, “When God’s help and victory have arrived, and you have seen people entering God’s religion in droves, then glorify your Lord’s praise and ask His forgiveness.” Every Hispanic Muslim hopes that their lost Islamic heritage, which was taken from them, can once again be revived, rekindled, and reborn.

Jan - Mar 2003, Muslim converts

Lonely in the Masjid

A Recent Convert’s First Step Inside a Mosque
By Shinoa Matos

November 20, 2002

Bismillah Irahman, Irahim
En el nombre de Alá, el Compasivo, el Misericordioso
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful

For my own benefit, I’ve been chronicling my progress in Islam and I recently wrote my conversion story, all thanks be to Allah. The next step I’ve taken was visiting the Masjid for the first time. Here’s my take on it…

As a recent convert (thanks be to Allah), I was overwhelmed by my feelings of closeness to Allah and my sudden desire to please the one who never leaves our side. Bottled up inside, I discovered a tremendous need to be more pious and feelings of remorse and shame came out, flooding any other desires and wants. Almost instantly, I could not wait to reform, to become anew in this God-given life. Yet the road to Islam is not one without bumps. And, one of my personal “bumps” I’ve had to steer through is getting myself to attend a Masjid (Mosque or place of worship).

Since the beginning, congregating with other Muslims and praying in unity to Allah appealed to me. The unison in the Islamic prayer was so disciplined and flowed so smoothly, it reminded me of a song. Hence, I was eager to perform the postures and prostrate with my new brothers and sisters before out creator. I was eager to shower Allah with praise and I wanted to do it among hundreds of other voices like mine, all in agreement about God and his Prophet (PBUH).

Even more so, I wanted to belong, to feel part of a community in this new life. Most of us associate ourselves with different aspects of our lives. And for the most part, I’ve always associated myself with the “Puerto Ricanness” in me. Going to plays, hearing Salsa, speaking Spanish, studying about the Caribbean, cooking our types of food, and understanding certain aspects of our culture that only another Puerto Rican or Latino could. But now, here I was, a new Muslim and I had no other Muslims around me that I knew of (with the exception of one friend, his family, and Internet buddies who were also Muslim: Sister Diane, Sister Brenda, may God bless you all). Being once Christian (and I use that term loosely for myself as I did not practice the religion as did my other Christian friends and family), I regularly attended church. Although I felt ambivalent towards the religion, the familiarity of it-the act of bonding with others in a designated place and of meeting others at a specific time and all belonging to the same “something”-would always remain with me.

Now you ask, if I had converted over 2 years ago, how had I just come to step foot inside the Masjid just this past Friday? Why did it take me so long? Well perhaps only recent converts will understand my hesitation. For us, converting to Islam feels a bit awkward at first, no matter how much the religion and Allah calls to us. No matter how much it all makes sense and how “right” it is, it still feels as if we’re learning to walk again. Furthermore, it feels a bit lonely. For one thing, I don’t speak Arabic and am now just beginning the stages of learning my prayers in the language. And every Masjid that I passed, the letters written outside were in Arabic. How was I supposed to step in there and know where to go? What times did the Masjid operate? Who would show me around? How would I communicate with that person if he/she did not speak English? These questions raced through my mind and slowed my steps to a standstill. I felt like an outsider and worried that Muslims born into the religion or even other new Muslims would think I was an imposter or “going through a phase.” A friend of mine kept telling me that I was nuts to think this way because Islam was sent and is meant for everyone, not just Arabs. One only has to look at Indonesia and the growing Hispanic Muslim population to see how true this is.

Nevertheless, I could not face walking into a Masjid alone. Thanks be to Allah, there exists a Masjid in New York (The Islamic Cultural Center of New York) on Lexington and 96th Street, where although the prayers are recited in Arabic, the Imam speaks mostly in English and translates whatever portion of his speech is in Arabic into English. My friend, Issam, agreed to take me, and we set out for Friday noon prayer.

The night before, I must have tried on a million outfits to make sure I was both comfortable and dressed presentable. I wanted to make as little mistakes as possible and look as clean and well put together as I could on my first day to praise God in a congregation. I kept imagining someone in the Masjid approaching me and asking me to leave because my outfit was unacceptable. It’s amazing what ridiculous thoughts fear presses upon your mind.

I wore my hijab outside for the first time that day, and I didn’t feel people staring at me. In fact, I felt no second glances, and no one bothered to look at any part of me except my eyes and my scarf-donning head. Strange, this lack of attention. It felt unnerving and empowering at the same time, as if I were invisible and could walk among other people without notice. The morning was crisp and bright. As we drove to the Masjid, the sun planted itself through my skin and sparked roots of excitement. I was brimming with anticipation.

We proceeded inside the huge building and my friend directed me to the women’s bathroom where I could perform wudu. I saw other women inside as I entered. No one noticed me; no one even had a clue I was new. Now that I come to think of it, how many people in there were also attending prayer for the first time like me? I saw shelves with slippers. I knew from my conversation with Issam that I could use them to walk around the bathroom and to wash my feet. There were sinks and bathroom stalls. Along the opposite wall, there were areas to cleanse the feet to complete your wudu. Nervously, I removed my shoes and socks and placed slippers on my feet. I rolled my sleeves and my pants up. By mistake, I went to the area to cleanse feet and began performing Wudu there, not fully realizing that it would soak my pants and clothes because the setup was meant for feet only. Getting up, I rushed into the bathroom stall and remained there for a few minutes composing myself.

I know this doesn’t sound like it should be a huge issue, but I think anyone can understand my reluctance and fear. If you have ever begun a new job or new school, I am sure you’ve had those butterflies in the stomach and felt “dumb” at one point or another. As I stood in the bathroom stall, I forced myself out because the reality of it all is there is nothing to fear in life, except God. Allah would get me through this, and I was here only for Him. Only for Allah. I removed my hijab, walked to the sink and began cleansing myself all over again. I finished, placed my hijab back on, and walked to the faucets to clean my feet. I completed my wudu with ease this time and less fluttering in my stomach.

I had no idea where the women’s section was and had only caught a glimpse of the prayer area when walking towards the bathroom. There was a woman in the bathroom who I thought spoke English. It’s horrible to make assumptions, but because I saw that she was wearing typical American clothing, I thought she was my best chance at making conversation. In my most frank voice, I revealed that it was my first time in that Masjid and had no idea where the woman’s section was. With such a beautiful smile (one that I pray Allah will keep in my memory), she gladly showed me where to go.

Past the men’s section, we walked up a flight of stairs to a very small balcony area, much smaller than the men’s area, which I found a bit disturbing. Issam told me that I should perform two rakats if the Imam had not begun his speech and then wait for it all to start. To be honest, I whizzed through those prayers and actually can’t remember being sincere. My mind raced with other thoughts. Was I performing the prayers correctly, should I be speaking louder than I was? Was anyone staring at me? I found a place near the wall of the balcony, behind some women. I looked around and saw all the beautifully colored headscarves and even more beautiful skins they adorned. There must have been at least 10-20 different nationalities there. Many wore ethnic clothing embroidered with gold and silver. I imagined where they were from and how they came to Islam. But to be honest, I felt very lonely. Many were talking amongst themselves. I wished with all my heart that I had someone to speak with, that I could be on that balcony speaking with another sister and thus look like I belonged. But, I thanked God that I had made it this far.

As time progressed, the Masjid became increasingly filled. By the time the Imam began his speech, it was so crowded, I barely had room to prostrate. This angered me a bit because I could not understand why they would create such a tiny balcony for the women making it very uncomfortable for them to pray while the men had this huge expanse of space. My “feminist” side came out a bit. Later, I caught a glimpse of how even more tightly packed the men were. Issam told me later that he had to wait for the man in front of him to bow first and then he’d bow after him for lack of room. Even so, the women’s area was much, much smaller. Furthermore, the balcony was shielded, and you could look down at the Imam only through a tiny crack at the bottom. Consequently, when the Imam spoke, I had no idea what he looked like or what expressions his face carried as he spoke. I was frustrated to say the least. Why can’t I see the Imam? What harm could come from that? I need to see who’s speaking to me, no?!

He began speaking with no clue that someone in the balcony was quite upset. I could not hear him despite there being a loudspeaker in the balcony, because I was slowly seething. I felt completely like a second-class citizen. However, now, I realized that a Masjid is a place to congregate not a place that was above Allah. Not a place that would magically make me holy, or prevent Shaytan (the devil) from entering my mind. I knew I needed to release the anger, and I asked God for forgiveness and mercy. So I prayed. And for a brief period, again, the Imam had no clue someone in the balcony was missing a portion of his speech. I prayed to Allah to remove those feelings of anger and resentment and bestow me with understanding and knowledge. I prayed for courage to face my fears and strength to not give in to temptation or slander. As I opened my eyes, I felt light with my anger evaporating into the air.

The Imam’s voice was soothing, and I no longer needed to see his face because I could hear him in my heart. This being the premise of why Muslims in general cover their bodies and heads- to simply be heard and judged based upon their thoughts and actions. I briefly forgot this, this extraordinary and liberating premise.

It was time to begin our prayers, and we rose to make our intention to Allah. While the Imam began our prayers, I innocently snuck a peek over the balcony, as I now was able to look over the shield. I saw the Imam, the rest of the men, and I began searching for Issam’s red shirt. And there it was, God’s helped me understand the reason why men and women are apart in prayer and in socializing outside the family circle. While the prayer was being spoken, I was being distracted by what I saw around me. The temptations, even the most innocent of the kind, are still vibrant and exist all around us, even in a Masjid. Immediately, I closed my eyes and thanked God for adding to my knowledge that hour.

When we bent forward to say Subhanna Rubiyal-Azeem (Glorified is my Lord the Great), I barely had any room. An older woman next to me kept apologizing for bumping into me. I continued telling her that her apologies were unnecessary, because there was room for us all. And there was. No one cared how close you were to one another. It actually felt warmer that way. It was also almost impossible for me to relive the loneliness I had felt earlier. The breath of their prayers blew upon my face, and the warmth of their garments rustled next to my prostrating body. I smiled more and more with each pat of her hand.

Although my prayers were not sincere, or rather, unfocused, God knows it was only because I was observing others to make sure I was correct in my approach. While clothing and appearances were different, the prayers were all the same. We finished our prayers and people began to depart. I did not rush out because I kept watching the women and the sincerity in their faces. I could only hope my conviction grows to such depths that it permeates the pores of my face as it does theirs.

Issam was waiting for me below. We walked in the crowd leaving. At least a few hundred people must have been at that prayer if not a thousand. Men were all around me as we were walking out, and at first, I felt anxious. But then I remembered that these were my Muslim brothers, descendants of those who first introduced the world to chivalry and protected women against all evil. We are their sisters, their equals, and the flowers of Allah. I knew no one was glancing at me. I also knew I was safer in that crowd of men than anywhere else in the world.

As we reached the car, I was annoyed that I did not feel “different” or more “holy.” Honestly, I do not know what I should have been feeling, but I was angry with myself for my lack of Arabic and because I could not understand some of the Surah’s the Imam was reciting. Issam calmed me down and told me that all would come in due time. I was at the beginning stages of my learning process. I had come this far, and God would bring me even further if I were willing. Am I willing? Yes, I have been exposed to a small portion of Islam. I am in awe of its vastness. Islam is immensely upon my heart. I swim in its body of knowledge, and I wish to know as much as God permits. Alllah-u-Akbar. God is greatest.

Shinoa Matos is a journalist in New York City and came to Islam over 2 years ago. She is passionate about writing and hopes to contribute to a major Islamic or Arabic news organization and cover issues concerning Muslims in the world today.

Jan - Mar 2003, Muslim converts

One Woman Reclaims Her Roots

By Suha Siam

Do idol worshippers realize what they are praying to? Do Christians know they are not supposed to worship anyone other than God? It’s clearly stated in the Bible, but many Christians do not read the book they claim to follow. Very few of those who read the Bible question their priests about why the church rituals and lectures do not match what God says in their holy book. A formal Catholic by the name of Diana Maria Santos always questioned her religion. Diana was not spiritually fulfilled until she learned about Islam.

Diana Santos grew up in Cadiz, Spain. Although she attended Catholic school, she never practiced Catholicism. She questioned the religion her family wanted her to practice. Diana would ask the priest at her school why they had images in the church and kept praying to them even though the Bible says, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth,” in Exodus 20:3-5. One day, the priest sent Diana home for three weeks because she was influencing the other students. During the three weeks at home, she read about the history of the Bible and had more questions for the priest when she went back to school. A few weeks later, Diana was forced to leave the private school and would have to enroll in a public school.

During her three weeks at home from school, Diana also spent time sharing different points of view with her Muslim neighbor from Morocco. At the age of twelve, she realized that what she was reading all her life that made sense was not Catholicism but Islam. Soon after these conversations, her Muslim friend moved to France. Diana would have no one to speak with about Islam until four years later after moving to New York.

While living in New York, Diana started working at a supermarket owned by a Muslim family. She immediately started to practice Islam with the Muslims around her and even fasted Ramadan. Soon after, Diana learned from her grandparents that her family’s history comes from the time of Al-Andalucia, when Spain was Muslim. Her ancestors were among the Moors who liberated Spain in 711. After the Christians defeated the Muslims in 1492, Diana’s family converted to Christianity to avoid being thrown out of Spain. Her family decided to convert to Christianity in order not to loose their land. Diana says, “We did not loose our land, but we lost our identity. Even today, my family denies their history because they don’t want to lose their status in the society. Even though we are in 2003, we still have racism and conflict over this issue. I am very proud to say that we come from the lineage of the Moors who ruled Spain.” Diana is now even more proud to say she reverted to Islam after learning about her Muslim roots. She now uses the name “Mariam” after the mother of our beloved prophet Jesus (Isa). Two years later, Mariam married a Muslim bookkeeper who also worked at the supermarket with her.

Some members of Mariam’s family do not speak to her and think she’s too radical. Others accept her as a Muslim but do not understand why she has to cover. This lack of understanding is very ironic considering the Bible states, “that a woman must be covered. If she’s not covered, it dishonors her head,” in Corinthians 11:1-16. As a Muslim, Mariam is glad she no longer prays to sculptures. She said, “I always felt that the God I believed in had to be bigger than a piece of rock in a human form.”

Mariam is now a member of the Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO). Mariam helps translate Islamic literature from English into Spanish. Because Latinos are reverting to their Muslim roots in large numbers, translating Islamic information to Spanish is extremely important, and Mariam is making it happen. She said, “I think spreading the word of Allah is one of the things that needs to be done in our community for Muslims and Non-Muslims.”

Mariam says that events surrounding 9-11 helped her become a much stronger Muslim. People are very uneducated about Islam. Fortunately, many new Muslims like Mariam are helping nonMuslims understand the one true religion, Islam. She would like to see more Muslims talk about Islam more often to let nonMuslims know who we are and what we believe in. This is called dawah and is a requirement of every Muslim. It is how Mariam Santos learned about Islam. Now, she spreads the message that clarified the purpose of life for her.

Muslim converts, Oct - Dec 2002, Stories

Reflections on my Shahada

By Juan Galvan

Written June 26, 2001

About two weeks ago after Jumaah prayer, Golam encouraged me to say shahada, the Islam declaration of faith. I told him that I wanted to wait until I knew the Muslim prayer. I had already been learning the prayer. I had already memorized a couple of chapters. I told him that Catholics usually have to study before receiving a sacrament. I had been attending Jumaah prayer for about a month already. He said to me, “If you feel it in your heart already, you should just take shahada. No pressure. Allah says no compulsion of religion. But you never know when you will die. By saying shahada, you will be a Muslim in the face of God. But you should think about it, and if you know you’re ready you should go for it.”

I thought for a second or two what my friends and family would think. I also wondered if I was ready to be a good Muslim. Golam grew up in Bangledesh, a country that is primarily Muslim. I don’t think he’s experienced the various temptations that are condemned in Islam. I guess the idea of never drinking again was a scary thought. Then I took a deep breath and told Golam that I would go ahead and say shahada. Then he told me that later that night after Maghrib, I would make shahada. He told me what to expect, “You’ll say shahada first in Arabic and then in English. Afterward, the brothers will congratulate you.” Then he told me what I would say next. I kept butchering the Arabic so I asked him to write it down on paper. In English I would say “I testify that there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah. I also testify that Muhammed is His servant and messenger.” Before I left the mosque, Golam instructed me to take a shower before going to the mosque.

While leaving the mosque, I told my Imam and Mamun that I was taking shahada. The Imam instructed me, “You don’t have to make the shahada public public. You could say it in front of one person and the person doesn’t need to be a Muslim.” I suppose I’m used to the Catholic way of things, formal. An informal shahada would be like going to a bus stop and saying “Hi, I’d like to say shahada. I testify that”” As I left jumah prayer, I read the shahada over and over trying to get the words and pronunciation right. “Ash-hadu Al-la Ilaha Il-lal-Lahu Wa-ash-hadu Anna Muhammadan ‘Abduhu Wara sulah.” I wanted to memorize it so I wouldn’t come across as too ignorant. When I would attend mosque on Fridays, I would pray with the congregation. I had asked the Imam if it would be acceptable. I had already memorized Surah 1, Al Fatihah, which begins the prayer and had remembered it in English and Arabic already so I didn’t feel too lost. I also memorized Surah 112, Al Ikhlas: “Say: He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begets not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.”

The reasoning of man can lead people to do the dumbest things. When I arrived at home, I reasoned that “after tonight I will never eat pork again, and I also have a pepperoni pizza in the freezer so I’ll either need to throw it away or”” Ok, so I ate a pork-filled pizza before shahada. At least, I didn’t wash it down with some beer. Finally 7:00pm rolled around. Golam knocked on my door, and I went to his car. He asked me how I felt. I said I felt good. I felt guilty for eating the pizza. He then asked me if I had taken a shower. I replied in the affirmative. I told him I couldn’t believe I was about to be a Muslim.

When we arrived, someone was serving dinner. After being served, Golam and I sat with the other men. The food was delicious as always. Golam stated that in Islam when someone has a child the family will feed the community as a thank you. My friend Mamun ate with his hands. I used a fork. I couldn’t decide if it was for religious reasons, if he merely wanted to eat with his hands, or if he was too embarrassed to ask for a fork. I tried handing him a fork. He said that there’s a haddith about eating with your hands. Mamun is also from Bangledesh. He has a big heart. Before visiting a mosque, I thought all mosques were packed with Arabs but most people who attend Austin mosques are mostly from Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. I once asked an Asian brother how long he’s been a Muslim. He’s from Malaysia. Azlan said his parents and grandparents were all Muslim. I was stunned.

Before magrib prayer, I told Golam, “There’s lot of peace. Lots of peace in knowing that I only have to worship God. I don’t worship money, wealth, or any of that. I don’t have to please the world.” Golam nodded. Recently, he stated, “Look at America. They have all the freedoms. Still there are so many unhappy people. You would think everyone would be happy.” I have spent most of my life trying to be accepted. I simply believed Islam was true. I wanted to be a Muslim. That was all that mattered. Would I be a good Muslim? Maybe. Maybe not. “Muslims are the most religious people in the world. How can I ever be like that?” I wondered. Hayya Alal Falah, Hayya Alal Falah. Come to success, come to success. Finally, prayer time had come. Congregational prayer is amazing when you think about it. Every Muslim regardless of race or nationality in the world pray toward one location, Mecca in Saudia Arabia. Together, we all form concentric circles around the Kaaba. Beautiful. Amazing. After prayer, it was time to say shahada.

Golam stood up, faced the crowd saying, “There’s someone who will take shahada. He attends the University of Texas. He grew up in Texas. He’s been coming to the mosque regularly.” Next thing I knew I was sitting in front of everyone. I was about to go through a “Muslim baptism” as a Christian friend once put it. The Imam said, “Look what Allah has done. He has touched the heart of another. Brother, what is your name?” “Juan Galvan,” I responded. I was handed a microphone. He told me to repeat what he said. The Arabic I said wasn’t exactly as I had practiced. I had the paper I used to practice in front of me. I wish I could remember exactly what was said. “I testify that there is no God but Allah. I also testify that Muhammed is his servant and prophet.” Then he stated, “I also testify that Jesus is his servant and prophet. God has no brother and no mother.” I recalled how adamant Muhammed was about never being worshipped as a God. Stating that Jesus was also God’s prophet reminded me about the significance of Jesus within Islam.

After saying shahada, the Imam stated, “Congratulations. God forgives the sins of those who turn toward him. And if he wants he can turn your previous bad deeds into good deeds.” Everyone clapped then stood up to shake my hand or hug me. I felt very much at home. I tried hard not to cry. I wish there was a way I could tell all the Muslims I’ve ever met that I’ve embraced Islam. I would want them to know how much I appreciate them for telling me about Islam. Meeting all those Muslims were a part of a series of events that brought me to where I am today. Alhamdulila. All praise and thanks to Allah.