By Juan Galvan
On Saturday, November 18, I had a unique opportunity to meet with Muslims from New York City and New Jersey. I met with Muslims at the 96th St Mosque until noon then with more Muslims at the Islamic Educational Center of North Hudson (IECNH) until 4:00PM. My visit to New York was mainly vacation but I wanted to meet some Muslims who I admire for their contribution. I have been blessed to meet many amazing Muslims on the Internet. I also wanted to request some input on a number of issues from them. Originally, my plan was to meet with approximately ten Muslims from New York and New Jersey in the hotel lobby where I was staying. I forgot to consider that transportation is a major issue in NYC. Even traveling small distances takes much time in NYC traffic. It would be easier on people for me to come to them.
One of the New Jersey sisters had already recommended having the meeting at the IECNH to have more people attend. I had also been looking forward to visiting the 96th St Mosque because I had never seen the mosque before. I intentionally tried to keep the size of the New York City meeting small, because I wanted to spend more time with those who did attend. Less opportunity for interaction with the audience occurs with big events. I also enjoy informal meetings for their spontaneity. Before leaving for New York, I was given a general idea about the size of the New Jersey audience. Due to the larger audience, I would have to add some order to the meeting. I decided the format for the meeting would be question and answer rather than a lecture. This type of meeting would give me an opportunity to listen and respond to the questions, interests, and concerns of the community. I was also able to ask my own questions based on the audience’s involvement. Sandwiches, chips, pastas, and desserts were served for lunch. I did not see the desserts until after eating my huge sandwich; otherwise, I would have saved room for dessert. Before and during lunch, I mingled with the audience. I love meeting with people individually.
I got to thank many Muslims for their contributions. Alhamdulila. Gracias a Dios. I wonder if they know how much I appreciate them. Words cannot express how much I love them. In general, Saturday was very pleasant. A Latino took his shahada. He joined our meeting totally unexpected. I am always amazed to hear the shahada in Spanish. A new Muslimah publicly stated her shahada. The shahada is the testimony of faith that makes someone a Muslim. A new Latina Muslim got to see a side of Latinos and Islam that she had never seen. In fact, she had never personally met other Latino Muslims until that day. And, now she was surrounded by them. I also brought my mother-in-law and my baby son. My wife was busy at a conference. Thus, Muslims got to spend time with members of my family.
After the meeting, I decided to compile a list of my responses to the questions I was asked in New Jersey. Writing such an article would also give me an opportunity to address questions I have been asked about myself, LADO, Latino Muslims, Spain, etc. When I ask people to ask me about Latino Muslims, they always ask about LADO and me. Of course, I am also asked about Islamic Spain. Although I have addressed several questions in other articles, I need to elaborate and provide an update on a number of questions. And, maybe I can lessen any confusion because Satan loves confusion. I wanted to write with the same format as my 2002 article entitled “FAQS About Latino Muslims.” Unfortunately, after compiling my list of questions, I found that I had almost 150 questions to answer. Because several questions could be answered with short answers, I decided to group the questions and my responses by topic. Furthermore, what was to be one article has turned out to be at least seven separate articles. I will be addressing common questions I am asked about Latino Muslims in this article.
– How many Latino Muslims are there now? How many Latinos have converted to Islam in the United States? Is that number increasing or decreasing? What has the growth looked like over the last several years?
The exact number of Latino Muslims is difficult to determine, because the U.S. Census Bureau does not collect information about religion. The statistic most often quoted is that there are 40,000 Hispanic Muslims in the US, which is a tiny fraction of the general Muslim population and of the Latino population. This number is attributed to a 1997 American Muslim Council study. That was almost ten years ago. More recently, the American Muslim Council in 2006 stated that there are now 200,000 Latino Muslims in the United States. This number is much more accurate than 40,000 because it takes into account the growth of Islam among Latinos since 1997, especially since the 9-11 tragedy. No one doubts the tremendous growth of Islam among Latinos. Islam among Latinos no longer seems bizarre and impossible due to the growth in the Latino Muslim community. Today, you can find Latinos in almost every mosque throughout the United States.
– Why do you think it took the 9-11 tragedy for Latinos to convert to Islam? How can you explain the increase of this conversion phenomenon since 9-11? How do you feel about how many people came to Islam post 9-11? Have the number of converts increased or decreased annually since the terrorist attacks of 9-11?
September 11, 2001 was a shock to people. Most people thought that nothing like this could ever happen in the USA. Unfortunately, some Muslims committed the attacks. Many people wanted to know, “Is this Islam? What is Islam?” Many Americans became very interested, curious, and even fearful about Islam following the tragedy of 9-11. Millions of non-Muslims in their desire to understand Islam went out and purchased millions of books about Islam. Many people were curious about why the attacks happened. Many wanted to know their enemy, which for some Americans meant Islam and all Muslims. In their desire to truly understand Islam, most Americans came to separate Islam and the greater Muslim community from those responsible for the 9-11 tragedy.
Many people came to learn about Islam for the first time. Some people came to hate Islam, and some people came to love Islam. Many people came to at least respect Islam. Largely, these adopted views depended on the information they read, heard, or watched about Islam. Many people studied Islam and liked what they read and then converted. I met a lady that said that she first started reading about Islam because she wanted to confirm that Islam was evil. After reading a lot about Islam, she converted to Islam! Many people returned to their churches, synagogues, and mosques while others came to churches, mosques, and synagogues for the first time. And, of course, we should not forget all the people and organizations that reached out to their neighbors for the first time.
Many people might think that such tragedies such as the 9-11 tragedy would push people away from religions, especially Islam, but many went looking for answers and for the first time they were exposed to it. However, I disagree with Muslims who believe that 9-11 was the best thing to happen for American Muslims because over 3,000 Americans, including some Muslims, lost their lives on that horrible day. Furthermore, many Americans formulated strong, negative opinions about Islam based on innuendo. Muslim terrorists, such as Osama Bin Laden, have made the work of those seeking to show non-Muslims the beauty of Islam much more difficult. I am happy whenever one person becomes a Muslim. Many Latinos embraced Islam as a result of searching for what Islam was really about. The Latino Muslim community has consistently grown annually. Latino Muslims have been converting to Islam since before 9-11. I do not know how many Latinos embraced Islam after 9-11. Many Muslim organizations have stated that the Latino Muslim community tripled or quadrupled after 9-11.
– Why do Latino Americans usually convert to Islam? Why is conversion becoming more common among Latinos? Why has the Latino community been increasingly interested in Islam so much that many have even adopted the religion? Why has Islam rooted itself among Hispanics in cities like NYC, Houston, California, Chicago, etc.? Why are Latinos converting to Islam now?
I was confused when asked that last question. I am always asked to explain why Latinos come to Islam. Although phrased in many ways, the answer is always essentially the same. Acceptance in the beauty of the Islamic faith is most important. Religious belief is a matter of the heart and mind. “It’s the truth.” That in a nutshell is the main reason people come to Islam. The reason for conversion to Islam has not changed since the beginning of time. If we could ask the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), they would also state that they converted because they loved the truth found only in Islam. You cannot discuss Islamic conversion without listening to a new convert’s story about God’s mercy for humanity. When you ask Christians why they are Christian, they will say something about their Christian beliefs. Muslims convert after accepting Islamic beliefs.
Many non-Muslims find it hard to accept that Latinos convert to Islam primarily because they love the teachings of Islam. This is largely due to the common misconception that Islam was spread by the sword. And, of course, when not spread by the sword, Islam was and continues to be spread by some other terrible method. Islam also continues to be associated with polytheism or paganism when in reality it is the most pure monotheistic religion. When you read the news, people seem to convert to Islam for every reason but belief. Many new Muslims often point out reasons that may have initially attracted them to Islam, and rather than putting these reasons into their proper perspective as part of the journey, these reasons become the reason for conversion according to the researchers. Media coverage tends to overlook the Islamic message of hope, love, and forgiveness. Islam is seen as a foreign religion from a faraway land, and its followers are also seen as foreign and therefore, strange, different, and distant. If we were exactly like other religions, non-Muslims would have no reason to embrace Islam. People are attracted to Islam because it is different. That is where the beauty comes from. Belief in Islam is a matter of the heart and mind.
– Have Latino converts to Islam from Roman Catholicism had similar or different experiences than those who have converted to Protestantism from Roman Catholicism? How much does their disagreement and dissatisfaction with their previous creed have to do with Latino conversion to Islam? Do people abandon the religion they grew up with in favor of Islam, or have they usually already abandoned that religion and are in search of a new one?
Many Latinos leave the Roman Catholic Church for a wide variety of reasons. Like many Latino converts to Islam, Latinos who convert to Protestantism often state that they were looking for a more personal relationship with God. Like many Latino Muslim converts, many Latino converts to Protestantism take issue with the Roman Catholic clergy for its hierarchy or priesthood, the Roman Catholic insistence on saints, and many converts have had many bad personal experiences with Roman Catholicism. Islamic conversion is not simply about disagreeing with Roman Catholicism because a person can still choose to remain a Christian. A person may also choose another religion than Islam or may reject all religion. People who are on a search for knowledge may or may not have rejected their previous religion. It is these people who come upon Islam in their quest for truth.
Although they may come to learn about Islam from a variety of resources, most Latino Muslim converts have had personal experiences with Muslims that first draw them closer to Islam. These Muslims may be their friends, acquaintances, classmates, coworkers, bosses, marriage partners, or others. Each conversion is unique in that regard. By interacting with Muslims, a non-Muslim learns about Islamic monotheism for the first time. We need to recognize the importance of Islamic monotheism in Latino conversion to Islam. Islamic monotheism brings people closer to God by providing them with a better understanding about their Creator. Once Latinos accept this knowledge, they naturally choose to take on a faith that has fewer intermediaries between people and God. While Protestantism may have fewer intermediaries than Catholicism, Latinos come to Islam because they believe in a concept of God that acknowledges that God is the Most Powerful and therefore, needs no son. To know Islamic monotheism is not only to know what He is not, but most importantly to know who He is. As for myself, coming to understand the Islamic concept of God meant understanding that One God truly exists without a doubt.
– Do you think that many Latinos come to Islam because they believe that Islam can have a positive influence in their family life?
The problems found in Latino families may be similar or maybe even the same as those in other communities. Different families have different problems. For example, a Latino immigrant to the United States may be accustomed to a large, supportive family. He may know all of his cousins, aunts, and uncles. These people are very important to him. If something happens to him, the family is there to help him. However, this changes when he comes to the US. Significant, common values found in his previous country is questioned and assailed on a regular basis. He may find himself with a small family, if any. Much stress and hardship is placed on his family and its members. Problems he never imagined may occur within his own family. Many Latinos choose to leave Christianity behind all together because they see it as a large part of the problem. The importance given to the institution of family is one of the most attractive features about Islam for Latinos attracted to Islam. Family in Latino culture is very important similar to how it is in Islam. Many Latinos are looking for a way to protect their family life. Many Latinos see Islam as a way of returning the family to its proper place in society.
– What ties exist between Latino culture and Islam that facilitate religious change? Are the reasons why Latinos convert or revert to Islam different from other ethnic groups?
When there is no interaction among Latinos and Muslims, then they may not understand the similarities between the Latino and Islamic cultures. But those non-Muslims who start to learn more about Islam and start to spend more time with Muslims come to be pleasantly surprised by the similarities in both cultures. For example, members of both communities are very family-oriented and have large families. People from all ethnic groups come to accept Islam after acknowledging its reality. People from all ethnic groups may first come to be interested in Islam for various reasons. Although the historical presence of Islam in Spain may peak a Latino’s interest in Islam, this interest would simply be the beginning along a journey toward greater knowledge about Islam.
– Did the social struggles for justice and equality for the minorities in the 1960s and 1970s play a significant role in Islam being adopted by Latinos, particularly by today’s activists?
During the 1960s and 1970s, many minorities became interested in Islam for its insistence on the equality and brotherhood of humanity. Researchers tend to focus on this important aspect of the experience. In fact, many researchers romanticize the whole experience. It is misleading to use a particular time period as the primary cause of Islamic conversion. For the first time in American history, many Latinos and African-Americans were exposed to the universal Islamic message. They came to see Islam as a cure for many ills in American society, especially racism. True, Islam is a cure to racism, but the message is much more comprehensive. Being a Muslim is not simply about loving justice and equality and hating nationalism. The beauty of the experience is that a large number of African-Americans and Latinos came to accept that there is no God but the God and that Muhammad is His Messenger. This is also the most beautiful thing about non-Muslims who embrace Islam today.
– Are direct or indirect economic attractions offered by Muslims (or Protestants) to Latinos a factor in conversion to Islam (or Protestantism) among Roman Catholic Latinos?
I am certain that some people convert to various religions for personal gain but most people have a sincerity in belief. No active dawah program offers monetary inducements to Latinos. Sincerity of intentions is extremely important in Islam. When people become Muslim, they make a contract with their Creator that in essence states that they will actively strive to become good Muslims. Those who come to Islam primarily for superficial reasons become negligent of their responsibilities as Muslims. Whether or not a person is a good Muslim is only for God to judge. I am not the one to judge if a Muslim has sincerity in belief. Many Muslims struggle to become better Muslims, and God will reward them for their effort.
– Do you think that the American experience or the presence of Latinos in America has given Latinos an opportunity to broaden their religious horizons?
The diversity in the United States makes it such an amazing country. Consider the cultural and religious diversity found in the United States. Although parents may come from very diverse backgrounds, their children may share the same religion. Citizens are given an opportunity to interact with people from all nationalities, cultures, and religions. Negative stereotypes are constantly challenged in our diverse society. We have been blessed to share our different beliefs, experiences, and perspectives. Without a doubt, new ideas and ways of thinking have been offered to Latinos. Most Latin American countries have few Muslims and little information about Islam. Very little religious diversity exists in most Latin American countries. Many immigrants from Latin America have been blessed to learn about Islam in the United States. Latino Muslims are a great American story. Unfortunately, many people who emphasize the importance of diversity are not very supportive of diversity when the topic of Latino Muslims comes to mind. Some people use Latino Muslims as an example of the problem with diversity.
– Why do you think that more Latino women convert than Latino men? How can we explain this phenomenon? What about Islam do you think speaks to them as women? What are some common reasons why Hispanic women turn to Islam, in spite of the fact that Islam is often portrayed in the media as being oppressive to women?
I have asked many Latina Muslims on their perspective on these questions. And, yet I still seek to understand why large numbers of women including Latinas come to Islam. But I also know many people including my family struggle to understand why I am now a Muslim, and I have come to better understand that coming to Islam is solely through God’s guidance, or hidayah. “Hidayah” means guidance in Arabic. His guidance is a mercy. Only through God’s mercy, do Muslims appear at the right place at the right time in the lives of non-Muslims to introduce them to Islam. Only through His mercy, does a non-Muslim become a Muslim.
In the case of Latinas, I am referring for the most part to their Muslim husbands, classmates, coworkers, and friends. It is through God’s guidance that a woman becomes curious about another way of life. It is only through God’s guidance that a woman becomes interested in Islam for its unique perspective on women. She is amazed by the many rights a Muslim woman was granted centuries ago, and she is amazed at the importance given to women in Islamic society. She may read many books about Islam in her desire to feed her unending curiosity. Her desire to learn about Islam’s position on many issues, but more importantly to learn about her Creator and His last messenger, brings her closer to her Creator. And, all this acquired knowledge is through God’s mercy. Yes, a Latina is more willing to convert than a Latino male. Many Latino men want to become Muslim but do not have the bravery of Latinas. Too many Latino men are too afraid to change. It is only through God’s guidance that anyone comes to accept Islam. This is the story of every new Muslim.
– What are the largest or densest cities with Latino Muslims in the United States? Afterward, I am often asked about the number of Latino Muslims and about the general Muslim community in a particular city. Can you please comment on the makeup of the Latino Muslim population at the mosques where you live? How large is the Latino Muslim population in your area? Is it growing? How large is it? Has it expanded in recent years? By how many people? How does all this reflect what you see on a national level from the perspective of being a leader of LADO? How does my particular community compare to other communities? How many Latino Muslims live in NY and in NJ? How about in just NYC? Is there a Latino Muslim community in NYC, and do you know whom I would contact? How is your local American Muslim community, and how large is its population?
The largest numbers of Latino Muslims can be found in cities with large numbers of both Latinos and Muslims. This is largely the result of much interaction among members of the Latino and Muslim communities. Cities with the largest numbers of Latino Muslims include Los Angeles, Houston, New York City, and Chicago. Cities such as these are among the best places in America to observe the Latino Muslim community. Because I have recently moved to Florida, I do not feel comfortable commenting on the size of the local Latino Muslim community. I think many Latino Muslims live in my particular city because I have no trouble finding Latino Muslims. There is not any precise information I can offer about the size of the Latino Muslim community in any particular city.
No one disputes that Islam continues to grow in the Latino community. I lived in San Antonio. There were not many Latino Muslims at the mosque I attended. Most Latino Muslims from Texas live in the Houston and Dallas areas. However, the Latino Muslim community in San Antonio has certainly increased in recent years. To be a Latino Muslim is no longer a ‘strange’ phenomenon. As for finding or meeting with Latino Muslims, let me know where you live, and I will try to find a Latino Muslim or a group of Latino Muslims to meet with you. I also recommend contacting local mosques and other Muslim institutions to find Latino Muslims and to ask questions about the size of a particular local Muslim community. LADO lists a number of Latino Muslims from around the US on its website.
– Is there a typical Latino convert, if so what does he or she look like (male or female, age, path, etc.)? Since you were a student when you converted to Islam, are most of the Latinos who convert to Islam “young male” converts?
According to Samantha Sanchez’s research on Latino Muslims, most Latino Muslims are college-educated, between the ages of 20 and 30, and female. I would not necessarily call that the typical convert, however. Do most Latino American Muslims identify with Sunni or Shia Islam? Or does it vary? Latinos typically come to accept the Islamic methodology of the Muslims who initially introduced them to Islam. By far, the vast majority of Latinos convert to Sunni Islam. However, to say that very few Shia Latinos exist would be an understatement. A few, small Shia Latino groups meet on a regular basis. And, is it true that Latino Muslims tend to be progressive Muslims rather than fundamentalist Muslims? I generally avoid using terms such as progressive and fundamentalist to describe Muslims. These terms are very subjective, and most Muslims do not clearly fit into either category. Even those Muslims who call themselves fundamentalist or progressive do not agree with other fundamentalist or progressive Muslims on basic issues. By adding irrelevant labels, tiny differences often develop into gigantic differences.
– Are whole families of Latinos converting to Islam or is it mostly individuals?
According to LADO’s ongoing Survey on Latino Muslims (SLM) project, most Latino Muslims are married and have more than one child. As true with most Latino families, Latino Muslims traditionally have larger families than the typical American family. For example, a Latina embraces Islam in college. Afterward, she marries and has four Muslim children. A couple of her relatives who are already married with children embrace Islam, and their children also become Muslim. Within this particular Latino family, there are eighteen new Muslims assuming that each family consists of six members. This helps to explain the rapid growth of the Latino Muslim community. It is not only about an individual converting. It is about entire families embracing Islam. This helps to explain how the Latino Muslim community grew from 40,000 to 200,000 within a few years.
– Do Latinos come to the US already as Muslims? Do most Latino Muslims convert to Islam or are they raised Muslim?
More than 90% of Latino Muslims are converts according to LADO’s SLM project. Some immigrants, however, do come to the US as Muslims. A Muslim may have converted before immigrating to the US. A Muslim’s parents, grandparents, or other ancestors may be converts before immigrating to the US. A Muslim’s ancestors may also come from countries with a predominately Muslim community, such as from the Middle East. For example, a Latino Muslim may have grandparents from Egypt who immigrated to Venezuela and parents who emigrated from Venezuela to the US when he was a young boy. In such cases, these US immigrants may have been Muslim for several generations.
– Are certain nationalities (i.e. Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans) more likely to convert? If so, why? Did Puerto Ricans start the interest in Islam among Latinos?
I do not know if certain categories of Latinos are more likely to convert to Islam. Some people have speculated that Puerto Rican-Americans are more likely to convert than other types of Latinos. I am not entirely sure of the reasons. One major reason is that Puerto Rican-American Muslims have received greater visibility in the media than other types of Latino Muslims. No particular category of Latinos initiated the interest in Islam among Latinos. It might be safe to say that Puerto Rican-Americans initiated the interest in Islam in areas where Puerto Rican-Americans dominate, such as in New York and New Jersey. However, Mexican-Americans initiated the interest in Islam in the Southwestern states, such as in California and Texas. The growth of Islam among Latinos began as a local phenomenon rather than a national phenomenon. Those most responsible for developing the current Latino Muslim community were the Muslim neighbors, friends, coworkers, etc. of Latinos. They were generally Muslims from either the African-American or immigrant communities.
– What conclusions can you release now about the Latino Muslims survey? Anything unexpected?
First of all, LADO’s Survey on Latino Muslims (SLM) project is not about coming to conclusions. After all, the Latino Muslim community is still young. We are basically shooting for a snapshot of what is happening. LADO has been conducting an ongoing survey on Latino Muslims in the United States because statistics about Latino Muslims are difficult to find. We are interested in answering many questions about the Latino Muslim community. I am very interested in better understanding and helping others to understand the Latino Muslim community. I will not be posting the complete results of LADO’s SLM project until we have collected more surveys. The complete results of the survey including the breakdown of specific numbers and percentages will be released as a report.
I have already discussed a few results of LADO’s SLM project already. For example, there are more Latino Muslim women than Latino Muslim men. In an interview last year, I revealed that of all Latino Muslims who have completed the survey, 60% of those have been women. There are three more results that I feel comfortable releasing at this time. California is the state with the most Latino Muslims. Mexican-Americans are the category of Latinos that make up the largest percentage of the Latino Muslim community. Most Latino Muslims are born in the United States. I do not recommend making generalizations based off any results I have mentioned. For example, although most Latino Muslims are born in the US, Latino Muslims who are immigrants make up a significant percentage of the Latino Muslim community.
– Why has there been a lot of media interest in Latino Muslims?
Many Muslims debate the reasons for the media’s fascination with the Latino Muslim community. Some Muslims believe that the media wants to portray Latino Muslims in a way that coincides with prevailing negative ideas about Islam and Muslims, in general. Other Muslims think that the media wants to portray Latino Muslims as oppressed or injured by Islam and Muslims. Muslims with such ideas are concerned about the media’s true intentions. They may claim that the media is simply interested in warning Latinos about Islam and the general American community about Latino Muslims. Many Muslims are reluctant to trust any news coverage by the media, which is perceived as openly antagonistic and oppositional toward Muslims and Islam.
Many Muslims, including myself, believe that the media is primarily interested in the Latino Muslim community because Latino Muslims are a very newsworthy topic. The media feels a responsibility to report on a little known but interesting subject. Few Americans know much about Latino Muslims. Of course, the media wants to report on the growth of the Latino Muslim community. The media knows that many Americans are fascinated by the rapid growth of the Latino community and of the Muslim community. Therefore, the rapid growth of a community that is both Latino and Muslim is very newsworthy. Furthermore, the media wants to report on the growing religious diversity within the Latino community. The media actively seeks stories on diversity because Americans love stories about diversity. And, Latino Muslims are certainly an amazing story about diversity in the United States. Latino Muslims are often asked to comment on current events affecting Latinos and Muslims. Currently, most media coverage about Latino Muslims occurs around the time of the Muslim holidays and Latino Muslim events.
– How do you feel about all the media coverage about Latino Muslims, especially women? What do you find to be positive and problematic about the media coverage?
Latino Muslims do not fit into the idea of the stereotypical Latino. Unfortunately, many negative and untrue stereotypes about Latinos continue to be nurtured by ignorant people. Although the media prouds itself on its independence, the media seems to be too embedded within the establishment to change itself into an objective source. We are assumed to be a certain way, and we are supposed to be one way. And, when Latinos do not fit into that mold, then of course its newsworthy. If the Latino Muslim phenomenon were not perceived as strange, Latino Muslims would not make it into the newspaper. Some Latina Muslims have criticized various news coverage about Latina Muslims for what they perceive as unfair and inaccurate coverage. For example, although one Latina Muslim gave an interview that lasted at least thirty minutes, her only quote that made it into the newspaper was taken out of context and was insignificant with regard to her entire interview. Regardless, I am happy that more and more Americans are learning about Latino Muslims.
– What kind of response do you get about the media coverage on Latino Muslims? Why do you think academia has ignored the Latino Muslim minority?
I have received all sorts of comments and reactions about the various media coverage on Latino Muslims. Reactions range from fascination and happiness to disgust, denial, and anger. Non-Latino Muslims are usually very thrilled to learn about Latinos coming to Islam. For them, the phenomenon is a reassurance of their own faith. Latino Muslims are happy that their existence is finally being recognized. A common response by non-Muslims is confusion about the existence of Latino Muslims. The Latino Muslim community was pretty much ignored by the media and academia until five years ago.
Little information about the Latino Muslim community was available due to the lack of attention and interest in the Latino Muslim community by the media and academia. Consequently, the media and academia are directly responsible for the Latino Muslim community being viewed as nonexistent until recently. I am happy that the media and academia seem to be working to catch up. I have assisted dozens of journalists, educators, students, etc in their research about Latino Muslims. The Latino Muslim community is no longer being ignored, but that does not excuse the lack of information about Latino Muslims in many books and articles about the Muslim community in the United States. Today, several articles have been written about Latino Muslims, and books about Latinos and Muslims are beginning to mention Latino Muslims.
– Why am I having trouble contacting Muslims to interview? Why aren’t American Muslims more vocal about their opposition to terrorism?
Muslims and their institutions voice their opposition to terrorism all the time. For example, many Muslims participate in local dialogues that offer them the opportunity to discuss Islam’s stance on terrorism. Most good deeds committed by Muslims do not make the daily news. The Muslim community has a bad reputation for not being open to non-Muslims. Just because Muslims remain quiet does not mean that they agree with terrorists. Many Muslims are skeptical of the media due to its perceived unfair and inaccurate portrayal of Muslims and Islam.
Muslims can only assist others by being available. In addition to being available to discuss Islam in general, Muslims must be accessible to correct specific misconceptions about Islam. However, Muslims will and should only participate to the extent that they feel comfortable. Some Muslims feel comfortable with telephone and in person interviews, but some Muslims do not feel comfortable with being accessible at all, not even through e-mail. Many Muslims fear looking or sounding bad in the media. Many Muslims do not want to be confused or associated with the bad Muslims who typically make the news. Many Muslims feel as if they have been isolated from other Americans. They feel ignored and hopeless. Many Muslims are simply too busy with their daily lives.
– What should my relationship towards my family and friends be like now that I am Muslim?
After becoming a Muslim, you are still a member of your family. Your mother is still your mother, and your father is still your father. Love towards your family is natural. Converting to Islam does not mean cutting ties. In fact, it is a sin to cut ties. You should be kind toward your family. You should obey your parents and elders as long as their advice does not contradict the teachings of Islam. In such a case, you are allowed to disobey them because God, your Creator, has more rights upon you than your family. Teach your family and friends about Islam. Know that they have a right to reject Islam if that is what they want. Also, know that you cannot participate in haraam, or prohibited, activities. These activities may not be haraam for non-Muslims but they may be haraam for you.
Islam takes what is beautiful and makes it more beautiful. If you were a good son or daughter, you may be surprised when your parents say that you have become an even better son or daughter after your conversion. A family’s love is unconditional. Your true friends will also love you unconditionally. Muslims make up a global family that stems from unconditional love. Have patience. You do not know the happiness that your Creator has in store for you.
– Do Americans have to choose between being American and being Muslim? Do you have to choose between being Latino and being Muslim?
After becoming a Muslim, an American remains an American. Of course, an American can be both Muslim and Latino. Americans are certainly a very diverse group of people. However, many Muslims and non-Muslims may disagree with my response based on how they define American and Muslim. Muslims could not be American if everything about being an American was haraam. Many aspects of being American are not only halal, or acceptable, but also are actually quite remarkable and beautiful. Freedom of religion is only one such aspect. Unfortunately, some Muslims have come to America to escape religious persecution found in their predominantly Muslim populated homelands.
– What are the social problems faced by Latino converts to Islam? What are possible problems that a Latino may face after embracing Islam?
The growth of the Latino Muslim community has created excitement among Muslims and anxiety among non-Muslims. Many non-Muslims already have negative stereotypes about Islam, Muslims, and Latinos. These stereotypes come from ignorance. Ignorance easily transforms into fear and hate. Those who hate Islam make life hard for Muslims. The biggest opposition for Latinos interested in Islam is usually from other Latinos. For some reason, Latino non-Muslims seem to be angrier than other non-Muslims about the growth of the Latino Muslim community. I think this stems from the love that Latinos have for other Latinos. Many Latinos sincerely believe that Islam is not good for the Latino community. Mostly, this is due to misconceptions about Islam by non-Muslims. Many Latinos still believe that Latinos who are not Roman Catholic are unLatino, brainwashed, or traitors. Many Latinos may also think that Islam is a phase some Latinos go through, something that someone must be born into, or something that is for foreigners. Although we may disagree about religion, we still need to show respect for those differences.
Many stories can be told about what happens in Latino families when one family member expresses interest in Islam or converts to Islam. Although most families are accepting to some degree, some stories are heart wrenching. Some Latinos interested in Islam avoid converting for fear that they may be ostracized or kicked out. There is also much pressure not to embrace Islam. Some new Muslims are literally kicked out of their homes. Physical and psychological abuse has occurred at the hands of family members. Latinos who embrace Islam make changes in their lives that family members may consider too restrictive. For example, Latino Muslims may be viewed as bizarre and antagonistic for their refusal to drink alcohol. Some family members of Latino Muslims pressure them to conform because they are afraid that their family and family members will be labeled as different. It is important to have patience with non-Muslims because usually they are not purposely being offensive. They simply do not know better. All new Muslims have funny stories about things that their non-Muslim family and friends have said or done. You might even say that ignorance can actually be funny sometimes.
Although new Muslims may experience problems due to their conversion, they may already have problems before their conversion that must be addressed. Technically, social problems include poverty, unemployment, crime, discrimination, and alcohol and drug abuse. Latinos may experience various types of social problems before and after embracing Islam. Some Muslims expect new Muslims to become perfect after they have embraced Islam. Social problems extend beyond any particular family because a problem in one part of society affects the other parts. Muslims must come together to address the various social problems facing Muslims, including alcohol and drug abuse. It is very difficult to acknowledge that alcoholism can be a problem in Muslim families. Alcohol and drug abuse poses a moral dilemma for some Muslims who are reluctant to assist Muslims who suffer from such problems. Isolating Muslims with alcohol and drug abuse addictions from the Muslim community is not a solution nor is denying their existence. Some new Muslims leave Islam because they become too frustrated in their struggle to free themselves from various addictions. They feel a tremendous amount of guilt for their inability to let go of haraam, or prohibited, activities.
– What can you tell me about Latino Muslim prisoners?
I have written to several Latino Muslims who are serving time in prison. They have shared their stories. Prison culture is very difficult for Latino Muslims. It is difficult for many to maintain their Islamic identity because they have to endure the treatment of prison guards and other prisoners. Sometimes prison guards refuse to acknowledge the Latino Muslims because they believe only Black people are Muslims. I have been told about discrimination for their refusal to eat pork. Of course, I informed this particular brother of his rights. Another Latino prisoner stated that the Black Muslims at his prison think that Chicanos cannot be Muslim. Furthermore, Latino prisoners are generally reluctant to embrace Islam because prisoners generally segregate themselves along racial lines, and many fear possible repercussions from other Latino prisoners.
Latino Muslim prisoners are among the most discriminated Muslims in the United States. Latino Muslim prisoners are the least represented and least powerful; and they are unheard of and largely ignored by all. How well they are treated generally depends on the number of other Muslims they may know. Even so, many Latinos come to Islam through the prison system because much Islamic literature can be found in prisons. This is largely due to the great efforts of African-American Muslim prisoners. Through interaction with Muslims, many Latinos learn about Islam in prison for the first time. As the Latino Muslim community has grown, more Latino Muslim prisoners have become active in calling other prisoners to Islam, and Latino conversion to Islam has become more acceptable within the prison community.
– What is the greatest challenge facing the Latino Muslim community? What can we do?
The Muslims of the world are the greatest enemy to Islam. Muslims are heading toward self-destruction through their action and inaction but mostly through their inaction. As I state that Islam is a peaceful religion, we have Muslims who are hell-bent on destroying America, including American Muslims. I often state that the Muslim community represents the best of people but then we have Muslims who confuse Islam with negative aspects of their own culture. I often state that being Muslim does not require a complete loss of identity, but then we have Muslims who clearly state otherwise. I often state that Islam is a brotherhood, but too many Muslims have no social system to fall back on if they experience homelessness.
Although Islam is perfect, Muslims are not. The Muslim community is the greatest challenge facing the Latino Muslim community. Poor examples and teachings by Muslims are very dangerous for the entire Muslim community. The rich and the poor always have control over their time and money. By their willingness to donate their time and energy, Muslims with few resources have often made greater contributions to Islam than the richest Muslims. Our families are our responsibility, and Islam is also our responsibility. We have all neglected our responsibilities. Muslims already know what they should do because the needs and challenges are too evident.