Latino Muslims, Oct - Dec 2002

FAQs About Latino Muslims

By Juan Galvan

Assalaam alaiykum,
This article will provide responses to a number of frequently asked questions about Latino Muslims. Most questions are about Latino Muslims, in general. Some questions are about Muslims and Islam. Some questions are about myself. Some questions ask for my opinion. I should warn you that my personal opinions, thoughts, and ideas should not be misunderstood as facts. I do not have a pipeline into the brain of every Latino Muslim. Muslims may disagree on various issues, and I do not want to isolate any segment of the Muslim population. Some things are set in stone, like the Five Pillars, and some things are debatable. Please do not quote me out of context.

I apologize if I offend anyone. If I am correct, then only God is to be thanked. If I am incorrect, I am responsible. Let me know if you think I forgot to mention anything important. Your suggestions, questions, and feedback are always welcomed. Jazak Allah khairun.

– Will you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Juan Galvan. I am 28 years old. I graduated in 2001 from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems. I am the LADO-TX President. You can probably find any questions you have about the Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO) at www.LatinoDawah.org. I was born and raised in Texas. My conversion story can be found online. I am coauthoring a book about Latino Muslims with Samantha Sanchez. I am not a religious scholar. I am only a seeker of knowledge.

– Who are Latino Muslims?
Latino Muslims are individuals of Latino descent who belong to the Islamic faith. Any discussion about Latino Muslims always consists of three dimensions. You can’t discuss Latino Muslims without discussing Latinos, Muslims, and Latino Muslims. Who are Latinos? Who are Muslims? Who are Latino Muslims? You must have an idea about the meaning of each component to have a better understanding of Latino Muslims. As you can imagine, disagreements abound about the meaning of each of these three dimensions. Attempts to answer these three questions leads to other questions, and consequently, a better understanding about Latino Muslims. These are the types of questions that I will address throughout this article. I will focus my discussion on Latino Muslims, because plenty of information is currently available about Latinos and Muslims. I have addressed each of the three questions in previous articles, and I will continue to write more articles about these topics.

– How many Latino Muslims are there in the US?
The exact number of Latino Muslims is difficult to determine, because the U.S. Census Bureau does not collect information about religion. In 1997, the American Muslim Council counted approximately 40,000 Hispanic Muslims. Current estimates range from 25,000 up to 75,000. You can find Latino Muslims in all major cities within the United States. The largest communities are found in New York, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, and other areas which traditionally have a large number of Latinos and Muslims.

As a rule of thumb, the size of the Latino Muslim population within a particular area generally corresponds to the size of the overall Muslim population within that area. For example, an area, whether city or state, with a large number of Muslims usually has more Latino Muslims than an area with fewer Muslims. However, no precise numbers exist regarding the number of Latino Muslims within particular cities or states. In general, people come to Islam through interaction with Muslims. Therefore, there is no surprise that the Dallas and Houston areas within Texas have the largest populations of Latino Muslim Texans. At least a hundred Latinos are affiliated with one particular Dallas mosque, although it’s likely that the overall number of Latino Muslims in the area is much higher. Many Latino Muslims choose not to attend mosques.

In Texas and California, the majority of Latino Muslims are Mexicans or Central Americans whereas on the east coast Latino Muslims are mostly Puerto Rican or Dominican. This is not surprising considering the dispersion of the Latino population within the United States. Texas seems to have fewer Latino Muslims than California and New York. Perhaps, because the Muslim community in Texas is younger and consists of a smaller Muslim population than many other states. No, I don’t know what percentage of Latino Muslims are Mexican-American or Puerto Rican-American. No, I don’t know what percentage of the Mexican-American Muslim population lives in Texas or California. I wish better research was conducted to find more, reliable information.

– Which countries do they come from?

The terms ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic’ denote an ethnicity, not a race. Latino and Hispanic are essentually synonymous although many Latinos prefer the term ‘Latino.’ Latinos are a segment of the population within the United States. For example, people who live in Mexico or Venezuela generally do not refer to themselves as Latino or Hispanic. Many Latinos who have immigrated to Canada, England, and elsewhere from the United States have maintained their ethnicity as Latino and/or Hispanic. Therefore, Latino Muslims can be found around the world. I’ve had contact with Latino Muslims from Canada, England, Saudi Arabia, and even Australia. Latinos are not limited to any racial category. You can find Black, White, and Brown Latinos.

Some people limit ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic’ to immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Spanish speaking countries. However, many people include all immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Latin America in their definition of Latino, including Brazil, which is the largest country in South America. Because Brazilians speak Portuguese, Latinos aren’t necessarily limited to speaking the same language. Latino Muslims come from all Latin American countries. Presently, all countries in Latin America have a high concentration of Muslims, which consist of both immigrants and native converts. The number of Muslims in Latin America is now over six million. The Muslim population of Argentina is over 700,000, and Brazil’s is over 1,500,000.

The Islamic Organization of Latin America (IOLA), also known as the Organizacion Islamica Para America Latina (OIPAL), in Buenos Aires, Argentina is the biggest, most active Muslim organization in Latin America. The Annual Meeting of the Heads of Islamic Associations and Cultural Centres in Latin America and the Caribbean Islands is attended by representatives for at least thirty-five Islamic associations and cultural centers in Latin America. They meet to discuss various common interests, such as fostering Islamic values and education in Latin America. The meeting is sponsored by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and the Organización Latinoamericana para la Difusión del Islam (OLPADI) aka Latin American Organization for Islamic Propagation (LAOIP). Established by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), ISESCO is one of the largest Islamic organizations in the world and focuses on the fields of education, science and culture.

– What is their profile, are they new immigrants or Latinos that have lived in the US for generations, do they speak Spanish, English, or both?
How much Spanish and English that an American Latino Muslim knows generally depends on where they currently live in America and how long they have lived in America. For example, Hispanic Muslims in southern California and southern Texas generally have less command of the English language than Hispanic Muslims in northern California and northern Texas. Many second and third generation Latinos may know little or no Spanish. Most Latino Muslims I have had contact with have lived in America for generations. Of course, recent immigrants generally have less command of the English language. A large percentage of the new American Latino population is from immigration and will continue to be from immigration. This is yet another reason for more Spanish-speaking Muslims today and tomorrow.

– Why do Latinos convert to Islam?
Conversion has and will always be a personal choice. Why people choose Islam depends on the individual you ask. The most common answer I get when I ask a Hispanic why he or she chose Islam is “Because it’s the truth.” Most Hispanic converts were Catholic. Many Hispanics had difficulty with the church hierarchy, believing in original sin, and in the Holy Trinity. Islam solves the problems many Hispanics have with the Catholic Church. For example, in Islam there is no priest-pope hierarchy. Everyone who prays together before God is equal. Many Latino converts also feel Islam gives them a closer relationship with God. The executive director of the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ronaldo Cruz, said he can’t fathom what the attraction of Islam is for recent immigrants. He simply cannot fathom that Islam is the true religion of God. Islam ‘sells’ itself so to speak. People from everywhere are searching for the truth, and they find it in Islam. People love the teachings of Islam. Islam is an attractive religion for many Americans. Alhamdulila. Many Latinos are reverting to Islam. We say ‘reversion’ because all people are born Muslim, but it’s our parents and environment that make us a Christian or Jew. Conversion to Islam is a way of reclaiming what you really are – a Muslim.

– Do many women convert because they have married a Muslim man?
Conversion to Islam generally results from interaction between Muslims and nonMuslims. For example, a Muslim and nonMuslim may be coworkers, classmates, or friends. The nonMuslim will learn about Islam from the Muslim and may eventually convert to Islam. The Qur’an asks you to stop and reflect about God’s creation. These various relationships offer many nonMuslims an opportunity to stop and consider the teachings of Islam that we Muslims cherish. No one can be forced into a religion. Only God knows what’s in your heart. Many times, women learn about their husband’s religion, convert to Islam, and ultimately, bring their nonpracticing husbands back to Islam. Most Latinas I’ve had contact with became Muslim before they were married. After learning the truth, Latinas just go for it. I think Hispanic men are more hardheaded than Latinas. Islam gives many women peace and freedom from the “Maybelline slavery” created by our American culture. Like many women, Latinas are tired of being viewed primarily as sex objects and being judged primarily on their appearance. Indeed, the Islam I know elevates women! The role of women’s rights in Islam impress many women. The Latino Muslim movement is a movement primarily by Latinas. This reality is a big step toward understanding Islam for what it really is.

– Are people concerned about leaving their original culture?
What is original culture? Defining culture by religion is not very effective because our ancestors were Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or pagan. Many Hispanics think that leaving Catholicism means rejecting their identity. We should reevaluate how we traditionally define culture. Although some people define culture as something static, I think defining culture as a dynamic process is more accurate. The current Latino culture is merely today’s Latino culture. If in a hundred years from now most American Latinos are Muslim, the typical Latino would consider Islam inseparable from the Latino culture. The Latino culture of today could become the Latino Muslim culture of tomorrow. Because Latino Muslims are a young community, clearly defining our Latino Muslim culture is difficult. Islam sets the framework and direction that the Latino Muslim culture takes. Taking up Islam means rejecting some old ways, accepting some new ways, and adapting when necessary. We are Americans, Latinos, and Muslims but we are Muslims first. Crecemos unidos. Crecemos juntos. We grow united. We grow together. We seek to establish Islam within the various aspects of our lives.

– Is it difficult to be a Latino Muslim? How do other Latinos accept it?
Yes, being Muslim can be difficult. Whereas Christian faith is largely associated with belief, Islamic faith is largely associated with deeds. We’re best known for doing this or not doing that but few nonMuslims seem to know what we believe. I put my faith in Allah. I know that rules exist for a purpose. By following the rules, we find peace in our own personal lives and in the lives around us. Life is a struggle to do good and avoid evil. Islam is a way of life, and we’ll experience many trials in life. We should try to perfect our faith in God. When I first became Muslim, I thought Islam was difficult, and I still think it’s difficult. But practicing Islam has become easier. I can be either a good Muslim or a bad Muslim, and I choose to become a better Muslim. I am not perfect. Before becoming a Muslim, I thought Muslims were the most religious people in the world. Many Muslims are in denial that the Muslim community is very weak today. We only hurt ourselves when we don’t discuss the realities. Perhaps, my own hope and expectations are too high.

Yes, being a Latino Muslim can be difficult. A Latina Muslimah from Arizona told me that her cousins think she is oppressed because she doesn’t go out partying, drinking, and dancing. Many Latinos wonder, ‘Why would you ever quit drinking and eating pork?’ Some Latinos think you’re a ‘race traitor’ for giving up pork chops. I don’t think that being a nondrinker makes me less of a Latino. At least, I know I’ll never become an alcoholic. Many Latinos have much respect for Latino Muslims. They are impressed with our decision to take on a different type of lifestyle. They admire our courage. We Muslims don’t spend our days trying to impress everyone, all the time. My family was pretty tolerant and accepting when I told them that I converted. My family made some comments but nothing derogatory against Islam or the Prophet (pbuh). I’ve heard horror stories from some converts. Muslims achieve peace and freedom by submitting only to God.

Like most Americans, most Latinos don’t know what Islam is. After telling my dad that I converted to Islam, he asked, “¿Que es eso?” He asked, “What is that?” I responded, “It’s a religion.” Then, after telling him a little about it, he replied, “¿Como los Arabes?” I responded, “No, it’s for everyone.” From the beginning of my journey in Islam, I learned that my family might be among the most unknowledgeable about Islam. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions. For example, one of my sisters asked me, “Don’t you still love Jesus? How could you do this to the Virgin Mary?” I replied, “I still love Jesus. We believe he’s a Prophet. There’s also a chapter called Mary in the Qur’an.” Muslims and Christians both honor the Virgin Mary. We have to educate Latinos about Islam. When accused of worshipping “Allah,” I say we worship “Dios.” God, Dios, and Allah mean the same thing. God exists independent of reason but the concept of God varies by religion. Many Latinos think that Islam is a religion of Arabs. Yet, Arabs make up only 25% of the entire Muslim population. Many Latinos are amazed to learn that Spain was Muslim for over 700 years! Latinos today are still influenced by Islamic Spain. For example, 1000s of Spanish words are derived from Arabic. LADO members practice Islam as expressed by the Qur’an and the authentic Sunnah, God-willing.

– How do other Muslims relate to you as a Latino Muslim and toward other Latino Muslims in general?
My overall experience with Muslims raised in a Muslim family has been pleasant. I greatly appreciate the love and support we receive from raised Muslims. Many mosques, Muslim organizations, and individual Muslims actively work with Latino Muslims on projects with the hope of strengthening the Muslim community as a whole. We can only help the general Muslim population if it knows we Latino Muslims exist and that we here to help. Sometimes, I think that most raised Muslims don’t know we exist. We’re a growing minority. Unfortunately, some raised Muslims have negative stereotypes about Latinos. Some raised Muslims think all Latinos are promiscuous and incapable of becoming a ‘real’ Muslim. And, some Latino Muslims have similar thoughts about raised Muslims. Sometimes, Muslim immigrants and American born Muslims aren’t too sure how to deal with each other. I deal with every Muslim as an individual and avoid stereotypes that can endanger our relationship with one another. Islam is a universal brotherhood, and I’m happy to be among the Muslims.

– Do non-Muslims mistake the Muslim religion with the Arab ethnicity?
Yes. When you turn on the TV if you see a Muslim, you’ll hear the word ‘Arab.’ Many people still don’t know that the Taliban were not Arabs. The country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia. Muslims are everywhere. I’m a Mexican-American Muslim who grew up in the Texas Panhandle. Before visiting a mosque, I thought all mosques were packed with Arabs but most American Muslims are Pakistani or Bengali. I once asked an Asian brother how long he’d been a Muslim. Azlan said his parents and grandparents were all Muslim. I was stunned. He’s from Malaysia. The Prophet said that Islam would reach every household. Today, we see signs of this happening in our own neighborhoods.

– How can the Mexican American community benefit from Islam?
The question that should be asked is “how can someone benefit from Islam?” Islam is the truth, and if the truth shall set your free, then we should all embrace Islam. We can all benefit from the lessons of Islam. Islam is God’s true catholic religion. Catholic means for all people, for all places, and for all time. The direction of the Bible is about worshipping only God rather than about accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Islam is a universal message. Worship only God. Put God first in all your affairs. Islamic monotheism was the same message of the various prophets. Like the various prophets, Muhammad (phub) was a warner and a bringer of good news. Muhammad is God’s last Prophet and Messenger. Islam is a message of guidance and hope for all people.

– Do you have to learn Arabic, in order to study the Qur’an?
Muslims should seek to maintain and preserve the religion. We believe that God’s original religion was Islam. Then, His religion was split into many different religions. Islam is one religion and properly understanding the Qur’an ensures that our religion remains as one. You can study the Qur’an in English and Spanish, but you should also try to learn the language that the Qur’an was revealed in to truly comprehend what the Qur’an means. The Qur’an is in Arabic. Everything else is a translation. If you read a Spanish book and want to truly understand what the book means, you read the book in Spanish. Like with Spanish, you’ll find Arabic words absent in the English vocabulary. Many Arabic words also have multiple meanings so unless you know the Arabic word; you can get a wrong meaning from the Qur’anic verse.

– Do Latinos also educate their children about Islam?
Muslim parents want to see their children grow up to be good Muslims. Latino Muslims are no different. We want our kids to pray regularly. We want our kids to be educated in the various Islamic sciences. We want our kids to memorize the Qur’an and to learn Arabic. English, Spanish, and Arabic are an interesting combination. We want our kids to be good Muslims. We Latino Muslims are educating the next generation of Latino Muslims to become a stronger generation. In a few generations, Latino Muslim scholars will be found in most major cities in America. Conversion to Islam is very popular and more acceptable among African-Americans because of people like Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali. Latino Muslims don’t have many rolemodels. We are a young community, and our rolemodels are bound to follow. God-willing always.

– Are Hispanics Muslims attracted by Islam more as a social approach to life than a religious one? Is Islam a “family thing”?
Hispanic Muslims are attracted to Islam because it’s true. However, many Latinos are amazed to see the familiarity between the Muslim and Latino cultures. Latinos have a love for family and religion. Islam is both a family and a religion. As Muslims, we are all bonded by a universal brotherhood. When I’m at the mosque, I’m at home with family. We hug each other. We eat together. People are generally friendly. Islam is a very warm culture like the Hispanic culture. Throughout the day, we all must make decisions, and Islam is our guide. Our religion doesn’t end once we leave the mosque.

– What are the main difficulties that you have to face?
I always feel as if I never do enough. I feel guilty for not reading more books, not listening to more lectures, and not spending more time at the mosque. I also worry that people will reject me. It was a fear before I embraced Islam, and it’s still a fear. Some people in my family still don’t know. When I became Muslim, I was determined to be a good Muslim. If I didn’t want to practice Islam, I would not have converted. If you’re a good Muslim, everyone knows. Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day, and so when prayer time comes around it’s time to pray. Telling friends and family you want to pray can be somewhat embarrassing. But Muslims are supposed to stand out anyway. I feel alienated sometimes from the general Muslim population. Because there aren’t many Latinos Muslims, I feel alienated sometimes from the general Latino population, too. Some Muslim converts don’t attend the mosque regularly because they feel alienated and lonely. Sometimes I think that my old friends must think I’m a weirdo for taking on this ‘foreign’ religion and then I worry that maybe they are right. American converts to Islam don’t become outsiders, and certainly not United States immigrants, for merely taking on a new religion. I know my worries and thoughts are merely worries and thoughts. I seek refuge in Allah from the whispers of Satan.

– And the joys?
Islam is a beautiful religion. I’m at more peace now than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve learned that you can find happiness in slavery. I’m a slave to only God. I love meeting converts. I’ve been fortunate to meet a former Hindu, Jew, and Christian minister. I feel very close to converts. I am happy more and more Latinos are embracing Islam. I am happy that we converts are an inspiration for many Muslims. When I pray at a mosque, I get the opportunity to pray beside people of all races and nationalities. We don’t distinguish each other by race, nationality, or social class but only piety. We’re just Muslims. Together with a billion other Muslims, we form concentric circles around the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. I can’t imagine never praying beside other Muslims again. When I pray, I know that brothers and sisters from around America are praying, too. When I embraced Islam, I joined a universal brotherhood. The brotherhood of Islam transcends all other brotherhoods.

– Have you felt harassed since the September 11th terrorist attacks?
I heard some negative comments about Islam. Many Americans seem to think that Muslims wear turbans, thobes, and sandals all the time. After hearing negative comments about Islam, I’d reply by saying that Muslims aren’t so bad, that they are actually everywhere, and that I’m one of them. A few days after September 11, this guy on campus was saying that the “Muslims did this” and that. A Muslim in the crowd responded by saying, “I didn’t do anything.” The guy looked confused as if wanting to ask the Muslim, “Then where’s your turban and long beard?” Some drunken redneck chased a Muslim friend calling him an “Arab bastard.” He’s not Arab. He’s an Indian. Other Americans stopped him. One of my sisters said something like “That leader of ya’lls he’s gonna call a holy war.” CNN should take a poll to find out how many Americans believe bin Laden is the Muslim leader. Soon after the attacks, my dad asked my mom, “What’d he get himself into?” They hadn’t heard from me in a while so they were a little concerned. I reminded my parents that Muslims are not a gang of fifty members. There are over 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. Some people act as if some Arab in Saudi Arabia has a long list of Muslims and can call anyone on the list when he wants to blow up a building. I have much sympathy for the families that were directly affected by the 9-11 tragedy.

– What is your opinion about these Islamic terrorist groups?
Islam strongly condemns terrorism. Islam means peace through submission to our Creator. Many groups throughout centuries have used religion for evil, political purposes. Today, we continue to see this occur around the world. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t differentiate between terrorism and Islam. Many people prefer that you don’t see a difference between the two. Muslims acknowledge that Islam is perfect and that Muslims are imperfect. I think only those responsible for terrorist activities, such as the 9-11 tragedy, should apologize, and they should be brought to justice. The tragedy wasn’t my fault nor the fault of my religion. As for Jose Padilla, I have sympathy for him and his family. People have an innate desire to make life a little better. Jose most likely had good intentions but good intentions can lead to much evil. Like John Walker, Jose was taken advantage of. I don’t think either knew what they were getting into. It’s bizarre that a Latino Muslim would get into this dilemma considering there aren’t many of us.

– What’s your opinion of the Catholic Church?
In terms of religious belief, I am a Muslim and reject any Christian ideas that are contrary to Islam. If you study Islam and Christianity side-by-side, I think that most people will find Islam to be the better religion but it’s not enough to embrace Islam simply because you don’t like Christianity. We embrace Islam for what it is and not only for what it is not. We need to believe and want to practice Islam. Many former Catholics have much resentment against the Catholic Church, and you will hear this when speaking with them. I don’t think that the Catholic Church contributes to class inequality as some Muslims claim. As Muslims, we learn that someone must provide for the poor and that means each of us. Muslims give 2% of their wealth annually to help the less fortunate. In all major cities in America, you see the Catholic Church help the less fortunate by supporting soup kitchens, homeless shelters, orphanages, etc. You don’t see that very often among American Muslims but I have a good feeling we’ll continue to take a larger role in helping less fortunate Americans. Even if we don’t create our own homeless shelters, we’ll continue to volunteer our time and energy at homeless shelters or anywhere else we are needed. Muslims want to help make this world a better place. One way is by reaching out to those in need.

– How did you get in contact with Islam for the first time?
Soon after an argument with a Christian of another denomination, I met a Latino Muslim who spoke with me about Islam. I didn’t seriously consider converting until three years later. I didn’t want to change. More people would convert to Islam if we were better Muslims. If Armando had not been praying, I would not have known he was Muslim, and we would not have spoken. I visited a mosque regularly for about a month before converting. I fell in love with Islam while listening to talks about brotherhood, prayer, and charity. I found myself intrigued by these guys who found time to pray five times a day. Many were college students who had figured out ways to pray at the mosque two or three times a day. I was amazed by these people who could fast (not eat or drink anything) from sunrise until sunset for an entire month. I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s faith!” I was impressed by the self-discipline and brotherhood among these Muslims. They lived simple lives and were happy with what they had. They lived their lives around Islam. They were very much at peace. I wanted to be one of these Muslims.

– Is Islam a “recruiting, proselytizing” religion, like some Protestant groups that are very active in trying to get new people?
Within the American Muslim community, you’ll rarely see commercials about Islam or billboards saying things such as “Have you visited your mosque today?” Muslims are generally subtle in their ways. After embracing Islam, I was very excited, and I want more people to feel this excitement. Yes, I would love to see television commercials, billboards, and mass mailings about Islam. I wish Islamic literature was more freely available to all Americans. No one can force Islam on people. No one can change a person’s life and way of thinking. Because sincerity in belief is important, I would be saddened if all Latinos converted to Islam tomorrow but none cared to learn salat or the definition of tawheed. Although we are not Allah’s sales staff, we Muslims agree that everyone has a right to hear the beautiful message of Islam. If someone accepts Islam, only Allah has guided him or her.

– What are some events and activities by Latino Muslims?
More and more Latino Muslim events and activities have occurred around the country. Some are entirely by Latino Muslims. Some are by both Latino and non-Latino Muslims. Many local Muslim communities have hosted mosque open houses in English and Spanish if not entirely in Spanish. Latino Muslims participate in various Muslim and non-Muslim conferences and conventions. Latino Muslims often participate in interfaith dialogues. Latino Muslims have made presentations at mosques, high schools, colleges, prisons, churches, and at various organizations. Latino Muslims are also responsible for much of the Spanish Islamic literature available. Many small, informal groups of Latino Muslims meet regularly to studying Islam. Some of these groups have evolved into formal Latino Muslim organizations.

Latino Muslims are members of almost every national and local Muslim organization within the United States. For example, many Latino Muslims in universities are members of the Muslim Students Association (MSA). Many Latino Muslims interested in working on the behalf of the civil rights of Muslims are members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Many Latino Muslims have assisted local Muslim charity groups, such as Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMANCentral) in Chicago. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) hosts an annual conference entitled Islam Among Latino Americans. Latino Muslims also regularly assist and support WhyIslam, an Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) project. Latino Muslims are actively involved in the various stages of many Muslim events, such as planning, marketing, and implementation. I expect more Latino Muslims events and activities as more Latinos embrace Islam.

– Why is dawah to Latinos important?
Many Americans have learned about the growing number of Latino Muslims in numerous publications. While celebrating such attention, we must not lose focus on the reasons for dawah to Latinos. I have compiled a list of ten reasons why dawah to Latino Americans is important although I’m sure there are even more reasons.

First: Muslims have a responsibility to share Islam with all nonMuslims. Because Islam is true, we should desire to present Islam to the masses.
Second: A large number of Latinos live in the US. According to the US 2000 Census, 32.8 million Hispanics live in the United States. Recently, the US Census stated that there are now more Latinos in the US than African-Americans.
Third: The US Latino population is growing very fast. The Latino population in the US is expected to grow to 63 million by 2030, and 88 million by 2050. By then, one out of every four Americans will be Latino.
Fourth: The rate of conversion among Latinos is lower than that among Caucasians and African-Americans. According to the 2001 Mosque in America Report, there’s an estimated annual growth of 20,000 converts nationally each year. Of these converts, 63% of converts are African-American, 27% of converts are White, and 6% are Hispanic. Only 6% converting are Hispanic!
Fifth: There are few Latino Muslims. Although there are six million US Muslims, only 40,000 are Latino Muslims. Using these figures, Latino Muslims only make up 0.6% of the American Muslim population. Only 0.6% of American Muslims are Hispanic!
Sixth: A leading barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Spanish Islamic literature. Much Spanish literature, whether printed, audio, or audiovisual, needs to be developed. Many Latinos know only Spanish but most Muslims do not know Spanish.
Seventh: As Latino Muslims, we are more familiar with Latino culture than are nonLatinos. People are often more interested in Islam when it comes from people like themselves. We can change the negative perception of Islam within the Latino community.
Eighth: As more Latinos embrace Islam, you will see more conversion to Islam from the general American population. Latino Muslims spark a curiosity in Islam. What are Latinos converting? What is it about that religion?
Ninth: Latinos are essential and influential within all spheres of American society – politically, socially, and economically. For example, because Latinos influence the decisions of lawmakers, it’s only logical that we Muslims would want more Latinos to support Muslim causes.
Tenth: Islam in America strengthens from the additional human and material resources that result when more Americans embrace Islam. As more Americans embrace Islam, we will see more dawah, more activism, and other types of volunteer work. Reverts will also help establish and/or strengthen American Muslim institutions such as mosques and universities.

In summary, Muslims have a responsibility to share Islam with all nonMuslims. Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in America, and Islam is the fastest growing religion in America. Success of Islam in America depends upon the fastest growing minority group embracing the fastest growing religion. Unfortunately, many American Muslim organizations are only now beginning to grasp this reality. We must address the reasons why the number of Latino Muslims and the rate of conversion among Latinos are both low. All American Muslims benefit when more Latinos come to Islam.

– What can Muslims do to promote Islam to Latinos?
There are many things that we can do. Promoting Islam to Latinos is largely about fulfilling needs. Whereas one Latino Muslim may need help with food and shelter, another Latino Muslim may need Spanish literature for a dawah table. But it’s up to us to help both of them. We also need to educate our ownselves about Islam because we can only teach what we know. The following list is a helpful start on how the general Muslim community can begin outreach to the Latino community.
· Mosques should have basic materials in Spanish and other languages readily available including Qur’ans, books, cassettes, and instructional CDs.
· Mosques should identify Spanish-speaking Muslims (not necessarily Latino) if needed to train Latinos how to pray, to read Qur’an, and to teach them about Islam in general.
· Dawah committees of mosques should work with local Latino Muslims to ensure more effective dawah to the Latino community.
· Local communities should create forums to discuss important matters of the local Latino Muslim community and Latinos in general.
· Muslims and Latino Muslims should participate in interfaith dialogues at churches, primarily at Catholic Churches.
· Muslims and Latino Muslims should volunteer to aid Latinos as needed within heavily populated Latino neighborhoods and schools. · All mosques should have information about local Latino Muslims and about national Latino Muslim organizations to direct Latinos for information and support.

– How can I learn more about Latino Muslims?
Most information available about Latino Muslims comes from Latino Muslim organizations. Academia has for the most part ignored the Latino Muslim community. For example, Latino Muslims are rarely mentioned in books about American Muslims. Several newspapers and magazines by Muslims and non-Muslims have published articles about the growing Latino Muslim community. A quick search on “Latino Muslims” using any search engine will reveal hundreds of articles on the subject. You may also want to check out www.LatinoDawah.org and HispanicMuslims.com. Both websites are very comprehensive. You may want to spend some time checking out the sections found on both websites.


Ihsan Bagby, PhD, et al. “The Mosque In America: A National Portrait.” CAIR. April 2001. <http://www.cair-net.org/mosquereport/Masjid_Study_Project_2000_Report.pdf>

Sanchez, Samantha and Juan Galvan. “Latino Muslims – The Changing Face of Islam in America.” Islamic Horizons. July/August 2002. pp 22-30.

U.S. Census. Ethnic and Hispanic Statistics Branch. “U.S. Hispanic Population: 2000.” <http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/hispanic/p20-535/p20-535.pdf>

US Census Bureau. “We the American”Hispanics.” Issued September 1993. <http://www.census.gov/apsd/wepeople/we-2r.pdf>