Dawah, July - Sept 2002, Latino Muslims

Islam Among Latino Texans

By Juan Galvan

American Latinos offer a unique gift to the Islamic dawah movement in America. Most Americans do not know much about Islam. Americans say that Allah is not mentioned in the Bible. We respond by proclaiming, “Allah, God, and Dios mean ‘God’ in different languages.” Many Americans say that Islam is a religion for only Arabs. We respond by proclaiming, “I am a Latino Muslim.” Unfortunately, Americans confuse Islam with race and nationality. Islam is God’s true, universal religion. Let all Americans wonder, “Why are so many Latinos converting to Islam? What is it about that religion?” Latino Muslims have contributed much to understanding the need for Islam in North America. I personally have experienced the need for Islam in Texas and specifically, among Latino Texans.

While lying on my bed a few days after my reversion to Islam, I thought about the many Latinos in my apartment complex. My thoughts then shifted to the large number of Latinos in my neighborhood, then in Austin, then in Texas, then in the US. According to the American Muslim Council, 20% of all Muslims live in California, 16% in New York, and 3% percent in Texas. According to the latest US census, Latino Texans comprise 32% of the Texas population and comprise 25% of the US Latino population. Success of Islam in Texas depends upon the fastest growing Texas minority group embracing the fastest growing American religion…Islam.

Unfortunately, we Texas Muslims have not created the foundation needed to reach any Texan. Last summer while visiting my family, I could not find a Qur’an or any other Islamic literature in the local library. Texas Muslims must establish educational, social, and political Islamic institutions within all major Texas cities. Texas Muslims are isolated geographically from the more established Islamic communities within the US. More American Muslims live in New Jersey than in Texas. With the exception of Houston, no solid foundation exists for spreading Islam within most cities across Texas. To no surprise, higher reversion rates exist in Houston. All Texans need to be educated about Islam. Islamic literature must be freely available to all Texans. In particular, Latino Texans need Spanish literature including books, audiotapes, videotapes, and instructional CDs.

Most of my family lives in the Texas Panhandle and the Texas Rio Grande Valley region. My parents grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and would later move to the Panhandle to work in cotton fields. I never met a Muslim until I attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Like most of America, Texas needs established mosques and trained Imams. Texans need an accredited Islamic university in Houston. We must encourage Latinos to become Imams. The only established mosques in the entire Panhandle are in Amarillo and Lubbock. In the Rio Grande Valley region, the only established mosque is in Weslaco. A mosque must be established in Brownsville. Currently, a couple of Brownsville apartments are used as mosques.

We cannot build a firm basis for Islam in Texas without establishing a support and educational network of Latino and non-Latino Muslims. Knowledgeable Latino Muslims, new Latino Muslims, and Latinos interested in Islam have similar and different needs. An estimated one-third to half of all Muslim converts leave Islam. Latinos interested in Islam fear negative comments, loneliness, rejection, and alienation from friends and family. Living in Texas within the Bible Belt merely complicates life for Latino Muslims even more. When I embraced Islam, I did not know any Latino Muslims in Austin. Texas cities need alternative forms of entertainment for all Muslims. All Muslims must educate themselves and be prepared to explain their faith. We Muslims should not customize our religion to fit our own needs and desires.

Most Muslims and Latinos live in the major cosmopolitan areas of America. This is also true for Texas Latinos and Muslims. Most Texas Muslims live in the Houston and DFW regions. In addition to these two regions, the largest numbers of Texas Latinos live in the San Antonio, El Paso, and Rio Grande Valley regions. Texas Latino dawah efforts should target these larger regions. Latino reversion rates are likely to trickle down to smaller cities.

Islam is the answer to correct the various problems within our American cities. We must let them see the beauty of Islam by those who follow example of the Prophet (pbuh). We must struggle to assist all Americans in need. We should establish orphanages, homeless shelters, and educational centers for Americans. Poverty rates, health conditions, and educational attainment on the Rio Grande Valley region are also among the worst in America. Dawah to Texas Latino prisoners is virtually nonexistent. We American Muslims must work together to end the cycle of poverty and crime that is prevalent within our cities. We must work together to build a solid foundation for Islam in Texas. Many things are possible if we who follow the true path work together.