July - Sept 2002, Latino Muslims

Islamic Literature Needs among American Latinos

By Juan Galvan

I was honored to present alongside some of the best-known Latino Muslims from around America at the Third Annual Conference on Islam Among Latino Americans, which was one of the conferences at the an ISNA Islam in Americas Conference. Along with Samantha Sanchez, Khadijah Rivera, and Zeina Mena, I spoke about the need for Islamic literature in America. After summarizing the other presenters, I discussed aspects of acquisition and distribution of Islamic literature and methods of successfully meeting the literature needs of Latinos around the country. Afterward, the presenters opened the floor for dialogue with the audience.

Individuals and organizations across America understand the central role of Islamic literature when calling people to Islam. As Muslims, we have a responsibility to share Islam with all nonMuslims. As American Muslims, we know that many Latinos live in the United States. And, the US Latino population continues to grow very fast. According to the 2001 Mosque in America Report, the rate of conversion among Latinos is lower than that among Caucasians and African-Americans. Latino Muslims make up less than 1% of the US Muslim population.

A leading barrier for Latinos interested in Islam is the lack of access to Spanish Islamic literature because many Latinos only know Spanish. Much Spanish literature, whether printed, audio, or audiovisual, needs to be developed. Several outstanding Islamic books still lack translation. Although Latinos are the largest minority in the US, few Islamic book companies offer Spanish Islamic literature. Latino Muslims can change the negative perception of Islam within the Latino community. Why are Latinos converting? What is it about that religion? We appreciate the various Muslim organizations that have reached out to the emerging Latino Muslim community.

Approximately half of America’s Latinos can be found in Texas and California. In fact, 90% of American Latinos live in California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, New Mexico, Colorado, and Massachusetts according to the 2000 US Census. 78% of the Latino population lives in the Southwest region, such as New Mexico and Arizona, of the US. In 1997, the American Muslim Council stated that 20% of American Muslims live in California, 16% in New York, and 3% in Texas.

While visiting my family in the Texas Panhandle, I went to the town’s library to see what type of information they had about Islam. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a single piece of Islamic literature. I couldn’t even find an English or Spanish Qur’an. You can probably imagine my reaction at the library when I couldn’t find any literature about Islam. By considering the demographic trends among Latinos, we should focus on literature distribution within the ten states mentioned earlier and on the major cities within each of these ten states. We should focus on cities such as Los Angeles, Houston, New York City, Miami, and Chicago. A large percentage of Latinos and Muslims live in major metropolitan areas in the United States.

We need to discover the most inexpensive and most effective way of meeting the needs of Islamic literature for American Latinos without sacrificing quality. Literature as dawah is composed of two parts. Dawah literature must be acquired and then distributed. There are two primary ways in which individuals and organizations can acquire literature. The first way is through donations of Islamic literature. Free books can be received from individuals, organizations, local mosques, Islamic bookstores, and countries. The second way is to purchase Islamic literature. Individuals and dawah organizations prefer to purchase inexpensive but higher quality Islamic books.

Islamic literature distribution occurs on either a local or national level. On a local level, local individuals and local organizations perform the distribution of literature. On a national level, literature distribution is seriously lacking within the United States. Distribution requires locations for storing the literature. Storing literature is generally less expensive on a local level. Storage on a national level could require a warehouse. Larger-scale distribution also requires funding for postage and handling charges. These charges depend upon the costs associated with distribution. Finding volunteers to distribute literature can be difficult on both a local and national level. An advantage of distribution on a national level is better coordination, mass distribution, and economies of scale.

We, Latino Muslims, hope to find the best means of acquiring and distributing Islamic literature on a national level. There are three possible ways to do this. First, Latinos could try to encourage literature companies to acquire and distribute certain Islamic books for free or inexpensively as possible. However, in reality, it’s difficult to find companies that are financially capable of giving away, an unlimited supply of books. Second, Latinos could unite under an existing nonprofit organization that would serve as an umbrella in assisting Latinos to acquire and distribute literature. Third, Latinos could establish a nonprofit organization by pulling together their resources that would serve as an umbrella, which would assist Latinos to acquire and distribute Spanish literature. The greatest fear of the second option is fear of losing control to another organization. The disadvantage of the third option is the complexity of establishing an organization.

After our presentation, we opened the floor for dialogue with the audience. Many good questions and suggestions were raised. We discussed the possibility of incorporating a nonprofit organization to help meet the need for Spanish and Portuguese literature on a national level. The new organization would be a means for acquiring and distributing literature among current Latino Muslim organizations and other individuals. The new organization would also provide more effective networking opportunities. Current Latino Muslims individuals and organizations would help ensure the success of the new organization. Existing Latino Muslim organizations will continue their own mission and maintain independence from this possible new organization in all other issues. We ask that all American Muslims assist by raising the level of consciousness about literature needs of Latinos in their local masjid.