Dawah, Islam, July - Sept 2003

Latino Muslims: The Change of Islam in America

By Samantha Sanchez and Juan Galvan

Islamic Horizons Magazine
July / August 1423/2002 Pages 22-30.

The image of Islam in America is changing due to more and more people reverting to it. While there have always been large numbers of both African-American and Caucasian-American populations reverting to Islam, the Muslim population is becoming increasingly diverse. In recent years, the number of Latinos who reverse has increased tremendously. Some figures reveal that 40,000 Latino Muslims live in the United States.

Latino Muslims have been gaining media attention. Headlines such as “A New Minority Calls Itself: Hispanic Muslims” and “Hispanic Muslims of New York” are just a few examples that Americans are realizing what Latino Muslims have known for some time “We exist! Although it is still strange among Muslims themselves to hear from us, the population of some cities such as New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami are becoming more aware of this fact thanks to organizations that support the Latino Muslim Community.

The need for da’wah through Latinos is evident when one looks at the surprising statistics. According to Dr. Ihsan Bagby “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait” (CAIR. April 2001 www.cair-net.org/mosquereport/Masjid_Study_Project_2000_Report.pdf), the average number of Americans who revert to Islam for each mosque it is approximately 16 per year. He estimates a national annual growth of 20,000 people reverting to Islam: 63% African-American, 27% White, and 6% Hispanic. According to the 2000 United States Census (US Census Division of Hispanic Races and Statistics, “US Hispanic Population: 2000,” www.census.gov/population/socdemo/hispanic/p20-535/p20-535.pdf ) 75% of the population of American citizens are White, 12% are Hispanic, and 12% are African-American.

The United States Census department classifies Hispanics into five categories: Mexicans, Latinos from Central and South America, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Hispanics. The Census department studies in detail those states in which the population of Mexican-Americans almost doubled in number between the years 1970 and 1980, and which almost doubled again in 1990, and at the same time doubled the number by the year 2000! Considerably high immigration and a higher birth rate than the rest of the population are the main factor. The Latino population in the United States is expected to grow to 63 million by 2030, and 88 million by 2050. By then, a quarter of the United States population will be Latino! Latinos are changing the image of the United States, so da ‘ wah directed at them is crucial and necessary. The correlation between Latinos, as the fastest growing population, and Islam, as the fastest growing religion, deserves our attention.

Who are Latinos? The terms Latino and Hispanic are used interchangeably. In March 2000, 32.8 million Hispanics lived in the United States. According to the 2000 Census, the Mexican-American population (21.7 million) comprise the majority, followed by people from Central and South America (4.7 million), Puerto Ricans (3 million), Cubans (1.3 million) and other Hispanics (2.1 million). .) Mexican-Americans make up a total of 66% of the Hispanic population of the United States.

The Hispanic population is comprised primarily of youth and has fewer seniors than the non-Hispanic white population. Half of all Hispanics are under 26 years of age; more than a third are under 18 years of age. Among Hispanics, Mexican-Americans have the largest population under 18 years of age (38%.) However, Cuban-Americans have the largest population over 65 years of age (21%.) Heads of households in the community Hispanic is comprised mostly of single women, more than the non-Hispanic white population, Puerto Ricans have the highest proportion of single women as breadwinners.

Educational achievement among Hispanics lags behind that of the non-Hispanic White population. Among Hispanics, Mexican-Americans age 25 and older have the lowest number to have a high school diploma. Cubans aged 25 and over, among other Hispanics, have the highest level in having a high school diploma. Hispanics tend to be more unemployed than non-Hispanic whites. Service, transportation, and precision production, crafts, and repair workers were the majority of occupations among Hispanic employees. Hispanics tend to live in poverty more than the non-Hispanic White population.

Approximately 17.4 million (or half) of the Hispanic population lives within large cities or metropolitan areas. About 45% of the Hispanic population lives in the Western United States and 33% live in the South. The Hispanic population is concentrated in several states. In 1990, nearly 9 out of 10 Hispanics lived in California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, New Mexico, Colorado, and Massachusetts (in that order.) Half of the Latino population lives in California or Texas.

We must consider such a demographic trend when assigning any da’wah program. These programs should target the major cities or states named above. All Muslims must fight to eliminate any problem within the Latino community.

Who is a Latino Muslim? Sounds that easy, right? But it may not be so. First, the word Latino encompasses the entire population with Latin American heritage, whether they are from the United States, Central America, or South America. They may speak several languages, including, but not limited to, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Aymara, Nahuatl, and Quechua.

It is also difficult to define a Muslim. Latino Muslims, both inside and outside the country, follow the Islamic Madhahib 3 and sects, and are Shi’as 4 , Sunnis 5 , Sufis 6 , or anyone else. The majority of Latino Muslims are Sunni. But not all Latino Muslims have reverted to Islam, some are second or third generation Muslims or were born Muslims in their native country.

Research on Latino Muslims is needed. Around 25,000 to 75,000 Latino Muslims have been estimated. Being that the most accurate number is 40,000. More research is needed to determine more approximate numbers and the amount of the Latino population that has reverted to Islam in the past 30 years. We would also like to know what is the percentage of Latino Muslims in Mexico, Central America and South America, how many are Puerto Ricans, Cubans and elsewhere. More demographic information about Latino Muslims is needed, such as age, gender, marital status, education, and economic levels according to salaries.

According to Bagby, the majority of Americans who revert to Islam are men (68%) compared to the number of women (32%.) The stereotype of people who revert to Islam are African-American men. According to our observations, the majority of Latino Muslims are professionally educated, in their 20s and 30s, and are female.

Although the ethnic diversity of a Mosque does not match the highest reversion number, the largest Mosques have the highest reversion numbers. The largest mosques are found, for the most part, in large cities with large populations of Muslims. Within the same cities, Muslims have great interaction with non-Muslim people. This same interaction results in very positive influences that lead people to revert to the religion of Islam. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Miami are the cities with the highest Hispanic population. Consequently, we find the highest population of Latino Muslims who have reverted to Islam in these same metropolitan cities.

Why do Latinos revert to Islam? Conversion to another religion remains a personal choice for each individual. Samantha Sanchez, in her first investigation about Latino Muslims, assures that most of the people who revert to Islam were because they were looking for a new religious orientation. Some people do it more actively than others. In their research, 25% do so as a result of personal exploration (actively seeking a new faith) and have considered other religions before Islam, such as the Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religion. For many Latinos, accepting Islam took 3 to 12 years. When converts to Christianity are typically emotionally driven, reversals to Islam are generally more intellectual.

In most cases, Latino Muslims did not practice their previous religion before reverting to Islam (73% Catholic.) This same aspect helps to prove the relationship between Latinos and Christianity, which is mostly part of the same ethnic culture. Lewis Rambo, a converting schoolboy, says that “a person who is intimately tied to his family, who is committed to a certain religious orientation, is less likely to convert to a new religion unless there is some counteracting force with power. that the family has. “

In Sanchez’s study, many Latinos reverted to Islam mention that this religion offers a sense of spirituality that they did not find in their previous religion. First, they manifest a certain antipathy with the Catholic Church which led them to seek a new faith, such as concentration on Jesus (especially by taking Jesus as the son of God), the polytheistic nature of Christianity (praising the Virgin Mary and the Saints), and the idea of ​​the Trinity. Furthermore, many Latinos emphasize their disagreement with the infallibility of the Pope and the hierarchy of the Church. Others add that since their families are not very religious, and that attending Mass was not very relevant, it led them to seek another religion for themselves. Surprisingly, larger numbers of Latina women are reverting to Islam.

When we see on the surface, the monotheism of Islam (Tawhid) is generally an important factor leading to revert to this religion. Consider the following comments made by Latino Muslims for newspapers:
– Mercedes Zeenni (Los Angeles): “I was Catholic. But to begin with, it seems that Islam gave more answers to more of my questions, it was more direct, without mysteries , and it made it easier for me to understand what it meant to believe in a God. “
– Nicole Ballivian (Los Angeles): “I remember getting into trouble in Catholic school for debating concepts such as original sin when I was still very young. When I studied Islam, it made everything easier.”
– Vita Rivera (Miami) said: “I always wanted to read the Bible and learn more, but it was all about the catechism, you just have to believe it, but not understand it. It gave me answers to my Islam, it was logical.”
– Mariam Montalvo (Los Angeles): “With Islam, everything was so pure. I found that there were no intermediaries. Everything is directed to God.”
– Abdulhadi Bazurto (Fresno, CA): “Ask a child, and he will tell you that God is unique. Period. Ask a Theologian how many Gods there are and he will give you empty answers.”
– Guadalupe Martínez (Houston): “When we find Islam, we do not need to spend energy. It is as if I spoke to the operator to ask for a number, energy is spent there. But with Islam I have the number I am looking for. I have a direct connection with God . “
– Domy García (Los Angeles): “It made more sense to see Jesus as a Prophet and as a political leader, and not as a God.”
– Aminah Martínez (Virginia): “As I grew up, I felt that there were many distractions in the Church. Islam, for me, was a more direct faith where I perceived a feeling of belonging.”
– Ali Medina (California): “Before I had no direction in my life, I was leading my life, and I had left school in the 11th grade.”
– Ricardo Pena (Chicago): “I see it as entering a larger community of brothers. We do not see each other as Mexicans or Arabs, we see ourselves as Muslims.”
– Sumayyah Ikhil (New York): “We are all Muslims under one faith, one God.”

In Sanchez’s study, 76% of Latinos revert to Islam thanks to Da’wah 1. Dr. Larry Poston (Da’wah of Islam in the West: Activity of Muslim Missionaries and the Dynamics of Conversion to Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) defines da’wah as active mission. Dr. John L. Esposito (Islam: The Direct Path. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) more accurately identifies what the majority of Latino Muslims experience. Most Latino Muslims receive da’wah after a little personal exploration. As a result of radiant interest, they sought out people who could answer their questions, and Muslims responded by sharing information and donating their time and literature. Esposito adds that this is how Muslims spread their faith. Da’wah comes in many forms: families and friends who revert to Islam, relationships between couples, and strangers. People, places, and events are all significant factors that affect a Latino’s decision to take Islam as his new religion.

According to Yahiya Emerick (How to tell others about Islam. New York: International Books and Tapes Supply, 1996, 98-99), the Latino community faces a special challenge, for Latinos the only means of interaction is between themselves. First, most Muslims do not speak Spanish. Second, most Muslims ignore the importance and size of the Latino community. Documents have been printed in Islam in Spanish to rectify the effort to learn more about the Latino community. Some Latino Muslims have formed their own organizations to satisfy their need to know more about Islam. Emerick assures that the main problem is that there is a quite large group of Latino Muslims who are not listened to and guided to the correct information.

Most Latino Muslims look to other religions before coming to Islam without knowing anything about this religion. Many say they did not know any Muslims before reverting to the religion of Islam. Although some Latinos learned about Islam by coincidence, others actively sought out on their own account, others became closer to Islam thanks to da’wah. Therefore the work of promoting more da’wah is very important for this particular community.

What can we learn from people who revert to the religion of Islam? The Muslim community is still realizing how important da’wah is among the Latino community. Unfortunately, the larger Muslim community is unprepared to serve the Latino community which continues to grow. Some Latinos have shown their displeasure that in some Mosques the acceptance towards them is not very pleasant due to their ethnic appearance. However, the biggest argument is that both the groups that give da’wah as well as the Imams 2 are not trained to meet their needs, especially for those who need more information, speak little English, or need some kind of help.

The community is not the only culprit, Latino Muslims have until recently begun to express their needs and help their Mosques learn about their community. A few years ago, only a few Latino Muslims were doing such work. Today there are already several organizations. ISNA helped create a Latino Coordination Committee to foster communication between organizations and the National Muslim Community. Latino Muslims urgently need help from the wider Muslim community to ensure that da’wah activities continue.

How can you help? The Latino Muslim population is somewhat diverse, but their basic needs help create a unified community. The Muslim community can foster relationships with the Latino Muslim community, as well as with da’wah1, in the following ways:
– More interaction between Muslims and Latinos.
– All Mosques must have information about their Latino-Muslim community as well as information and National organizations to help and support Latino Muslims.
– Mosques should have on hand basic materials in Spanish as well as other languages, including Koran, books, tapes, and educational CDs.
– Mosques must identify Spanish-speaking Muslims (not necessarily Latinos), in order to guide them to know how to pray, read the Koran, and teach them about Islam in general.
– Da’wah committees should work with more local Latino Muslims to ensure that they receive da’wah effectively.
– Da’wah must be available in Spanish and other languages, depending on the type of community.
– Local communities should create discussion forums about issues of importance to Latino Muslims and Latinos in general.
– Muslims and Latino Muslims should participate in dialogues of faith in churches, mainly Catholic.
– Muslims and Latino Muslims should do volunteer work to help dense Latino populations both in schools and in neighborhoods.
– Donate time, money, and materials to local organizations and Mosques to meet the needs mentioned above.

© 2002 Islamic Horizons, Islamic Society of North America.
Translated by Rocío Martínez-Mendoza, 2003.

1. Da’wah is the work that every Muslim must do to spread Islam, whether through words or actions.
2. Imam is the person who leads the prayers in a Mosque, usually he is a person who has knowledge in Islam (school) and is sometimes hired by the Mosque to give courses or classes or talks regarding Islam.
3. Madhahib are Islam’s schools of thought, there are mainly four: Hanafi, Shafi`i, Maliki and Hanbali.
4. Shi’as are the group of Muslims who follow Ali (Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, may peace and blessings be upon him) and form a school of thought for themselves and differ from the root of Islam.
5. Sunnis are the group of Muslims who strictly follow the Qur’an and Sunnah (from Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.)
6. Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, is an Islamic communal organization that attaches high importance to the shaykhs. Shaykhs have absolute authority and pass this authority on to their disciples. (The Oxford History of Islam, by John Esposito, Ed. Oxford University Press, 1999)