July - Sept 2007, Latino Muslims

The Next Step After Latino Muslim Reversion

By Rebecca Abuqaoud

Waleikum Salam,

I am pleased to discuss an interesting phenomenon that is happening in North America. The Latino Muslims as a whole are growing in numbers like never before. Amazingly, Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States, and it is significantly attracting Hispanic people. There are only estimates about the accurate number of how many Latinos have reverted to Islam.

This interesting phenomenon about the growing number of Latinos converting to Islam in the United States is so appealing that recently Latino Muslims are subjects of study by teachers, professors, and universities. Recently, a professor from the Department of Religion at the Texas Christian University came to Chicago to do research on a group of Latino Muslim women. He also traveled to other cities and states across the U.S. not only to continue his research on Latino Muslims but also to collect accurate data on the census of Latino Muslims.

When the professor came to Chicago, his study focused in a focal group conversation about experiences as Latino Muslims in the United States. His study also consisted on how Latino Muslims construct their identity and how they struggle within the community in general. He formulated a couple of questions to build his research. His first question was: Why did you come to Islam? And the second one was: What was the reaction of your family and relatives after you became Muslim?

In this study, a group of seven Latino Muslim women participated by sharing their experiences. I was also there as a subject of his study. This research on Latino Muslims took place this July at the Muslim Community Center (MCC) on Elston Avenue in northern Chicago. What fascinated me about this study was to learn that Latino Muslim women not only share common backgrounds but they also have similarities in experiences about how their family, relatives, and friends react after they become Muslim.

Last year, a teacher who was working on her master’s degree approached an Islamic gathering of Latino Muslim women who meet for Islamic classes in Spanish at the MCC. I frequently attend this gathering of Latino Muslims. The teacher approached us to ask if we would participate in a study about Latino Muslim mothers. Four of us participated on her assignment. She interviewed each of us individually. She asked questions on how the culture contributes to parenting and raising young children. It was interesting participating on this study. As mothers, we realize that our children are growing and being raised in a home where now the Islamic culture is enforced.

A few weeks ago, DePaul University also extended an invitation to our Islamic gathering of Latino Muslim women to participate in a research. The purpose of this research among other things was to find out why Latinos choose Islam as their religion and how they build their identity in the community. Definitively, it must be interesting to explore why Latinos are coming to Islam. It is such a great phenomenon in the United States.

Just a week ago, I attended the First Midwest Reverts Conference at the Islamic Center of Illinois. WhyIslam.org, a Dawah project of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), sponsored this program. In this program, there were various discussions, one of them was about issues faced by reverts. I was one of the panelists, and I participated by sharing a series of struggles that reverts go through when they enter into the fold of Islam. One of their struggles is their adjustment to a new Islamic culture. For example, sometimes reverts or new Muslims leave behind relatives and friends; therefore, they are in need of new relatives and new friends in the Muslim community.

I mentioned among other things the importance of establishing programs that follow up on new Muslims in the journey to Islam because they have many questions and need help how in dealing and coping with situations that they face. I also mentioned the importance of helping them to be integrated and to be part of the Islamic community. I mentioned these based on my observation and interaction with other Latino Muslim women that encountered difficulties in their adjustment to their new religion.

It was an incredible experience to participate in that conference because I also have the opportunity to listen to other speakers who shared their various experiences and journeys to Islam. I was very pleased to know that WhyIslam.org maintains a toll free line to answer questions on Islam not only in English but also in the Spanish language. WhyIslam also has a website at whyislam.org/es that provides Islamic information in Spanish.

A few years ago here in Chicago, some Latino Muslim women started to show interest in gathering together with the purpose of learning about Islam and to support each other in their journey to Islam. Thus, six years ago in 2001, a group of Latino Muslim women initiated a program known as The Great Annual Sisterhood Event, which began in a home, but since then has been held annually at the Muslim Community Center. This program started with the purpose of educating women on Islam and to provide special support to new reverts.

I will never forget what happened during our Second Annual Sisterhood Event on September 14, 2002. A lady said, “I don’t understand what she is saying. I thought this was supposed to be in Spanish.” This comment was made while the speaker was giving her speech in English. Another sister said, “It is time for us to be better prepared and educated.” “It is true,” someone replied. After this gathering, many sisters showed an interest in gathering regularly. They suggested having Islamic classes once or twice a month. As a result since March 29th of 2003 until today, Islamic classes in Spanish were established at the Muslim Community Center.

Latino Muslim women are taking an active role in educating themselves and their community. Last May of this year, Latino Muslim sisters organized “The Great Sixth Annual Sisterhood Event” sponsored by Chicago Association of Latino American Muslims (CALAM). This event was a Dawah Oriented Program. Sisters were strongly encouraged to invite non-Muslims. In this event, there were discussions about the stereotypes and misconceptions of Muslim women. There was also the presentation of The Virgin Mary in Islam. We thought that these topics were appealing to non-Muslims and Muslim women. There was a great attendance of women of different ethnicities – Americans, Arabs, Pakistanis, Latinos, and others. The program was bilingual English and Spanish.

The Spanish classes for sisters are also a great platform for Dawah or presenting Islam to non-Muslims because on different occasions, non-Muslim women visit and ask questions on Islam. The fruitful result after visiting the Islamic classes was to witness some Shahadas of Latino women. Islamic classes in Spanish for sisters are also taking place at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, IL.

Ramadan and Eid celebrations are very important for bringing Latino Muslim families together. Since the Islamic classes in Spanish were established, the sisters have had iftar together during the month of Ramadan. This gathering brings positive experiences; the sisters bring their children to join this event. By having iftar together, children are learning this beautiful tradition of Muslims. Consequently, Islam is being preserved for the future generations because children are being raised in an Islamic environment.

In recent years, EID Festivals have been carefully organized by the Chicago Association of Latino American Muslims (CALAM). Families and relatives of Latino Muslims are invited. The First Annual Eid Celebration was in November of 2003 and took place at the Muslim Community Center. These events have been successfully well attended not only by Latino Muslims but also by Muslims of different ethnic backgrounds.

This July 2006, Latino Muslim women from the north and south of Chicago organized family picnics. These family events are greatly important and necessary because children also learn to interact with other children who share the same Islamic values. Sister’s husbands had the opportunity to meet and interact each other. These sorts of events are important ways for all of us to get to know one another better.

Observation leads you to understand that the majority of Latino Muslim women of the north side of Chicago are young mothers with young children whose relatives are non-Muslim. In the future, the children of Latino Muslims will bloom; therefore, they will be the second generations of Latino Muslims. This will be another phenomenon to be observed in America. It is such a blessing to see Latinos entering the fold of Islam. They face challenges in their journey to Islam but they overcome difficulties with patience and perseverance.

Still, Latino Muslims in America need some plan for education and integration of new Muslims and reverts into the Muslim community at large. We need to visualize our community for the next 10 or 15 years by putting our plans of Dawah in action. Latino Muslims in America should take advantage of the Spanish language and reach out to the Hispanic community and convey the message of Islam in its most beautiful form. Latino Muslims in America need to come together and seek the support.

Latino Muslims need vision, inspiration, optimism, perseverance, generosity, integrity, and to acknowledge that their commitment is to serve Allah SWT. With their determination and deep commitment to Allah SWT and the constant education of Islamic values, they can contribute to achieving balance in faith in family and community.

Every Muslim, every one of us, has a great duty and responsibility to continue the preservation of Islam. Through hard work and meeting challenges with positive vision and strong determination, courage, and commitment to Allah SWT, we can all contribute to achieve our goals that lead us to have fruitful results and can contribute to achieving balance in faith.

Islam balances nourishment for the high morality and values in families, communities, and society. Insha’Allah, we will continue to spread and preserve Islam in the future generations. Ameen!

Note: This was presented at the 2006 ISNA Convention at the Donald E. Stephen Convention Center in Rosemont, IL. The theme of this year’s convention was “Achieving Balance In Faith, Family, and Community.’