Cultural Crossroads: Understanding the Latino Pull Toward Islam

Latino Muslim Belatina
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The number of Latinx people converting to and being raised Muslim is on a fast increase. A closer look at history, motivations for converting, and the ways in which Latinx people have contributed to the American Muslim community demonstrates that Islam and Latinx communities have more in common than one would think upon first glance.

Growth In Numbers

Latinos are the leading growing population in the Muslim faith. Ten years ago in 2009, only one percent of Muslims identified as Hispanic however, according to the American Muslim Poll 2019: Predicting And Preventing Islamophobia, released by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, that number has gone up by almost 10 percent. Latinos converting to Islam and Muslim Latin Americans having children are the two factors that have contributed to the rapid increase.

For many Latinos Islam became a point of interest when Malcolm X was alive, and through his autobiography that was published in 1965 but became increasingly popular after his death. The autobiography clearly depicts X’s journey of converting to Islam as a Black American man and his motivations for doing so. Additionally, the violence that predominantly Muslim countries and territories like Palestine and Syria face led Muslims from these countries to flee and bring their culture, including religion, to the countries they were settling into.

After 9/11, Mujahid Fletcher, a Colombian convert to Islam, realized that he needed to educate his non-Muslim Colombian family about his religion during a time when American public opinion about Islam was overwhelmingly negative. While Mujahid Fletcher searched for materials in Spanish to provide for his family members, he realized there was a lack of such materials. In 2001, with his recently Muslim converted father and wife, the family founded Islam In Spanish. Islam In Spanish is a Texas-based non-profit that provides informational pamphlets, videos, and Qurans in Spanish to non-English reading or speaking individuals who want to learn more about Islam. Although there is not a study that directly links the availability of information about Islam in Spanish to the increase of Latinos as Muslim, it might be safe to say that an increase in accurate and culturally relevant information leads to an increase in personal decision making across populations. Currently, Islam In Spanish is seeking to turn their Centro Islamico into a Latinx Mosque to better serve their community.

Struggles and Inspirations

While the American Muslim Poll 2019: Predicting And Preventing Islamophobia found that Hispanics Americans have the lowest level of Islamophobia, islamophobia for Latinx converts from family members happens. Nicaraguan-American Marina Gonzalez from Miami recalls her family calling her ‘talibana’ and her mother refusing to go out with her when she wore her hijab. However, once their family gets past their bigotry many have come to respect, understand, and support their Latinx family members. “When I go to my parents’ house they turn off the TV when I have to pray. I’m so happy.”

Latina Muslim Belatina

Before Spain was colonizing and murdering indigenous communities in the present day South, Central and North America they were under Moorish control. The Moors fromNorthern Africa mostly practiced Islam and thus brought this religion to present day Spain for the 800 years they ruled Spain. Some Latinx have sourced this piece of history as another factor for them converting to Islam. Wilfredo Ruiz says that, “what most Latinos who have embraced Islam find most amazing is their cultural affinity to the Muslim culture. It’s like rediscovering your past. That area of our past has been hidden from us.” For example, several Spanish words are born from the Arabic language that Moors spoke in present-day Spain. Muslims and Hispanics both favor extended family connections, believe in angles, and charity towards strangers.

These common cultural connections and beliefs make Islam increasingly attractive to Latinos.

What They Want You To Know

Latinx Muslims want to be viewed as Muslim and Latinx, they don’t feel that being both negates any parts of their other identity markers. “We can be just as proud of our faith and culture. We do not need to compromise,” says Nahela Morales of Texas, quoted in a piece by Wendy Diaz on Muslim Matters. Additionally, the struggle of being different is something that Latinx communities are already versed in, this helps them further connect to their religion and see common politic ground with the Muslim faith. Personal political issues like immigration and freedom of religion further connect the communities in ways that go beyond history. The rise in anti-immigrant sentiments by politicians and those who vote for them have led to internment camps and fatal detention of Latinx. Muslim bans for countries with high Muslim populations bar immigration on the basis of religious beliefs and Islamophobia. These issues are further compounded for Latinx Muslims.

Ilhan Omar Belatina Ilhan Omar
WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 06: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a House Education and Labor Committee Markup on the H.R. 582 Raise The Wage Act, in the Rayburn House Office Building on March 6, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Inaccurate racist stereotypes about Muslims and Latinx being somehow ‘more violent’ leads some people to believe that the only inroad to Islam for Latinx people is through prison. “The idea that we converted from some horrible background simply because we’re Latino is not our narrative,” Shinoa Matos states in the same Muslim Matters article. Juan Alvarado of Pennsylvania further expands on this idea by sharing that, “Some people believe that we have come to (learn) Islam in prison. Not all of us have come to know about Islam because of prison, alhamdulillah.” Converting to Islam has many inroads that have nothing to do with a hard life or prison.

Like everyone else, Latinx Muslims want respect and to not have to fight further marginalization within their religious community. As reported in the above story, Muslim Latinx Alex Robayo wants “non-Latino or “native” Muslims to know that we (Latinx Muslims) are no less than them.” And that Latina Muslim women are not “worth less” than non-Latina Muslim women.

Latinx Muslims are the fasting growing population in Islam, and if the previous decade is an indication of what is come for the next few decades it is within every Latinx person’s interest to educate themselves more about Islam. Being respectful of other people’s religious beliefs is something we should all be doing; but further educating ourselves on the reality that Latinx people are drawn to Islam in large numbers can help us further connect with the Muslim community at large. As people who have politically and culturally marginalized, it is of utmost importance for Latinx people to not further marginalize other populations. Truth is, even if we didn’t have several things in common with our Muslim siblings, we should be actively working to be more accepting and loving of all people who see and respect humanity.