By Raquel Reichard
December 8, 2015
Anti-Muslim sentiments are high in the U.S., with leading presidential candidates like Donald Trump calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and more than half of Americans saying they have an “unfavorable” view of Islam.
While the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric comes from recent terrorist attacks by extremist groups like ISIS – assaults, by the way, that are outnumbered by acts of terrorism perpetrated by non-Muslim white men in the U.S., that globally claim the lives of more Muslims than anyone else, and that Muslims, themselves, loathe – it stems from deep-rooted Islamophobia, a violent prejudice that Latinos are becoming more and more familiar with.
That’s because Latinos make up one of the fastest-growing segments of the Muslim population, a fact that might take some Latinos, who have historically followed Catholicism and increasingly Evangelical Christianity, by surprise. Despite this shock and the misconceptions about Muslims that, like the rest of the U.S., exist in our community, Islamophobia is increasingly becoming another Latino issue.
As such, it’s important to break the damaging myths about this religion. Ahead, learn more about Latinos’ growing presence in Islam and some of the anti- Muslim bigotry many of us are now encountering.
Latinos are one of the fastest-growing segments of the Muslim population in the U.S. According to whyIslam.org, nearly 6 percent of people in the U.S. practicing Islam are Latino; that’s about 40,000 Muslim Latinos.
Most Latino converts are women. Latino American Dawah Organization, a group promoting Islam to the U.S. Latino community, estimates that a little more than half of all Latino converts are mujeres.
Latino Muslim conversions aren’t unique to the U.S. Islam is also growing across many Latin American countries. According to a 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, there are as many as 784,000 Muslims in Argentina, 191,000 in Brazil, 110,000 in Mexico and 94,000 in Venezuela.
Many Latino converts take comfort in the overlaps between Christianity and Islam. While the highly publicized religion wars might make one believe that Islam and Christianity share extremely different beliefs, that couldn’t be further from the truth. For many Latino Muslims, converting to Islam was an easy process because of the overall similarities between their new and old religions. For instance, both faiths believe that there is one God, they share many of the same prophets – like Noah, Abraham and Moses, among others – they agree that people must follow the Ten Commandments, that Jesus Christ is the son of the Virgin Mary, and that he performed miracles, that there is a Satan who is evil, that the Anti-Christ will appear on earth before Judgment Day, and that there is a hell and a paradise. Even many of the religious holidays and practices are similar, from Lent and Ramadan to Zakat and tithing.
Despite all of these similarities, most converts experience rejection and criticism from their Latino families and friends. From Islamophobic nicknames and regular Christian/Catholic conversion attempts to complete abandonment, many of the misconceptions associated with Islam has made the coming out experience difficult for Latino converts. However, while not the case for all, oftentimes after explaining the parallels and disproving the myths, Latino families do come around and accept them, even if they don’t convert themselves.
Like other Muslims, Latinos who practice Islam face a barrage of harassment and threats. While the majority of ISIS’ victims are Muslims, and despite the fact that most Muslims don’t support the terrorist group, Muslims, including Latino converts, have dealt with hate speech from media-makers and politicians to acts of verbal and physical violence from people in their own communities, sometimes their own homes. These constant instances of harassment and threats are also leading to growing rates of mental illnesses in Muslim populations, and Latinos, who themselves have significant rates of mental health disorders like depression, suicidal ideation and eating disorders, are also one of the least likely to get the care they need.
Unlike their harassers, Muslim Latinos – and the Islam religion in general – abhor violence. Islamic law forbids terrorism and other acts of violence, with the Quran prohibiting murder, aggressive warfare, killing of innocent civilians and the act of imposing the Islam religion on other people.
Muslim Latino converts are, well, still the same ol’ Latinos they always were. Aside from their new faith, one that has likely made them more peaceful and happy – both good things! – these folks aren’t losing their culture, pride or community, just take a look at all the Latin American flags waving at Islam community events or the badass hermanas organizing for the rights of people of color and women in their hijabs.