“As-salam alaykum, Wa alaykumu s-salam”: Latino Americans are Leaving Catholicism to Embrace Islam

By Nicole Akoukou Thompson
Latin Post
February 13, 2014

By and large, Latino Americans are Catholic; a majority of the 52 million Hispanics living in the United States belong to the Catholic Church and many of their traditions are rooted in its teachings. However, Cathedrals are emptying, and former occupants have taken to worshiping in mosques… or at least that’s the case in the Latin American community. Latinos are flocking to the Islamic faith at an unconfirmed rate, and there’s an estimated 100,000-200,000 (though competing sources says 15,000 to 50,000) Latino Muslims in the United States. Six percent of U.S. Muslims population is Latino, and one-in-five new converts to Islam are Hispanic.

New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Florida are states that see a growing presence of Latino Muslims, though the United States Census Bureau has not provided official statistics on religion. Latino American Dawah Organization, Alianza Islámica, Latino Muslims of Chicago, Alameda Islamica: Latino Muslims of the Bay Area, and IslamInSpanish are just an example of the numerous other Latino Muslim organizations throughout the country that welcome Latino Muslims.

Converts state that reasons for conversion are rooted in the fact that Islamic values synchronize with Latino culture and traditions. The importance of religion, family, education, and social solidarity are prime examples that newly christened Latino Muslims cite.

While Islam is famed for its segregation of women, more Latina women convert to Islam than Latino men. The male-dominated Catholic Church proves to be no more progressive for women, as they forbid birth control, women priests and divorce.

Latina and Latino involvement with the Islamic faith isn’t new, however. Hispanic Muslims have identified historical and cultural ties to Islam and the Arab world. More than 4,000 words come from the classic Arabic language; this is a result of Arab Muslims ruling Spain for 800 years during the Middle Ages.

“What most Latinos who have embraced Islam find most amazing is their cultural affinity to the Muslim culture,” said Wilfredo Ruiz, a Puerto Rican-born Muslim. “It’s like rediscovering your past. That area of our past has been hidden from us.”

With regard to social status, Latino Muslims may be ostracized by three separate sectors after a change in religion: the Latino Catholic-majority, who believe that becoming a Muslim is “cultural betrayal”; the Muslim-majority, who believe that Latino Muslims are somehow false; and Americans, who are distrustful of Muslims.

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