By Anthony Chiorazzi
May 14, 2007
As a girl in Catholic school, Khadijah Rivera dreamed of becoming a nun despite the fact she feared Jesus. She was frightened by her church’s bloodied statue of Christ nailed to the cross and was plagued with fear when receiving communion. “When I used to put the host in my mouth,” she says, “I never bit it. I let it melt because I was afraid to bite the body and blood of Christ.” Years later, as an adult, she says she has now gotten over these fears and learned to love Jesus more. The reason for her change of heart? Rivera converted to Islam.
According to Rivera, who founded PIEDAD, a Latino Muslim organization based in Tampa, Florida, with over 300 members nationwide, Latino Muslims are on the rise. In America, they are close to 100,000 and growing, more than doubling their numbers in less than a decade.
Rivera says reading the Koran played a role in her conversion. “Here’s a book that explained to me in a logical matter why we’re on earth,” she says. “What we’re suppose to do and where we go afterward. All the questions you could ask are answered in the Koran.”
Now, as a Muslim who wears the hijab, or headscarf, Rivera, 56, says she doesn’t fear Jesus because she understands him. “I don’t see him as God, but as a man who was a messenger of God and a special prophet.”
A Supportive Forum
Latino Muslims can be found in sizable numbers in metropolitan centers where large populations of both Latinos and Muslims reside, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Miami.
LALMA (Los Angeles Latino Muslim Association) is one of the several Latino Muslim organizations in California. The organization began eight years ago with five members and now has over eight times that amount and still growing. LALMA offers not only Spanish speaking educational classes on Islam but also a supportive forum for Latino Muslims.
Marta Felicitas Ramirez, the leader of LALMA, says that she came to Islam through much soul-searching, study and by privately reciting the shahada (“There is no God but God and Muhammad is God’s messenger”) and witnessing immediate answers to her problems.
The 9/11 Factor
According to the Harvard University Pluralism Project, statistics show that there has been an increase in conversions to Islam in the US since 9/11. Many Latino Muslims attribute this to the media focus on Islam in the wake of events like 9/11 and the Iraq war. They believe that due to the extensive media coverage, people grow curious about Islam, check it out and often find truth in it.
Ramirez contends that for many of these traditionally Catholic Latinos, their conversion is eased by the fact that they don’t have to abandon their love of Jesus and Mary because both are highly regarded in Islam. The Koran dedicates an entire chapter to Mary.
Jesus, Mary and Islam