Hispanic Muslims: Why Are Catholic Hispanic Americans Converting To Islam?

By Susmita Baral
Latin Times
August 21, 2013

Islam is most commonly associated with the Middle East and the Arab world, but the simple truth is that 85 percent of the world’s Muslims are non-Arab. Current estimates suggest that one-fourth of the world’s population is Muslim (roughly 2.6 billion). When looking at the countries with the largest Muslim populations, most are from the Eastern World: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Ian, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China, Syria and Russia. But the prevalence of Islam doesn’t just lie in the Eastern world, as new reports are suggesting that Hispanics are converting to Islam.

The Hispanic community is one that has strong roots in Catholicism, but yet BBC reports that the U.S. Census finds that Latino Muslims number between 100,000 and 200,000. BBC reporter Katy Watson spoke with Yousef, a half Colombian and half Ecuadorian. “I was very, I guess ignorant,” said Yousef. “And I think what I saw enraged me — I saw people falling from the towers. In the end, I hated Muslims. My hatred was diminished, it was extinguished really, my learning about Islam. My project I was given to learn about Islam in college. And once I did that, I made the decision to come to the faith.”

In fact, in Union City in New Jersey, where more than 80 percent of the population is Hispanic, mosques and Islamic religious centers are popping up. One local mosque has a 30 percent Latino population and classes are held in Spanish to help converts learn more about the Qur’an. “We are a minority within a minority, growing very rapidly,” says Nahila, a Mexican convert who works at an outreach center. “I think they’re looking for that niche.” Nahila goes on to explain that the hardest part of converting for a Latino is the feeling that they are leaving their family.

CNN reports that a 2011 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 2.75 million Muslims live in the United States and in 2008, four percent of America’s Muslims identified themselves as Latinos. The vast majority of the Latino Muslim community were found in major cities, such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and the Bronx. As for why Latinos are converting, the reasons are across the board ranging from marrying into the faith, disatisfaction in their birth faith, exposure to the religion during prison or attending interfaith events. One common factor found; however, is that most of the converts switch faiths in adulthood.

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