Islam en Español: In Conversion, a New Identity

By Eirini Vourloumis
New York Times
January 7, 2011

AT the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center in Union City, N.J., there are Spanish-language classes on the Koran and an annual Latino Muslim Day. About 35 percent of the center’s congregation is Hispanic, and there are frequent conversions in which Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Cubans and others recite the Shahadah, a declaration of belief.

While the majority of Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, some studies have estimated that there are as many as 200,000 Hispanic converts to Islam in this country. Among them are Musa Franco, top left, a Colombian who converted at age 13, walking to the mosque with his wife, Candice Elam. And Shari Abdul Malik, top right, placing a Costa Rican flag on a table for Latino Muslim Day at the North Hudson center.

Then there is Miriam Celeste Colo’n, far right second row, who, after converting in 2002, started her own clothing line, Dignity Apparel — “where modesty meets the fashion industry.” Her line combines her urban-Latin style with traditional Islamic dress. And Muslimah Rodriguez, who decided in 2009 to start wearing the veil known as a niqab, and is shown, at right, at an Islamic convention, where she recited a poem on being a Muslim woman.

These photographs were taken by Eirini Vourloumis, who was raised in Athens and baptized Greek Orthodox, but whose mother’s family is Muslim. After 9/11, she grew increasingly interested in Muslim culture, and while at an Indonesian mosque in Long Island City, Queens, for an Akika, or blessing, ceremony for a new baby, met some women affiliated with the North Hudson center. Spending time in Union City, she found many converts who remained immersed in their ethnic food and music but were building a dual identity as Muslims through devotion, dress and fasting.

A version of this article appeared in print on January 9, 2011, on page MB8 of the New York edition.

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