By Wilfredo Amr Ruiz
The Huffington Post
November 16, 2011
America’s ever-growing Latino-Muslim population has yet to be estimated statistically. However, it is indisputable that with exponential growth Latino-Muslims find increasing presence and voice in the American Muslim public square.
Latino paths to Islam are as diverse as Hispanic countries of origin and roots: from the Caribbean, Central and South America or even Spain. The conduits to their new spiritual journeys derive from a variety of life experiences that range from the sublime appeal of accidentally listening to Quranic recitation or from a close encounter with a Muslim performing one of his five daily prayers. Many Latinos, men and women, embraced Islam vicariously through their fiancées’ faith before marriage; and we find many who decided to adopt their spouse’s faith after years of marriage. For others, the pathway to Islam was forged while trying to fill a spiritual void or satisfy some inquisitiveness after initiating formal academic research or an informal Google search on news related to Islam, the Muslim World, Islamist movements, terrorism, ongoing military conflicts or the Arab Spring.
Some Latino Muslim Americans are completely blended into heterogeneous communities, while others claim distinction within their communities of worship. Take, for example, the Latinos of the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center in Union City, N.J., who recently celebrated their ninth annual “Hispanic Muslim Day” at a well-attended ceremony that concluded with various guests embracing Islam.
Another Muslim American phenomenon is the surge in Muslim organizations founded and operated by Latino Muslims, or in which Latinos play a significant role. Part and parcel of the growing Latino movement to embrace Islam is the burgeoning need to cater to this community in Spanish, its native tongue. This explains the advent of various Latino Islamic organizations such as “Islam in Spanish,” whose managing coordinator, Abdullah Danny Hernandez, is a Puerto Rican who studied at Al Azhar University in Egypt. Another active organization is the Latin American Da’wah Organization (LADO) whose director, Mexican-American Juan Galván, leads its educational efforts. Various established organizations now included Latino Muslims in their staff. Such is the case of Nahela Alexandra Morales, a Mexican who works in the Islamic Council of North America’s “Why Islam?” project, where she assists in the national and international assemblage and distribution of educational materials in Spanish. In past years, other existing organizations have gradually grown to provide significant space for Latino Muslims. Such is the case of the American Muslim Association of North America (AMANA), which has distributed more than 20,000 Spanish translations of the Quran and opened a Spanish educational materials distribution branch in Puerto Rico. Also, the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) South Florida Chapter’s “CAIR en Español” project aims to provide advocacy services for Latino Muslims in pursuit of their civil liberties.
When it comes to Latino Muslim acceptance in the American landscape, they are not exempt from experiencing challenges and struggles confronted by the broader American Muslim community. They too fall victim to Islamophobic discourse carried out by known bigots like Pamela Geller, Joe Kaufman and Robert Spencer, who devote full-time efforts to demeaning Islam and belittling the American Muslim community. They also suffer continuous affronts coming from certain politicians who have adopted a negative approach to Muslims in America, like presidential hopeful Herman Cain and Congressmen Allen West and Peter King. Their unconstructive discourses vilify Muslims, such as when Cain openly revealed his reluctance to appoint Muslims to his cabinet if elected, or when Peter King conducted congressional investigations specifically targeting the American Muslim community. Another elected politician, Rep. Allen West from Florida, is known for his hateful rhetoric slandering Islam and the American Muslim community.
Latino Muslims are predisposed to exemplify tolerance as their historical circumstances render them champions of interreligious dialogue and acceptance. Often, their beloved parents, brothers and sisters practice Christianity and their families are living examples of interfaith love. What is unquestionable is that Latino Muslims are here in the “hood.” Their voice and presence in all socio-political spheres is increasingly palpable and growing stronger. They are here to stay and contribute in many positive aspects. Above all, their presence adds to our national value of spirituality in peace and harmony with others.