Islam Is Also an Alternative for Latinos in the United States

By Anna Cuenca
Associated Press
December 28, 2001

Posted Monday December 31, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Latinos who don’t drink, eat pork or even dance might feel out of step with their families or with other Latin Americans. Just the same, about 40,000 Latinos living in the United States find that Islam meets other needs and provides an alternative community.

“Some claim they are dissatisfied with Christianity, some are interested in the more active practice that Islam offers. Some find out about Islam through friends and family,” said Samantha Sanchez, President of Latino American Dawah Organization, one of several U.S. Organizations of Latino Muslims.

Marta Galedary, a Mexican immigrant who discovered Islam through friends 20 years ago, now organizes study groups for Latinos at the Los Angeles Islamic Center, AFP reported.

“People came to U.S. out of curiosity and asked for literature about Islam in Spanish, so we realized that we needed to reach out to non-Muslims,” said Galedary, whose group numbers 25 to 30. “Everyone knows someone who is interested.” In California, as in Texas, the majority of Muslim Latinos are Mexicans or Central Americans who arrived some years ago and haven’t mastered English. On the east coast, the communities are mostly Puerto Rican or Dominican, and many were born in the United States, said Ismi Saraji, who lives in New York.

Recent converts have little problem giving up pork, liquor and dance, said Saraji. The problem is getting their families to accept their new lifestyles. “The problem for them is how their families may feel betrayed by them. My cousin was still trying to feed me pork pies for years after I converted. When I mentioned the problem with pork, she would just say: So don’t eat that part’,” said Saraji.

“My parents still don’t understand a lot about my religion and I sometimes feel that they don’t want to understand something that they don’t like,” said Mercedes Zeenni, a Mexican-born California resident who converted to Islam 11 years ago, before marrying her Lebanese boyfriend. So strong is the fear of rejection that some follow Islam in secret.

“I’m always worried that the people I love the most will reject me. My grandparents still don’t know. I think the fear of rejection is one that all new converts fear,” said Juan Galvan, of Texas.

Nearly all Latino converts to Islam had been practicing Catholics who were to some degree uncomfortable with Catholicism. “I was Catholic. But from the start, it seemed that Islam gave more answers to my questions, was more direct, without mysteries, and making it easier for me to understand what it meant to believe in God,” said Zeenni.

The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, committed by Islamic extremists, have only created more misunderstandings. “One of my sisters said something like: That leader of y’all, he’s gonna call a holy war.’ I wonder how many Americans believe that Osama bin Laden is the Muslim leader,” said Galvan. “People act as if some Arab in Saudi Arabia has a long list of Muslims and can call any of them when he wants to commit an act of terrorism.” “Right now, the main difficulties I think that we as a community are facing is to counter the negative images and misconceptions,” Saraji added.

From Tehran Times. link