By Chris Meehan
April 1, 2006
Juan Galvan told the crowd at Western Michigan University that his own ethnic background reflects the changing profile of modern Muslims.
As he opened his presentation to members of WMU’s Muslim Student Association, Galvan said that Islam is a religion of many faces, races and nationalities.
“The most ironic thing about today is that a Mexican-American Muslim from Texas is about to speak with a group of people who live in Michigan,” he said at the MSA banquet, held March 24.
Here he was, Galvan said, a Hispanic Muslim appearing at a Midwestern university to speak to young Muslims who hailed from many lands.
“It is through God’s mercy, love, blessing and grace that we meet today,” he said. “And, for this opportunity to meet with you, I thank you.”
Galvan grew up Catholic in a small Texas town. He converted to Islam in college a few years ago after meeting a man who explained, among other things, that Spain was a Muslim country for more than 700 years and that “thousands of Spanish words have Arabic roots.”
He said he began to believe that Islam is the “true, universal religion of God… As Muslims, we believe Islam is the correct and natural path.”
In an interview before his talk at WMU, Galvan said that he laments how fringe but high-profile groups in Islam seem to define what it means to be a Muslim. He pointed to the plight in Afghanistan of Abdul Rahman, a formerly Muslim convert to Christianity who was threatened with jail and execution.
“What is unfortunate is that the meaning of Islam is not being defined by (mainstream) Muslims,” he said. “You see a person throw a rock on the news and come to the conclusion that Muslims are all violent.”
Today, he said, the largest numbers of Muslims live in Indonesia. The United States is home to the most diverse population of Muslims, he said.
“The American Muslim community is the most diverse Muslim community in the world,” he said in his speech.
“Even the history of Muslims in the United States is a testament to this diversity. Albanian Muslims are recognized for establishing the first effective mosque in the U.S. in Biddeford, Maine, in 1915.”
Besides Galvan’s talk, the MSA program included a buffet-style dinner and an exhibition that featured artifacts from around the world.