By Karina Vasquez
Being Latino Online Magazine
June 16, 2011
Despite the polar differences that exist between conservative Muslims and Latino Catholics, there are those in the Latino community that are willing to give up their pernil Christmas dinners and are converting to Islam.
It does not seem like the smoothest transition. As a Latino Catholic converting to Islam, you go from eating pork at every family meal to completely removing this childhood staple from your diet. As a converted Muslim, you must dress more conservatively and hide those Latina curves and perhaps that gorgeous mane of hair with a hijab.
If you are male, you go from having less accountability in your religion, having only to be at church on Sundays, to praying five times a day. If all these changes are not enough, you are now also a target as people question why a Latino Catholic would convert to Islam and start developing conspiracy theories to answer their questions. However, despite all the changes that a Muslim convert must incorporate into their everyday lives, there are many Latinos that are actively converting to Islam.
In February 2010, North Hudson Islamic Educational Center, a Sunni Muslim mosque established in 1992 in Union City, New Jersey had 2,000 members. “Approximately 500 members were Latino converts,” said Mariam Abbassi, vice president of the outreach program at the center. According to The New Jersey Monthly, the mosque actively reaches out to Latinos in Hudson County and makes an effort to combine the two cultures in every possible way, as long as Latino traditions do not contradict the principles of Islam.
The center offers bilingual (English and Spanish) language classes on the Koran. And in 2009, the center opened a private Muslim day school for youngsters in pre-K through eighth grades and hired a Puerto Rican-born teacher. The mosque in Union City is not the only one with a Latino population. Out of the 500 families that worship at the Islamic Center of Passaic County, ten are Latino families. At the Islamic Society of Central Jersey in South Brunswick, which was founded in the early 1970s, about twenty of the 1,500 families are Latino.
Why exactly Latinos are converting to Islam is unclear, as converting to another religion is a highly personal decision, but I do have my theories. In Islam, there exists an indoctrinated focus on family, an element that Latinos cherish and respect. Perhaps it is this focus on family that attracts some Latinos. Also, in everyday Muslim life, Muslims must make conscious efforts to connect to God (e.g., wearing a hijab, praying often, restricting their diet), and having these frequent connections to God is powerful when experiencing challenges in life or simply trying to live more spiritually. Whatever the reasoning is, it is interesting to see that more and more of our Latino peers are accepting the word of the Quran in their lives and are changing the face of Islam in this country.