Muslim and Latino Relationships Growing

By Julia Cosans
April 28, 2009

Over winter break, senior Sana Javed attended a Friday prayer at a mosque in El Paso, Texas. The presence of the number of Latinos praying in the same mosque surprised Javed.

Javed, a member of the Muslim Student Association, said the misrepresentation and oppression of both the Muslim and Latino communities in the United States could explain why the two cultures are beginning to intertwine.

“As a Muslim, I am constantly trying to break down racial divides within our society,” Javed said. “I think the equality inherent to Islam helps us understand that we are all people under God and that, for example, Latino and Muslim are not two mutually exclusive identities.”

Some national Muslim groups like the Latino American Dawah Organization already specialize in reaching out to the Latino community in the United States.
LADO, founded in 1997 by Hispanic Muslims, was originally intended to spread Islam both to Latin America and to American Latinos, though LADO co-founder of Shafiq Muhammad said they have so far stuck to the U.S.

The goals of LADO and other similar organizations aren’t necessarily to convert Latinos. One key mission, many said, is to promote awareness of an oft-misunderstood faith.

“Islam is a religion that in our country is dominated by stereotypes and prejudice,” Javed said, too often associated only with violence in the Middle East despite its global presence.

Abdul Khan, a university senior and MSA vice president, also emphasized that Muslims are not simply proselytizing Latinos.

“As Muslims, it is our responsibility to educate everyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, about the religion, its principles and what the belief entails,” he said. “It’s not a goal to try and convert people to Islam.”

Khan also noted that the MSA is now preparing information materials in Spanish to distribute to local Latino communities and has invited Latino students to his organization’s activities.

By reaching out, Khan said, he believes both groups get a better understanding of how they function together as a community, a sentiment Javed echoed.

“I believe that Muslims can share their faith and their diverse backgrounds with Latinos by simply being better neighbors and better friends,” she said. “Building bridges within communities always starts on the personal level between people and I think we are all willing to learn more about one another.”

Muhammad, the LADO co-founder, also noted that some aspects of the Latino and Muslim cultures share a common heritage in 13th-century Spain.

“Historically, Spain was an Islamic country for almost 800 years. These influences certainly didn’t die off with the forced conversions of thousands of Muslims,” he said. “Our language, our food, our customs, and even some of our religious practices still retain remnants of what used to be Islamic Spain.”

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