Panel Highlights Plight of Many Latino Muslims

By Mima Mohammed
Stanford Daily
February 24, 2006

While Latinos and Islam may first appear to be unrelated subjects, yesterday’s panel titled “Hispanos Musulmanes: Latinos embracing Islam” highlighted the unique population of Muslims residing in Latin American nations and the Caribbean. The three-person panel, comprised of members from the organization “Members of Latino Muslims of the Bay Area,” came to the El Centro Chicano community center to address students, with MeCHA and the Muslim Students Association co-sponsoring the talk.

The panelists focused on the phenomenon of young Latinos in major cities converting to Islam. These new converts face myriad hurdles in trying to reconcile their new faith with Latino cultural backgrounds. The speakers candidly spoke of their personal strife in fighting to win acceptance from their families and friends about the tenets of the Muslim faith.

The panel was composed of Alejandro Hamed, Daniel Islam and Issa Delgadillo. Hamed, a Muslim by birth but raised in Chile, was the first to speak. The son of Syrian immigrants, Hamed made immigration a central focus of his issue. He traced the roots of Islamic populations in Latino countries to the influx of Indian indentured servants to the Caribbean sugar canes in the late 1990s. Hamed also braced the influence of Islam on Spain as well, reflecting on its effect on architecture. He addressed the fact that a lot of Stanford architecture originated from Spanish and Islamic influences, as seen in the arches throughout the Stanford campus.

The second speaker with the coincidental name Islam hails from Tijuana and was raised in a Catholic family. However, after finding many of the Catholic rituals insufficient to fulfill his spiritual thirst, he turned to Islam, which he found to be more sensible. Despite his past frustration with his faith, however, Islam nevertheless expressed a strong respect for the Catholic community.

“Faith that the Mexicano have with the Catholic faith is incredible,” Islam said. “Their faith was so strong, that they would give their last peso to people who were poor when in church.”

Delgadillo, who is originally from Nicaragua but grew up in Los Angeles, said that converting to Islam changed his life completely. After a shameful past of gang activity and illegal activity, an old girlfriend of his, who had converted to Islam earlier, introduced him to the religion by bringing him books. Then she also took him to a mosque, where he was able to learn from other Muslims. Since he has become a Muslim, his life is completely different since he no longer drinks, as alcoholism is prohibited by Islam.

“Since I converted, my life from that moment changed,” Delgadillo said. “My life is very different from how it once was, it is a lot easier, I have not had alcohol in over two years.”

His mother, however, who is from a strict Catholic background, still has trouble coming to terms with her son being a Muslim, he said.

Audience members were drawn to the event for different reasons, ranging from personal connection to mere curiosity.

“I was interested in this topic because of friends I had in Texas, where there is a large Latino population. This topic of Latinos in Islam is not understood by a lot of Muslims or Latinos,” said freshman Fatima Hassan, who organized the panel and presentation.

“This program brought to light the influence of Islam in our Latino culture that I never realized,” said sophomore Joshua Bogus. “It also highlighted the difficulty that members of our community face who are trying to balance their Latino and Muslim identifies.”

“The talk really intrigued me — I never realized how connected the histories of Islam and Latinos are, and the personal stories of identity, struggle and conversion were truly heart warming,” said MSAN President and junior Omar Shakir

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