Religion, Culture Mix at Itfar Dinner

By Lauren Melnick
Columbia Spectator
October 12, 2005

After Ramadan Dinner, Students Discuss Growing Role of Islam in Latino Culture

Students came together to break their Ramadan fast over an iftar dinner and stayed for halal tex-mex in Lerner.

The mix of the two unlikely meals represented the blend of cultures at Tuesday night’s “Latinos in Islam: Rediscovering our Roots.” The event was organized to educate attendees about the role that Islam has played in Latino culture and the growing Latino Muslim population.

The program, which was scheduled to coincide with both Ramadan and Latino Heritage Month, was organized at the suggestion of Hernan Guadalupe, director and founder of the Latino Muslim Outreach Program and a recent Muslim convert.

“We believe [Latino Muslim culture] to be an interesting topic which hasn’t really been discussed over the years,” said Guadalupe. “My goal is to have people really enjoy the information and walk out knowing something new about Islam and about being Latino.”

Originally from Ecuador and a native Spanish speaker, Guadalupe said he was raised in a strong Catholic household. It was not until his junior year of college in 2001 that he converted to Islam. In March 2005, he co-founded the LMOP, a New Jersey-based grassroots organization that aims to introduce more Latinos to Islam and clarify misconceptions and stereotypes about Islam.

Guadalupe attributed the appeal of Islam to “the clarity, simplicity, and satisfaction of this way of life,” and said some Latinos converted because they “were not satisfied with the religion or way of life bestowed upon them by their culture.”

Sandra Jimenez, CC ’07, a friend of Guadalupe and spokesperson for Lambda Pi Chi, approached the Muslim Students Association for their involvement and co-sponsorship.

Members of the MSA said they hoped the program would build stronger ties within the Latino community.

“The event will help us learn and get to know the Latinos in the American Muslim community,” said Sakib Khan, SEAS ’07 and president of MSA.

Khan said hosting an event like this is an opportunity to develop a better understanding of the complex relationship between religion and ethnicity.

“We hope that this event will help to dispel stereotypes that Islam is an ethnocentric religion and enforce the fact that Islam is evident and engaged in virtually every culture in the world, as opposed to the view that it is simply something Arab or Oriental,” Khan said.

The evening began with the breaking of fasts, a call to prayer at sunset, and dinner. Directly afterward was Guadalupe’s presentation regarding Islam in Latino history and heritage. The evening concluded with a question and answer session.

While 70 people came to break their Ramadan fast, only about 30 stayed through the lecture.

“I like his balance between his two cultures,” said Zuhaa Mohiuddin, CC ’07, who attended the event. “What he had to say was really important. I’m big on interfaith interactions and culture, and love learning about different perspectives.”

Other students said that they found it interesting to hear about the experiences of a convert since many were raised with Islam.

“I liked how he could connect with his Latino culture as a speaker,” said Reim Atabani, BC ’08. “He presented this in a way that a lot of speakers are not able to. They speak to the abstract of religion; he spoke of the personal experiences of Latinos. It really opens your eyes as a Muslim to see so much diversity.”

The event was co-sponsored by Columbia’s Muslim Students Association, Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, and the Latino Muslim Outreach Program.

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