SAN ANTONIO, Pearland — Reaching out to Hispanics, American Muslims have been successfully organizing outreach programs in Spanish language to bring the Islamic faith closer to the Latino culture and traditions.
“To reach Hispanics, we have to be practical,” Imam Daniel Abdullah Hernandez, who teaches an “Islam in Spanish” course in Pearland, where Lopez reverted to Islam, told MY San Antonio website.
“Islam is practical. It's social. It's very easy to translate it into Hispanic culture, and it's even easier to communicate it in the Spanish language.”
Joining the ranks of an estimated 200,000 Hispanic Muslim community, Lopez took the shahada, declaration of faith, last December.
Like many other Muslims, Lopez reversion to Islam came as a result of Islamic outreach efforts which translated being Muslim into a Latino cultural and linguistic vernacular.
In his course, Hernandez includes the basics of Islam and specific elements he and others believe are important to Hispanics.
These elements include the links between Hispanic culture and Islam, taking care of the poor and differences and similarities with the Catholic faith.
“Many Latinos do not know about Andalusian Spain, when Islam gave birth to much of what we know as Hispanic culture today, including over 3,000 Spanish words,” he said.
“We are opening their eyes to how being Latino and Muslim makes perfect sense.”
Though there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to nearly seven million Muslims.
According to the Pew Research Center, 6 percent of American Muslims are Hispanic.
Further, one of 10 American-born converts is Hispanic, and that figure is growing.
The American Muslim Council puts the number of Latino Muslims in the US at about 200,000 in 2006.
The largest communities of Latino Muslims exist in areas with the highest concentrations of Latinos, such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.
Yet, California is the state with the most Latino Muslims.
Ambassadors of Islam
Soaked in the Catholic culture, the reversion of some Hispanic Muslims represented a shock to their families.
“My conversion was a shock for my family. They thought I rejected Jesus, Mary, my culture,” said Imam Isa Parada, one of the leaders of Islam in Spanish.
“My Dad thought I was going to be a terrorist.”
Islam in Spanish is not the first organization to focus its efforts on reaching Hispanics. The Latino American Dawah Organization, or LADO, has also helped in translating Islamic materials into Spanish.
Shafiq Alvarado, one of the founders of LADO, was born into a Catholic family of Dominican ancestry and reverted to Islam through the efforts of Allianza Islamica (Islamic Alliance) in New York.
“We have to know who our audience is,” Alvarado said of Latino-specific outreach.
“Latinos are a diverse group.”
LADO spends time on university campuses among Hispanic students, provides open houses, YouTube videos and puts on events such as the North Hudson Islamic Education Center's Hispanic Muslim Day, which features a blend of Hispanic culture and Islamic teaching.
“People who become Muslims inevitably become ambassadors for Islam,” said Alvarado.
“Hispanic Muslims are not sitting on the sidelines. They learn Arabic, the Quran, Islamic jurisprudence and ... give it back to their communities, their families.”
Finding Islam himself, Lopez decided to work as ambassador of his new faith among his family.
“As soon as I converted to Islam,” he said,
“I wanted to share with my family in Mexico, so they could do the same.”
Related Links:Latino Muslim Ambassadors
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US Latino Muslims Bridge Cultures
Islam Finds Home Among Latino Americans
Latino Muslim Converts Find Roots