Why do Latinos convert to Islam? Are Hispanics quickest rising Muslim group?


It’s a Saturday night time throughout Ramadan and, because the solar units, the courtyard of Muslim Neighborhood of Palm Seaside County comes alive as locals collect for iftar, the breaking of the quick. Males take seats on the lengthy white tables that stand between a big mango tree and green-pillared arches. Past the mango tree, on the opposite aspect of the car parking zone, girls wrapped in colourful saris sit below a big white tent, prepared to interrupt the quick with dates and neon purple juice. Because the time approaches, a hush cascades throughout the tables. A girl declares, “You’ll be able to break the quick now” and everybody reaches for a date, some whispering prayers earlier than they start to eat. 

Our bodies, tense from a day’s starvation, chill out. Chitchat resumes. A jar of chutney materializes and is handed round, the ladies spooning it onto the fried snacks earlier than us. Now the ladies seated across the desk clarify to me that after this fast, gentle snack, we’ll go inside to hope. Afterwards, we’ll return for a meal. My daughter and I observe the road of girls into the constructing and up the steps to the sequestered balcony on the second flooring, the place the ladies line up aspect by aspect to hope, forming rows.

Although I’m in all probability the one non-Muslim current, I’m not the one individual right here who wasn’t born into the religion — downstairs, among the many males, is the only real Latino Muslim current on the mosque tonight: Wilfredo Ruiz, a Puerto Rican man who transformed to Islam twenty years in the past. 

Sooner or later, whereas driving to his hometown within the suburbs of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ruiz observed a mosque that had been constructed into the aspect of a hill. He’d seen it previously however that day, he recollects, he determined to seek out out extra about Islam.

Following the beginning of their twins, Ruiz and his spouse on the time had been desirous about what kind of spiritual framework they needed to lift the youngsters in. Nonpracticing Catholics, they’d mentioned taking their children — who had been toddlers on the time — to church. After they handed the mosque and Ruiz introduced his intention to study concerning the faith, the thought of changing appeared far-fetched and each he and his spouse laughed.

However when he arrived at his now former mother-in-law’s home and shared what had occurred on the highway, she stated she occurred to have a pamphlet about Islam that had been given to her to by a neighborhood man — a Palestinian retailer proprietor. It felt like destiny.

Keen, Ruiz learn the literature. After which he learn it once more. And once more. 

Ruiz learn the 20-page pamphlet “4 or 5 instances,” he says. “I used to be so drawn to and linked to the idea of God in Islam.” 

Ruiz explains that he’d all the time struggled with the idea of the trinity, which didn’t make sense to him. There have been different theological questions that had plagued him all through his Catholic upbringing and his parochial college schooling. 

“The questions had been answered once I approached Islam,” Ruiz says. 

Thus started Ruiz’s exploration of the religion that in the end felt like dwelling. 

Ruiz represents a small however rising minority inside a minority: Latino Muslims. In 2011, 6% of Muslim Individuals recognized as Hispanic, in line with Pew Analysis Middle; by 2017, it was 8%, Pew reported. 

Whereas teachers level out that Latino spiritual life has lengthy been extra various than the general public realizes, broadly talking, the phenomenon of Latinos changing to Islam displays a culturewide shift away from Catholicism.


Wilfredo A Ruiz, Communications Director for Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations, visits the mosque on the Islamic Middle of Broward in Dawn Florida, Friday, April 29, 2022.

Joe Cavaretta, for the Deseret Information

In 2010, 67% of Hispanic American adults recognized as Catholic, in line with Pew Analysis Middle; by 2013, that quantity had plummeted 12 proportion factors to 55%. Many Latinos who left the Catholic church joined the evangelical motion — which has made inroads in Latin America in current many years — or grew to become a part of nation’s rising group of “nones” by leaving organized faith behind, Pew experiences. However some grew to become Muslims.

Many Hispanic converts to Islam say that praying on to God with out an middleman is interesting, as is the unitary side of God. Some Latino converts additionally recognize that figures from Christianity just like the Virgin Mary and Jesus are additionally a part of Islam, says Juan Galvan, creator of the guide “Latino Muslims: Our Journeys to Islam” who’s himself a Latino convert to Islam. 

Pointing to the historical past of Al-Andalus — which was, for a whole bunch of years, Muslim-ruled — Ruiz and others say that Islam is a deep-rooted a part of the heritage bequeathed by Spain. In addition they cite cultural and linguistic connections between Arabs and Spanish-speakers, together with the truth that the Spanish language absorbed 1000’s of Arabic phrases in the course of the Muslim rule of the Iberian peninsula. 

However Latino converts face numerous challenges. For one, they typically really feel remoted. Though there are pretty giant Latino Muslim populations concentrated in Texas and New Jersey, for probably the most half, they’re scattered. When Latino Muslims go to their native mosques or neighborhood facilities and meet teams of Muslims talking Arabic or different languages amongst themselves, they will really feel excluded. Some neighborhood leaders are involved about retaining Latino Muslims within the religion after they’ve made the step of changing. 

A few weeks after that first encounter with Islam, Ruiz, who’s an legal professional, was on his approach to court docket close to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, when he spied an Islamic middle alongside the highway. He pulled off, stepped inside, and requested for a Quran; the person had one in Spanish. He additionally really useful that Ruiz take a look at a mosque in San Juan, including that the imam’s spouse was additionally Puerto Rican.

Ruiz rushed by a cup of tea and hurried alongside. However he took the Quran with him and he started commuting to attend courses on the mosque that he’d seen as he’d pushed to his mother-in-law’s home. It was there, below a dome nestled within the hills of Puerto Rico, that he transformed to Islam. However that wasn’t the top of the method.

Ruiz, who went on to review faith at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut and who served as a chaplain within the U.S. Navy, continues to study concerning the religion. He says, “Islam is delicate. It comes delicate to your life and also you study it for the remainder of your life.” 

Islam isn’t a faith “in a typical definition of the phrase,” Ruiz provides. “It’s a lifestyle.” 

At the moment, as communications director for the Florida department of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ruiz helps others change into acquainted with the religion; he additionally helps to maintain Muslim Individuals knowledgeable on a wide range of points.

Exterior the mosque, within the courtyard of the Muslim Neighborhood of Palm Seaside County, Ruiz has arrange a desk, draped within the Council on American-Islamic Relations brand. He affords pamphlets that define Individuals’ spiritual rights, as assured by the First Modification. 

Ruiz can be attempting to get CAIR en Español, the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Spanish, off the bottom. He is aware of that, though the variety of Latino converts to Islam is rising, many battle to remain within the arms of their chosen religion. 

Twenty years in the past when Ruiz grew to become a Muslim, there was a dearth of supplies in Spanish. These days, with the web, that downside has largely been resolved. However, as we speak, Latino converts grapple with one other difficulty, Ruiz says: the right way to discover their place in a neighborhood. 

Whereas there are some mosques in Texas that supply Friday prayers in each Arabic and Spanish, on the whole, there’s a dearth of Spanish-speaking imams. “In Puerto Rico, there are mosques which have imams that don’t converse a sentence of Spanish,” says Ruiz. 

And when Spanish-speakers do search to change into imams themselves, they’re inspired to review abroad, which is commonly not possible for these with wives and households. After they do handle to change into imams, they generally discover that they aren’t welcome at mosques. They’re advised, “‘You’re not Arab’ or ‘You don’t come from my tradition,’” says Ruiz. 

The Muslim neighborhood wants “to create space for Hispanic individuals in management positions,” he provides.

Whereas new converts are celebrated by the entire neighborhood, Ruiz says, quickly after these individuals disappear from the convert’s assist circle and the brand new Muslim finds himself or herself alone, adrift between their outdated neighborhood and their new one. Management is conscious of this difficulty, Ruiz provides, and a few mosques try to prepare teams to supply continued assist to new converts. 

Nevertheless it must be one thing holistic, just like the “Islamic assist system of the neighbors, the individuals who invite you into the house,” says Ruiz. “That assist — neighborhood assist and the mosque assist — just isn’t there but.” 

After prayers, again within the girls’s tent, I ask the ladies across the desk in the event that they ever see any Latina Muslims coming by. “There was one,” somebody responds. However she hasn’t returned since COVID-19 hit. 

“For those who’re not a part of the Arab or Desi (Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi) neighborhood, you are feeling outcast,” says Sabha Hammad, a Palestinian American college scholar who serves as a program and outreach coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations-Florida.

Hammad feels that, on the a part of these born Muslim, exclusion is commonly unintentional. Individuals who converse the identical language naturally cluster collectively, leaving those that don’t exterior these tight circles. 

The mosque, Galvan says, might be “very intimidating.” 

“I feel a variety of Muslim (converts) — together with myself — typically had been reluctant to go to the mosque. The tradition is so totally different,” says Galvan. “I really feel like Muslims who’re born Muslims are much more more likely to come to a place that they’re comfy with themselves as Muslims. Islam might be overwhelming for converts.”

Moreover, converts typically have a tough time studying spiritual practices like wudu, the ritual washing of palms and toes that’s completed earlier than prayer, in a manner that those that have grown up within the religion don’t. Converts are typically intimidated by different facets of the tradition, just like the meals, says Hammad. 

However Latino Muslims typically find yourself adapting acquainted dishes to halal specs, says Madelina Nuñez, a doctoral fellow at Purdue College who’s writing her dissertation on Latino Muslim meals and who co-authored a chapter of the guide “Cyber Muslims: Mapping Islamic Digital Media within the Web Age.” Nuñez affords a quote from from a Latino Muslim, Richard Silva, stating, “‘They ask why I wish to change my tradition. I inform them I’m altering religión, not tradition. I nonetheless eat tortillas.’” 

Regardless of Latino Muslims struggles to be accepted by the neighborhood, Ruiz and teachers alike say that this group will go away an indelible mark on American Islam. 

“Latinx Muslims are poised to play a extra outstanding position amongst their fellow Muslims within the U.S. and to proceed to form the practices and expressions of Islam within the U.S. and the broader Americas,” Ken Chitwood, creator of “The Muslims of Latin America and the Caribbean” and a analysis and journalism fellow at College of Southern California’s Middle for Faith and Civic Tradition, wrote in an e-mail.

“As they proceed to construct establishments and create infrastructure for infusing American Muslim communities with extra distinctly Latinx language, political preferences and points, and cultural practices, I feel you will note others drawn to and influenced by them, as we have now by locations like Centro Islámico, packages like #TacoTrucksInEveryMosque, or CAIR en Español,” says Chitwood. “As imams in native mosques, leaders of Muslim rights organizations, and founders of great Muslim inventive and nonprofit enterprises, every of those leaders brings their cultural identifications and practices with them into these roles and subsequently shapes how each Muslims and non-Muslims view the American Muslim neighborhood.” 

Chitwood foresees a future that features extra Spanish-language proselytizing supplies in addition to “extra halal tamales on provide at neighborhood iftars.” 


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