Culture

These 5 Pieces Offer a Glimpse Into the Latino Muslim Experience

Lead Photo: Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

While the Latino community is traditionally associated with fervent Catholicism — and more recently with evangelical protestantism — Latinos in the United States actually make up a significant portion of the country’s Muslim population, with some estimates putting the figure as high as 10%. To boot, many Latin American countries boast growing Muslim communities thanks to concerted evangelization efforts and an increasingly large body of religious literature available in Spanish.

But our cultural connection with Islam goes much deeper than these more recent developments, with eight centuries of Islamic presence on the Iberian peninsula leaving an indelible imprint on Spanish language, architecture, food, and urban planning. Add to that the millions of Muslim immigrants who have made Latin America their home over the years, and it’s clear that our fates are deeply intertwined. Plus, as many Latino Muslims have proven, adopting Islam doesn’t have to be incompatible with one’s cultural identity, and many members of this growing faith community happily reconcile their Latinidad with the practice of their faith.

That’s not to say, of course, that Latino Muslims don’t face their own unique set of challenges, particularly in a political climate that brazenly demonizes both groups as encroaching threats to American civilization. Then there are the often bewildered reactions of friends and family members, or the ambivalence of some fellow Muslims unsure of how to assess a recent convert.

Luckily for those of us interested in learning more about this growing phenomenon, there are a handful of articles and videos floating around the interwebs that serves as a useful primer. And to honor our Muslim hermanos y hermanas on this special holiday, we’ve put together a list of this content so we can all get up on Latino Islam.

Ramadan Mubarak!

The Guardian, "Latino Muslims at country's only Spanish-speaking mosque: 'Islam changed my life'"

This article in The Guardian profiles Houston’s Centro Islámico, which brings together a community of 18 Muslim Latinos from around the Houston area who have taken the Shahada, the Islamic profession of faith. Founded by Colombian-American Jaime Fletcher, the Centro Islámico serves members with origins in Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, and beyond, while openly celebrating the Latino identity of its religious community.

Read it here.

Fusion, "Four Muslim Latinas open up about their journeys to Islam"

Part of an ongoing series, this article sits down with four Muslim Latinas from southern California to talk about the challenges they face in a racially – and religiously – charged social climate. With diverse backgrounds ranging from Mexico to Peru and Puerto Rico, these women found their way to Islam through different paths but find commonality in the joys and ambiguities of straddling both Islam and Latinidad.

Read it here.

Fusion," 'It's beautiful': How four Los Angeles Latinos found peace in Islam"

Part two of the same Fusion series, this article profiles four Latino converts to Islam as they reflect on being shunned by friends and family, experiences with religious profiling, and balancing their culture with their Islamic faith. With roots in Mexico and Guatemala, these four men found their religious calling in diverse settings, including a maximum security prison, a college social justice course, and a Catholic seminary in Mexico.

Read it here.

Vice, 'Los Indígenas Musulmanes'

Of the 5,000 Muslims living in Mexico, 300 belong to the Tzotzil and Tzeltal ethnic groups of Chiapas. Founded in 1995, their community came about when an evangelizing Spaniard named Aureliano Pérez attempted to convert the Zapatista movement to Islam. When Subcomandante Marcos rejected the proposition, Pérez managed to win over a few isolated communities who continue practicing to this day. This short documentary from Vice captures the construction of the community’s first official mosque.

POV, 'New Muslim Cool'

New Muslim Cool profiles Puerto Rican-American convert Hamza Pérez, who along with his brother Suliman, founded the incendiary hip-hop duo Mujahideen Team (M-Team). A former drug dealer, Pérez found Islam after a chance encounter with an old sheikh and quickly went about establishing a religious community of Latino and African-American converts that ultimately found a home in Pittsburgh, PA. The film follows Pérez as he juggles the demands of family and community life, while confronting an FBI investigation into the mosque he helped create.