It is the fastest growing ethnic group in Islam, but for Latinos living in the United States, converting from Catholicism is not easy. Some say people see them as giving up their heritage to become Arabs. And they do so in what are, for many, difficult political times.
Phil Lavelle of CGTN filed this report.
Latinos Become Islam’s Fastest Growing Ethnic Group
It is the fastest growing ethnic group in Islam, but for Latinos living in the United States, converting from Catholicism is not easy. Some say people see them as giving up their heritage to become Arabs. And they do so in what are, for many, difficult political times. Phil Lavelle of CGTN filed this report.
Lucy Silva is a Muslim. She converted from Catholicism 18 years ago.
âSome people just jump in and put on the scarf, I took my time to do a lot of research before I took that step,â she said.
Formerly Mexican and Catholic, and now Mexican and Muslim, which some people just cannot understand.
âThey automatically assume I’m Arab or from ‘over there’. So when they hear me speaking Spanish – let’s say I’m in a grocery store, or talking to my mom or my son – they’re pretty surprised. They say, “Where did you learn to speak Spanish” and I say, “Well, I’m Mexican,” said Lucy.
It is difficult to know exactly how many Latino and Latino Muslims are in the United States as no official studies have been carried out. But some experts estimate the figure to be between 150,000 and 200,000.
A report from Florida International University indicates that 90 percent of them are converts. Most of them are women.
In fact, Latino and Latino Muslims are the fastest growing ethnic group in Islam.
âA lot of their values ââtend to be conservative values ââalready. They have greater respect for Jesus than we say is a prophet in Islam. They have great respect for the mother of Jesus, for Mary. So there is this kind of connection with religion and the idea of ââGod and love for God, âsaid Mustafa Umar, an imam at the Orange County Islamic Institute.
Wanda could only agree.
âIf you grew up in a traditional Hispanic family home, then it’s very similar to Islam,â she said.
She is from Puerto Rico and converted as a teenager just weeks before September 11.
âI was exposed to drugs and alcohol when I was around 11 years old. And for me, Islam was more like a stability and a structure for me,â Wanda said.
But coming from a strict Catholic background, it was not easy.
âIt took my mother about five years to get used to converting to Islam. It was pretty hard for her. She threw me out of the house. I was 16 and moved. Afterwards my mom called me on the phone and she asked me to come back and stay with her and she said she was going to do her best to understand why I became a Muslim. And do her best to change and now she isâ¦ now we have an amazing relationship but it’s taken well, I’ve been a Muslim for 15 years now, so it took a long time, âsays Wanda.
For women like Wanda and Lucy, it’s especially difficult when politics intertwine with religion, heritage and gender. But they refuse to give up hope or their identity.