Muslim outreach programs reaching Hispanic converts

Photo By Ken Chitwood / Religion News Service  Imam Daniel Abdullah Hernandez is a Hispanic Muslim who teaches at a masjid in Pearland.

Photo By Ken Chitwood / Religion News Service
Imam Daniel Abdullah Hernandez is a Hispanic Muslim who teaches at a masjid in Pearland.

Source: San Antonio Express News

SAN ANTONIO — PEARLAND — Carlos Lopez earns money in the U.S. and sends some of it home to his family in Mexico. He also sends pamphlets and testimonies about his new faith.

Last December, Lopez took the “shahada” — the profession of the Islamic faith — joining the ranks of what the American Muslim Council estimates is a 200,000-member Hispanic Muslim community across the United States.

Unlike previous generations of Hispanic Muslims who were attracted to the faith by their own spiritual explorations, Lopez and many others like him are converting as a result of targeted Islamic outreach efforts.

This new form of Islamic “da’wah,” or outreach, aims to translate being Muslim into a Latino cultural and linguistic vernacular.

“To reach Hispanics, we have to be practical,” said Imam Daniel Abdullah Hernandez, who teaches an “Islam in Spanish” course in Pearland where Lopez converted. “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.”

Hernandez includes the basics of Islam and specific elements he and others believe are important to Hispanics, including 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.”

Islam in Spanish says a growing number of Hispanics convert as a direct result of outreach.

The Pew Research Center says 4 percent of Muslim Americans are Hispanic, and one of 10 native-born U.S. Muslims are Hispanic. “The American Mosque 2011” report found the number of Latino converts has been steadily increasing since 2000, more so than any other ethnic group.

As they convert, many face ostracism from their often Catholic families that feel they’re abandoning their Hispanic identity. Likewise, many Hispanics do not find a ready welcome in masjids largely made up of Middle Eastern, North African, Southeast Asian and African-American Muslims.

“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.”

Parada said the community did not know how to deal with Hispanics and lacked resources for Spanish-speaking converts.

Islam in Spanish is not the first organization to focus its efforts on reaching Hispanics. The Latino American Dawah Organization, or LADO, paved the way.

Shafiq Alvarado helped found LADO, which offers support to new Hispanic Muslims. Born into a Catholic family of Dominican ancestry, Alvarado converted at 25 through efforts of Allianza Islamica (Islamic Alliance) in New York.

“We have to know who our audience is,” he said of Latino-specific outreach. “Latinos are a diverse group.”

To reach them, LADO is translating Islamic materials into Spanish and disseminating information in new ways.

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.

Lopez and two other men converted in the Houston area at such an event. All three are learning Arabic, doing daily prayers and sharing their religion with family back in Mexico, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

“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.”

Lopez is no different.

“As soon as I converted to Islam,” he said, “I wanted to share with my family in Mexico, so they could do the same.”

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