In USA, These Latinos Find Purpose in Islam
Luis Lopez battled nerves as he walked to the front of the crowded prayer hall in Union City with his son. Together, they repeated word-for-word in Arabic the Shahadah, the profession of faith required to convert to Islam. “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah,” they declared at the mosque, located in a columned brick building that once housed a Cuban community centre.
For Lopez, the conversion and embrace by the congregation four months ago brought a feeling of peace and a recognition of how far he’d come in a life that nearly ended 22 years ago in gang violence.
“They told me, ‘Come to the mosque. You’re going to feel welcomed,’ ” said Lopez, 41, a truck driver and former professional boxer from North Bergen.
With their religious journey, Lopez and his 21-year-old son joined a growing segment of the Latino population who are leaving Christianity for Islam. About 8% of all Muslim Americans adults are Latino, according to a 2017 report from the Pew Research Center, increasing by about a third from 2011.
In interviews, Latino converts said they are drawn to Islam because of the intense devotion to God, a simplicity in faith and a focus on community that they failed to find in their former faith. But their conversion often is not easy, as they break ties with family and their Christian upbringing. They are also choosing the faith at a time when Latinos and Muslims alike feel targeted by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and his increasingly restrictive immigration policies for both groups. Reports of hate crimes are on the rise, while Muslims bristle against their depiction in the media. Yet for some, the shared experience of living as a minority in the U.S. is a powerful attraction.
‘No Reason to Fear’
Lopez, who moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico as a child, sparred alongside Muslims while boxing and became close friends with them. Two events prompted him to change his life: a gang-related stabbing in 1997 and the birth of his son a year later. At his friends’ urging, he visited a mosque and started reading about the faith. But it was his son’s desire to convert years later that prompted him finally to make the leap. Lopez’s son, a college student also named Luis, was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church. While he and family members drifted away from their faith, the younger Lopez still felt a pull towards spiritual life. Islam appealed to him because it focused on prayers to God alone and not to Jesus or saints, he said.
About 94 percent of Latino Muslims cited the desire for a more direct, personal experience of God as a reason for converting, in a survey of 560 converts reported in “Latino Muslims in the United States,” a 2017 report in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion.
“From that first day, when people stayed to see us become Muslims, that was it. They find joy in it. They are genuinely happy for people who converted,” the younger Lopez said.
They are choosing Islam at a time when bias, discrimination and hate crimes are a concern. Both father and son said they didn’t believe stereotypes that painted Muslims broadly as extremists or terrorists. “They can say what they want. There is no reason to fear, because you are doing the right thing,” the son said.
A Break with Tradition
But for other converts, the embrace of Islam created rifts. Khadijah Noor Tanju, who came to the U.S. from Colombia when she was 9, clashed with family members who felt she was rejecting her culture and Catholic faith. A former choir singer, Tanju, whose birth name is Carol, sang in a church choir and performed the Catholic sacrament of confirmation. Tensions surfaced when she married a Turkish-American man and relatives made comments about Muslims as terrorists, she said. Sensing her struggles, her husband told her he would never hurt her. He was not very religious when they first met, and it dawned on her, she said, that she knew little about his faith. Privately, she began researching Islam and watching a series on YouTube about it. One night, while listening to a sermon at home, she felt inspired and vowed to change her life for God. In 2015, she converted. At first, her family didn’t say much, but that changed when she began wearing the Hijab, or Islamic head covering. “My family didn’t know the implications [of my conversion], that it was a lifestyle. It was more when I started to practice Islam that they were like ‘Whoa, quépasaaquí?’” she said, using Spanish for “what’s happening here?”
(Extracted from newageislam.com)