Eirini Vourloumis

Muslims in America: Latino Muslims

There are a an estimated 200,000 Latinos who have converted to Islam in the United States the majority of whom live in New Jersey and New York City. A 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life put the number of Latino Muslim U.S. residents at four percent of all Muslim U.S.residents. Even though this demographic of Latino Muslims is very small it introduces a new unique religious and cultural identity. The 44 million Latinos who live in the United States have always been closely associated with the Roman Catholic Church and more recently the evangelical Christian traditions.

The most prominent Latino Muslim community in the East Coast is based out of the North Hudson Islamic Educational center in Union City, New Jersey (a predominantly Latino neighborhood), which counts 35 per cent of its congregation as Latino Muslims. The mosque has a very active Latino Dawah committee (volunteers who actively preach Islam) who conduct classes in Spanish teaching the Qu'ran and Islamic principals and who also organize an annual Latino Muslim day. Many conversions take place at this mosque where individuals recite the Shahadah, the Muslim declaration of belief in the oneness of Allah and acceptance of Muhammad as his prophet.

Latinos convert to Islam for a variety of reasons, including disenchantment with the practices of Catholicism and the church establishment. These Latinos are lured by Islam's simplicity and the Muslim's independence of a mediating clergy in his or her relationship with God. Others believe they are reverting back to their true cultural traditions referring to the Moor influence (Spain's Islamic period) in Spain. Many converts today refer to themselves as 'reverts'. Others feel estranged from mainstream Christian America and feel that Muslims identify more closely to the Latino struggle for justice and equality.