More Hispanic Americans are Converting to Islam


By Steve Mort
Orlando, Florida
09 February 2007

http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-02-09-voa33.cfm

The number of Hispanic Americans converting to Islam
is growing rapidly -- particularly in New York,
California, Texas and Florida, which have the greatest
concentration of Hispanic residents.  Muslim leaders
say interest in Islam has increased in the past few
years, and they also note that Muslims and Hispanics,
many of whom are immigrants, share a number of common
concerns.  Steve Mort reports from a mosque in Florida
that has seen a steady increase in Latino worshippers.

The al-Rahman mosque in Orlando opened in 1975 and is
the oldest Muslim place of worship in the city.

But over the years its membership has changed, and now
increasing numbers of Hispanics, like Jesus Marti, are
joining the congregation. "It's the right way to be
worshipping God, and I love the Islamic religion.  It
really has given me a lot of knowledge, and I have
learned so many things from Islam."

Jesus, a Puerto Rican living in Florida, converted to
Islam only a year ago. He is one of tens of thousands
of Hispanic Muslims in the United States: estimates
range from around 70,000 to 200,000.

He says that while he has faced criticism for
converting to Islam, he has found broad acceptance as
a Muslim in America. "Islam is not a country. Islam is
a religion. Islam is definitely a way of life, for
discipline where you follow and you try to enhance
yourself to get the most positive things out of
yourself for the benefit of your own self and for the
benefit of your own family and the society as a
whole."

Muslim leaders say Jesus Marti and other Hispanics
choose Islam for a variety of reasons. They say
Muslims and Hispanics face common issues and concerns,
like finding their way in a new, unfamiliar country.
The media focus on Islam since September 11th has also
been factor.

Imam Muhammad Musri is president of the Islamic
Society of Central Florida.  The society  has about
40,000 members.  Iman Musri says Latinos and Muslims
find they have a lot in common. "There are so many
common denominators between immigrant Muslims and
immigrant Hispanics who see the issues common to both
of them -- immigration issues, as it is a big
discussion in the United States, and there are other
issues of trying to find a job, keep a job, buy a home
-- all the same struggles two groups of people happen
to be going through creates this bond between them".

Hundreds of worshippers attend Imam Musri's mosque,
and there is an increasing demand for religious
literature in Spanish.

He points to Spain's historical ties with Islam. And
that many Hispanics find Muslim culture and values
similar to their own.

Iman Musri says, "Many who come from Central and South
America come with conservative values and, as well,
Muslims come with conservative values.  And here in
the States they find that those values are put in
question or are being challenged.  So it is common to
see Hispanics and Muslims working on similar projects
in terms of family and education and reforms to
protect their values, their conservative values they
have."

For Jesus Marti and his fellow Hispanic worshippers,
the decision to convert to Islam is personal, but also
part of a broader trend.

He hopes greater diversity among America's Muslims
will help strengthen understanding of Islam within the
wider U.S. population.








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