On Monday, the Omega Phi Beta Sorority hosted an event in cooperation with the Muslim Student Association as part of the Latino Heritage month. Organized by Lisaida Garcia and hosted by both Thalia Mercado and Rand Abdul-Raziq, the “Latinos and Islam” event covered a rarely-discussed topic. The event gave insight into a group of people who were at odds with the stereotypical notion of a Latino, whether it was their religion or their cuisine.
“I associate Latinos with Catholicism,” Mercado said, explaining her surprise when she was introduced to the topic.
As Mercado stated, the stereotypical Latino might typically be considered Christian and could mean enjoying a native cuisine laden with pork and celebrations laden with alcoholic beverages. This would be very different from a Latino who has converted to Islam. Not only would there be differences in their practices, but Latino Muslims would find themselves living without pork or alcohol, which are considered haram, or sinful, in Islam. Latino Muslims in South America may even find it difficult to find halal, or permitted, meat and foods, requiring them to be more cautious of where they eat and the food they buy. This has not stopped Latinos from converting to Islam, however, especially considering the reasons they are motivated to convert in the first place.
According to the event, most Latinos convert to Islam during their adult years. There are many reasons they might choose to change their religion, and a brief summary of these reasons were given at the event. Latinos may find historical or cultural ties with Islam due to the strong presence of Islamic civilization in Spain in the past and its influences on Spanish and subsequently Latino language and culture. Others find commonalities with their cultural beliefs as Islam emphasizes close family connections and moral behavior that the convert finds appealing, especially in the US. Some even find Islam to be a simpler religion, with none of the complex structures of Christianity and the multitude of rituals and holy days. Even worship is as simple as preparing for worship and practicing it, thus allowing an individualistic religion that can be practiced anywhere. These are more typical conversions that occur out of marriage with one who is of a different religion.
Latino Muslims experience issues with their religious beliefs and ethnic identity in the U.S. Not only do they have to deal with the issues that come with being a Latino, but also with the problems one has with being Muslim. Two videos were presented to at the event to show the lives of Latino Muslims and some of the hardships they may have to endure. A PBS video gave coverage into the life of one such convert, who chose to abandon his Catholic faith to become a Muslim which also caused a distancing from his family. Another video by VICE News covered a small community of Latino Muslims in Mexico, showing their reasons for converting, how their neighbors tolerated them and their slow growth as they worked on building a new larger mosque in a country that was predominantly Christian.
By the end of the event, attendees learned how much of a presence Latino Muslims have among Muslims in the US. Nearly four percent of Muslims in America are Latino and the number of Latino Muslims attending the Mosque doubled. Their identity leaves them with double the discrimination, but the growing number of Latino Muslims shows that this is not something that will be delaying converts.