You may have heard that Latinos are the fastest growing minority in the United States, but they are also the fastest growing minority of Muslims. However, the history of Latinos is just as rich with Islamic roots and influences as their future promises to be. Not all Latino Muslims are converts; many come from families who have been practicing Islam for generations, and some are even descendants of Muslims from faraway lands. Since Latinos have been involved in Islamic and civil rights movements in the United States as far back as the 1960s and ‘70s, and may have been here for even longer, one would think that non-Latino American Muslims would do their best to familiarize themselves with the culture, traditions, and geography of Latin America to better understand their brothers and sisters. However, the non-Latino Muslim community still knows very little about Latin America, what it really means to be Latino or Hispanic in America, and what it means to be Latino and Muslim. The following list are things that Latino Muslim leaders all over the U.S. want you to know.
1. We want to feel accepted.
“As a Muslim Latina, I would like to let non-Latinos know that we are very open and accepting individuals. We have a lot to share, and I would love to share my Dominican recipes that add some spunk to any dish! Most importantly, I want non-Latinos to know that we just want to be accepted, not rejected by the (Muslim) community.” – Sahar Amada Quesada, teacher, New York
2. We want to be treated as equals.
“Muslim Latinos want to be seen on an equal footing of respect, admiration, brotherhood, and affection. This requires work on our parts, as well as that of our communities… We want others to know that many of us feel hurt and that we are being treated [by non-Latino Muslims] as we have been treated by non-Muslim society — like second class citizens. Still, we stand with our brothers in religion even though our social and political agendas may be different.” – Hajj Yahya Figueroa, Alianza Islámica, Pennsylvania (formerly in New York)
3. We come from good families.
“Many, if not most of us, came from very moral families. The idea that we converted from some horrible background simply because we’re Latino is not our narrative.” – Shinoa Matos, journalist, New York
4. We can be Muslim and keep our Latino identity.
“I would like others to be able to understand and identify the difference between the true practices of our religion, Islam, versus the diverse cultures that Muslims belong to. For example, someone can be Mexican and Muslim, and nowhere in the religion are we encouraged or obligated to choose between the two. We can be proud of our faith as well as our culture. We do not need to compromise.” – Nahela Morales, ICNA Dallas, Texas
5. Latinos helped to establish Islam in the U.S.
“Latino Muslims were instrumental in establishing Islam in the U.S. and they have a role in Muslim American history not known to many. Unfortunately, despite this fact, not enough has been done to assist the growth and continuity of the Latino Muslim community by the larger body of Muslims. So, the community is forced to struggle to address its needs with very little support.” – Imam Yusuf Rios, 3 Puerto Rican Imams Project, Ohio
6. Our community can relate to both the indigenous and the immigrant experience.
“Latino Muslims offer a unique experience within the narrative of Islam in America. We can be a bridge between the African-American Muslim community and the immigrant Arab and South Asian Muslim communities. For many of us, we understand and are affected by many of the issues that affect the African-American community due to our long history within the U.S. Yet, at the same time, we understand the immigrant experience and the notion of what ’back home’ means. Latino Muslims are at a crossroads and we are still defining who we are.” – Hazel Gómez de Crain, Organizing Fellow at Dream of Detroit, Michigan
7. We are a collage of cultures and customs.
“The ethnic mix of Latino Muslims reflects a broad spectrum of people including Africans, Native peoples, Europeans, etc. This has increased because of the diaspora, the Triangular Slave Trade, and the pre- and post-Colombian exchange. We should find strength and common ground in our diversity, and explore why we look like we do, eat what we do, speak like we do, and all those other traits that make Latino Muslims a unique group of individuals.” – Jamal Abdul-Karim, M.Ed., teacher, Maryland
8. All of us deserve to learn about Islam.
“We have the right to know and learn about Islam just like everyone else. Not all of us are blue collar immigrant workers. A Latino or Hispanic person should never be regarded as inferior because of where they are from or their occupation. It is so sad to see a Latino person cleaning the mosque or working on landscaping outside a mosque and he doesn’t know anything about Islam or Muslims because no one bothers to talk to him. There is no excuse.” – Wendy Díaz, Co-Founder, Hablamos Islam, Maryland
9. We are just like you.
“We came to Islam because it appeals to our very Latino-ness (Latinidad). We are converts, just like born Muslims are nothing more than the descendants of converts.” – Shinoa Matos, journalist, New York
10. We have been inspired by our predecessors.
“As Latino Muslims, our inspirations are the non-Arab great scholars who learned the deen and became prominent, including Bukhari (Uzbekistan), Imam Muslim (Nishapur), and Imam Qurtubi (Spain).” – Imam Daniel Hernandéz, Pearland Islamic Center ISGH, Houston, Texas
11. We want you to acknowledge that we are valuable.
“We are not second-class citizens, rather we are servants of the Most High and that makes us brothers/sisters under His Mercy and Grace. Affirm our specialties and acknowledge that we are no less than you in our professions.” – Imam Wesley Abu Sumayyah Lebron, Misericordia Para La Humanidad (Mercy for Humanity), 3 Puerto Rican Imams Project, New Jersey
12. We want you to get to know who we are.
“Latino Muslims coming to Islam just add feathers to the beautiful peacock. We are many nations who are diverse in culture and custom. Please take the time to personally get to know and understand the Latino Muslims you encounter; we are whole human beings, not just our conversion stories.” – Imam Daniel Hernandez, Pearland Islamic Center ISGH, Houston, Texas
13. Latinos are diverse.
“We are not all Puerto Rican or Mexican. Latin America is very diverse.” – Nivia Martinez, Grassroots Dawah, New York
14. We do not want to confuse culture with Islam.
“Don’t bring us your cultural baggage and confuse it with Islam. Islam is just as much a part of our heritage as it is of yours. We are equal because we share this deen with you, and we follow the footsteps of the best generations because we accepted Islam based on authentic Islamic doctrine and not culture.” – Hernán Guadalupe, M.Eng., doctoral student, business administration, Maryland
15. Please do not believe the stereotypes.
“I would want non-Latino Muslims to know that we are no less than them. Those of us who are not born into a Muslim family have a certain push and devotion in the Islamic direction. The last point, sad that I have to say it, is that most of us are not bad or criminal just as most Muslims are not terrorists or extremists.” – Alex Robayo, ME, physics instructor, New York
16. We learn about Islam in various ways.
“Some people believe that most of us have come to [learn about and convert to] Islam in prison. Most of us have come to know about Islam through friends or family, our own study, or Muslim outreach efforts.” – Juan Alvarado, caseworker, Pennsylvania
17. Our conversion stories are just as diverse as we are.
“Many of us did not become Muslim through marriage. Not to shame those who did, but some of us made this choice on our own.” – Nivia Martinez, Grassroots Dawah, New York
18. We deserve respect.
“Just as every Latino is not Mexican, every Latino is not a drunkard. Almost all immigrant Muslims who contact me are trying to marry a Latina. Many of them see us as no more than a Tinder (dating app). Maybe they could ask to help in dawah, instead.” – Juan Galvan, Co-founder, LADO, Illinois
19. Our women are not for sale.
“Unfortunately, we Muslim Latina sisters are fetishized and sexualized amongst some of the men in our ummah. They consider us cheaper alternative brides and we get tricked out of having a legitimate wali and then offered less in dowry, dignity, and honor. It’s not right and these conversations need to be had.” – Paulina Rivera, MSW candidate, USC, California
20. Rather than criticize, lend a hand.
“Do not criticize the Latino once he is learning about Islam; instead, you should help him, get to know him, befriend him, and learn from him all the things you do not know about our culture.” – Sonia García, The Latina Muslim Foundation, California
21. If you want to know more about us, just ask.
“Do not assume to know who we are, what we have been through, or how we got here. If you want to know our story, just ask. We will be happy to tell you. And when we do, don’t judge us; just listen.”
– Melissa Barreto, homeschooling educator, New Jersey
22. We are proud of who we are.
“After coming to Islam, Latino Muslims truly appreciate their home countries and who they are because they get to have Islam and be Latino at the same time.” – Dr. Julio Ortiz-Luquis, Professor of International Relations, New York
23. We want you to learn about our rich history and contributions to society.
“There is much to celebrate in our Latino customs, from our past indigenous contributions in pre-colonial American history to the more recent contributions throughout Latin America. Islam is as transformative to Latino Muslims as it is to non-convert Muslims. Find out how to make a more meaningful impact in our communities by getting to know our histories, our people, our values.” – Nylka Vargas, P.I.E.D.A.D National Coordinator, NHIEC Dawah Committee, New Jersey
24. Just as we have a shared past, we have the same goals.
“We aspire to belong to the ummah of Muhammad, the mercy for mankind. I would like for the Muslim community to accept us as Muslims with an Andalusia flair.” – Imam Yusef Maisonet, Masjid As-Salaam, Alabama
25. We are here to stay.
“We exist, and we are here to stay. Islam is for everybody; it is universal and not confined to one place or time.” – Imam Danny Khalil Salgado-Miralla, Masjid the Abrar, New York
The Quran tells us, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” (Quran, 49:13).
Historically, Latino Muslims have sought refuge in Islam because it resonated with our spirituality, morals, family values, and traditions. There is so much to learn from our “Latinidad,” what makes us innately Latino. We are a people from various countries and backgrounds, bound together by a shared language and moral principles and a history of being subjected to colonization, oppression, and injustice. Mexico is the only Spanish-speaking country that shares a border with the U.S. However, there are a total of 21 countries in the world where Spanish is the official language. The majority of those are in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. All Spanish-speaking countries are represented throughout the U.S.
Now, we have been united with you under the banner of Islam. We have so much to offer the greater Islamic community, but this begins with acceptance. Make a conscious effort to get to know your Latino brothers and sisters today.
Note: The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a Latino as: “a person who was born or lives in South America, Central America, or Mexico or a person in the U.S. whose family is originally from South America, Central America, or Mexico,” whereas Hispanic means: “coming originally from an area where Spanish is spoken and especially from Latin America.” Latino origin is based on ancestry, lineage, heritage, nationality and/or country of birth; therefore, Latino people come from a variety of countries, backgrounds, and social statuses.