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Latino Muslims in the United States After 9/11: The Triple Bind


By Lara N. Dotson-Renta

Used with the permission of Muftah,

In the nine years since the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, many Westerners have come to view Islam (in all of its modes and refractions) as a religion associated with violence and terrorism, and to speak of Muslims living in the West as a suspicious ‘other’. In the United States and Europe, Muslims have come to symbolize a possible “enemy within”, doubly victimized as both potential targets of as well as objects of blame for terrorist attacks. This singling-out of Muslims has dramatically increased in the last year, as demonstrated by recent Congressional hearings spearheaded by New York Republican Congressman Peter King. Dubbed the “Islamic Radicalization Hearings,” the professed goal of these proceedings has been to ‘weed out’ home grown Muslim terrorists in the United States.

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The demonization of Islam in the United States has placed a particularly heavy burden on Muslim converts from cultural backgrounds not traditionally associated with Islam. This have been evident within the growing community of Latino Muslims, who struggle to be understood and accepted both within their Latino communities, as well as amongst the Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian populations that dominate the American-Muslim community. As a result of this, as well as the political and social backlash towards Islam in the United States, Latino Muslims have experienced a three-tiered alienation: first from their fellow Latinos who view their conversion as a betrayal of Latin culture; second, from many Americans who view Islam (and by proxy Muslim converts) with suspicion; and finally from Muslim immigrant communities, some of which consider Latino converts to be “inauthentically Muslim” because of their lack of an “Islamic” cultural heritage.

Despite these difficulties, the number of Latino Muslims in the United States has not decreased. Though precise numbers are difficult to confirm, the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) estimate that approximately 40,000 Latino Muslims live in the United States. While this represents a small proportion of the overall U.S. Latino community, which according to the 2010 census has come to represent 1 in every 6 Americans, the growth of Muslim converts amongst American Latinos is a notable and accelerating trend. Latinos are the most steadily expanding minority group in the United States, while Islam is often described as a fast-growing religion, particularly in Europe. The convergence of these trends, as well as the current political realities for Muslims in post-9/11 America, make Latino Muslims a prime example of the tensions and opportunities created by new transnational identities that arise from the ever-increasing cross-cultural encounters that mark the 21st century world.

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.



  1. Yasmeen

    April 12, 2011 at 2:25 AM

    The issue that most concerns me here is how the Muslim community tends to react, which is just tragic, really. When will we learn to look past the cultural and racial lines? Our community has a LOT of work to do.

    • Hena Zuberi

      April 12, 2011 at 2:42 AM

      Absolutely right salams Sister-
      Muslims need to stop treating Islam as their real estate property, inherited from their forefathers. We will stagnate and rot in our racism-May Allah have mercy on all of us and save us from kibr (arrogance). Your piety determines how authentically ‘Islamic’ you are not the color of your skin, which tribe your are from, or where your Mama was born!


    April 12, 2011 at 4:59 AM

    I’m in agreement with you sisters too! If we don’t learn to look past our own cultural affiliations we’ll never realize how universal Islam really is! Sometimes I think Muslims are so used to conflating their cultural practices with Islam that they’re shocked when they find other Muslims doing things differently.

    For example, we know that in South Asia Muslims get married in a particular arranged marriage fashion with parents and other family members involved. I’ve seen in my own family some relatives wrongly assume when they meet revert Muslims that they didn’t have an arranged marriage (via Imam or other Muslim members of the local community) because arranged marriage to most South Asian Muslims has to involve parents and other family members!
    Sometimes this leads some people to casually “assume” that revert Muslims only reverted after marriage to a Muslim (which is wrong to assume because there are many reverts who were Muslims prior to that). May Allah guide us and keep us away from such false assumptions about others and bestow us with the proper knowledge on Deen.

  3. Sumeya

    April 16, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    Salam, I too am definitely ashamed of how some converts are treated. But what I want to know is what would make you feel more comfortable and more welcomed? I want to know what to do to make sure that this isn’t going on in my community. Any advice?

    • Abu Fatimah

      May 3, 2011 at 1:00 PM

      one of the key issues is marriage. I foud it hard to marry but alhamdulillah eventually i found a wife. The problem is, giving someone a box of dates or a prayer mat or a few books or inviting them to your house for dinner are good starts, but unfortunately when it comes to giving your daughter away, suddenyl people forget the reward from Allah and start thing about tibe, nation etc with a flurry of lame excuses that render the revert marriageless and most likely desperatey searching through muslim marriage websites or asking all the ethnic muslims he/she knows to found him/her a partner. I seriously have seen this many times. For myself, marrying a born muslim froma m muslim family stregthened my iman a lot so i know this is something of benefit to teh ummmah but involves person sacrifice from individuals (if you consider giving your daughter away to a white person or other non muslim origin ethnic group as a sacrfice)


    April 18, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    @ Sumeya

    Even though I am not a revert (and so can’t speak from personal experience) I would say from my observations that we in the larger Muslim community should stop making assumptions about revert Muslims (“oh she only converted after marriage” or “he isn’t that knowledgeable because he’s a convert”). Some Muslims behave unIslamically towards reverts by acting racist towards them, especially when it comes time for marriage.

    If you witness such behavior happening try to let the offender know that they shouldn’t mistreat a fellow Muslim as that is haraam. With those who have newly converted seeing such bad behavior from other Muslims may dishearten some of them and may even lead them to conflate Muslims’ bad behavior with Islam (depending on how much knowledge of Islam they possess at the time of conversion. Hope this helps; I’m sure there’s other stuff I’ve left out but this is just from my own observations.

    • Abu Fatimah

      May 3, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      the stronger the stance the muslims take against racism in marriage the weaker this position comes inshAllah. So when you see a father rejecting a good man on basis of race, the best thing you can do is scream and shout and make a lot of noise on the side of the subject of the racism.

      Also remember taht sometimes its pakistanis who cant marry somalis or somalis who cant marry arabs etc, so this filth of racism needs to be removed completely inshALlah. the prophet laid down the principles for who to accept for your daughter so lets follow them inshallah

  5. Carlos

    April 18, 2011 at 10:28 PM

    Americans get a bad rap as being racist. Some of that is deserved, particularly earlier in our history, but it is all relative. I have been around the world, and known people from many cultures. I have seen racism and ethnocentrism in many cultures. America, being a heterogenous society, a nation of immigrants, is probably, actually, less racist than many more homogenous societies. It is not that hard growing-up in the U.S. as a Latino. If I have been treated with prejudice, the consequences have either been unnoticeable to me, or they have just been slightly annoying, or even amusing. Everybody here is from somewhere else (unless you are Shawnee, Navajo or Cherokee). Americans know that. Generally, most of us get along with each other because we make the effort to get along with each other.

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