You may have heard that Latinos are not only the fastest growing minority in the United States, but they are also the fastest growing minority within Islam. 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 have been practicing Islam for generations and some are even descendants of Muslims from faraway lands. Because Latinos have been involved in Islamic and civil rights movements in the United States as far back as the 60’s and 70’s, and may have been here for even longer, one would think that 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.
That is why we have compiled this list of things that Latino Muslim leaders all over the US want you to know:
1. We want to be treated as equals.
Muslim Latinos want to be seen on 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 as we have been treated by non-Muslim society: like second class citizens, but that we stand with our brothers in religion even though our social and political agendas may look and sound different.
Hajj Yahya Figueroa, Alianza Islámica (formerly New York), Pennsylvania
2. 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
3. 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 vs the diverse cultures that Muslims who practice Islam 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 just as proud of our faith and culture. We do not need to compromise.
Nahela Morales, ICNA Dallas, Texas
4. Latinos helped to establish Islam in the US.
Latino Muslims were instrumental in establishing Islam in the US; they possess a role in Muslim American history not known to many. Unfortunately, despite these facts, 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
5. Our community can relate to both the indigenous and immigrant experience.
Latino Muslims offer a unique experience within the narrative of what is American Islam. We can be a bridge between the African-American Muslim community and 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 proximity and 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
6. We are a collage of cultures and customs.
The ethnic mix of the Latino Muslims reflects people of a broad spectrum including: Africans, Native Peoples, and Europeans etc. This has increased because of the diaspora, the Triangular Slave Trade, and the Pre and Post-Colombian Exchange. We should consider the possibilities (and find common ground in): 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, MEd., Teacher, Maryland
7. 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, nevertheless, a Latino or Hispanic person should never be regarded as inferior because of where they are from or their occupation. It kills me to see a Latino person cleaning the mosque or working on landscaping outside a mosque, who doesn’t even know anything about Islam or Muslims because no one bothers to talk to them. There is no excuse.
Wendy Díaz, Co-Founder, Hablamos Islam, Maryland
8. We are just like you.
We came to Islam because it appeals to our very Latinoness (Latinidad). We are converts just like born Muslims are nothing more than the descendants of converts.
Shinoa Matos, Journalist, New York
9. We have been inspired by our predecessors.
As Latino Muslims, our inspirations are the great scholars who learned the Deen and became prominent while being Non-Arabs: Imam Bukhari (Uzbekistan), Imam Muslim (Nishapur), Imam Qurtubi ( Spain ).
Imam Daniel Hernandéz, Pearland Islamic Center ISGH, Houston, TX
10. We want you to acknowledge that we are valuable.
We are not 2nd 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. Do not use us to gain wealth or move your organizations the way the slaves were sold in the markets.
Imam Wesley Abu Sumayyah Lebron, Misericordia Para La Humanidad (Mercy for Humanity), 3 Puerto Rican Imams Project, New Jersey
11. We want you to get to know who we are.
Latino Muslims coming to Islam just add feathers to our beautiful Peacock. We are many nations who are diverse in culture and customs. Please take the time to personally understand the Latino Muslims you come across and not only their conversion stories.
Imam Daniel Hernandez, Pearland Islamic Center ISGH, Houston, TX
12. Latinos are diverse.
We are not all Puerto Rican or Mexican. Latin America is very diverse.
Nivia Martinez, Grassroots Dawah, New York
13. 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 knowledge and not culture.
Hernán Guadalupe, MEng., Doctoral student, Business Administration, Maryland
14. We do not want you to believe the stereotypes.
I would want non-Latino or “native” Muslims to know that we are no less than them (some would argue our higher standing due to our choice of Islam vs being “born” into it – but I reject those divisive thoughts). Secondly, not being “born” into it then gives us a certain push in the Islamic direction. The last point – is sad because I have to say it – we are not all bad or criminals or the sort, as all Muslims are not terrorists or murderers or the sort. There are just a few bad apples in every culture!
Alex Robayo, ME, Physics Instructor, New York
15. We are not just learning about Islam in the prison system.
Some people believe that we have come to (learn) Islam in prison. Not all of us have come to know about Islam because of prison, alhamdulillah.
Juan Alvarado, Caseworker, Pennsylvania
16. Our conversion stories are just as diverse as we are.
Many of us did not become Muslim for marriage. Not to shame those who did, but some of us made this choice on our own.
Nivia Martinez, Grassroots Dawah, New York
17. We demand 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 the dawah, instead.
Juan Galvan, Co-founder, LADO, Illinois
18. Our women are not for sale.
Unfortunately, we Muslim Latina sisters are fetishized and sexualized amongst the men in our Ummah; considered cheaper alternative brides and punked (many times out of ignorance) from having a legitimate wali, then offered less in dowry, dignity, and honor, and discarded. It’s not right and these conversations need to be had.
Paulina Rivera, MSW candidate, USC, California
19. 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 with him all the things you do not know about our culture.
Sonia García, The Latina Muslim Foundation, California
20. 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
21. 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
22. 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 the pre-colonial American landscape to the more recent contributions throughout Latin America. Islam is as transformative to Latino Muslims as it is to non-convert Muslims. Find out more on 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
23. 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
24. 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. I would like to share my Dominican recipes and put a spunk to their dishes! Most importantly, I want them to know that we just want to be accepted, not rejected from the (Muslim) community.
Sahar Amada Quesada, Teacher, New York
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
“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.” (Qur’an, 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 principles and a history of colonization, oppression, and injustice. 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 US 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.
Mexico is the only Spanish-speaking country that shares a border with the US. However, there are a total of 21 countries in the world where Spanish is the official language. The bulk of those are in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. All Spanish-speaking countries are represented throughout the US.