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Latino and Muslim: A growing minority

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A mosque in southwest Houston, a thriving Latino community. Photo by: Audris Ponce

Latino and Muslim are two words that come charged with various sentiments in American society. Being a Latino Muslim comes with the challenge of facing both religious and ethnic ostracism.

Juan Alvarado was raised Catholic by his Dominican parents but converted to Islam at the end of his college years.

“My father was the one that didn’t like the idea,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado, one of the first in his family to go to college, felt a new sense of independence when he came back home.

“I left when I was 18 and returned when I was 22,” he said. “You change, and you can’t be the same person anyway.”

When Alvarado told his parents about his newfound faith, it wasn’t easy for them to accept his conversion, particularly his father.

“He told me, ‘Te lavaron el cerebro.’ ‘You were brainwashed’,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado shared how practices that are commonplace, such as everyone getting days off from work for Christmas, remind him of the difference in his religious beliefs from the majority of the people.

“Sometimes it’s lonely because of that,” Alvarado said. “You are basically a stranger in your own world.”

This difference is especially heightened when it comes to the Latino community, where Christmases filled with posadas and midnight church services.

“Sometimes when I’m in my mosque, and a person doesn’t know who I am starts talking to me in Arabic or Turkish, and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry I don’t speak that’,” Alvarado said.

“But then you feel in that weird in-between-place; you’re not quite part of them,” he said. “You feel tri-cultural, not bicultural: American, Hispanic and Muslim.”

Alvarado is part of two groups whose numbers are consistently growing.

In 2007, the American Muslim Council estimated that there were 200,000 Latino Muslims. There is no exact figure because the U.S. Census Bureau does not collect religious information.

Despite the negatively associated belief that women are oppressed in Islam, more Latina women than men are converting to the faith.

Fizah B. Naqvi is a Latina who was born Muslim, whose mother converted to Islam.

“I know my mom and her convert friends, who are Hispanic too, are well respected in the Muslim community because they researched and then found their inner peace,” Naqvi said. “Those women want to find that structure or stability in their life. Islam at its core is pretty peaceful.”

Latinos converting are contributing to the growth of the Muslim community in U.S.

The population projections show the number of Muslims more than doubling over the next two decades, rising from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million in 2030, according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The fastest growing religion in the world is Islam, with the Muslim population expected to increase by about 35% in the next 20 years, rising to 2.2 billion by 2030, according to Pew.

Alvarado shares how currently Muslims are looked upon as an oddity, but that will soon change.

“A lot of people want to talk to us, why we want to become Muslims. It’s like a weird popularity contest,” he said.

“They think if you become Muslim, you are not Hispanic. What is Hispanic? It’s not something you can opt out of. We are still Hispanic,” Alvarado said. “I think of myself as a Hispanic or Latino person; because I became Muslim doesn’t mean I reject who I am, I only reject what I see as unrighteous acts.”

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