Latinos becoming Islam’s fastest growing ethnic group

World Today

They are Islam’s fastest growing ethnic group, but for Latinas living in the United States, converting from Catholicism isn’t easy. Some say people view them as giving up their heritage to become Arab. And they’re doing this in what are, for many, difficult political times.

CGTN’s Phil Lavelle filed this report.

Latinos becoming Islam’s fastest growing ethnic group

They are Islam’s fastest growing ethnic group, but for Latinas living in the United States, converting from Catholicism isn’t easy. Some say people view them as giving up their heritage to become Arab. And they’re doing this in what are, for many, difficult political times. CGTN’s Phil Lavelle filed this report.

Lucy Silva is a Muslim. She converted from Catholicism 18 years ago.

“Some people just jump into it and put on the headscarf, I took my time in doing a lot of research before taking that step,” she said.

Once Mexican and Catholic, and now Mexican and Muslim, which some people just can’t get their heads around.

“They automatically assume I’m Arab or from ‘over there.’ So when they hear me speaking Spanish – let’s say I’m at a grocery store, or I’m speaking to my Mom or my son – they’re quite surprised. They say, ‘Where did you learn to speak Spanish’ and I say, ‘Well, I’m Mexican,’” Lucy said.

It’s hard to know exactly how many Latino and Latina Muslims are in the U.S. because no official studies have been carried out. But some experts estimate that figure to be anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000.

One report from Florida International University says 90 percent of them are converts.Most of them women.

In fact, Latino and Latina Muslims are the fastest growing ethnic group in Islam.

“A lot of their values tend to already be conservative values. They have a higher respect for Jesus who we say is a prophet in Islam. They have a high respect for the mother of Jesus, for Mary. So there’s that kind of connection with religion and the idea of God and love for God,” Mustafa Umar an Imam at the Islamic Institute of Orange County, says.

Wanda couldn’t agree more.

“If you grew up in a traditional Hispanic family home, then it’s very similar to Islam,” she said.

She’s from Puerto Rico and converted as a teenager, only weeks before 9/11.

“I was exposed to drugs and alcohol when I was about 11. And for me, Islam was more of like a stability and structure for me,” Wanda said.

But coming from a strict Catholic background, it wasn’t easy.

“It took my Mom about five years to get used to me converting to Islam. It was quite hard for her. She threw me out of the house. I was 16 and I moved out. Afterward, my Mom called me on the phone and she asked me to come back and stay with her and she said she was going to try to her best to understand why I became Muslim. And do her best to change and now she’s… now we have an amazing relationship but it took well, I’ve been Muslim now for 15 years, so it took a long time,” Wanda says.

For women like Wanda and Lucy, it’s particularly tough when politics mix with religion, heritage, and gender.But, they refuse to give up hope or their identities.