Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2001 13:04:35 -0700 (MST)
From: thekoba 
Subject: [azsecularhumanists] a little known religious trend among Latinos

The following article is taken from page A12 of the sunday 30 December edition of the Arizona Republic, though credited to the New York Times. It reveals an interesting and little-known trend among Latin American immigrants. Pentecostals and other Protestant groups have long been making inroads on this largely Roman Catholic group, but Muslims are also attracting an increasing number.

--Kevin Walsh

Thousands of Latinos Find a Home in Islam

By Evelyn Nieves New York Times

Los Angeles--They file into the mosque when Sunday school is over and the conference rooms are cleared, staking a small piece of turf in the main hall. For many, Spanish is their only language, and this is a whole new world. They are new immigrants, new to the big city and new to Islam.

Over the past year, the Islamic Center of Southern California has been conducting, because of popular demand, these weekly 90 minute Spanish speaking sessions for new Muslims.

Marta Galedary, who converted after immigrating to the United States from Mexico two decades ago and changed her first name to Khadija, has helped lead them. She finds that the group, made up of 20 to 50 people in any given week, is both intensely interested and a little nervous.

"Something in these Latino meetings that we keep telling people," Galedary said, "is that you don't leave your culture because you convert to Islam. You have to continue to be proud of whatever part of Latin America you are from."

They come from all over. Each week, immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru and Costa Rica--just a handful of the countries represented-- come to the Islamic Center, relieved to find out that they are not alone. Far from it. In recent years, Latino Muslim groups have formed in most large cities in the United States. They have also formed in smaller cities with large Spanish-speaking populations, including Fresno, California; Plantation, Florida; and Somerville, New Jersey. Though exact figures are hard to come by, since people tend to drop in at mosques and may not appear on their rolls, the American Muslim Council, an advocacy group in Washington, estimates that about 25,000 Hispanics in the United States are Muslims. Several Latino Muslim organizations say the number is closer to 40,000, with the largest Hispanic Muslim communities in New York City, southern California and Chicago, where Hispanics and Muslims are both plentiful.

It is a fraction of the nation's Muslim population (long estimated to number 4 million to 6 million, though some studies suggest the range is smaller).

Still, the number of Latino Muslims appears to be growing by the year. Indeed, Spanish-speaking immigrants, the nation's fastest-growing minority, are converting to Islam to such an extent that the Latino American Dawah Organization, founded in 1997 by a handful of converts in New York City, claims thousands of members over 10 states.

Why Islam, a religion cloaked in mystery in Latin America, as it was for many people in this country before Sept. 11, is attracting so many Latino converts has several answers. For many of the women who attend the Islamic Center of Southern California here, the path was a relationship with a Muslim man. Many others say they chose Islam because they preferred a religion without the trappings of a vast hierarchy or the complicated dogma they saw in the Catholic Church.

The close-knit Hispanic Muslim community is especially attractive to new immigrants, Latino Muslim leaders say, helping them understand the society as they help Muslims become more mainstream.

Religion scholars say that Islam also attracts those who prefer a more rigorous way to worship than hey find in the American version of their traditional religious home, the Catholic Church.

"There are those in the Roman Catholic tradition who are somewhat discontent with the modernizing trends of the Catholic Church," said Wade Clark Roof, charman of the religious studies department at the University of California-Santa Barbara. "To those people," Roof said, "a religious tradition such as Islam, that attempts to maintain a fairly strict set of pattern and practices, becomes attractive."

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