From The Vatican To The Veil: Why America's Latinas Are Rushing To Islam
12 January 2015
By Latino Muslims
Two of America's fastest growing demographics are
showing signs of convergence, as Hispanics are
increasingly converting to Islam. This traditionally
Catholic people are giving up their religion because
they're looking for an orderly identity and increased
respect, although their Islamic conversions come with
a few major social hurdles.
Hispanics and Islam are the leading growth
demographics in the US, according to the 2010 US
Census. Islam grew by over half between 2000 and 2010,
reaching 2.6 million adherents. This makes it the
largest non-Christian religion in the country, whose
expansion shows no signs of abating. Official
statistics also forecast that whites will no longer be
a majority in America by 2043, largely due to the
astronomical growth of the Hispanic population. This
means that the country will be seeing more Hispanics
and Muslims, with the Latina converts bridging the
Female conversion to Islam has grown to 41% of the
total since 2000. Among the Hispanic community, which
is 12% of all new converts, Latinas were over half.
This means that they form a demographic vanguard for
Islamic conversion within the US. So far, New York,
New Jersey, Illinois, and Florida are the states
boasting of Latino Muslim growth, and not
coincidentally, these are also some of the places with
the fastest growing rates of Hispanic immigration.
Order, Identity, and Respect
Latinas are embracing Islam for a variety of factors,
no least for the order that it brings to their lives.
"It defines their world on a clear grid of what's
permitted or 'halal,' and what's prohibited which is 'haram'…
the Koran becomes this guidebook that tells you
exactly what to wear, what to eat, how to wash, how to
behave, when to pray.", according to Stephanie Londono,
an expert on Latina religious conversions. Islam's
strict monotheism, in contrast to Christianity's Holy
Trinity, provides a more structured belief system that
reinforces order, writes Islamic scholar Ahmad Akhar.
Islam also gives them a sense of
belonging, since many of them arrive in the US by
themselves and are unsure of their place in society.
What's more, this identification then boomerangs back
to their homelands, with some of them, such as Nahela
Morales, returning to spread Islamic culture there.
She also says that Latinos and Muslim immigrants
intermingle inside America's major urban centers, and
that this leads to a personal interaction with Islam
that influences some of them to eventually convert.
Others find appeal in reconnecting with their Spanish
roots, since Spain had an 800-year long history of
Islamic influence that has been largely overlooked
after the Reconquista.
One of the most important reasons why
Latinas are moving to Islam has to do with women's
rights. Although it may seem odd to many Westerners
unfamiliar with the religion's tenets, Islam places a
strong emphasis on certain female rights, and its
emphasis on modesty is especially attractive to some.
Latinas may be unhappy with the US' feminist movement
and prefer more traditional roles such as mothers and
wives, Georgetown University's Professor Yvonne Hadad
believes. Though Catholic detractors may say that
Islam inhibits women's rights, Latina converts retort
that the Church is being hypocritical since it
prohibits birth control, divorce, and female priests,
all things that also interfere with female freedoms.
Latino Muslims confront considerable challenges in
being socially accepted, according to the Latin Post.
It reports that their fellow Hispanics may view their
choice as a so-called "cultural betrayal", while the
Muslim-majority may think that there is something
false about their conversion. Some Americans, scarred
by 9/11 and possibly influenced by racist
stereotyping, may have an inherent distrust of
Muslims, thus meaning that Latino converts face a
three-way struggle in America that can make the
adaptation to their new religion very difficult.
Such cultural pushback could sow resentment within
this emerging group and lead to relative isolation.
Immigrants already have their own hurdles in
integrating to their new homelands, so this could make
the matter even worse. On top of that, there are
criminal and extremist elements that could provide a
tempting release from this isolation, showing that
cultural discrimination could unwittingly lead to
dangerous repercussions for all. It is not to say that
discrimination is solely responsible for these
unfortunate choices, but that it could be a motivating
factor in why recent converts search them out in the