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Hispanics converting to Islam because of message of peace

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by da1, Dec 31, 2013.

  1. da1

    da1 Member

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    Growing up was rough for Jaime Fletcher in Houston. He moved from Colombia to Texas when he was 8. In high school, kids splintered off into ethnic gangs. One day, he says an African-American gang leader attacked him.

    “And so I just fought back, and because I beat him, beat up the gang leader, by default, they thought it was another gang. And I was the leader,” Fletcher recalls.

    Fletcher says being in a gang became a matter of survival. He saw friends get shot and thrown in jail. He says when he got a little older, he got caught up chasing women, driving fast cars and drinking too much.

    “One night that I was with a friend of mine who I’d grown up with, after leaving a club and drinking, we were sitting outside of his house. He looked at the liquor that he had in his hands and he said, ‘I can’t believe I’m still doing this.’

    “And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘I can’t believe I’m still doing this after having gone to Mecca.’ And I asked him, ‘What is Mecca?’ And he said, ‘It’s where the house of God is.’

    “And that was strange for me. He said, ‘Islam is the true religion of God.’ And I said, ‘Well everybody says their religion is the truth.’”

    Like most Latinos, Fletcher was raised in a Catholic family, but he says his parents also encouraged him to find his own truth. After briefly studying Christianity, Judaism, Taoism and Buddhism, Fletcher came to believe Islam was, in fact, the true religion of God.

    He converted and now goes by the name Mujahid Fletcher. He says Islam incorporated the family values he liked from Catholicism, while getting rid of one big disadvantage: confession to a priest.

    “Islam brings about a clear sense of asking for forgiveness or repentance directly to God, without having an intermediary,” Fletcher says.

    That holds great appeal for many Muslim converts, says Katherine Ewing, a professor of religion at Columbia University.

    “There are frustrations with the structure of the Catholic Church, the hierarchy. A number [of Catholics] say that they’re kind of bored with the mass, that it doesn’t seem related to their everyday needs,” she adds.

    Ewing says Islam and Protestantism are addressing those voids for many Latino Catholics.

    It’s difficult to estimate how many Latinos in the US have converted to Islam. Ewing puts the figure somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000. Still modest numbers, but Ewing says there’s a clear upward trend.

    Latinos aren’t simply being pushed away by the Catholic Church, many Latinos have been pulled toward Islam, especially since September 11th, says Ewing. She says after the hijackings — and the immediate backlash against Muslims — Muslims began to reach out to outside communities to explain who they were. And many non-Muslims grew more curious about Islam.

    “Maybe they saw it [Islam] as this terrorist organization and wanted to find out more about why Muslims would become terrorists,” says Ewing. “They started to do Internet research, or to read the Koran to find out if it really advocated violence. And many, as they did that, actually saw Islam as a peaceful religion, as something that had more familiarity than they expected. They also found some of the beauty of the tradition as they explored further.”

    That’s what Mujahid Fletcher found, and he wanted other Latinos to find this too. Problem though: Islamic texts aren’t easily accessible in Spanish. So, Fletcher began doing translations and making audio recordings of the verses.

    Fletcher now runs a company called Islam in Spanish. He and his father, who also converted to Islam, have recorded more than 500 CDs and 200 cable access TV shows about Islam.

    “The end goal with Islam in Spanish is to educate Latinos about Islam worldwide,” he says.

    I visited Fletcher at the Maryam Islamic Center, his mosque in Sugar Land, an affluent suburb of Houston. The large mosque looked like something you'd find in the Middle East or Turkey — an attractive building with high, arched entrances, pillars and two minarets. There are reminders you’re in Texas though: Young boys were playing basketball on a court in front near the parking lot.

    There were about 100 people at the evening prayer the night I went. Fletcher counted himself as the only Latino. Fletcher says Latino Muslims are spread out in small pockets in big cities like Houston.

    I also met Daniel Abdullah Hernandez, an imam at a mosque about 30 minutes away in the city of Pearland. Hernandez, a Puerto Rican-American who was raised Catholic, was also a gang member. He says he got drunk a lot and spent a lot of times at clubs. He says Islam helped turn him into a responsible husband and father.

    “In the beginning, people think it’s a phase. My mother, after two years of seeing my transformation, she became a Muslim,” Hernandez says. His father and brother converted as well.

    Together, the family visited Egypt to study Islam, a trip that cleared up any doubts they had about becoming Latino Muslims.

    “Me and my family were feeling that we were going to be lonely during the holidays,” he says. “And that first year, we’re sitting with other Hispanics breaking bread and eating, and we were all amazed.”

    For most Latinos though, Catholicism is more than just a religion, it can be about cultural identity. Even non-devout Latinos can have Virgin of Guadalupe altars set up in their homes. So while Islam, or other religions, may be replacing the Catholic religion for some Latinos, replacing the cultural connection to the Catholic Church, could be much harder.

    [​IMG]

    http://www.pri.org/stories/2013-12-23/islamic-faith-finds-fertile-home-latin-american-community
     
    1 person likes this.
  2. da1

    da1 Member

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    Tucked away in a quiet rural neighborhood in Somerset, N.J., is an old brownstone that houses the New Jersey Chapter of the Islamic Center of North America’s WhyIslam Project.

    Within its confines, in a second floor office decorated with rose-colored walls, sits the administrative assistant and only female employee of the department, Nahela Morales.

    In a long black garment and gray headscarf, Morales sits in front of a computer entering notes and taking phone calls from the program’s hotline, 1-877-WhyIslam, a resource for individuals hoping to learn more about the religion. A Mexican immigrant and recent convert, Morales is the national Spanish-language outreach coordinator for the program, part of ICNA’s mission to disseminate information about Islam nationwide.

    But Morales’ efforts go beyond U.S. borders: the 37-year-old recently led a trip to bring Islamic literature, food and clothing to her native Mexico.

    Morales, who was born in Mexico City but later moved to California and then New York, is part of a growing population of immigrant Muslim converts from Latin America, many of them women, now helping to bring the religion back to their home countries.

    Immigrant Latinas find a place in Islam

    “Many immigrants are here by themselves,” said Morales, noting that Latina immigrant women are drawn to Islam because of the sense of “belonging” they find within the Muslim community. “When they come into the mosque and see smiling faces, they feel welcome.”

    According to WhyIslam’s 2012 annual report, 19 percent of the some 3,000 converts it assisted in 2011 were Latinos, and more than half of those (55 percent) were women. The 2011 U.S. Mosque Survey, which interviewed leaders at 524 mosques across the country, found the number of new female converts had increased 8 percent since 2000, and that Latinos accounted for 12 percent of all new converts in the United States in 2011.

    Experts attribute the phenomenon to recent migration trends.

    Muslim and Latino immigrants are increasingly living side by side in urban neighborhoods across the country, from California, Texas and Florida to New York and Illinois, states that according to data from the Migration Policy Institute constitute 72.5 percent of the total foreign-born population from Latin America in the United States. At the same time, these five states are also home to the highest number of mosques, The American Mosque 2011 Report shows, reflecting a growing Muslim presence as well.

    Wilfredo Ruiz, a native of Puerto Rico who converted to Islam in 2003, is an attorney and political analyst specializing in the Islamic world. In addition to working with various non-profit organizations, including the American Muslim Association of North America (AMANA), he also serves as the imam at his local mosque in South Florida.

    “More women than men convert, both in AMANA offices and in the mosques in Southern Florida,” Ruiz said.

    Latina immigrants, he explains, often feel exploited both in Latin America and the United States. The higher status afforded women in Islam and their modest dress, he believes, offers a sensible alternative.

    “I have heard from Latina women that they seek protection, and they find (that) protection and respect in Islam,” he added.

    Juan Galvan, executive director of the Latino-American Dawah Association and author of Latino Muslims: Our Journeys to Islam, believes that Islam may also hold another, distinctly religious appeal to Latino immigrants because it reveals to them what he calls a more profound understanding of monotheism.

    “Most Latino Muslim converts have had personal experiences with Muslims that first drew them closer to Islam,” he said. “These Muslims may be their friends, acquaintances, classmates, coworkers, bosses, marriage partners or others. By interacting with Muslims, a non-Muslim learns about Islamic monotheism for the first time.”

    Because Islam emphasizes God’s, or Allah’s, oneness, Galvan says, it presents Latinos with a unique alternative to traditional Christian theologies that accept the existence of holy deities – Jesus, the Holy Spirit, saints and miracle workers — which are connected to, yet distinct, from God.

    “While Protestantism may have fewer intermediaries than Catholicism, Latinos come to Islam because they believe in a concept of God that acknowledges him as the most powerful and therefore, needs no son,” said Galvan, who is himself a Mexican-American convert to Islam.

    Prayers answered

    Morales found her own place in Islam after a turbulent past.

    In 1979, Morales’ mother risked crossing the border into the United States illegally and alone, leaving her infant daughter behind in Mexico under her grandmother’s care. When Morales was 5 years old, she was finally reunited with her mother, who by that time had settled in Los Angeles. Mother and daughter gained amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. However, even as a U.S. citizen, Morales recalls feeling out of place.

    “It was a very difficult adjustment since I did not speak English,” Morales said. “I remember entering the school system and not being able to communicate with my teachers or peers. I wanted to go back home (to Mexico).”

    Adding to her difficulties, Morales was the victim of years of neglect and abuse at home, and as a pre-teen she was removed from her mother’s custody and placed in foster care and group homes, until ultimately she was able to settle on her own and finish college.

    She moved to New York in 2001. Shortly after her relocation, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred. When news reports blamed Muslim extremists, Morales began to research Islam.

    “I was watching the news and they were always showing (Muslim) people shouting ‘Allahu-akbar,’ God is great, so I thought, if your God is so great, why is he allowing you to kill people? If Muslims say Islam (is about) peace, then this doesn’t make sense,” she said.

    She decided to find the answers herself and purchased a copy of the Quran, Islam’s holy book. Morales also began befriending Muslim women on MySpace.

    “They were so nice, and I became more curious. One of the Muslim women I met happened to be Puerto Rican, and she got in touch with someone in California that could send me an information package about Islam with books, a Quran, a prayer rug and a hijab (headscarf)," Morales recalled.

    Morales continued to make contact with Muslims through the Internet and searched online for the closest mosque to her new home in North Bergen, N.J. She began visiting the mosque and eventually converted in 2003. She continues to be an active member of the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center, or NHIEC.

    Situated in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, 30 percent of NHIEC’s congregants are Latinos. The Latino influence is so great that the mosque offers simultaneous Spanish translation of its Friday sermons and Islamic studies classes, and even hosts an annual “Hispanic Muslim Day.”

    During one of her visits to the NHIEC mosque in 2009, a WhyIslam worker overheard Morales speaking Spanish and asked if she would be interested in a bilingual position with the company.

    “I asked (God) to please send me a job where I would be able to worship and wear my veil. I knew right then my prayer was being answered,” Morales said.

    She's been working with NHIEC for more than three years, and recently led a campaign to deliver Islamic literature and audio, clothing, and toiletries to a needy Muslim community in Mexico City.

    During that trip, Morales met with her own family members, who are mostly Catholic. She says that initially they were not accepting of her decision to practice Islam or of her modest style of dress. They accused her of turning her back on her culture. But on her most recent trip to her hometown of Cuernavaca, she took the opportunity to talk to them more about her religion.

    “It is obvious that Islam is still very strange in Mexico,” said Morales, adding that since her last visit her own family has become more receptive. “But it is also very clear that people want to learn about it.”



    Latina Muslims, at home and abroad

    Isabela Duarte has been in the United States since the age of seven. A Muslim convert living in Chicago, the 30-year-old left Mexico with her family in 1990, crossing the border illegally and moving to the Windy City, where she attended school while her parents worked. After high school, she says, she had no other choice but to follow in her parents’ footsteps.

    “I figured that there was no possibility of furthering my education because I’d lack assistance due to my status,” she said.

    She eventually landed an administrative position in a social services agency, but thanks to the recession she lost her job.

    “That’s when my real struggles began. I searched for jobs everywhere. Immigration laws became tougher ... most places of employment denied me any type of opportunity regardless of the experience I had,” she said.

    She ultimately settled for babysitting jobs that paid under the table.

    In the winter of 2008, while her parents faced foreclosure, unemployment and a divorce, Duarte had an emotional breakdown. Seeking help, she came upon a YouTube video of Quran recitations. Her best friend, who was Puerto Rican, had already become a Muslim and Duarte soon followed in her footsteps.

    But while she has found solace and community, participating regularly in events held by the Latino Muslims of Chicago, an Islamic group that serves the needs of Latinos, she says her immigration status continues to be a struggle.

    “This is my home,” she said. “Chicago has been my home and I don’t recall any other.”

    Part of a growing Hispanic population in the United States, Duarte is also among a Muslim community that, according to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, is expected to increase dramatically over the next 20 years, thanks largely to immigration from South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

    An estimated 5.3 million Muslims live in North and South America as of 2010. That number is expected to more than double by the year 2030.

    Liliana Anaya, a 34-year-old Muslim convert from Colombia and a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., is familiar with the trend. The mosque in her hometown, Barranquilla, Colombia, reports an average of four conversions a month.

    Anaya, who converted to Islam in June 2002, is a graduate of Rollins University in Orlando, Fla., where she majored in political science and international relations. She later attended American University to complete a master’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution.

    After graduating, she got a job at a non-profit organization offering mediation for court systems in northern Virginia. At the same time, she met her husband, a Muslim convert from Argentina, and together they applied for U.S. citizenship.

    While Anaya was expecting their first child, she decided to travel back to her country to give birth. After their arrival, she and her husband discovered the Othman bin Affan Mosque in Barranquilla, a small Muslim community that lacked adequate resources. Because Anaya’s husband had earned a degree in Islamic Propagation from Umm Al Qura University in Saudi Arabia, they became involved in the mosque, organizing and teaching classes.

    “I felt that Muslims in the states are already part of the fabric of the society,” Anaya said. “But here (in Colombia), we are in the baby steps. If I want something, I have to create it. If I want Islamic classes for my children, I have to create them.”

    Anaya and her husband are now in the process of establishing an Islamic school for the Muslims of Barranquilla. Both say that given their commitment to the work, return to the United States is unlikely.

    “The Muslim community here needs us,” Anaya said, “so we can’t move.”

    [​IMG]

    http://www.pri.org/stories/2013-01-25/hispanic-american-immigrants-increasingly-finding-home-islam
     
  3. da1

    da1 Member

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    I notice any positive news regarding muslims gets no responses here. Can't say I'm surprised people veer towards negativity.
     
  4. droopy421

    droopy421 Member

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    It is more because you copy/paste long articles while offering no input of your own.
     
  5. SexyButIgnorant

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    what's to debate on this? Whether or not Islam is a message of peace? There's like 10 threads on this topic already. Or if Hispanics should or shouldn't be converting to Islam? It's their right to do that.
     
  6. Honey Bear

    Honey Bear Contributing Member

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    We're debating whether Mathloom used to be a Muslim before converting to impartial Hispanic with an unbiased view on global affairs, or whether he was Hispanic all along.

    Obviously, the trend is now going the other way.
     
  7. bigtexxx

    bigtexxx Contributing Member

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    it's too anecdotal bro

    not compelling
     
  8. Master Baiter

    Master Baiter Contributing Member

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    I think this is ideal. Now we will have muslims that are too lazy to blow people up.

    Just kidding!
     
    3 people like this.
  9. Mathloom

    Mathloom Contributing Member

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    How is this positive though?
     
  10. AroundTheWorld

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    Why do you still pretend not to be a Muslim?
     
  11. Jontro

    Jontro Member

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    This belongs in the Hangout.
     
  12. Dave_78

    Dave_78 Member

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    Not surprising considering Allah is a man that don't need a tan.
     
  13. conquistador#11

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    Had I been in Oz prison or any prison, I would definitely convert to the muslim brotherhood. you didn't have to kill another inmate for initiation.

    word is bond my brothers.
     
  14. BamBam

    BamBam Contributing Member

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    If this is truly the reason they are leaving Christianity, then they lack understanding about what the Bible teaches! Christianity is a monotheistic religion and is based on the Judeo belief that there is ONLY ONE GOD. The Jewish are very adamant that there is only one God and adhere to the teachings of the "Shema" found in Deuteronomy 6:1-4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one". The Jewish have absolutely no concept of multiple deities in their religion!

    Any extra deities that people try to add on, is an attempt by them to try to explain the way God has manifested himself to mankind. God is one! It's that simple, and the Bible declares that he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, God Almighty!

    You don't have to believe in God, but this is what the Bible teaches.
    .......
    .......
    .......
     
  15. Qball

    Qball Contributing Member

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    Wow, I haven't been around D&D in a while and you are STILL obsessed with Mathloom? :confused:
     
  16. da1

    da1 Member

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    I'm Sikh
     
  17. AroundTheWorld

    Supporting Member

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    But strangely obsessed with "defending" Islam.

    Yeah, and I'm a proud black woman.
     
  18. AroundTheWorld

    Supporting Member

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    da1 = Mathloom? :confused:
     
  19. bobrek

    bobrek Person, woman, man, camera, TV
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    But, do they take public transportation to the Mosques?
     
  20. BrownBeast99

    BrownBeast99 Member

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    Nothing really to debate here, it's just stories of Hispanics converting. Cool but probably doesn't belong in the D&D. Nonetheless, it can tie in a bit to the "Is Islam a violent religion?" thread.

    I've personally met and worked with Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Hernandez on a couple events and projects before in Houston -- great people with an awesome story. Also, both of them have studied Islam extensively and have degrees overseas from authentic and well-regarded Islamic universities and are qualified Imams. I'm sure sure if they came across any violent teachings, they would've left and been turned away. They know their stuff and are extremely knowledgeable on Islam. People like them(as well as many other Imams in the US) should be trusted infinitely more regarding the true message of Islam rather than mindless idiots who have no formal Islamic education and cause terror in the world.
     

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