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Islam’s Growth in the U.S. Latino Community

One of the fastest-growing segments of Islam in the U.S. is the Latino Muslim community. According to Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, a Puerto Rican who converted from Catholicism and is now an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Miami, Latinos find a “cultural familiarity that stretches back centuries, to the Moors in Spain.” In a nine-minutes news video prepared by correspondent Kim Lawton for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting and analysis at the intersection of religion and culture, Ruiz says that “Latinos soon reconnect with a hidden past. They say, ‘Islam is not really that foreign to us. Islam is us. It’s part of us.” He points out that some 4,000 Spanish words come from Arabic.

While Latinos find many commonalities between Latino cultural values and Islamic teaching, there are some issues among the more than 250,000 practicing Latino Muslims in the United States; chief among them are the prohibitions against pork and alcohol. Ruiz says he is often asked what the point of a party is without alcohol. His wife, Edimar Capella, who was raised as a Presbyterian, notes that a lot of Puerto Rican and Caribbean food relies on pork. “I had to work around and find a way of keeping the taste, keep the flavors, but still I wanted them to taste like Puerto Rican food … and it was a challenge.” A more significant challenge is the added suspicion and discrimination that comes with the Islamic religion, on top of Latino origin. Differentiating oneself from the radicals is hard, but so is the resistance of Middle Eastern Muslims when Latinos begin to take leadership positions within the Muslim community. In response, mainstream Muslim groups are stepping up their support of Spanish-speaking converts, including providing Spanish versions of the Quran and other Islamic literature, and providing workshops in Spanish. In addition, Latino converts are themselves helping spread the Muslim faith and message to other Latinos. For more on the growth of Islam in the United States, see our feature article, “Latest Census of U.S. Congregations.” For more on the religious diversity of the United States, see our feature article, “The Diversity of Your Faith Community.”

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