Islam is spreading among Latinos in Arizona
By Marwan Ahmad
Since 9/11 interest in Islam has spurred. Many became interested in what is Islam and what it stands for. Some learned about the foundations of Islam and made a choice to make it their way of life. Americans from all walks of life visited local Mosques, met with local Muslims and attended classes on the basics of Islam.
Among those who accepted Islam are Hispanics or Latinos whom mostly either came from Mexico or born to at least one Latino parent. Latino is a term given to those who come from Latin America, central and south America.
This segment of Latino Muslims is growing in our Muslim community and becoming more visible. We met with three Latina Muslim women who accepted Islam at different stages in their lives and had a chance to ask them a few questions.
Chandria Sprague, "I have been Muslim for seven years. I became Muslim when she had a Muslim coworker who was fasting Ramadan. I read the Quran and I decided to accept Islam. My family reacted quite well and very supportive. They were hesitant at the beginning because of what they hear on the news. In the last seven years it has been a learning experience. The first six years were very hard to change my behavior from how I grew up. In the last year it has been easier. Meeting other converts and finding a masjid open to converts made it easier. At the beginning I didn't have the greatest mentor and it was a rough life. I plan to learn Arabic to be able to read the Quran. This year with the politics I learned to speak out more. The Quran played a role in learning the basics of Islam. I was self motivated to learn about mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and to help the needy. Since I became a Muslim I did retain my Americanism and patriotism while a Muslim. A Muslim should retain parts of their culture but draw the line between culture and Islam. I think born Muslims take for granted the beauty converts find in Islam and they get lost in culture, family and tradition."
Lorena Porter works for an IT company. "I have been a Muslim for two and half years. I learned about Islam from friends. When I learned the ICC in Tempe have classes I decided to join the classes to learn about Islam. I was self motivated to learn the religion. I found a circle of friends to learn from. I was raised as a Catholic but it was the values in Islam I could relate to. My family always knew that I like to learn about new things so when I told them that I converted to Islam it was not very shocking to them. My experience as a Muslim was different. At the beginning, I felt under pressure but it got easier over the years. Since then, it has been a positive experience. The Mosque played a good role with different activities to learn the religion. My advice to someone who is interested in Islam is not be afraid to seek knowledge. If it is right for you then you will feel it is right for you. I'm looking for continuing my knowledge and making a it a natural part of my day. I spend a lot of time with convert Muslims and we get together on a weekly basis to learn and develop our relationships."
Jessica Pena, works as an operational manager. "I've been a Muslim for couple of months. I learned about Islam when I started reading on Islam about seven months ago. I was looking for something different. I was born Catholic. I was reading a book but kept stopping every time I read parts of it. I knew a change was coming but the more I learned the more I want to know. My family was supportive for the most part when I was learning about Islam. When I converted my mother was not very happy but the more I explained to her the more she accepted it. My conversion did have some affects in my personal life but people around me knew who I was. Only one friendship ended when my friend saw me wearing the Hijab. The support group around me was very welcoming and very supportive. This support group consists of women from different Mosques who come together. My oldest daughter had a tough time when I accepted Islam but my younger one she took it better. Later, when she learned more about Islam she became more receptive. My younger daughter is already a Muslim."
According to Imam Ahmad Shqeirat of the Islamic Community Center in Tempe Latino converts make more than half of the total number of converts that come to his Mosque lately. Some of them come prepared to accept Islam and some need more help to learn more before they accept it. Imam Shqeirat says that they have a class called 'Fundamentals of Islam' for converts in general once a week which consist of a number of lessons over a four month period to teach and prepare new Muslims. When asked whether Latino converts are immigrants or native he said that they mostly are born and raised in the US.