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Hispanics Converting into Islam

By Maria Chercoles
The Piedad Blog
September 26, 2007

When Gabriela Loporto told her family three years ago that she was converting into Islam, everyone was shocked.

The 27-year old Argentinean who immigrated to the US in her early teens explains her conversion as the end of a long search for spiritual fulfillment after
not identifying with her first religion, Catholicism.

“I found Catholicism too confusing. I would go to Church but always felt the Priest was giving his own opinion instead of following what the Bible says. I
could not find a line between the religion and the Church. I also had trouble accepting the trinity. People worship so many saints,” Loporto said.

Opposite to Catholicism, Islam only worships one God –although it accepts Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

“After learning this about Islam, everything made more sense,” Loporto said. “If I sin, I don’t have to tell anyone what I did, instead, I have a personal
relationship with God.”

Loporto is part of a recent wave of Hispanic Americans converting into Islam. According to a study by the American Muslim Council of Chicago, the population
of Hispanic Muslims in the US has increased 30 percent since 1999, reaching 200,000.

This means that the almost 50,000 Hispanics converted into Islam in eight years. The report also shows that 60 percent of them are women.

The growth of Hispanic Muslims is particularly taking place in New York, Florida, California and Texas, where Hispanic communities are the largest.

Aisha Musa, professor of Islamic studies at Florida International University, believes one of the main reasons Hispanic women are turning to Islam is because
it’s not selective or demanding, making it easy to join.

“All you need to do is accept it,” Musa said.

Converting into religions such as Judaism can last years: it requires completing courses not without first questioning the individual’s motives for the
conversion. On the other hand, Islam does not requires passing a course or approval from a religious figure.

It only requires accepting only one God and accepting the prophet Muhammad in front of two witnesses.

“What attracted me most to Islam at first was how simple and clear everything is,” said Loporto, who before turning to Islam did research on Buddhism.

“With Buddhism, I knew it conveyed certain lifestyle, but I was not clear about the initiation or conversion,” Loporto said.

In Florida, the largest Hispanic Muslim community is located in Orlando. The al-Rahman mosque, the area’s largest, has 700 members and has service in Arab
and English as well as in Spanish.

Musa agrees with Loporto in that Islam is easy to join.

Musa converted into Islam at 21 while attending college in Oregon. At that time, she said, she didn’t know any Muslim. She converted in front of her friends
and used to write to a Muslim organization in Washington D.C. requesting Islamic literature.

“I basically had no one guiding me besides the books I read,” Musa said.

Another reason Islam is growing in the US, they both agree, is because the Hispanic and the Islamic cultures are very similar:

They are both humble, have comparable morality and have a household division of labor, Khadija said, and added that a lot of Hispanics turn to Islam after
not finding the united commnity they had in their home countries.

“You have to remember that at one point, they were the same culture: the Muslims were in Spain for centuries and did not leave until 500 years ago, so even
though the cultures separated, they kept similar roots that remained with them,” Musa said.

Yet despite the similarities, there are some misunderstandings about Islam.
People not familiar with the religion tend to think that it oppresses women; both women said.

“That is the biggest misconception of Islam,” Musa said. “There is a line between religious practices and cultural practices. You find this all over the
world, even in the US. Some communities are more traditional than others, but this does not necessarily have to do with religion.”

According to Loporto, the Quran only mentions that women should put the a through their shoulders and every culture interprets this differently. She covered
her hair the first year she converted but then decided it was not important.

“The way I see it is: you dress certain way because you are following what your society expects from you. In a way, you are pleasing others, you wear tight
clothes and make up for others,” Loporto said. “Muslim women wear lose clothes because they don’t care what others think. We don’t have to impress anyone, we
are not vain,” she said.

Another difference between the two cultures is the acceptance of polygamy. A practice that originated at a time of war, when women were left widowed and with
children and needed someone to care for them, men polygamy is still practiced in Muslim countries. The only requirement is that the husband must provide
exactly the same to each wife.

Before Loporto got married to a Muslim last summer, both signed a contract specifying certain things. This, she said, is an incentive for opening the
discussion in young couples to discuss and plan their marriage. It also allows for provisions on child custody if there is a divorce.

Her contact does not allow her husband to have a second wife unless the situation requires it.

However, Loporto said, polygamy in Islam is no different than another stereotypical Hispanic practice: cheating.

“It’s so common to find a man who has a wife and a lover,” Loporto said. “So why having a second wife is so hard to accept? The man is married to her instead
of hiding her, and is supporting her because she has no one else to do it.”

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