Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More Hispanics converting to Al Islam

by Steve Mort09 February 2007VOICE OF AMERICAOrlando,

The number of Hispanic Americans converting to Islam is growingrapidly -- particularly in New York, California, Texas and Florida,which have the greatest concentration of Hispanic residents. Muslimleaders say interest in Islam has increased in the past few years,and they also note that Muslims andHispanics, many of whom are immigrants, share a number of commonconcerns.Steve Mort reports from a mosque in Florida that has seen a steady increase in Latino worshippers. The al-Rahman mosque in Orlando opened in 1975 and is the oldest Muslim place of worship in the city. But over the years its membership has changed, and now increasing numbers of Hispanics, like Jesus Marti, are joining the congregation. "It's the right way to be worshipping God, and I love the Islamic religion. It really has given me a lot of knowledge, andI have learned so many things from Islam."Jesus, a Puerto Rican living in Florida, converted to Islam only a year ago. He is one of tens of thousands of Hispanic Muslims in theUnited States: estimates range from around 70,000 to 200,000.He says that while he has faced criticism for converting to Islam, hehas found broad acceptance as a Muslim in America. "Islam is not acountry. Islam is a religion. Islam is definitely a way of life, fordiscipline where you follow and you try to enhance yourself to getthe most positive things out of yourself for the benefit of your ownself and for the benefit of your own family and the society as awhole."Muslim leaders say Jesus Marti and other Hispanics choose Islam for avariety of reasons. They say Muslims and Hispanics face common issuesand concerns, like finding their way in a new, unfamiliar country.The media focus on Islam since September 11th has also been factor.Imam Muhammad Musri is president of the Islamic Society of CentralFlorida. The society has about 40,000 members.Iman Musri says Latinos and Muslims find they have a lot incommon. "There are so many common denominators between immigrantMuslims and immigrant Hispanics who see the issues common to both ofthem -- immigration issues, as it is a big discussion in the UnitedStates, and there are other issues of trying to find a job, keep ajob, buy a home -- all the same struggles two groups of people happento be going through creates this bond between them". Hundreds of worshippers attend Imam Musri's mosque, and there is an increasing demand for religious literature in Spanish. He points to Spain's historical ties with Islam. And that many Hispanics find Muslim culture and values similar to their own.Iman Musri says, "Many who come from Central and South America come with conservative values and, as well, Muslims come with conservative values. And here in the States they find that those values are putin question or are being challenged. So it is common to see Hispanics and Muslims working on similar projects in terms of familyand education and reforms to protect their values, their conservativevalues they have."For Jesus Marti and his fellow Hispanic worshippers, the decision toconvert to Islam is personal, but also part of a broader trend.He hopes greater diversity among America's Muslims will help strengthen understanding of Islam within the wider U.S. population.

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