Thursday, April 19, 2007

For Some Hispanics, Coming to America Also Means Abandoning Religion

For Some Hispanics, Coming to America Also Means Abandoning Religion
The NY Times
Published: April 15, 2007\

RICHMOND, Va. — On Sunday afternoons, when the local Roman Catholic church
holds Mass for Spanish-speaking Catholics, Edgar Chilín is playing soccer in
a league with hundreds of Hispanic players.

As a child in Guatemala, Mr. Chilín attended Mass every Sunday. But after
immigrating to the United States 25 years ago, he and his family lost the
churchgoing habit. “We pray to God when we feel the need to,” he said, “but
when we come here to America we don’t feel the need.”

A wave of research shows that increasing percentages of Hispanics are
abandoning church, suggesting to researchers that along with assimilation
comes a measure of secularization.

Several studies show that Hispanics are just as likely as other Americans to
identify themselves as having “no religion,” and to not affiliate with a
church. Those who describe themselves as secular are, without question, a
small minority among Hispanics — as they are among Americans at large. But,
in contrast to many of the non-Hispanic Americans who identify themselves as
secular, most of the Hispanics say they were once religious.

The Roman Catholic Church, the religious home for most Hispanics, is
experiencing the greatest exodus. While many former Catholics join
evangelical or Pentecostal churches, the recent research shows that many of
them leave church altogether.

“Migrating to the U.S. means you have the freedom to create your own
identity,” said Keo Cavalcanti, a sociologist at James Madison University in
Harrisonburg, Va., and a co-author of a recent study that found a trend
toward secularization among Hispanics in Richmond. “When people get here
they realize that maintaining that pro forma display of religiosity is not
essential to doing well.”

A separate study of 4,000 Hispanics to be released this month by the Pew
Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center found that 8
percent of them said they had “no religion” — similar to the 11 percent in
the general public. Of the Hispanics who claimed no religion, two-thirds
said they had once been religious. Thirty-nine percent of the Hispanics who
said they had no religion were former Catholics.

Hispanics from Cuba were the most secular national group, at 14 percent,
followed by Central Americans at 12 percent, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans at
9 percent, and South Americans at 8 percent, the Pew poll found. Mexicans in
this country were the least likely to say they had no religion, at 7

A larger survey, called the American Religious Identification Survey, a
study of 50,000 adults, including 3,000 Hispanics, found that the percentage
of Hispanics who identified themselves as having no religion more than
doubled from 1990 to 2001, to 13 percent from 6 percent.

This change is happening even though many Hispanics immigrated from
countries steeped in religion, where saints’ days and festivals mark the
passage of time, and grandmothers round up their progeny each Sunday to go
to Mass.

“They come, they adopt the American way, and part of the American way is
moving towards no religion,” said Ariela Keysar, associate director of the
Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity
College in Hartford.

Each year, Diana Lemus — a real estate agent and owner of Happy Mart, a busy
Latino market in Richmond — makes New Year’s resolutions that include
working out more, getting out of debt, being a better mother and attending
church once a week.

Ms. Lemus, a first-generation immigrant, said that this year she had kept
all of them, except going to church — and spends Sunday mornings at the gym.
She thinks her faith is important, but said that perhaps she has grown “too

“I need God in my life, but I told the pastor, I get sleepy,” she said. “You
have to stay in church from 1:30 to 5. I think if services were shorter,
more entertaining.”

Like Ms. Lemus, many Hispanics in Richmond said that even though they no
longer attended church, their religion remained important to them. This
confirms research findings that Hispanics who said they had no religion
represent a small subset; many more Hispanics are living rather secular
lives but still identify themselves as Catholics or Christians. The
phenomenon is similar to that of “cultural Jews,” said Roberto Suro,
director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

“You can feel very strongly about the Virgin of Guadalupe and believe your
children ought to be baptized, and still not participate in the Catholic
Church or make it a major factor in your life,” Mr. Suro said.

Richmond and adjacent Chesterfield County have a rapidly growing and diverse
Hispanic population, with immigrants from the Caribbean, Central America,
Colombia and Mexico. Some are new arrivals, but many have been in the United
States for years and resettled here from Northeastern and Southern states,
attracted by the area’s jobs, relatively affordable housing and receptive
local governments.

The increase in the Hispanic population has meant a proliferation of
churches. But even when their own churches are thriving, Hispanic ministers
say that most Hispanics they approach are not interested.

“Church is not very popular,” said Francisco Hernandez, who is pastor with
his wife, Connie, of the Iglesia de Dios Alfa y Omega, a Pentecostal church
with 400 members. “The majority don’t go, and those who go, go one time.”

Asked why, he said that his church’s strict rules were a hard sell, adding,
“People like a superficial religion.”

This may be true, and a few young Hispanic women said in interviews that
they avoided strict evangelical churches because they frowned on women
wearing pants or makeup. However, many more Hispanics said they were simply
too busy to attend any church. They said Sunday is a work day, or it is
their only day off to wash clothes, go to the market, do errands and relax.

Before Mirna E. Amaya and her husband bought their restaurant, Palacio
Latino, three years ago — and when she lived in Maryland — she went to Mass
every Sunday. Now she says she is working too hard to go, even though she
says she misses it.

“In El Salvador, people went to the church because there’s nothing much else
to do,” Mrs. Amaya said.

She said that some of her women friends had stopped going because they
became disillusioned with the Catholic Church after the priest sexual abuse
scandals. But she said the Roman Catholic Church was still her preference.
The closest parish, St. Augustine Catholic Church, has bent over backward to
minister to Hispanics. It offers Mass in Spanish, classes in English, a
medical van, job assistance and an instant community for lonely new
arrivals. The Sunday Spanish Mass is standing room only.

And yet, the pastor, Msgr. Michael Schmied, also the vicar for the diocese’s
Hispanic Apostolate, said: “My fear is the strength of secularization, the
influence of Americanized pop culture. Is the spiritual tradition of the
church, Catholic and Protestant, strong enough to withstand the secularizing
cultural influences?”

Jesus Cerritos, a 37-year-old construction worker who immigrated from Mexico
18 years ago, said he spent his weekends running errands, going to Wal-Mart
and watching television. His children, ages 11 and 9, tell him that church
is boring and that they have no desire to go, but Mr. Cerritos has mixed

“Here, the people get more materialistic,” Mr. Cerritos said. “The culture
here is really barren. There’s no traditions.”

If he were still living in his hometown of Guanajuato, he said, “I would
probably go to church.”

Monday, April 9, 2007

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Dawah beneath the Palm tree

Dawah Beneath the Palm Tree- 2001

By Khadijah Rivera

Piedad, Florida

Throughout our illustrious Islamic history, various messengers were sent to different lands to spread the teachings of Al Islam. The beginning of a convert's Islamic duty is to spread the message in their own land! As Hispanic Americans, we believe we should utilize our gift of a second language to teach our brethren right here in the USA, our adopted homeland. Hispanic Muslims are generally pious people who have taken religion seriously throughout history. Our ancestors have always sought a deeper commitment to a higher truth.

The horrendous tragedy of September 11th brought out the worst in many Americans. I experienced verbal abuse and housing discrimination in Miami. Someone spit on my face. All my experiences have made me stronger. I am proud to be a Muslimah and to live my life as a Muslim. Many Latinas who embrace Islam lack assistance from their Islamic community or their Muslim husbands. PIEDAD (Propagacion Islamica para la Educasion de devosion a Ala' el Divino) mobilized to address issues affecting female converts. We have helped young and older Muslimahs. Since 1987, we have held various seminars with the assistance of the International Islamic Federation of Student Organization (IIFSO). Our Miami Muslim community has helped us support great speakers including Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Jamal Badawi, Aisha Mohammad, Dr. T B Irving, and Dr. Omar Kasule. These lectures were presented in New York, Virginia, Illinois, and Texas.

At one time, we had five toll-free phone lines throughout the USA to provide Islamic related information and referrals and contacts at local masjids. PIEDAD has outstanding sheikhs and imams assisting 24/7. We have run newspaper ads to provide free literature and to encourage non-Muslims to contact us with questions. Within a year, we distributed 10,000 pieces of literature to correction facilities, Islamic centers, and da'wah groups throughout the USA. Although we are best-known for our seminars, our one-on-one da'wah has proven to be our most effective dawah method. When working with woman, we offer our own experiences as converts to show patience and perseverance.

Certainly, da'wah is enriching but also involves lots of frustration. I remember the day I met Br Yasin. He was 17 years old. He wanted us to convince his family to allow him to go to Afghanistan. We make plans but Allah swt also makes plans. His parents were afraid of his new religion and believed Islam was fanaticism that could get his son killed. We spent what seemed to be hours trying to explain to this humble couple the virtues of Islam. They complained how their son had taken down their portraits and the Christmas tree. His parents thought he was totally crazy! Why he didn't even eat! We asked him if he was eating at night. "Oh yes," answered his father, "He is like a little mouse and eats when we are in bed." We then explained the virtues of fasting. Clearly, this brother was truly in the Deen. At this point, we stopped and listened closely. They needed their son home. We asked how Yasin was before he embraced Islam.

"Oh," the father said, "I was getting him out of jail constantly, he was stealing hubcaps and getting drunk."
"And now?" I asked.
"Oh no," with realization in his breath, "not now!"

That day, Yasin's father converted to Al Islam during Jumaah. Soon, Yasin's nieces and his mother would also convert. Islam is as beautiful as it is wondrous. I sincerely look past differences of religion, color, or ethnicity. I sincerely feel a human kinship. I want to reach out to assist anyone in need. Although I was a female executive in New York, only Islam would bring me happiness and an inner glow of supreme peace. As I relax beneath a palm tree, I imagine the future of Islam in America.

Islamic society introduces Latin Muslims

BC Islamic Society Introduces Latin Muslims
By: Ezra Rich
Posted: 3/26/07\

Last week, the Islamic Society and Latin Women hosted
an event on Latin American Muslims. The event featured
two Ecuadorian Americans who converted to Islam from

The event, entitled "Latin Muslims: the Sons and
Daughters of Golden Spain," focused on two seemingly
different cultural groups, Muslims and Latinos, and
their respective cultures. The event was attended by
over 50 students.

Ahson Mahfooz, vice president of the Islamic Society,
served as master of ceremonies for the event and
introduced the two speakers, brothers Yusuf and Hernan
Guadalupe of Hoboken, New Jersey.

"The reality is that prosperity lies in this world and
the next. Islam is not a religion, but a lifestyle,"
said Mahfooz. He added that not all Muslims are Arabs.
"There are 80 million in China and thousands in
Brazil," he said. There are an estimated 1.4 billion
Muslims worldwide. Mahfooz then gave the microphone to
Hernan Guadalupe.

"I grew up Catholic in Ecuador. I was an alter boy,"
he said.

Guadalupe went on to say that from an early age, he
was plagued by questions he couldn't find satisfactory
answers to.

"If God is everywhere, why must I go [to church] to be
close? The contradiction of values between what's said
and what's going on, the monotone voice (during the
Mass) wasn't capturing people," he said.

Guadalupe said that he always believed in God and he
explored many religions, including Hinduism, Budhism
and Judaism. He also looked into science and Darwinian
evolution theories. He recalled that at age 15, "I
felt completely lost, I looked up at the moon on a
clear night and I couldn't stop crying. I said 'O God,
please guide me.' It didn't come right away."

He then spoke of his college years at the Stevenson
Institute in Hoboken.

Guadalupe recalled becoming very interested in Latin
politics and pledged for a Latino fraternity. He said
he enjoyed debating religion and politics, and that
his Muslim friend from a Pakistani and Saudi Arabian
background always gave the best answers.

"What shocked me was that his answers were more
profound and clearer than priests, scholars in their
fields," he said.

He began learning more about Islam, and reading the
Quran on his way to work.

"It scared me. I wasn't ready to commit and give up
parties...but in my heart, I knew this was the right
way," Guadalupe said.

Guadalupe accepted Islam on September 11, 2001. He
recalled going to school in Hoboken that day and
finding, to his excitement, that his chemistry course
was cancelled that morning. He then learned that
planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

"The environment on campus was dark; everyone was
hoping that everyone would be OK. Then [the Twin
Towers] collapsed. At that moment, I realized everyone
woke up for a regular day, but today was their last
day and they didn't know it. I thought of the Quran-
accept Allah or go to Hell. I thought it could be my
time right now. Death comes to you without you
knowing, I'm being arrogant thinking I could enjoy it
and ignore what Allah chose to show me. At that point
my friend said, 'I have to go pray,' and I went with
him. It's been that way since." Guadalupe said.

He concluded his remarks by saying, "Allah has a plan
and he knew that was the day to change. Now I'm the
happiest man alive. I now have a wife and an
eight-month-old son and my brother, mother and three
cousins [have since] converted."

Mahfooz then introduced the event's second speaker,
Guadalupe's brother, Hernan.

"My brother was the leader and when he accepted Islam
I didn't want to change my friends, dress...I had a
totally different lifestyle, but by the mercy of God
he put into my heart to accept Islam. I accepted it
blindly and began learning all that I had done wrong;
my disrespect to my parents and what not. I wanted to
obey my friends more than my parents or Allah's laws,"
Guadalupe said.

He went on to explain that he began partying at age
14, and that it was hard for him to change his
lifestyle. He changed after he survived a car
"My parents asked me, 'How are you still alive?' and
my brother told me, 'Allah has given us all of this
bounty and we take it for granted.' I thought my
purpose was to hang with friends and do things that
aren't permissible and not submitting to the will of
Allah," Guadalupe said.

He concluding his remarks by saying, "As Muslims, we
possess a treasure, whether you see it or not. We have
the example of the best person in mankind: Mohammed."
Mahfooz then began a question and answer session.
Women wrote questions and passed them up, while the
men asked theirs orally.

The first question concerned how Guadalupe's parents
reacted to the news that he (Diego) had converted to

"Mom said, 'At least you found God.' My father asked,
'Why are you doing it at this time?' He was worried
for my safety. They asked a lot due to misconceptions
by the media, but they've been supportive. They saw
the dramatic change to people focused on serving God.
We were lucky, they're truly understanding. Others
aren't as lucky," Guadalupe said.

The next question was about the historical ties of
Latino culture to Islam.

Guadalupe answered that, before Columbus discovered
America, there were Muslims there.

Guadalupe said Columbus described them in his travel
diary as "people who were peaceful and committed to
God. They probably spoke Arabic and didn't eat pork.
He called it Mohammedism, a popular term until the
1970s, as opposed to Islam which means to submit."

Guadalupe said that he juggles the Latino lifestyle
and Islam.

"We speak Spanish and cook Spanish at home, but there
are things [Latin culture] considers permissible that
we don't practice, such as drinking wine. We follow
the example of Mohammed first, and whatever doesn't go
against it, we do. We don't eat pork, but growing up,
we ate it almost everyday," he said.

Those in attendance found the event, which featured
Halal Chinese food, informative.

"It was interesting. I learned some new things. I
liked the speakers," said freshman Ifedapo Oyeyemi, a
biology major.

"It was very informative. I've learned more about the
Muslim religion which isn't much publicized in the
media or on campus," said Steven Buffett, a member of
the Sigma Lambda Beta Fraternity.

Some students enjoyed the cultural exchange of ideas
and beliefs.

"It was nice to have a room filled with different
cultures. It was an opportunity for people to get
informed of something that they weren't informed of,"
said Norma Hirsch, president of Latin Women.
"It was good to hear their experiences and point of
view, coming from Catholicism to Islam. They were very
articulate in what motivated that chance," said senior
Yousra Abdelhadi, a double major in chemistry and

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