Growing Numbers of Hispanic Converts to Islam

January 7, 2001

Source: The Washington Post

On January 7, 2001, The Washington Post reported the conversion of thousands of Latinos nationwide to Islam. Hispanics are "the country's fastest-growing ethnic group," and Islam is "the nation's fastest-growing religion." There are 1 billion Muslims worldwide, and "the Muslim population in the United States is estimated at more than 4 million, nearly six times the number in 1970." The American Muslim Council, an advocacy group in Washington, estimates that 25,000 of these are Hispanic. "The largest communities are in New York City, Southern California and Chicago -- all places that traditionally have had large Hispanic and Muslim populations. All-Spanish mosques have emerged in some of those areas." Converts say they were moved by the "closer-knit, smaller community that helps replace the extended family they have lost here in America, as well as a supportive sanctuary to help sort through their sometimes recent immigration." In addition, "the religion gives them greater direct contact with God, without saints and a rigid church hierarchy." Many women convert even if they are initially "concerned about the role of women in Islam and whether [they] would be forced to take a subservient position because they learn that "some countries' Islamic communities are less stringent about such requirements." Experts report that Latino Muslims are part of "a larger trend of American Hispanics leaving the Catholic Church....The Catholic Almanac estimates that 100,000 Hispanics in the United States leave the church each year, although some other experts put the number as high as 600,000. Most have moved to Pentecostal and evangelical Protestant faiths as well as Mormonism, Islam and Buddhism. Converts appear to be both men and women in equal numbers." Islam's presence has been growing in America, and its increasing "acceptance and exposure are fueling the conversions" in Hispanics who felt "a distance from the Catholic Church, both as a religious community and a spiritual path." Many converts' family members, however, do not support their "defection from Catholicism," which they see "as a rejection of family and tradition."