Latino Muslims Balance Catholic Ethos with New Faith

June 5, 2006

Source: The Washington Post

On June 5, 2006 The Washington Post reported, "Every morning, Jackie Avelar wakes up to a predicament. On one side of her bed is a clock that sounds the Islamic call to prayer five times a day. On the other side is a statue of Mary. As a Muslim, she wants to remove it. As a Latina, she can't. Her father, who is a Catholic from El Salvador, wants the statue to stay. 'I have to respect him,' Avelar said. So she has found a comfortable balance: She covers the statue with a photo of her family. Avelar, 31, constantly struggles to find balance within her family, within the outside world, within herself. Growing up, she was a beach-going, tank top-wearing, salsa-dancing girl. Now, she's a devout Muslim who favors Islamic garments and avoids socializing with men. She is the first Muslim in a family that has never known any religion but Catholicism. Across the nation, thousands of Latino immigrants are redefining themselves through Islam, including a few hundred in the Washington region, according to national Islamic groups and community leaders. Precise numbers are not available, but estimates range from 40,000 to 70,000. The conversions speak to a larger evolution of immigrant identity, as a new generation ingests a cultural smorgasbord of ideas they were rarely exposed to in their homelands. Today, it's easier than ever to learn about Islam from Spanish translations of the Koran, Islamic magazines and Web sites. But as they embrace a new faith, Latinos face struggles, ranging from guilt to discrimination, as Muslims in a post-Sept. 11 America."