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New York Times

Thousands Of U.S. Hispanics Find Religious Home In Islam

By Evelyn Nieves

December 17, 2001
Copyright © 2001
New York Times. All Rights Reserved.

Entran ordenadamente en la mezquita cuando la escuela dominical ha terminado y las salas de conferencias están vacías, haciendo suyo un pequeño trozo de terreno en el vestíbulo principal. Para muchos, el español es su única lengua, y este es todo un nuevo mundo. Son nuevos inmigrantes, nuevos a la gran ciudad y nuevos al Islam.

      A lo largo del año pasado, el Centro Islámico del Sur de California ha estado realzando, a petición popular, unas reuniones semanales de 90 minutos en habla hispana para los nuevos Musulmanes.

      Cada semana, inmigrantes de Méjico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Perú y Costa Rica - solo un puñado de los países representados - acuden al Centro Islámico, aliviados al ver que no están solos.

      En los últimos años, grupos de Musulmanes Hispanos se han formado en las principales ciudades de los EE.UU. y en algunas ciudades más pequeñas con un amplio número de población hispano parlante, como Fresno, California; Plantation, Florida y Somerville, New Jersey.

      LOS ANGELES – They file into the mosque when Sunday school is over and the conference rooms are cleared, staking a small piece of turf in the main hall. For many, Spanish is their only language, and this is a whole new world. They are new immigrants, new to the big city and new to Islam.

      Over the past year, the Islamic Center of Southern California has been conducting, by popular demand, these weekly 90-minute Spanish-speaking sessions for new Muslims.

      Each week, immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru and Costa Rica – just a handful of the countries represented – come to the Islamic Center, relieved to find out that they are not alone.

      Far from it. In recent years, Hispanic Muslim groups have formed in most large U.S. cities and in smaller cities with large Spanish-speaking populations, like Fresno, Calif.; Plantation, Fla.; and Somerville, N.J. Though exact figures are hard to come by, since people tend to drop in at mosques and may not appear on their rolls, the American Muslim Council, an advocacy group in Washington, estimates that about 25,000 Hispanics in the United States are Muslims. Several Hispanic Muslim organizations say the number is closer to 40,000, with the largest Hispanic Muslim communities in New York City, Southern California and Chicago, where Hispanics and Muslims are both plentiful.

      It is a fraction of the nation's Muslim population (long estimated to number 4 million to 6 million, though some studies suggest the range is smaller). Still, the number of Hispanic Muslims appears to be growing.

      Why Islam, a religion cloaked in mystery in Latin America – as it was for many people in this country before Sept. 11 – is attracting Hispanic converts has several answers. For many of the women who attend the Islamic Center of Southern California here, the path was a relationship with a Muslim man. Many others say they chose Islam because they preferred a religion without the trappings of a vast hierarchy or the complicated dogma that they saw in the Catholic Church.

      The close-knit Hispanic Muslim community is especially attractive to new immigrants, Hispanic Muslim leaders say, helping them understand the society.

      Religion scholars say that Islam also attracts those who prefer a more rigorous way to worship than they find in the American version of their traditional religious home, the Catholic church.

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