Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. The Pew Research Center says about six percent of American Muslims are Latino. And women make up a little more than half of the new converts -- the people who have changed their religion to Islam.
On a recent Friday, men listened to their imam at Masjid Miami Gardens in Miami, Florida. This clergyman spoke about forgiveness.
On the upper level of the Gardens, the women watch through glass. They hear the imam through a monitoring system.
This is the world that Greisa Torres entered four years ago. That is when she arrived in Miami from Cuba. She says she lost her identify in the move – and found it in the Prophet Muhammad.
Ms. Torres converted to Islam while pregnant with her second son.
“It’s very hard for me because we don’t have family here, just my husband and my kids. On this day, my baby, my Mahdi Aparicio, this day he was born. That’s why I convert to Islam, because I’m scared.”
Some estimates say there are 3,000 Hispanic Muslims in the Miami area and more than 40,000 nationwide.
Stephanie Londono received a master’s degree from Florida International University. She published a study about religious conversions by Latinas, women of Hispanic ancestry.
Ms. Londono says some women turn to Islam because they reject Western values. They believe success in the West is measured by careers, education or wealth.
These women feel more at ease with the traditional expectations of women in Muslim society. They feel that what some consider less freedom in this way of life is something good or a benefit.
Ms. Londono says they like clear definitions between “halal”, meaning acceptable, and “haram”, which means unacceptable.
“So they know exactly where they stand. So the Koran happens to become this book that is almost like a guidebook, that tells you exactly how to wear, what to wear, when to wash, what to eat, how to behave, when to pray…”
Less traditional Muslim women may avoid the hijab. But Latinas are happy to wear this head covering. Ms. Londono says they purposely speak Spanish while their heads are covered to show they represent Islam.
“When the people see you with the hijab, they respect you. It’s emotion you feel because you are different.”
Being seen in public in a hijab breaks traditional images that all Arabs are Muslims and all Hispanics are Catholic.
Ms. Torres also discovered similarities in the cultures as she changed religion. For example, 4,000 Spanish language words have roots in Arabic. This is because Moors – Arabs -- occupied Spain in the Middle Ages.
Greisa Torres finds this useful. Some of what she is learning about Islam is taught in Arabic.
I’m Bob Doughty.
*This report was based on a story from VOA’s Carolyn Presutti. Jeri Watson wrote the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in this Story
monitor - n. a device for observing, listening, inspecting
monitoring - v. the action of observing, listening, inspecting
benefit - n. advantage or profit; something good
Koran - n. the Islamic sacred book, believed to be the word of God as given to the Prophet Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel and written down in Arabic
hijab - n. the traditional head covering of Muslim women
convert - v. changing one’s beliefs or religion
conversions - n. the act or instance of converting or the process of being converted
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