By Lee Kainoelani
By Lee Kainoelani
Rabat- Earlier in the month, Latino Muslims gathered to celebrate Cinco De Mayo at the only Spanish-speaking mosque in the country, according to Muslim Girl, an organization that focuses on Muslim/Islamic news.
The newly opened mosque, where Cinco De Mayo was celebrated, Centro Islamico, is located in Houston, Texas. Islam in Spanish, an education non-profit organization, was founded by a Columbian convert.
The interior of Houston’s Centro Islámico is decorated with motifs that echo the striped arches of La Mezquita de Córdoba, a 10th-century mosque still standing in southern Spain.
Today there are more than 1,000 Latino Muslims affiliated with the organization.
“They’ve been able to really define very significant and strong Latino and Muslim identities, and to merge the two together,” said Ken Chitwood, a PhD student at the University of Florida who studies and writes about the growing Latino Muslim community. “And they are very intentional about that.”
Alfonso Flores, a recent convert to Islam, took the shahadah, the Islamic profession of faith, at the new mosque, during the Cinco De Mayo celebration, where community members gathered, with roots from Columbia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, and other countries, and shared halal variations of their traditional food, while celebrating their identity as Muslims, according to the Guardian.
“We’re like a family,” said Ana Ortiz, a Puerto Rican Muslim originally from New Jersey, who was serving food at the festival’s Puerto Rico tent.
Since the opening of the mosque, 18 people, like Flores, have taken the shahadah and declared their faith as Muslims.
There are more than 55 million people of Hispanic origin in the United States, and more than 3 million Muslims. Estimates of the number of Latino Muslims in the US range from 30,000 to 300,000.
“We used to gather in different masjids,” said Magidel Morris as she served halal tamales in the mosque’s parking lot on Saturday. “But then we got together and decided we had to have a place for Hispanic people to get together and learn about Islam.” With the Centro Islámico, America’s Latino Muslims now have a home of their own.
In the past, New York’s Alianza Islámica mosque opened in the mid-1990’s, but shut down in 2005. Centro Islámico mosque is the first mosque built for Spanish-speaking Muslims since then.
Chitwood found, through research, that many Latino Muslims are converts from Christianity. Central and South American countries are heavily rooted in the Roman Catholic church.
“Typically, there is some sort of spiritual wandering that occurs,” Chitwood said. “There is some type of spiritual dissatisfaction with their present religious outlook, be that Catholic or Protestant or whatever. And then they go looking.”
Fletcher said: “You can practice Islam and remain a Latino … We want Latinos to be proud of where they come from, to have a strong sense of identity for themselves.”