Earlier this month, millions of Muslims around the world began the observance of Ramadan. This includes the five to twelve million estimated Muslims in the U.S. and also the increasing number of Latino Muslims in the U.S.
Ramadan is a holy time in the Islamic faith where fasting, self discipline and increased prayer are practiced for 30 days. This year, Ramadan will end on August 8th, with the festival of Eid ul-Fitr, better known as Eid, where Islam faithful followers conclude with morning prayer followed by festivities and feasting with family and friends.
According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino; furthermore the American Muslim Council estimates that there are more than 200,000 Latino Muslims in the U.S. and that number increasing.
Obviously, Latinas are included in this paradigm shift. More often than not, growing up Latino in the U.S. is synonymous with being Catholic. So, why are nuestras mujeres leaving their religious beliefs and adopting a new faith?
For Latinos one word that comes to mind referent to the U.S. is freedom; while for many Latinos, especially immigrants, that freedom is from third world type of factors such as war, poverty, dangerous political situations, disease, etc. for many that freedom also translates to freedom to be and become whoever and whatever they want.
Being free, having choices, and access to employ these is the way of America. So, why not execute these liberties in the realm of spirituality and religion? For Latinas, who for one reason or another may be dissatisfied with the religion their ancestors followed, converting to Islam may be a way to be independent and moreover, a way to choose such an integral part of one’s life for themselves.
For others, converting to Islam may have come out of a curiosity to learn more about this faith, especially as the rise in prejudice against Muslims post 9-11 grasped the entire country. And in this process, some may have found themselves as they searched to understand that which was outside of themselves.
And still for other Latina converts, Islam may have come into their life via marriage and a new identity.
As individual as each mujer is, is her conversion, whether that is to Islam, another faith, or no (religious) faith. Maybe it’s not so much as losing her religion for another, as it is about finding peace with who she is.
And there is no greater freedom that that!
By Being Latino Contributor Claudia Sermeño. Claudia is a first generation Salvadoran-American educator living in Orange County, CA. She can be followed @ClaudiaSermeno.