Houston Chronicle, Aug. 17, 2002
By TARA DOOLEY
Huevos rancheros for breakfast; fasulye for dinner.
It was not an unusual menu that graced the table one recent Thursday at Patricia El-Kassir’s west Houston home.
For El-Kassir, a Mexican-American convert to Islam, starting the day with the Mexican egg breakfast and ending it with a Lebanese meat-and-bean dinner meant nothing more than the merging of cultures easily found in Islam.
“One of the things that brought me to Islam, that I think is so beautiful, is that Muslims come from all nations,” said El-Kassir, whose husband is a native of Lebanon.
“You can be Mexican and be a Muslim and be happy,” she added. “You don’t have to be torn between two things.”
Though Muslims may live in all nations, when El-Kassir first accepted Islam 16 years ago as a 15-year-old student at Bellaire High School, she was one of few Hispanic Muslims at Houston-area mosques, she said. She didn’t meet another Hispanic Muslim until she was an adult living in Lebanon.
Now when El-Kassir looks around at local gatherings of Muslims, she sees others with roots in Latin America. She even has friends with whom she can discuss the ins and outs of halal meat in tamales.
“In the last couple of years, I know more and more Muslims who are Hispanic,” she said.
Some Hispanic Muslims in Houston say the general public often assumes they are of Middle Eastern or Pakistani origin because of their religion. But where they once were an unrecognized “other” in demographic studies of American Muslim communities, the number of Hispanic converts to Islam is growing — if incrementally, some say.
“This phenomenon is quite old,” said Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston’s Southeast mosque. Bouchikhi also teaches at Masjid El Farouq, a west Houston mosque where El-Kassir attends prayers and Quran classes.
“It’s not only in Houston but also all over the United States,” he said. “In the last five years we have an increase in the number of people embracing Islam: Latinos.”
A study of mosques in the United States, published in 2001, indicated that about 6 percent of American converts to Islam are Hispanic, said Ihsan Bagby, an author of the report and associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky. About 27 percent of American converts are white, 64 percent are African-American and 3 percent are a mixture of other backgrounds, according to “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait.”
Statistics are hard to come by, Bagby said, but Hispanics are becoming a significant minority of American converts to Islam.
Some of what is now available for Hispanic converts comes from the Latino American Dawah Organization, a group started about five years ago in New York City by Samantha Sanchez and five friends.
Sanchez, who is studying for a doctorate in cultural anthropology, had just become a Muslim and was interested in discovering whether she and her friends were the only Hispanic Muslims out there.
The organization has grown into a support network and an information outreach that provides Qurans and pamphlets on Islam in Spanish and runs a Web site, www.latinodawah.org. The group now has a chapter in Austin and is working on chapters in Illinois, Massachusetts and Arizona.
Part of the group’s goal is to connect Hispanic Muslims and offer services for new converts, said Austin resident Juan Galvan, president of the group’s Texas chapter.
Bouchikhi said that some Hispanic Muslims become interested in Islam when they hear that Jesus is considered a prophet in the faith — though not the divine son of God and the path to salvation as Christians believe.
El-Kassir’s brother, Felipe Ayala, always questioned the Christian idea of the Trinity. Finding Jesus as a prophet — but not divine — in Islam felt like a comfortable spiritual fit, he said.
• Hispanic Muslims.com (http://www.hispanicmuslims.com/)
• Islamic Society of North America (http://www.isna.net)
• PIEDAD (http://www.angelfire.com/pq/Andalusia)
• Latino American Dawah Organization (http://www.latinodawah.org)
• Latin American Muslim Unity (http://www.latinmuslims.com/)