Magazine article The Christian Century

Southern California Mosques Welcome Rising Number of Latino Muslims

Magazine article The Christian Century

Southern California Mosques Welcome Rising Number of Latino Muslims

Article excerpt

When Mariam Saada teaches new Muslim converts, she notices several common challenges--learning how to pray in Arabic, adjusting to a new diet, giving up old holidays, and dealing with non-Muslim family members.

But for many Spanish speakers who have embraced the religion--which scholars say is an expanding part of the Muslim American community--there's another hurdle: introductory materials on Islam are usually written in English, not Spanish.

Saada, who offers religious education classes in Spanish in Orange County in California, said Spanish-speaking Muslims are often isolated. "There's a real language barrier."

But now, Muslims in Southern California--a region where Latinos are often in the majority--are taking innovative steps to accommodate this growing need by offering translations of classical texts, religious education classes, conferences, and Friday prayer services in Spanish, as well as social events such as halal taco night.

Cesar Dominguez, a teacher with the Los Angeles-based organization La Asociacion Latino Musulmana de America, said this development is relatively new.

"I remember, maybe even five years ago, most places didn't have translations of the Qur'an in Spanish," he said. "But now you find translations of the Qur'an in Spanish, and even Spanish books on the life of the Prophet Muhammad in most mosques."

Last summer Dominguez delivered Friday prayer sermons in Spanish at the Islamic Center of Santa Ana, which organizers say was the first mosque in the area to do so.

In addition, several mosques offer classes like Saada's at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, and Latino Muslims organized a two-day Spanish conference alongside the annual Muslim American Society convention.

The drive for Spanish-language resources on Islam isn't coming just from Muslims.

"You have Latino Muslims who, once they embrace Islam, their families are curious about why they made this transition," said Jamaal Zaheen, outreach manager of the Islamic Institute of Orange County in Anaheim. "So we also get our neighbors coming in and asking about Islam."

The mosque's translated materials specifically highlight the place of Jesus and Mary in Islam, said Zaheen, as a way to show the parallels with many Latinos' Catholic heritage.

But for many Spanish speakers, the Internet is the go-to resource. IslaminSpanish, for instance, offers hundreds of educational YouTube videos on topics such as how to pray and feminism. Based in Houston. Texas, IslaminSpanish is "huge" among Muslims in Southern California.

"It's giving people multimedia alternatives," she said.

Online resources help with the problem of accessibility. …

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