By David Hutchinson —
Disaffected by anti-Latino rhetoric in politics, a growing number of Hispanics are converting to Islam in Houston and elsewhere, finding solidarity with other maligned groups, according to a Vice video on YouTube.
In America today, there are as many as 250,000 Latino proselytes who have renounced their Catholic upbringing and now adhere to the tenets of Mohammad, says Rice University Sociology Professor Craig Considine.
“With all the racism and xenophobia happening in this country, where are the Christian leaders who are taking a strong stand against it?” says Considine, who is himself Catholic but reaches out to Muslims. “A lot of Latinos are saying, ‘Maybe Islam is offering something that Christianity doesn’t offer.’”
Islam conquered Spain in the Middle Ages but was stopped in its northward advance at the Pyrenees Mountains by the formidable army of Charles Martel. Almost eight centuries later, Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Muslims out of Spain fully by 1492 in what is known as the Reconquest.
For the 34% of American Catholic population that is Latino, the battle for the hearts and minds of Spanish speakers is back on.
Jaime “Mujahid” Fletcher was raised in Columbia and Venezuela before he immigrated to America at age eight. His parents wanted a better life for him, but he fell into gangs and drugs. When he searched for solutions, he gravitated to the Koran.
Today Fletcher is the founder of America’s first Islam in Spanish Center in Houston, which has a thriving Latino Muslim congregation. They also mass-produce and distribute Islamic propaganda. Their online proselytism reached 14 million people during the month of Ramadan, Fletcher says.
“I looked for answers in so many different religions. Someone gave me the Koran, and the more I read it, the more life made sense,” Fletcher says on the “Minority Reports” Vice video. “My mother thought I was brainwashed when I became Muslim because I stopped drinking alcohol. I stopped going out with girls. I let go of all this stuff.”
Four months after his conversion to Islam, Fletcher was asked by his leaders to speak to Telemundo and Univision, Spanish channels in America, on behalf of Islam after Muslim terrorist hijacked planes and crashed them into New York City’s World Trade Center twin towers.
“They asked me to explain why Islam is not what people were thinking,” he says. “That some Colombians sell drugs doesn’t make me a drug dealer. That some Muslim goes and commits a wrong act, shouldn’t make me feel bad about being Muslim.”
His own family became very upset at his shifted loyalties, Fletcher admits. “How could you be part of that?” they asked him.
Raul Sanchez is a Mexican immigrant and DACA Dreamer in North Houston who converted in 2011. His family, like many other Latino families of converts to Islam, disowned him.
Because he lacked papers, he could only find under-the-table jobs, such as washing dishes for $5.00 an hour. The exploitation is what drove him to find solidarity with other marginalized people, he says.
“That’s when I really started getting the idea of what is Islam, how deep it was, and how it wasn’t what the media was portraying,” Sanchez says. “Being Latino and Muslim is a double whammy for me. I’m going to be attacked from all sides.
“My mom kicked me out of the house and threw all my clothes out,” Sanchez says. “She said I was joining a terrorist organization and they were training me to kill people.”
Eventually his mom visited the community and was won over. She apologized for her earlier rejection of her son and his coreligionists because she saw him feeding the homeless and doing other positive activities. She also converted to Islam.
“We are having a hangover from 9/11,” Considine says. “We have ignorance based on misinformation. A lot of people in this country who are not Muslims have certain ideas which are steeped in stereotypes that all Muslims are associated with ISIS or al Qaeda.”
David Lopez, coordinator of adult sacraments in Alexandria Church in Houston, is less of an apologist.
“There’s a concerted effort by the Muslim community to reach out to Latinos,” Lopez says. “It’s no secret, especially with the climate we have now with the issues of immigration when you look at the disenfranchisement of peoples, they turn to something. That is something the Islamic community targets and looks for.”
Lopez is preoccupied about the future of America, since minority populations — and especially the Latino population — stand to overtake the white Protestant demographics by the year 2050.
“I’m worried from an anthropological standpoint,” Lopez says. “Islamic culture is extremely different. We see what’s happening in Europe. We see what’s happening in England.”
Considine sees the danger of a critical mass. “It’s the future of America,” he says. “Houston is a microcosm of the future of America. It’s the ‘browning’ of America.” If true Christianity doesn’t win the hearts of Latinos, will the Muslims?
David Hutchinson studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Los Angeles.
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