Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Latino Conversion to Islam: From Black-Consciousness to Arab Influence
by, Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani
I have been thinking about several things in relation to dawah and Latino conversion to Islam. This had led me to some unanswered questions. Chief amongst them is, “Under what factors and environment does Islam thrive? I will give a brief description of the history of Latino conversion, as I see it and raise a few questions with which I hope any and all of you can give some insight.

Latino conversion seems to have occurred in basically two phases. The first is the 1960s till the mid-1990s phase. The second is the mid-1990s till present.

The first phrase of Latinos who converted to Islam were mostly Caribbean Latinos with a strong African identity. Conversion to Islam was a continuum of the Civil Rights/Black Power movement. Latinos in the 60s and 70s were at the forefront of these movements. Latinos in New York came to “Black consciousness” with lead to “Islamic consciousness.” This process was one which may or may not have passed through an intermediary phase of “Latino consciousness.”

The first Latinos who became Muslim in New York were mainly Puerto Ricans who had been part of such groups as the Nation of Islam, Malcom X’s (Malik Ash-Shabazz) group, The Five Percenters, Black Panthers, and the Young Lord Party (originally part of the former Chicago-based gang the Young Lord Organization). Due to the close proximity of Puerto Ricans to African-Americans-culturally, politically, racially, and more important demographically Latinos became informed about Islam. This is and important point that cannot be over looked. Puerto Ricans actually lived next to African-Americans in many (not all) places of New York City, such as Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx.

For them Islam was a natural development and product of the era of struggle from which they came. Besides the political factor, history played a big role in informing these early Latino Muslims about a Muslim past coming from two lines of Puerto Rican history- namely Africa and Spain.

The second part of the first phase was basically looking towards the movements of the 60s and 70s and had converts who looked toward that era with a sense of pride and honor. Those who converted may or may not have participated in the then defunct organizations. Hip-hop (which Puerto Ricans were co-founders) was also a factor, and direct descendant of the Civil Rights/Black Power and the wider Black Consciousness movements of the 60s and 70s, that played a big role in the conversion of Latinos.

During the mid-90s, with the explosion of cyber space and the internet, many Latinos got connected to others people around the world. Latinos were now in communication with Muslims on the ‘net. This included Muslims both in the United States and abroad. This lead to people have more access to Islam due to this new medium. The technical age still continue till the present tend to be a principal medium and factor which has lead to many Latinos in the country.

After September 11, 2001, many Latinos wanted to learn more about Islam. This led many to go out and speak to Muslims and/or go to the internet. This phase also saw a greater diversity in the ethnic, nation, and racial background of Latinos converting to Islam. We also saw the hegemony of Puerto Rican Muslims and New York Latinos being broken down. There was also the rise of places such as Union City, New Jersey that saw great amount of Latinos converting to Islam.

Many during this period coming to Islam live near or at least know one Muslim. In New Jersey, Latino share neighborhoods with Arabs. During this period many come to learn about Islam not through African-American but through into action with foreign Muslim (mostly Arabs).

Okay, well this is my analysis and I would like to hear what you all have to say about this. My main question is “Does Islam thrive more when Latinos are exposed to Arabs (and other foreign Muslims) as opposed to exposure to African Americans (Muslims)?” What are the main factors you think lead to conversion in our times? Perhaps you can help out by simply telling me how you or a Latino friend became Muslim (please include you city.

Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani

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