The Washington Post had an interesting story on Sunday about Latino immigrants converting to Islam. I find conversion stories fascinating, and I wish newspapers would do more of them. It makes for very good copy.
That said, I have to point out that Sudarshan Raghavan’s story reminded me a lot of Chris Jenkins’ Washington Post story from five years ago. Same lead and same point, more or less. Both stories claim they are about Latinos (a word signifying either males or a mixture of males and females) converting to Islam. But no Latino Muslims are quoted in either. Raghavan attempts to explain a bit about what led to the conversions:
The converts hail from throughout Latin America. In Islam, some say they see a devoutness and simplicity they find lacking in Catholicism. Like the tightknit Latino culture, Islam places emphasis on family, which can make it easier for converts to adjust.
Yet some are as motivated by feelings of alienation in a nation that is divided over immigration. Latino women find what most westerners rarely see — a respect for women, unlike, some converts say, the machismo culture in which they were raised.
Raghavan also writes that one woman converted after a priest failed to give her a satisfactory explanation of Christianity’s Triune God. Another felt that Catholics didn’t have a deep connection with God. She also felt that Muslims handled race better than Catholics.
But as I said, this is a story about Muslim Latinas. I found this section to be particularly interesting. The woman quoted says she used to wear tank tops and go salsa dancing:
[Convert Jackie Avelar] said it doesn’t bother her that women in Islam have different roles, roles that many westerners describe as repressed. Where they see inequality, she sees respect. A respect, she said, she doesn’t see often in Latino culture.
“The way Latin men portray women, it’s terrible,” Avelar said. “You look at Spanish CDs, and you see women in bikinis on the cover.”
Before Islam: The day laborers at a nearby 7-Eleven whistled and cat-called — “Oy Mamacita!” — as she passed them.
After Islam: The day laborers stared in silence as she, in her hijab, passed them.
“The fact they stayed quiet, I was like, ‘Alhamdulillah!’,” said Avelar, reciting the Arabic phrase “Praise be to Allah.”
“I love the respect that I get from the opposite sex [when I'm] in hijab.”
Many of the stories about Muslim conversions from Latin and Hispanic groups make it seem like the first time these groups have been in contact with Islam. As if Spain wasn’t conquered by Muslims in the 8th century.
I really wish these stories would delve much deeper into the theological reasons that these women convert from Catholicism to Islam. I always leave each piece wanting to know much, much more about why and how the conversion happened.
Last week the Post had another article on Muslim women that made for an engrossing read. Faiza Saleh Ambah wrote that many Saudi women love covering up and resent emancipation efforts by U.S. women. Considering how many Muslim women in the States do not wear black niqab, it is interesting to see that this is yet another area where Muslim thought is not uniform. Of course, it’s obvious and reasonable that all Muslims would not interpret all Scripture the same way. But sometimes when you read the news, it seems like we are expected to believe that all Muslims, say, think that publishing cartoon images of Muhammad should be punishable by death.
Photos via Flickr.