Being A Latina Muslimah... by Vanessa Cañas

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Being a Latina muslimah isn’t given the visibility that it deserves. Yeah, we’ve had a few articles written and some press once in a blue moon but nothing really that shows how normal and common it is to be Latina and muslim at the same time. When I tell people my ethnicity- muslims included- they ask confused “there are Muslims in Colombia?”


The thought of Islam being anywhere other than the middle east, is a farfetched thought for many. If people are ignorant that Indonesia holds the largest population of Muslims in the world, the idea of Islam inhabiting Latin American can come as even more of a shock. But it’s the truth. The fact is Islam has been in Latin America for a very long time. From the moment Arab/Persian guides led the Spaniards across the seas, and Muslim African slaves were brought to the Caribbean Islands and the shores of South America - Islam has been a part of us. Some historians would argue it was introduced even before then.


I’m going to confess a fantasy I have with all of you. I dream of a day where every Muslim woman across the globe says “I need a Latina Muslimah friend in my life” because let me tell you something - if you don’t already- YES YOU DO NEED ONE.


Despite not being given the visibility as much as she deserves the Latina Muslimah is very active, unafraid, and most importantly out spoken. When we embraced Islam- those things weren’t a trade in- If anything Islam has reinforced and encouraged our innate fire to be assertive. Choosing Islam is a testament to that assertiveness. 


Islam taught us what it means to honor our bodies and have control over what we choose to make apparent.  We aren’t defined by how sensual or how our bodies our shaped. We were taught to get rid of our undesirable and often toxic habits for the sake of having a more peaceful and carefree lifestyle.

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Needless to say, we’ve become grounded. We haven’t lost our spunk though. We are still very much Latina. We love to play- joke- defend- stand up- discuss- love- we’re passionate. This is our nature. Our culture. And we’re proud of it. 


I wont stand here and lie though. Latinas are a minority within the Muslim community and in America that makes us a double minority. When you’re a minority you’re often forced to compromise to fit in but fortunately- we’re a stubborn lot- and our culture

although not entirely conservative- is very dominant. For some of us it is difficult to balance our faith and culture. Having a good support group makes it easier but a lot of us don’t

have that privilege. 


Our families can often times ostracize us because of our new found faith and cultures that make up the vast majority of the Muslim community -are more often than not-ignorant of the loneliness we have to deal with. They know what it’s like to have that supportive group. They for the most part- don’t know what it means to lose it.


I’m sure some of you are asking why we stay. If the treatment can be unsavory on both ends for some of us- then why Do we stay?


Well, for the simple fact that we didn’t become Muslim to please people. We’re Muslim because we were able to put all judgments, preconceived notions, and biases aside and learn. And we found answers we’d been searching for- what we had been missing for so long-ironically in the place we least expected them to be in. 


When I first became acquainted with Islam and I told my mother I wanted to be a Muslim her answer was a very typical normal common answer that anyone without understanding would

have said “But Vanessa, look at how those people treat their women..”


My response - as 16 year-old girl- still surprises me to this day, “Mami, you can’t believe everything you see on the television.” and she agreed.


I am fortunate to have a support in my mother. If it weren’t for her efforts in helping me find out more about Islam I would have probably never embraced Islam.  And I’m even more fortunate that she accepted Islam two years after I did.


We’ve found a new normal. Balancing culture and faith. The things we discarded aren’t missed because they really don’t hold any type of weight of importance in our life- if anything we’re glad to be rid of them. One less thing to deal with. Less drama. Less health problems. Less money spent. And we found that without them our life seems lighter. More satisfactory. Less complicated. More rooted in self-improvement and discovery and progress. Islam has taught us the importance of education and stretching ourselves. 


Our purpose isn’t in vain. We all are capable of remarkable things. Where other outlets tell us we’re criminals, no good-ers, thieves, animals, violent, drug addicts- Islam tells us we’re honorable and worthy regardless of where we come from or what skin color we had no choice in being born in is. We can accomplish. We can overcome the worst of situations.


It gives us hope that even the most astray can become the most guided. It gives us a second chance without judgment. Most importantly- the only hierarchy in Islam is reserved for those who are righteous and show excellence of character- that can be anyone. Even me the quirky Latina.


This has become who we are and it doesn’t compromise our Latina identity- our culture- it reinforces it. Islam has given Latinas a new platform to thrive in with excellence. And we all should take advantage of it. The Muslim world needs to see more of us. Muslim women need the reminder that they should never hesitate to grab the opportunity to be heard. That’s something we can teach very well. Get you a Latina Muslimah friend girl.


The Muslim world needs the reminder that Islam is the solution and that it’s okay to discard certain things from culture that can only bring more hardships on ourselves and others- like we did when we embraced it. Most importantly the whole world needs to see how incredibly diverse Islam is.  

We do this by creating more space.  More opportunities to be heard- to be seen. This right here this is incredible. Feeling like we’re among family is important. Encouraging each other to become more active in pursuing our dreams and goals. Becoming happy when we win because my triumph is your triumph and your triumph is my triumph. Supporting each other when things don’t go as expected. This is how we become visible. This is how we make changes. By being active. Making moves. And being there for one another.    

-Vanessa Cañas