Monday 9 May 2016 13.43 EDT by Ryan Schuessler
As converts gather in Houston for the Centro Islámico’s first Cinco de Mayo, they reflect on a unique identity: ‘We change our religion, not our culture’
Alfonso Flores looked relieved.
Standing at the front of the prayer hall, the 29-year-old dental technician accepted hugs and handshakes from other members of the Centro Islámico, America’s only mosque founded specifically to be a place for Spanish-language programming for Latinos. Flores had just taken the shahada, the Islamic profession of faith, at the mosque’s first-ever Cinco de Mayo celebration on Saturday, where community members with roots in Colombia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba and other countries served halal variations of their traditional foods, while celebrating their shared identity as Muslims.
“We’re like a family,” said Ana Ortiz, a Puerto Rican Muslim originally from New Jersey, who was serving food at the festival’s Puerto Rico tent.
Since it opened on 30 January 2016, 18 people like Flores have taken the shahada at the mosque in Houston. There are more than 55 million people of Hispanic origin in the United States, and more than 3 million Muslims. Estimates of the number of Latino Muslims in the US range from 30,000 to 300,000.
Latino Muslims have organized across the country for decades, but have had few mosques specifically built around their communities. New York’s Alianza Islámicaopened a storefront mosque in mid-1990s, but it closed down by 2005. Houston’s Centro Islámico is among the first to organize since then.
“We used to gather in different masjids,” said Magidel Morris as she served halal tamales in the mosque’s parking lot on Saturday. “But then we got together and decided we had to have a place for Hispanic people to get together and learn about Islam.” With the Centro Islámico, America’s Latino muslims now have a home of their own.
“[Latinos] want to learn about Islam,” said Jalil Navarro, who donned a Mexican luchador mask while distributing Spanish-language Qur’ans in the masjid’s parking lot. “but sometimes they step into a masjid and there is no people to serve them if they don’t speak English.”
Islam in Spanish, the organization that founded the mosque, was formed to fill that gap. Founded in 2001 by Colombian American convert Jaime Fletcher, the organization produces Spanish-language programming and Islamic educational materials that are distributed throughout the Americas. Today there are more than 1,000 Latino Muslims affiliated with the organization.