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On Saturday, August 26, the Latino Muslim Community witnessed the launching of IslamInSpanish Atlanta. On a beautiful gathering where we partnered with a local Halal restaurant, Jannah Soul Food.
According to a 2015 PBS report “Hispanic Muslims are one of the fastest growing segments of Islam in the US”, yet here in Atlanta we were not organized as a group. We were not actively encouraging an open dialogue between the Latino and the Muslim communities. And those who accepted Islam often felt like they didn’t fit in their mixed Muslim communities. Due to the overwhelming feeling of loneliness they leave Islam feeling crushed and out of place.
Here is where IslamInSpanish Atlanta Chapter comes in. The Mission of IslamInSpanish is to inspire, lead and pioneer solutions in educating Latinos and other communities about Islam in the Spanish language through media production and grassroots outreach worldwide.
Shareefa Carrión, also one of IslamInSpanish Atlanta coordinators, has experienced firsthand on how Latino Muslims struggle with their identities. For Afro Latinos it is easier to assimilate into the African American community based upon their skin tone. Many African Americans do not know that there are Black Latinos who speak Spanish. Even though they are accepted whole heartedly, there is still a feeling of being alone. Even when being surround by Muslims. One of Shareefa’s favorite quotes is “Islam Es Para Todos!” (Islam is for everyone). Having to constantly explain to Latinos, that ‘no she is not married to an Arab’. Also explaining to African Americans, who have never met a Latino person in their life, ‘yes I am Latina Muslim who was born and raised as a Muslim’. She often ends the conversation with “Islam Es Para Todos!”
Although as Muslims we should not see difference between one another in terms of ethnicity or culture, we still gravitate towards it. And we tend to feel more comfortable when we meet someone who speaks the same language, has the same traditions, similar ways in growing up, same foods… the whole enchilada. And in the case of a convert sometimes is the only way to feel a sense of family and being at home.
For me the story is a little different. See I became a Muslim in the year 2000. I was living in Dominican Republic at the time. The Muslim community then consisted mainly of Medical students who came from the US and Canada. There was a tiny Musallah in Downtown. The Khutbah and the weekend classes were in English. And apart from a few Spanish pamphlets and Qur’an translations everything else in the bookshelves was English too. I forced myself to read the advance Islamic books and I used to carry an English-Spanish dictionary with me to be able to understand what I was reading. Soon I became the translator to the Sunday School teacher, and when she left I was asked to take her place. After the 9/11 attacks I was asked to participate in multiple media interviews. Mind you I was still a new Muslim, but understanding the ‘English language’ and being fluent in Spanish suddenly made me qualified. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t find books in Spanish about Islam, so I started translating the English ones in my own Y2K computer to make it easier to use them for my classes.
Imagine my excitement when I moved to the US and found out that there was a group in Texas that like me saw the need to facilitate quality Islamic material to the Latino Community, yet they were light years ahead of me in their achievements. And that is why I am so honored today to be part of this organization.
I think I speak also from Shareefa and the whole team of volunteers when I say we look forward to working with the different communities and organizations around Atlanta to educate, support and help build bridges and understanding between the Latinos and the Muslims.
To learn more about the work IslamInSpanish is doing in the US and abroad visit their website IslamInSpanish.org
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