Between the Islamic State's attacks in Paris, the shooting that took place in San Bernardino, and the horrifying statements GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has been making about Muslims and Mexicans, it's fair to say that our country's racial and political climate has become quite intense and intolerant to say the least.
When it's not one community facing prejudices it's the next, which is why we wanted to take the opportunity to shine some positive light on a new minority making itself known in the states: Muslim Latinos.
Not only are Latinos in the U.S. considered the fastest-growing demographic, but, according to a report by National Public Radio (NPR), they are also the fastest-growing group of Muslims in America. This would explain why IslamInSpanish, a non-profit organization that educates Latinos about Islam in Spanish, decided to build the first EVER Spanish-speaking mosque in the United States this Saturday.
"The heart of what inspired IslamInSpanish was responding to the need for information on Islam in Spanish," says CEO Jaimie Mujahid Fletcher, a Colombian-American who founded the organization, "My family had a lot of questions when I became Muslim. This is something that's foreign to a lot of Latinos."
When Fletcher's father discovered his son had converted, he had a hard time finding material in Spanish on the religion. There were no books or audio, hardly anything available in the Spanish language to educate Latinos on Islam. Fletcher, who has a background in film and multimedia, started creating audios translating books on Islam. What started off as one CD created to educate Fletcher's family and his wife's skeptical aunt, turned into something that was later distributed across the country. Shortly after, Fletcher was being asked to speak at conferences, universities, and various places of worship.
As he continued to create content, Fletcher soon discovered the growing population of Latinos in the states embracing the Muslim religion. IslamInSpanish began holding events and meet-ups with hundreds of Spanish-speaking Latinos who were genuinely interested and curious about Islam.
"We're creating a whole new identity. It's a subculture literally, Latino Muslims," says Fletcher who realized it was time to create a center for everyone in the community to meet. The lack of materials and Spanish-speaking mosques made it difficult for Latinos to really learn about the religion.
IslamInSpanish director of operations, Nahela Morales, says,
I remember the first time I went to the mosques, everyone just spoke Arabic. For me to not find anyone that could speak to me in Spanish or even in English was very devastating. In Houston around 80 percent of the people here are Hispanic, this center will make it possible for us to serve them.
But the center doesn't just consist of a mosque, it will also feature an exhibition on the history of Islam in Latino America, along with a state-of-the-art production studio where they will be broadcasting and streaming live Spanish programs. People who are not able to visit the center will be able to access information directly online.
"We hope this is only the beginning of something even bigger," says Morales. "We'd like to be able to reach Muslim Latinos across the country and in Latin America as well."
The grand opening takes place Saturday, January 30 on 6200 Highway 6 South in Houston, Texas.
Clarification: This story states that the IslamInSpanish center is the first spanish-speaking Islamic Center in the country. However, after further research, we acknowledge that there may have been a registered mosque in New York City, Alianza Islámica, prior to IslamInSpanish’s founding. The Alianza Islámica was founded in 1987 in East Harlem and relocated to the South Bronx. However, it shuttered in 2003.