Five Years Since the Release of ‘New Muslim Cool’: Hispanic Muslims Growing Segment of U.S. Muslim Religious Culture
» SPECIAL REPORT
by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on JUNE 28, 2014 *updated July 10, 2014:
A train painted with graffiti of an American flag rolls through the streets of North Pittsburgh. Smokestacks are visible. There’s the sound of an ambulance, which fades into the opening lyrics of “Days End,” a rap song by Puerto Rican American hip hop artist Hamza Perez:
I live my life trying to be a humble slave
And find the answers to the questions in the grave
That’s how I spend my days, pretend I’m in the blaze
And when I bend and pray, I try to mend my ways
I try to lower my gaze, and stay modest
And live life honest, tomorrow’s not promised
Take every step and every breath like it’s my last
And when the weapons blast, will I forget my past?
Let’s be honest, tomorrow’s not promised
Some may say that the last day’s upon us
When the days end, and heavens call us
Who’s gonna fall and who’s standing tallest?
Let’s be honest, tomorrow’s not promised
Some may say that the last day’s upon us
When the days end, and heavens call us
Who’s gonna fall and who’s standing tallest?
Hamza himself, wearing a white skullcap and thobe (a long robe worn by Muslim men) with a scarf around his neck, walks purposefully down the street with his cane carrying a grocery bag, as his music continues.
Then his voiceover: “I would always have two consistent dreams my whole life. One that I was going to experience death at 21 and the other one that I was going to be in jail, and then both of them came true.”
This is the opening scene of the documentary film New Muslim Cool, which premiered on PBS five years ago this summer — introducing viewers to what the film’s director and co-producer Jennifer Maytorena Taylor hoped to be “a glimpse into the diversity of the American Muslim experience as it becomes more and more a part of our national life.”
The film, which takes viewers on Hamza’s ride through the streets, projects and jail cells of North Pittsburgh, and follows his day-to-day and spiritual life after his conversion to Islam — was first shown on PBS on June 23, 2009, but it continues to be screened around the world and examined by scholars as the *Hispanic/Latina/o Muslim population in the US continues to grow, and a Hispanic Muslim culture in America becomes more fully developed. (*NOTE: While recognizing there are differences — inc. language, self-identification, political constructs, geographic origin between the terms Hispanic and Latina/o, the terms are used interchangeably in this piece, either owing to something someone directly said or wrote, or for article flow.)
“At the time New Muslim Cool was being filmed there was a lack of full representation in the media of indigenous African American and Hispanic Muslims,” said Maytorena Taylor, currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Social Documentation at the University of California at Santa Cruz, in an interview at Duke last Fall.
“The traditional narrative,” she explained, “is Arab a lot of the times, or refugees, which are treated totally differently.”
Her film focuses instead on people who have come from U.S. urban areas, not descendants of immigrants from majority Muslim countries, though some are second generation Muslim. New Muslim Cool made it into the history books, so to speak, and raised the visibility of these communities, which Maytorena Taylor said was “embraced enormously” by scholars and thought leaders in the wider Muslim American community.
Scholar David W. Damrel writes, in the Encyclopedia of American Muslim History (ed. Edward R. Curtis, New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc.) that in the beginning of the 21st century “U.S. Hispanic Muslims developed a higher profile in American society in general, as illustrated by the career of the Puerto Rican heritage rapper Hamza Perez, highlighted in the PBS documentary New Muslim Cool which showed the vitality of Hispanic interest in Islam across generations.”
“Today there are perhaps a dozen U.S. Latina/o Muslim organizations and up to 200,000 individual U.S. Latina/o Muslims,” writes Patrick Bowen, a recent graduate of the University of Denver-Iliff School of Theology Joint Program (Ph.D. 2013) who specializes in religious conversion and the history of non-mainline religions in the West. “U.S. Latina/o Muslims have therefore become an important element in U.S. Muslim religious culture.” (“U.S. Latina/o Muslims Since 1920: From “Moors” to “Latino Muslims.”Journal of Religious History (Vol. 37, No. 2, June 2013)
Defying Stereotypes, Building Community
Hamza as shown in the film, is a single father of two who marries an African American Muslim woman, Rafiah, whom he meets on a Muslim social networking site.
He doesn’t fit the Muslim American stereotype.
A former drug dealer, Hamza gave his “street side” up and embraced Islam (which he concluded is the “death at 21” from his dream) after a chance encounter that would change his life.
“Growing up I tried many things to try and taste happiness, you know, getting money, getting high, partying, having fun, and none of these would quench the thirst for happiness that I was actually looking for,“ Hamza said on a Latino USA radio special, Somos Muslims, hosted by Maria Hinojosa last summer. “And one day I was standing in the middle of the street and we were drinking, smoking and I saw my friend who happened to be a Latin King member and he looked like a transformed human being and he looked like he finally tasted happiness and I ended up embracing Islam right in the middle of the street. You know how someone becomes Muslim is real easy. It’s not like they have to get dunked in the sand, and then wear a thing on their head and ride a camel around in a circle. You just have to believe that there’s only one god and the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is one of the messengers of God. People were just in a state of shock.”
Born in Brooklyn, NY, Hamza “came from a real rough background” and his family belonged to a gang called the Turban Saints. Later he moved back and forth between Puerto Rico and Massachusetts and, it was after his conversion that he relocated to Pittsburgh’s North Side.
“We all had a community in Massachusetts. There must have been more than 55 people who became Muslim and then we all moved here to Pittsburgh to create a Muslim community,” Hamza says in the film. “We’ve got people from the East Coast, California, Texas, down South, all different parts of the country they’re coming here to learn more about Islam and try and help us build this community.”
Hamza’s particular community in North Pittsburgh follows the teachings of an African Sheikh Usman dan Fodio, affiliated with an organization called the Sankore’ Institute of African Islamic Studies, which has affiliates around the country. The film goes on to follow Hamza’s work as a drug and gang violence prevention counselor for a social service agency and later as a prison outreach worker (“being in jail” part of his earlier “dream” coming true, though in an unexpected way), and as he continues to record and performs with his brother, Suliman Pérez (also a convert), as part of the hip-hop duo Mujahideen team, also known as M-team.
Through the course of the film his community suffers some setbacks, but the wider community is largely supportive, said Maytorena Taylor. Neighborhood tough guys (not from the Hispanic Muslim community) helpfully point out security/surveillance cameras, and when their new mosque nearby is raided by the FBI, Maytorena Taylor said the neighbors “didn’t point the finger and say you’re a bunch of terrorists, they actually stood by them.”
Hamza seems to have a facility with community building along interfaith lines.
The film depicts him giving an anti-drug talk at the Allegheny County Jail and eventually, Bible and Quran in hand, he starts teaching regular classes in the jail’s faith-based program. (At one point he has his security clearance revoked over his rap group’s anti-government and “militant” lyrics, but it’s won back with the legal aid of the ACLU and a Christian prison counselor who believes in his work there) Hamza also works with Carol Elkid, a Jewish woman who works with groups of Jewish and Muslim youth to express themselves through poetry.
“I’ve seen these really nice interactions between people of different faiths, and American Muslims who are the “indigenous” American Muslims, they know really well how to talk to people from other religions because they were people from other religions,” observed Maytorena Taylor in our interview.
Hispanic Muslim Culture and the Catholic Church
“Hispanic Muslims are probably the newest culture that en masse, in big quantities, are embracing Islam,” said attorney and Muslim chaplain Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, in an interview for this piece last month, about this relatively “young community.” “Hispanic Muslims in America are creating their own culture.”
A quick scan of HispanicMuslims.com yields links to nearly 300 articles, spanning from 1990 – 2014 in the Spanish and English-language press, about the growth in Hispanic Muslim communities worldwide , including, in recent years, an increasing number of articles written about communities in the U.S. states of Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, Arizona, and California.
Reasons for conversion, according to Ruiz, include “reversion” (the rediscovery and fulfillment of a lost heritage); seeking “a new spiritual way” after learning about many different religions; an intellectual curiosity (learning about Islam academically turns out to be a spiritual interest); and dating or marrying someone who is Muslim — connections which have become more common with the internet and social media.
He said that Hispanic Muslims share many cultural things with their home country — for example, in the US, sports and political systems — but there are things they have in common with each other no matter what country they live in, or how orthodox the tradition they follow, such as “the inclination to be more keen to listen to music than other cultures.”
Ruiz also wanted to point out that Hispanic Muslims don’t necessarily eat the food that other Muslims prefer—including Arab food, Pakistani food, Indian food, Central Asian food, and Turkish food.
“We eat our food made in the way that it is halal, in accordance with our religious mandates,” he said.
Ruiz, himself a convert, has a long biography that includes work as a former Defense and Legal Assistance Counsel for the US Navy. He is currently legal adviser for the American Muslim Association of North America (AMANA), legal counsel for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR – Florida), a Muslim chaplain, high school instructor, and a political commentator.
Like Hamza in New Muslim Cool — whose given name is Jason, but who “code switches” throughout the film, using “Jason” or “Hamza” depending on the crowd he’s mixing with — Wilfredo has also taken a second name, Amr, the name he goes by within the Muslim community.
In the Hispanic Muslim community, Ruiz explained, some people may take a Muslim name in order to carry a non-Christian name, to “express their spirituality” or for community purposes, but they don’t typically drop their given names.
Ruiz said he believes “the vast majority of Hispanics embracing Islam are former Christians; most of them Catholics — some of them practicing and some of them non-practicing,” and that many converts, who may be coming from “a religion of mystery” like Catholicism, are drawn to the structure, standardization, and simple theology of Islam.
And Islam cuts out the middleman, so to speak.
“What’s happening is that the traditional churches have divorced from that contact with the believer. For example in the Catholic Church you need always some kind of a priest to administer the sacrament for you…you feel the need of a third human being to be the administrator,” he said, giving the example of needing a priest for confession, marriage, baptism, the sacraments when you are about to die. “In Islam people have a lot of independence. Those administrations don’t exist in Islam. No longer do I depend on a religious leader to fully engage in my faith.”
Miguel Rojas Sotelo, PhD with the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies at Duke was one of the organizers of a roundtable last Fall on Jewish, Hispano-Muslim, black African and Amerindian communities in the Americas, in which New Muslim Cool director Maytorena Taylor took part.
Sotelo, in an interview for this piece, proposes that the Catholic church in the United States is less welcoming than the Church in the Americas, and may not provide the value system Hispanic immigrants and others are looking for: “The commodification of life makes immigrant as well as subaltern (disenfranchised) groups in the US feel outside of the system. The fracture of families, the disconnection of generational groups (a sort of segregation in which elders and youngsters do not spend time together or communicate), the over-reliance on comfort instead of on hard-work, makes some look for a more ‘conservative’ and ‘family-based’ faith.”
Writes Damrel in the Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History: “Missionaries in US Hispanic communities have emphasized several features of Islam and Muslim cultures that seem to parallel certain Hispanic cultural values and help make Islam attractive to Latinas and Latinos.”
In New Muslim Cool, for example, we learn that the values that Islam instills is very important to Hamza, his wife Rafiah and their Muslim American community. “It’s a rejection of vice,” said Maytorena Taylor. “Their behaviors are profoundly conservative. And if you put Hamza in a room with a Christian conservative they might actually have a lot of points in common that they agree about. We’re not going to drink, we’re not going to smoke, we’re not going to swear.”
Embracing the Past
Another aspect of Hispanic Muslim culture in America and elsewhere (for many) is the rediscovery and fulfillment of a lost Latino/a heritage and its connections with Muslim Spain.
“We should not be surprised by the existence of Muslim Latinos. Spain was controlled for most of the Middle Ages by Muslims and many linguistic and cultural characteristics of Spanish and Latinos are owed to this Islamic heritage,” said Juhem Navarro-Rivera, Research Associate with the Public Religion Research Institute and the author of PRRI’s Hispanic Values Survey, in an email exchange for this piece.
Observed Ruiz, “What I find is a common element of Hispanic Muslims is that when they embrace Islam, most of them, what they feel is a rediscovery of their past. It could be a hidden past that they didn’t know about.”
“Nobody had ever told me during my whole life, my education, that I was so close to Islamic culture,” added Ruiz, who was raised Catholic in Puerto Rico. “In Catholic school Islam was always approached as being so foreign as if it was Buddhism, Taoism or something like that. But we soon discover that it’s not unintentional that they have done that; that it has been a methodological uproot of our identity.”
He described what happened in Spain after the Muslims were expelled; placement of bottles of wine at every table where alcohol used to be haram; overt displays of pork legs hanging from shop windows; and public bathrooms where Muslims used to wash before prayer — subsequently removed from public squares.
Ruiz also noted cultural similarities between Hispanic Muslims and Arab Muslims that may have survived the Reconquista, such as the extended family concept that includes special obligations of grandfathers to their grandchildren and uncles to their nieces and nephews and taking care of elders at home (not living apart/sending them to retirement homes).
The realization that more than 4,000 Spanish words come from Arabic is another link to the past. For example, the Spanish word Olé, spoken during a bullfight comes from Allah (God). The Spanish word Ojala comes from Inshallah (both mean God Willing). Almendra (almonds) and alhaja (jewel) are other Spanish words that derive from Arabic during the Muslim era in Spain.
“Islam is not really far away from who I am as a Hispanic,” said Ruiz.
“The idea that an underlying Muslim identity survived the vigorous religious militancy of the Reconquista—the Catholic “reconquest” of Spain—and remains the authentic “original” if lost heritage of Spanish speakers in the Americas,” Damrel writes, “is a powerful theme in the spread of Islam among Latinas and Latinos in the United States to this day.”
A Long History
According to Damrel, “Muslim Latinos and Latinas have a historical presence in North America that began with the 16th century Spanish exploration of the Western Hemisphere and continued through the establishment of European colonial empires and the eventual emergence of the United States.”
He notes that while “little is known about the history of individual Hispanic Muslims and communities in the colonial Americas and the 19th century… Much more is known about Latina/o conversion or “reversion” to Islam in the second half of the 20th century, when many US Hispanics began to reexamine the history of Spanish speakers in the Americas, with particular focus on culture, ethnicity, and religion.”
“This new and assertive approach to reclaim and redefine Hispanic communal identity,” according to Damrel, “in many ways paralleled resurgence movements within the US African-American community, particularly the Nation of Islam.”
Writes Bowen in the Journal of Religious History: “Early converts were primarily found in African-American-majority Islamic communities, though there were some others who entered Islam through ties to Muslim immigrants. In both cases, the U.S.’s racist social system had brought the two communities together.”
Malcom X’s 1964 conversion from the Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam that heralded a transformation of African-American Islam, according to Bowen, “would have an important impact on Latina/os who were interested in Islam.”
He writes: “With the rise of African-American Sunnis, there no longer were radical doctrinal differences between African-American and immigrant Muslims, and so U.S. Latina/o Muslims could now draw from both groups simultaneously: the Latina/os who began bridging these two Islamic cultures began to look for what pieces from each group might be relevant to Latina/os whose interests reflected those of both African Americans (interests such as social justice and the reality and legacy of racism in the Americas) and immigrant Muslims (e.g., problems related to immigration and the experience of having a racially-fluid cultural identity). And it was through this process of negotiating these two Islamic strands that the “Latino Muslim” identity began to be formed.”
In New York City during the 1970s, the first (of many) known US Latina/o Muslim organizations, the Alianza Islamica was formed. Latina/os had begun connecting with Latina/o Muslims both inside and outside the U.S, according to Bowen and there was “a growing sense that both the African-American and immigrant Muslim communities were failing to sufficiently support Latina/o Muslims’ identities and social needs.”
“These groups not only offered support to Latina/o Muslims and the communities they lived in, they also commenced to spread the “Latino Muslim” identity by publishing literature (and later, online materials) about and for Latina/o Muslims, ” he writes.
A 1981 study (by M.A. Ghayur for the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science) of U.S. Muslims estimated there to be around 5,000 total (non-Nation of Islam-affiliated) U.S. Latina/o Muslims, primarily on the West Coast, the Southwest, Florida, New York, and Chicago at that time. (Bowen, while citing this study, says the number “seems rather high” and needs more research.)
In May 1982 several Mexican Muslims established the DC-based Association of Latin American Muslims.
And 1997 saw the founding of the Latino American Da’wah Organisation (LADO), “a grassroots, nonprofit organization geared toward promoting Islam among Latinos that provides support to Latino Muslims and distributes and makes available information about Islam in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.” Now one of the most well-known U.S. Latina/o Muslim groups, LADO works closely with interest groups inside and outside of the U.S. including with the Islamic Society of North America (ICNA).
By the Numbers
America is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world with Muslim Americans the most ethnically diverse faith communities in America. And they are found all over the US, in every kind of occupation. And Islam is the second largest religious tradition in 20 states, according to a 2010 report by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB).
The 2012 pamphlet What is the Truth About American Muslims? states that there are between 3-6 million American Muslims, with about half of this population born in the U.S. About one third of the American Muslim community is African-American, one third is of South Asian descent, and one quarter is of Arab descent, with the rest from all over the world “including a growing Latino/a Muslim population.” (Per a recent US State Department report on American Muslims, many African-American Muslims came to Islam as adults, but many more have Muslim parents and even grandparents. Some are descendants of Muslim Africans who were brought to America centuries ago as slaves.)
According to Damrel, by the 21st century there were about 40,000 Spanish speaking Muslim Americans, representing ethnic and national heritages including the US, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. (The total number of people who are of *Hispanic or Latino origin in the US — defined by the Census as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race — was about 53 million or about 17% of the population in 2012)
Pollsters and scholars acknowledge the difficulties in nailing down data on Hispanic Muslims in the U.S., especially since the US Census does not measure religious affiliation.
A 2007 study of Muslim Americans by the Pew Research Center found that 4 % of Muslim Americans identify as Hispanic, meaning that 94,000 plus Muslim Americans trace their ethnic roots to a Latino/a heritage. (This is based on a total Muslim American population estimate of 2.35 million) That same survey also found that 10 % of native-born Muslim Americans are Hispanic.
A newer Pew survey, released this May on Latinos and Religion (based on results computed between May 24- July 28, 2013) found that less than .5% of Latinos identify as Muslim. Previous surveys of Hispanics, including the Public Religion Research Institute’s Hispanic Values Survey (conducted between August 23 and September 3, 2013) and the American Religious Identification Survey (2008), yield similar results, said PRRI’s Navarro-Rivera. So this would mean that “less than .5%” or “less than 265,000” Latinos identify as Muslim today.
It’s difficult to get a handle on whether or by how much that number represents an increase from the 2007 Pew survey number of Hispanic Muslims, since the 2007 Pew numbers for Hispanic Muslims were based on what some consider to be low estimates of the Muslim American population. The commonly agreed upon number of Hispanic Muslims is around 200,000.
Two key findings, however, are (1) “The American Mosque 2011” study by Ihsan Bagby, which found that while Latinos comprised 6% of Muslim converts attending US mosques in 2000, this number rose to 12% in 2011. and (2) Why Islam’s 2012 Annual Report (Why Islam is a project of ICNA), which said that 19 % of the 2,862 converts it assisted in 2011 were Latinos (These statistics are based on data gathered from the 2,862 converts the organization worked with in 2011).
Bowen has found in his research that “Latina/os, like most Muslim converts in the U.S. and perhaps converts generally, are not “spiritual shoppers,” and when they convert to Islam, they typically join the Muslim community with which they have the closest social ties.”
Hispanic Women in the U.S. and Islam
According to Why Islam’s 2012 Annual Report more than half of the Hispanic converts the project assisted (55 percent) were women. (These statistics are based on data gathered from the 2,862 converts the organization worked with in 2011). LADO, meanwhile, estimates the percentage of Hispanic women converts to Islam at 60 %.
Reasons Damrel in the Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History: “A perceived focus on faith and family and a strong emphasis on well-defined gender roles permit some Latinas and Latinos to highlight similarities between certain Hispanic and Muslim lifestyles. These resemblances seem to be particularly persuasive for Latinas.”
Mexico-born Nahela Morales, National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for WhyIslam, in an interview for a 2013 Muslim Link article, says it’s the welcoming community that draws them in. “Many immigrants are here by themselves and when they come into the mosque and see faces smiling, they feel welcome,” she says. “Islam teaches that a Muslim is a brother to another Muslim, and that brotherhood is very appealing.”
Ruiz said he also noticed the high numbers of Hispanic women embracing Islam when he was living and working in Connecticut, Puerto Rico and now in Florida.
Though he’s not exactly sure why — “the phenomena is so young” — this is his guess: “What I’ve heard from personal experience is that… Islam invests them with some kind of immediate respect that they don’t seem to get from the male Hispanic community. They have told me (being Muslim and veiling) they don’t worry about if people appreciate them only for their looks. Looks in the Hispanic community area so important. The Hispanic community has put that pressure on them.”
Ruiz said when they wear the hijab they are looked on with more respect and appreciated more from their beauty within than their outward appearance. He said they have also said they feel “more serious” about religion when they’re Muslim.
Life after Conversion
For many families of converts, coming to terms with their children’s alternate faith choices is a challenge.
Hamza, of New Muslim Cool, was raised Catholic, and his mother and his extended family, as depicted in the film, takes time to adjust to his (and his brother’s) choice of Islam.
“Before my nephews converted I didn’t know a thing about the whole Muslim religion,” says Hamza’s aunt. “When they converted, at first it was kind of a shocker. We are all Catholic, you know. It was a little weird you know we would get into our little confrontations our little arguments.”
“I didn’t know too much about the religion. My family still doesn’t know too much. My mother’s like –‘what is this, you know.’ I brought the boys up in Catholic school,” says Hamza’s mother. “I used to work two jobs to pay for private education for them. People going ‘they’re Muslim’. Hamza, that’s not my son, I mean that’s my son but my mother said ‘why did they put that name, his name is Jason.’ It’s kind of confusing for us sometimes. But we accept it you know. I’m glad my kids are all drug free and they don’t drink, they don’t smoke, but sometimes I don’t like their music.”
When Hamza gets married to his African-American wife Rafiah in an Islamic ceremony, he refers to the wedding as a “clash of civilizations.” Shortly after the wedding, when Rafiah is introduced to the family, a family member, noticing she’s Muslim (due to her hijab), asks Rafiah if she’s American.
“They don’t understand,” his mom says addressing Jason (Hamza) and Rafiah. “Maybe you guys can explain to them.”
Targeted Outreach and the Power of Information
There is growing evidence that targeted Islamic outreach efforts are playing a significant role in the increasing numbers of Hispanic Muslims in the US. Islam in Spanish reports that an increasing number of Hispanics convert as a direct result of targeted outreach, according to a recent Religion News Service article.
Ruiz said that when he embraced Islam 13 years ago there was very little information on Islam for Spanish speakers, and he couldn’t get a Quran in Spanish. Because of his experience, he got involved in making Islam more easily accessible to Spanish speakers. When he first vvolunteered with the American Muslims Association of North America 10 years ago Ruiz remembers giving out 100 Spanish-language Qurans. Now he says they are distributing 2,000-3,000 a year.
“Doubly Discriminated Against, but Doubly Equipped”
“By the beginning of the 21st century, Hispanic Muslims in the United States remained optimistic about the future of Islam among North American Spanish speakers. The communities weathered a post-9/11 backlash and used the moment as a teaching opportunity to challenge anti-Muslim stereotypes and strengthen organizational cooperation,” writes Damrel in the Encyclopedia of American Muslim History.
Ruiz is currently involved in launching a new national Hispanic Muslim organization in the U.S. (coming soon). Part of its mission will be to counter misinformation and broad sweeping generalizations in the media (particularly the Spanish language media) about Muslims and Islam — including equating Islam with extremism and a lack of women’s rights and opportunities.
A well-known expert on ‘Islam in America’ already, who’s been interviewed by major English-language media, Ruiz has been called upon by Spanish-language media almost daily to address and put into perspective complex international events and issues and their connections with Islam, including the conflict in Mali, the Boko Haram kidnapping of the Nigerian girls, the Bowe Bergdahl release, the war in Syria, and most recently assessing ISIS in Iraq.
He pointed out that while most Muslim advocacy groups in the U.S .have focused on countering the misinformation disseminated by major English-language media, there’s a particular dearth of experts to address the misinformation being spread in the Spanish-language media in the US — media that is growing more and more powerful.
“It’s hard to get the American Muslim community to understand the need to convey their message in Spanish as well…. They don’t understand the power of the Hispanic media,” he said, explaining that the Spanish language press often wants to hear what’s going on from a Hispanic Muslim.
“Since 9/11 there hasn’t been a single day in the national media when the name Islam or Muslims isn’t mentioned somewhere, politics or not politics, religion or not religion, propaganda or not propaganda,” Ruiz said. “Every day I open the paper I see the word Muslim or Islam. There’s been a bombardment of information.”
While Ruiz said Hispanic Muslims may experience “double discrimination” (for being both Hispanic and Muslim) they do have an advantage — their long history of navigating the sociopolitical arena and dealing with discrimination (for example employment discrimination and discrimination in the Armed Forces).
“We are probably better equipped than all other minorities that are newer to the system… We know how to file complaints and have better tools to fight against discrimination,” he said. “We are doubly discriminated against, but on the other hand we are doubly equipped.”
Maytorena relayed this telling anecdote from Hamza post-New Muslim Cool about his “increased sense of citizenship” after returning from a promotional trip to the UK:
“One final thing that I think is interesting, Hamza and I actually toured the UK together, showing the film and doing presentations and doing talks. We went to a lot of communities where there is a lot of Muslim population, including some areas where they were having a lot of urban crime issues, and some neighborhoods where there had actually been terrorist activity and we showed an abridged version of the film and Hamza would talk… but we got back from this tour after being there for a couple weeks and he said ‘Boy I want to kiss the ground when I land in the US because I’m so sad at how split these communities are there (UK).’ And he has huge critiques of the US but it was interesting because he said ‘I didn’t realize just how integrated I really am. I really am a citizen in the US.’”
This article was made possible (in part) by the Transcultural Islam Project, an initiative launched in 2011 by the Duke Islamic Studies Center — in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies — aimed at deepening understanding of Islam and Muslim communities. See www.islamicommentary.org/about and www.tirnscholars.org/about for more information. The Transcultural Islam Project is funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author(s).
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