Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Muslim (and Latino) in America

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Spirituality, Islam, hip hop, New Muslim Cool, Brooklyn Rail,

New Muslim CoolAt 16 years old, Jason Perez was dealing drugs in his Massachusetts neighborhood. By the time the documentary New Muslim Cool begins, Perez has converted to Islam, changed his name to Hamza Perez, and moved to Pittsburgh to start a Muslim community. The film tracks Perez through intimate and important episodes of his life, including his wedding to a Muslim woman and the birth of their first child. Every moment evokes a larger theme of what it means to be Latino and Muslim in post-9-11 America.

Perez, like many Latinos, grew up Catholic. His mother is quoted in the film talking about the family’s struggle to reconcile her son’s faith with the rest of her Puerto Rican family. With his conversion to Islam, Perez is no longer able to eat the lechong, the roasted pig, which is popular in Puerto Rico.

Conversion to Islam doesn’t mean giving up on Puerto Rican culture, however. As one half of the hip hop duo, the Mujahadeen Team, Perez and his brother Suliman mix Latino and African American influences, often with strong Islamic messages.

Not everyone has found the conversion to Islam as natural as Perez’s. An article for the Brooklyn Rail profiles various Latino converts to Islam and the struggles they’ve encountered. Some Latinos have been made to feel unwelcome in certain Mosques, where speaking Spanish was looked down on. Some Latino families profiled in the piece have refused to accept their children’s conversions to Islam, in one case continuing to serve pig products, knowing of the dietary restrictions.

Estimates vary on the number of Latino Muslims in the United States. According to a Voice of America article from 2007, there are anywhere between 70,000 and 200,000. The group still represents a small minority within a minority, but people like Perez aim to change that by converting more people to Islam.

The Brooklyn Rail quotes Alex Robayo, the host at a Hispanic Muslim Day, who tried to emphasize the similarities between Catholicism “You may say in Spanish ‘dios,’ in English ‘God,’ in Arabic ‘Allah. Is dios and God different?” Robayo added, “Dios es grande.”

Watch the trailer for New Musilm Cool below:

Source: New Muslim CoolBrooklyn Rail 

Image by Kauthar Umar.

annie ory
11/9/2009 9:51:56 AM

Also odd, the system changed my spelling, in line 2 from GIST to JUST and in the last sentence from irreligious to religious...


annie ory
11/9/2009 9:48:21 AM

It's interesting there are no comments on this article. I wonder what that's about. I don't get much of a feel for what is being portrayed here, the article and the film clip are too short. The just seems to be that some young formerly catholic American men of Puerto Rican dissent became muslims and have been followed by the FBI while they try to start a new life and build a community of other such young men, also counseling prisoners to accept the religion as a way of changing of their lives. There isn't any explanation of why the FBI would be following them, or if in fact that's true. They seem to have been given this information by neighborhood drug dealers.... It is always good to see young people turn away from a system that pulls them into a cycle of violence, but I would prefer to see these young men pull away by developing an independent way of thinking, rather than finding another group identity. There is a way we use our groups to identify who we are, and therefore how we should move through the world (young, male, Puerto Rican, catholic, muslim, American, poor, etc). All of these labels have their own baggage. None of them are useful. Good people do good works because they choose to do good works. Bad people do bad works because they choose to do bad works. Religious people are no better or worse, nor can it be parsed out among the different religions, than religious people. Yeah, they're cool, but they would be cooler if they were free thinkers...