Practical Muslim interviewed Juan Galvan, author and editor of Latino Muslims: Our Journeys to Islam on the surge of conversions to Islam within the Latino community.
PM: Tell us about yourself (education, roles/responsibilities, projects, interests, family, etc.)
Juan Galvan: Since embracing Islam, I have worked for the inclusion of the Latino Muslim voice in the mainstream Muslim and Latino narrative. Most people are completely unaware of the presence of a Latino Muslim community. I have sought to increase the visibility of America’s Latino Muslims in various publications by providing access to the Latino Muslim community. I have assisted dozens of students, professors, and reporters with research and through my own interviews and writings. I am the editor of Latino Muslims: Our Journeys to Islam. I am a third-generation Mexican-American. I was the first in my family to pursue higher education. I always encourage others to expand their views on the Latino and Muslim identity as I have learned through my own personal experiences. My blog is available at LatinoMuslim.com.
PM: Why do you think there is a growing number of Latinos coming to Islam?
Juan Galvan: Conversion has and will always be a personal choice. Why people choose Islam depends on the individual you ask. The most common answer I get when I ask a Hispanic why he or she chose Islam is “Because it’s the truth.” Most Hispanic converts were Catholic. Many Hispanics had difficulty with the church hierarchy, believing in original sin, and in the Holy Trinity. Islam solves the problems many Hispanics have with the Catholic Church. For example, in Islam there is no priest-pope hierarchy. Everyone who prays together before God is equal. Many Latino converts also feel Islam gives them a closer relationship with God. Islam ‘sells’ itself so to speak. People from everywhere are searching for the truth, and they find it in Islam. People love the teachings of Islam. Islam is an attractive religion for many Americans. Alhamdulila.
Conversion to Islam generally results from interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims. For example, a Muslim and non-Muslim may be coworkers, classmates, or friends. The non-Muslim will learn about Islam from the Muslim and may eventually convert to Islam. The Qur’an asks you to stop and reflect about God’s creation. These various relationships offer many non-Muslims an opportunity to stop and consider the teachings of Islam that we Muslims cherish. No one can be forced into a religion. Only God knows what’s in your heart. Many times, women learn about their husband’s religion, convert to Islam, and ultimately, bring their non-practicing husbands back to Islam. Most Latinas I’ve had contact with became Muslim before they were married. Like most women, Latinas are tired of being viewed primarily as sex objects and being judged primarily on their appearance. Indeed, the Islam I know elevates women! The role of women’s rights in Islam impress many women.
PM: What historical significance is prompting this surge?
Juan Galvan: Many non-Muslims find it hard to accept that Latinos convert to Islam primarily because they love the teachings of Islam. This is largely due to the common misconception that Islam was spread by the sword. And, of course, when not spread by the sword, Islam was and continues to be spread by some other terrible method. Islam also continues to be associated with polytheism or paganism when in reality it is the most pure monotheistic religion. When you read the news, people seem to convert to Islam for every reason but changes in religious belief. Media coverage tends to overlook the Islamic message of hope, love, and forgiveness. Islam is seen as a foreign religion from a faraway land, and its followers are also seen as foreign and therefore, strange, different, and distant. If we were exactly like other religions, non-Muslims would have no reason to embrace Islam. People are attracted to Islam because it is different. That is where the beauty comes from. Belief in Islam is a matter of the heart and mind.
Many Latinos are amazed to learn about the history of Islam in Spain, but the Latino Muslim Survey found most people attracted to Islamic monotheism above all other considerations.
PM: How do you think the larger population is reacting to this?
Juan Galvan: My overall experience with Muslims raised in a Muslim family has been pleasant. I greatly appreciate the love and support we receive from raised Muslims. Many mosques, Muslim organizations, and individual Muslims actively work with Latino Muslims on projects with the hope of strengthening the Muslim community as a whole. We can only help the general Muslim population if it knows we Latino Muslims exist and that we here to help. Sometimes, I think that most raised Muslims don’t know we exist. We’re a growing minority. Unfortunately, some raised Muslims have negative stereotypes about Latinos. Some raised Muslims think all Latinos are promiscuous and incapable of becoming a ‘real’ Muslim. And, some Latino Muslims have similar thoughts about raised Muslims. Sometimes, Muslim immigrants and American born Muslims aren’t too sure how to deal with each other. I deal with every Muslim as an individual and avoid stereotypes that can endanger our relationship with one another. Islam is a universal brotherhood, and I’m happy to be among the Muslims.
PM: Is a particular story that you would like to share (about you or another person within the Islamic Latino community)?
Juan Galvan: Benjamin Perez lived from 1933 until 2009. Much of Benjamin’s life was dedicated to connecting Latino and Native Americans to Islam. He traveled the country, lecturing to English and Spanish-speaking audiences, and focused much of his energy on interfaith dialogue. He had an innate talent to move with ease within a variety of multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-denominational settings. Benjamin has spoken at various national Islamic conventions and has written several articles published in prominent Islamic journals. Benjamin was very active in the California prison system since 1963. He has lectured in eleven major California prisons and received seven awards. Benjamin traveled to all the significant Native American reservations in California. First drawn to the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1957, Benjamin eventually left the NOI after questioning its teachings and converted to mainstream Sunni Islam. Benjamin was a great Muslim pioneer who over the course of several decades touched the lives of countless people.
PM: Tell us about your past successes?
Juan Galvan: My successes are mentioned in my biography. I’ve received positive recognition from Muslim organizations I admire and their leaders so I must be doing something right. It’s an honor to work with many great people. Of all my successes, I am most proud of the Latino Muslim Survey report. It has always been my goal to present relevant, up to date information about the Latino Muslim community.
PM: You’ve authored a book about Latino Muslims, can you share more about this?
Juan Galvan: I’m the editor of the book. It’s an anthology of Latino Muslim conversion stories. There are 51 conversion stories. My book has gotten some good reviews. The project began in 2001! There were a lot of ups and downs, but alhamdulila, it was completed.
I self-published the book. Doing so has given me the ability to set my own price and there are other benefits, too. I can personally offer bulk discounts. The book’s website is Latinomuslims.net. One of my goals is to assist others with self-publishing. I know the process from my experience and I know many people have a great story to share.
PM: Are there any projects or events that our listeners and readers can be involved with today? How can our listeners learn more? How can they support you? Closing comments?
You may be interested in learning more about or including some information about the Latino Muslim Survey report.