CAIRO - Searching for their identity, Latino Muslims in New York are struggling to form a Hispanic community in which they can weave their culture with the Islamic faith.
They're out there, but I just can't find them, Zaynab al-Samat, a native of the Dominican Republic, told Norwood News newspaper.I wish I could find out where they are.
Al-Samat, the only Latino Muslims in Masjid Annasr, reverted to Islam in 2010 after a long period of exploration of the Islamic faith.
Getting deeply involved in the mosque activities, she hopes to eventually pray at a Latino mosque, a niche that doesn't exist here in the Bronx.
Being the only Hispanic preacher in the mosque, she found a welcoming home at Masjid Annasr, one of several West African mosques in Morris Heights, a majority-Hispanic area increasingly dotted with Ghanaian groceries offering Halal cuts of goat meat.
Surrounded by West African girls at her mosque, al-Samat knows only one other Latino Muslim, a coworker at her job in Brooklyn.
The Latino Muslim convert dreams of a community in which she can weave together her Latino culture and a faith that some Hispanics think is for Arabs only.
She is not alone.
Ramon Ocasio, a stationmaster at Grand Central who converted to Islam in 1973 as a university student, is one of the few Latino Muslims taking resident in Bronx, New York.
Like al-Samat, he dreams of forming a Latino Muslim community in the metropolitan city.
I hear exaggerated numbers of how many we are, but I just don't buy it, she said.
I don't see them anywhere.
Dreams of the Past
A Latino Muslim community in New York was not a farfetched dream.
Back in 1985, a Hispanic Muslim organization was founded under the title of Alianza Islamica to build uniquely Latino identity within Islam.
Established by Puerto Rican converts, the group put on its own version of Muslim holiday festivities.
We tried to express ourselves as Latinos and as Muslims at the same time, Ocasio said.
We had to learn to adapt Islam to our culture. And we were the first to do it. We didn't learn it from our parents.
But Alianza Islamica was shut down in 2003 after internal conflict amongst the leaders splinted its roughly 50 members.
Some converts are still attempting to once again cultivate a community out of a scattered population.
Aisha Ahmed Hernandez founded Latin American Muslim Women's Association, a south Bronx-based organization established in 2007.
Hernandez also created a Facebook group, called Muslims Who Speak Spanish, that now counts almost 500 members.
Though there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to nearly seven million Muslims.
According to the Pew Research Center, 6 percent of American Muslims are Hispanic.
Further, one of 10 American-born converts is Hispanic, and that figure is growing.
The American Muslim Council puts the number of Latino Muslims in the US at about 200,000 in 2006.
The largest communities of Latino Muslims exist in areas with the highest concentrations of Latinos, such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.Yet, California is the state with the most Latino Muslims.