Munir Shaikh, Professor of Islamic Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

"Latino Muslims of Los Angeles: Navigating Memory, Identity, and Family"

Munir Shaikh, Ph.D. candidate, Islamic Studies, University of California Los Angeles, gave a presentation entitled “Latino Muslims of Los Angeles: Navigating Memory, Identity and Family.” Shaikh began his presentation with the Islamic creed in Spanish “No Hay Más Díos Que Allah y Muhammad su Profeta,” meaning “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.” The beginning part of the presentation also included a number of important statistics in order to situate and contextualize the USA Latino/a Muslims.

Shaikh emphasized that Nuevos Musalmanes, “New” Latino/a Muslims, are emerging in American Muslim communities as a new dynamic in Los Angeles and other major cities in the United States. Although there are approximately 40,000 to 70,000 Latino/a Muslims in the US, this is still seen as a small community compared to the number of Latino/as in the US, which is approximately 40 million. Latina/o conversion to Islam began in the 1970s but became a stronger development in the 1990s with the emergence of Islamic da’wa programs (invitations to accept the Islamic faith) in the Spanish language and the development of Latino/a Muslim organizations around 2000. These organizations include the “Los Angeles Latino Muslim Association” (LALMA), the “Latino American Dawa Organization” (LADO), and “Alameda Islamica” in Northern California. Although Latino/a Muslims are not present on the American Muslim diversity charts, they are anticipated to appear in ten to fifteen years as a small but significant percentage within the American Muslim mosaic.

According to Shaikh, factors leading to Latino/a conversion to Islam vary: they include individuals who seek out a new religious framework; women who marry Muslim men; and Latino/as who are responding to the contemporary geo-political currents and dynamics. Another interesting factor leading to conversion is the discovery of Al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain, by Latino/a college students as such students recognize and respond to a significant Spanish heritage and culture. The legacy of Al-Andalus is a source of pride that captures culturally appropriate faith practices in the Arts. A further discovery from Al-Andalus is the Aljamiado texts that were produced in Spain in the 13th and 14th centuries. Aljamiado Spanish texts were written in Arabic script but not spoken in Arabic. Below are a few lines from an Aljamiado spiritual song titled Mudejar “Spiritual Song”:

Allah ya rabi
Ya Muhammad darabi
Ya verdadero annabi
de arabi de arabi.
O Allah my Lord
O Muhammad, my guide
O True Prophet
Of the Arab and from the Arab.

Textuality becomes an important factor when new people are added to almost any contemporary religio-cultural mix. According to Shaikh, many different types of Islamic materials are being made available in the Spanish language. The translation type will have significant influence in molding nascent Latino/a Muslim communities. With the ongoing translation of their religious texts into Spanish, Latino/a Muslims are a potential target for various forms of proselytizing Islam. At the same time, Latino/a Muslims are forming to produce their own Islamic identity in the American Muslim mosaic. As new communities they will find themselves emerged in the study of Scripture and will contribute to interpretation debates among Muslims. These new communities will challenge patriarchal norms, Quranic interpretation, identity construction based on their different understandings of cultural boundaries, and transnational experiences.

Points to consider:
With the emergence of Latino/a American Muslim communities there is sure to arise Latino/a exegetes of Islamic scripture. What might be their interpretive orientations? And what might be the consequences of such orientations?

In what ways will the heavily Catholic cultures of the past color or shape a Latino/a Muslim exegete’s interpretation of Islamic Scripture?

To what extent will American Muslims that come from predominantly Muslim cultures give credence to or accept the interpretation of a Latino/a exegete in the next 50 years?

What does the emergence of these communities suggest in general terms about the phenomenon of scriptures and scripturalizing? Does a “new” people generally or necessarily need a “new” complex of “scriptures”? Which comes first?

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