The women had arrived to Islam in various ways. One of them, Lina, was born into the religion but often struggled to reconcile it with her mother’s Peruvian culture, which she felt was more “liberal.” Two others, Myree and Noelia, converted as a result of marriage. Miriam, the daughter of a Mexican mother and an Egyptian father, converted to Islam on her own accord…
…while the increase in Latino converts to Islam in the U.S. (and Latin America) may suggest that this relationship recently began its genesis story, a quick perusal through the archives of world history suggests an entirely different picture: Islam- and Spanish-influenced cultures have co-existed for centuries.
Historians believe that Islam can be traced to the Iberian Peninsula (or what today is Spain and Portugal) in the year 711, when the Moors conquered the region and remained for nearly 800 years. This was a time period when Islamic influences spread quickly throughout the region and helped create prominent educational systems, intricate architectural designs, and, according to some, religious and ethnic tolerance between Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
The Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula also resulted in the influence of Arabic words into the Spanish language, which linguists believe has resulted in the adoption of over 4,000 Arabic words.
Each woman at the Long Beach Islamic Center spoke about this historical relationship and a slew of shared cultural values between their Latino and Islamic cultures. There was also a grounded understanding that embracing the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the expression of their Latina identities could mutually co-exist, albeit with some challenges.