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July 22, 2002

MANY HISPANICS RETURNING TO FAITH OF THEIR FATHERS - ISLAM

CHICAGO (EP) - In the last few years thousands of Hispanics have joined the millions of Muslim's who practice the Islamic faith in the United States. According to the American Muslim Council (AMC), in 1997 there were an estimated 40,000 Hispanic Muslims in the nation. The current estimate, the group says, may be up to 60,000 Hispanic worshipers, out of a total Muslim population the AMC says may be anywhere between two million and seven million.

Dr. Ed Joseph, whose organization, the Fellowship of Isa (Arabic for Jesus), reaches Muslims worldwide with the gospel message, says the number is closer to nine million Muslims in the U.S. out of a total of 1.4 billion worldwide.

Whatever the total, Hispanics who convert to Islam do so for a number of reasons. Most Hispanics from the U.S., Puerto Rico, Central and South America were raised Catholic. Catholic Hispanics who turn to Islam have become isolated from the faith they grew up with, and no longer see it as relevant to their daily lives. The barrage of high-profile scandals the church in America has faced over the last year - and how the church's cardinals have handled them - certainly hasn't helped.

Joseph said that the exodus by many Hispanics in the U.S. from Christianity to Islam stems from an isolation they feel from the
culture, and an antagonism they feel from non-Hispanic Americans. "As hard as this is to acknowledge, many white Americans look down at Hispanics as foreigners," Joseph said. He noted that when Whites see Hispanics who don't speak English working at menial jobs in fast food restaurants, their tendency is to reject them, "like they're trying to take over the country. They don't get that same rejection from Muslims. Muslims say to them, 'See, we're the same color, and our clerics aren't involved in abuse [like Catholic priests].' There is an openness they don't feel from the American culture."

The Associated Press quotes one former Catholic Hispanic, Ibrahim Gonzalez, as saying that he didn't convert to Islam, but rather returned to his ancient spiritual roots. "We're returning to a religion that we once belonged to and was very much a part of our historical heritage," AP reporter Deborah Kong quoted Gonzalez as saying. Gonzalez and other Hispanic Muslims trace their Islamic roots back to the Muslim Moors, who ruled in Spain until the 1400s.

While some Hispanics enter the Islamic faith through marriage, others are attracted by its apparent ethnic tolerance, giving them a sense of belonging and acceptance many didn't find in the Catholic Church of their youth. "Islam was my choice because of the multiethnic components of Islam, its lack of bureaucratic hierarchy and the fact that it was very direct and gave a young man such as myself a wide purpose in life," Kong quoted Gonzalez as saying.

Kong interviewed Bolivian Claudia Hein, who was introduced to Islam by a roommate after moving to the U.S. Hein, who was raised Catholic, explained that she was draw to Islam because it "embraces all parts of life, everything that you do during the day. Islam teaches you everything, how to behave with your neighbors, how to be with your parents, how to educate your children. It embraces everything, every part of your life."

But Dr. Joseph, who was raised in a Christian home in his native Egypt but has spent a lifetime studying Islam, says that those
looking for true peace and contentment will not find it in Islam. "The only peace and contentment they will find is in Isa (Jesus),"
Joseph says. "You can't follow the Catholic church, or the Protestant church. You must follow Jesus. God's truth is only found in Jesus."


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