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Latinx Muslims speak on their experiences in sociology class

By Alina Zhu     11/13/19 12:28am

The sociology class Muslims in America hosted an event inviting members of the Latinx-Muslim organization IslamInSpanish to speak about their experiences as being both Latinx and Muslim on Nov. 7.

A group of students in the class, including Sid Richardson College junior Eden Desta, decided to collaborate on a project interviewing members of the organization and further understanding the lived experiences of Muslim and Latinx individuals. 

Desta said she felt it was important for people to understand more about IslamInSpanish in order to better understand the complex nature and intersectionalities between different ethnic and religious groups. 

“People are dynamic, and to classify and box someone based on their religious identity is not correct and is very common for people to do with Muslims,” she said.

According to Jaime Fletcher, founder and president of IslaminSpanish, the Muslim-Latinx community is not only quite prominent, but growing at a fast rate in Houston and across the nation.

“Latinos are embracing Islam more than any other group in America,” he said. 

A majority of the content discussed in the 75 minute panel related to the lived experiences of individuals within this community. Discussion topics by the speakers, Imam Isa Parada, Fletcher and co-founder Sakinah Gutierrez, included IslamInSpanish’s origin as a grassroots organization intended to teach the Latinx community about the Islamic religion and its dual purpose of providing a safe space for many. 

Gutierrez also described the importance of helping to found IslamInSpanish in creating a space where she and many others felt included.

“In the Muslim community there might be a majority coming from a certain nationality, so you might feel like you don’t belong...and it’s natural in your culture to have certain traditions...that might make others feel a little left out,” she said.

Fletcher spoke on how IslamInSpanish strives to achieve and support cultural and religious intersectionality. 

“We are the expression and the experience of trying to bring the classical understanding of Islam with a cultural competence [of Latinx culture], and fusing [these ideas] in a way that’s respectful,” he said.

The professor of the class, Dr. Craig Considine, said he has been inviting IslaminSpanish to speak on campus to students every semester for the past four years. He said he did so in order to continue to help more students become exposed to the diverse groups within the umbrella of Islam.

Considine described how an initial email in 2015 was the beginning of a growing friendship Rice and a local grassroots community. 

“I do feel like I'm part of the IslamInSpanish family,'' said Considine. “I can say that even as a Catholic, because that space is really open. It's about much more than just Islam.”

Both Considine and speakers from IslamInSpanish stated their primary purpose of sharing their experiences and inviting others to ask questions was to dispel misconceptions regarding muslims as well as the Latinx community. 

Desta shared similar views regarding the importance of sharing IslamInSpanish’s narrative. She said the event as well as the class as a whole impacted her views on religion. 

“I learned about the people [practicing Islam] and how diverse of a population it is,” she said. “I didn’t realize how similar Islam was to Christianity. It made me question a lot of the tension that the two religions historically had.”

Another student, Emma Siegel, shared similar views on how their visit to campus was especially crucial now. 

“Following the ICE costumes from the prior week...listening to [members of IslamInSpanish’s] personal stories reiterated the importance of interfaith and intercultural dialogue on our campus,” Siegel, a Martel College junior, said. “[Their visit to campus] offered a new insight into a specific Latinx community...being not monolithic, but polylithic.”

Considine said the relationship between Rice and IslamInSpanish has been only growing stronger over the years. 

“They come every semester,” Considine said. “I speak at their events. We’re always collaborating in different ways. It’s a really healthy constructive relationship and it’s important for Rice students to make these connections with a community so rich and diverse as this.”

Siegel also described the importance of sharing the narrative of IslamInSpanish. 

“Within a diverse city such as Houston, the impacts of a center such as IslaminSpanish has the power to not only mobilize its own community but act as a catalyst for greater tolerance of religious and ethnic diversity,” she said.

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