When Rasheed Cordero, a young Venezuelan from Orlando is in doubt, he uses a hand compass, which he carries in his pocket to find the exact direction of North East. This is because Rasheed needs to situate himself towards this direction, towards the central city of Islam, before he makes each of his 5 daily prayers, which are required as a Muslim.
“Many Hispanics who I meet think I am going to hell”, he says laughing, ” Especially the elder. They call me a Taliban. They think I’m against the country”.
But Cordero, with his short haircut, jeans and Carey sunglasses, doesn’t appear to look any different from the other young Hispanics of Central Florida. Except that, besides being a member of a growing ethnic minority, he is also a member of a growing religious minority.
Cordero has been practicing Islam for only 5 years and he is one of the many Hispanics across the country that are opting to convert into Muslims.
According to the American Muslim Council, the number of Hispanic Muslims across the United States in 1997 was 40,000. And a national poll made in 2000 by the same group calculated that 6% of those who have annually adopted this religion are Hispanics.
The same with many other Christian sects, the Muslim community is working at a national level to get a hand into this growing Hispanic population.
Hispanics that convert are considered “reverts”, because all people who accept Islam are actually returning to the “true belief”.
“Here in Orlando, we usually see conversions from Puerto Ricans and some from Cuba”, says Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, “But there are also many latinos who marry Muslims….The problem is that many of them speak English and so its hard to know if they are Hispanic.”
The national organization that appears to be the most vocal at this moment is LADO, or Latino American Dawah Organization, according to Cordero. LADO looks to attract, support and represent Hispanic Muslims in the United States.
“The truth is the simple fact that we exist and are in the public eye is a triumph”, says Samantha Sanchez president of LADO. “This breaks the stereotype that all Hispanics are Christians, when in truth, there are Jewish latinos, Buddhist latinos and obviously Muslim Latinos.”
Cordero’s interest began in the early ’90’s, when as a youth living in Miami, he listened to Hip-Hop music, where he found the lyrics sprinkled with Arabic phrases. Until he finally decided to submit to the simple rite of conversion, declaring there is no god but Allah and that Mohammad is his prophet.
“At first, my mom was worried”, says Cordero. “But after meeting my friends and realizing that this was a positive thing, she accepted it.”
From that day on, the Hispanic identity of Cordero has been moderated by his new faith.
“What I like the most is for Hispanics to know that Latino Muslims are not something exotic”, he says. ” Something that I’ve learned as a Muslim is to be more tolerant”.