By Anastacia A. Parks
- What ethnicity are you?
I am Mexican-American. I’m third-generation. I was born in Texas. I live in Illinois now with my wife and three sons. My wife is Albanian-Brazilian. I must live in one of the most diverse households in the U.S.
- What religion did you grow up into?
I was a Roman Catholic then became an atheist as an adult before choosing Islam. I don’t hate people of other faiths or no religion at all. I wish the best for everyone and treat everyone the way I want to be treated.
- When did you convert to Islam?
I embraced Islam in June 2001. When 9/11 happened three months later, one of my non-Muslim friends said, “Well, you sure picked a horrible time to become a Muslim.” Life isn’t a popularity contest. I’m going to follow what I believe.
- What was the main reason you converted to Islam?
I chose Islam because of my love of Islamic teachings especially the belief in the Oneness of God. I read a lot about Islam and loved what I learned. My conversion story can be found in my book Latino Muslims: Our Journeys to Islam.
- What do you think Islam offers Latinos that other religions do not?
Islam offers the Latino community a unique identity that is unlike that of any other religion. Islam has broadened my awareness of Latino and Muslim identity. I no longer believe that all Latinos are Catholics as I did as a little boy growing up in a small town. Islam is for everyone. I’m blessed to be a Muslim.
- Over the past five years, there has been a surge of young Latinos converting from Christianity to Islam what do you think has inspired this transition?
Islam and Muslims in the U.S. receive more visibility than ever before thus, Islamic information is more accessible and less social stigma is attached to leaving one religion for another. I think young Latinos are also attracted to Islam because they see a need for it within our community.
- For many Latinos who were originally Catholic is this a difficult transition into becoming Muslim?
Becoming a Muslim can be a difficult transition for new Latino converts. Because Muslims can make the transition easier, new Muslims should look for those with genuine Islamic manners. New converts must have patience with themselves and others. New Muslims shouldn’t be expected to learn everything in one day.
- Being Latino what keeps you motivated and devoted to Islam?
Knowing I’m pleasing our Creator keeps me motivated. I help many people come closer to Islam or help reinforce their beliefs and that helps keep me motivated, too. The Quran is also important in my devotion. I wrote a book full of my favorite verses so non-Muslims would understand what Muslims love about the Quran. My book is titled “And One of His Signs…”: Quran Verses that Softened my Heart.
- What is the main reaction you get from the public when you inform them you are both Latino and Muslim?
The public is usually surprised to learn that I am both a Latino and a Muslim. Many Americans have never even met a Muslim and then they meet me. Islam doesn’t ask everyone to be the same. I am who am I am.
Anastacia A. Parks earned her Bachelor of Science in Cultural Anthropology and is currently a Masters student of History at UNC-Charlotte.