Before the women can begin, they must pray.

Propped up by pillows, they sit in a circle on the floor, cup their hands upward and close their eyes.

“Give us clarity, Allah,” a woman intones. “Give us truth and honesty. And, help us to succeed in our humble mission.”

The women are members of Piedad, a group at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area Mosque that represents a growing group in the American Islamic Community: Hispanic Muslims.

Khadijah Rivera, 57, traded her Bible for the Koran.

“Islam is not a religion of the Arabs,” said Rivera, a Puerto Rican and the group’s leader. “It may have started as a religion of the Arabs. But we’re just regular people, and we’re not all Arab.”

Since 2001, Hispanics in the United States have embraced Islam in increasing numbers. Estimates vary wildly, largely because mosques do not keep membership rosters, and many new converts opt to keep their faiths secret for fear of persecution from family and friends, demographers said.

Still, scholars believe there are 75,000 to 200,000 Hispanic Muslims nationwide, an estimated 88 percent increase since 1997, when the American Muslim Council released a comprehensive study of the group.

Anecdotal evidence shows much of the growth taking place in Florida and urban centers such as New York and Chicago as well as border states like California and Texas. (MORE)


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