Spanish-Speaking Muslims Find a Home

Hispanic family in New Jersey makes leap of faith from Catholicism to Islam.

ByABC News
April 18, 2008, 2:05 PM

June 13, 2008 — -- A common misconception about Islam is that all Muslims come from the Middle East. In fact, there are an estimated 6 million Muslims living in America. Not only do they come from all corners of the world, but many are born and raised in the United States. Here is one Spanish-speaking family's story.

These days, the Hernandez family starts the day at 6 a.m. The children get dressed and ready for school, while parents Danny and Marleny take advantage of their time together to enjoy breakfast.

But before all this, in the early hours of the morning, the family of five come together for the morning prayer. Facing east, they rest their foreheads on the ground and raise their hands in supplication together. Like thousands of other Hispanics, the Hernandez family followed a path that led them to Islam.

The family lives in North Bergen, N.J. , a city with a Hispanic population approaching 60 percent. Indeed, Hispanics are the nation's largest and fastest growing minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, emerging as a potentially pivotal constituency in the presidential election.

The exact number of Hispanic Muslims in the United States is difficult to pinpoint, but the population appears to be growing. Separately, both groups are concerned about issues such as immigration, job security, civil rights and heath care. They also share similar family values, helping Hispanics, who are generally rooted in Roman Catholicism, manage the transition from the faith of their upbringing to Islam.

Such a conversion is common in the United States, where 40 percent of Americans leave the faith with which they were raised, according to a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Danny Hernandez, 30, was born in Queens, N.Y., to Puerto Rican parents who raised him as a Roman Catholic. As a teenager, he became involved with gangs and eventually landed briefly in jail. It was behind bars where he made the decision to change his life. "I'm here in this cage living like an animal," he said to himself. "I don't want to do this."