Event to discuss Islam’s influence in Latin America

Shannon McMullen/Contributing Writer


Muslims have had a significant impact on Latin culture, politics, and society, with 3,000 Spanish words having historical connections to Arabic, such as the words “pantalones” (pants) and “arroz” (rice). Their influence, however, has been unnoticed because of the lack of conversation around the topic, according to a professor.

Ken Chitwood is a professor with the religion department at the University of Florida. For the past six years he’s been studying Islam in the Americas and other subjects. But like many people, there was a time he was unaware of Islam’s influence in the west, he said.

Chitwood was writing a weekly report during a mosque visit when he met a man dressed in a tunic who told him of how he converted to Islam in New York, he said. It was then that Chitwood decided to research conversion stories, and after researching 135 conversion stories, he soon noticed a pattern: they had connections to Latin America.

He knew there was a large amount of research done to show Islam’s ties to Latin America, but people weren’t paying attention to it. When he taught a course on the subject years later at the University of Florida, students found it difficult to research. There were plenty of documents and statistics, but it was hard to piece together an “overall narrative.”

It’s exactly for this reason that Chitwood hopes to inspire further research and work. Through the event “Islam in Latin America,” which will be held at the University on Tuesday, Nov. 7, Chitwood will speak about Islam’s heavy presence in both Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Islam and Muslim communities’ influence in the past and present.

The event will be at 2 p.m. in the Green Library Room 165 at the Modesto A. Maidique campus.

Chitwood has worked personally with Muslims all over the world. One of his experiences involved working with a family in Syria and trying to get them out of Aleppo last year. He connected them with a community in Ecuador where they could get visas.

Many Muslims also migrate to Latin America due to social and political events in their own country, Chitwood said, but he has seen research that indicates an increase in the number of converts as well, despite the possibility of discrimination.

“If they experience discrimination, it’s based on factors, [such as the] global war on terror mindset that emerged after 9/11…[but] they’ve also found acceptance and curiosity.”

And the only way to stir up conversation about this subject is to speak out about it, Chitwood said.

He’s looking forward to speaking at the event, he said, because FIU has a “really good synergy,” and has programs focusing on Islamic Studies. The Latin America and Caribbean Center, for example, addresses Islam in Latin America and American media’s perception of the Muslim world.

The “Islam in Latin America” event, he said, will question students’ idea of what the Muslim world is, in contrast to what they’ve learned from class or from American media.

“[I hope people] leave with their understanding of the Muslim world expanded and altered, [their] Latin American culture and history expanded, [and that] they consider exploring this study on their own,” Chitwood said.


Featured image courtesy of Flickr

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