Converted Muslims embrace new faith, celebrate end of Ramadan

As Ramadan comes to an end, Islamic leaders in the Miami area say the Muslim community is growing and continuing to embrace new cultures.

07/27/2014 7:40 PM

07/27/2014 7:49 PM

Keyla Calix, a 25-year-old Honduran living in downtown Miami, didn’t think her friend’s gift of a Quran would lead her to reject her Catholic upbringing.

But two years later, after a serious evaluation of Islam sparked by the holy book, she will head to a mosque Monday morning for Eid al-Fitr, a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.

“My family thought that Islam was just for Arabs,” Calix said, “but Islam is for everyone, not just for Arabs or Pakistani.”

Miami’s Islamic community will celebrate the end of Islam’s holy month alongside a series of new beginnings, like Calix’s. She is part of a growing segment of Miami’s population converting to Islam, according to Miami’s Islamic leaders.

Twenty years ago, there were five mosques in the Miami area. Now, there are about 30, said Shabbir Motorwala, a member of COSMOS, the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations.

Two to three people a month are converting to Islam in each South Florida mosque, said Mohammed Badat, the Imam at a mosque in Kendall. Many of them, he said, are Hispanic women like Calix.

Islam is a natural religion for Hispanics to embrace because both cultures are family-oriented and emphasize taking care of young people and the elderly, Badat said. He also said that those who choose to convert are often well-educated and pick Islam after much thought and research.

Calix said that her decision to become a Muslim was based on her questioning traditional Christian doctrine that Jesus is the only son of God.

According to the U.S. Mosque Survey of 2011, Hispanic converts to Islam increased from 6 percent to 12 percent since 2000.

It is important for those in South Florida to see Islam free from negative stereotypes, Motorwala said. That was made possible for hundreds of residents who visited the newly renovated Islamic Center of Greater Miami at one of the two open houses this summer.

“The media portrays the mosque as a place of terrorism,” Motorwala said. But he added that once people enter a mosque, “They finally see it’s not what they read or see on the TV. It’s just like any other place of worship.”

Those at the Miami Gardens mosque were planning to break their fast with dates and samosas just after 8 Sunday night and then gather for a sunset prayer, followed by a dinner including chicken, rice and pita bread.

Two services instead of one will be held on Monday morning at the Islamic Center of Greater Miami, 4305 NW 183rd St., the result of increased demand for Islamic religious practices, said Khalid Mirza, the president and chairman of the mosque. The Eid al-Fitr festivities continue Monday with a day of family, friends, and gifts.

When mosques across South Florida have services Monday, they will open their doors to recent converts standing alongside longtime imams, in an experience bridging cultures and ages.

“It’s growing day by day,” Badat said. “It’s not just for the Arabs or for the people from Southeast Asia. It’s for everybody and anybody that wants to embrace it.”

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