For the past month, Muslims around the world have been observing Ramadan. The holy month is marked by fasting from sunup to sundown, prayer, and gathering and community.
Today, many will mark Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. In Houston, Muslims who attend the IslamInSpanish Centro Islamico – one of the most prominent Spanish-speaking mosques in the country – are gathering for Eid.
Jhair Romero, who covers Latino communities for the Houston Chronicle, said the mosque was founded in the early 2000s by Mujahid Fletcher, a Colombian man who grew up in Houston.
“He converted to Islam in the months before 9/11. He told me that he and his father, who was also Muslim, struggled to find materials to kind of study the religion (in Spanish). So he founded this organization to kind of be a resource for people like them,” Romero said. “It eventually grew into a proper mosque, and they began gathering. They had a facility that was a converted old bank that was 5,000 square feet, right down the road from where they are right now.”
IslamInSpanish now occupies a large warehouse that’s closer to 10,000 square feet under the water tower in Alief on the southwest side of Houston.
“Now they have plans to build a museum to honor the Spanish roots of Islam,” Romero said. “They just have so many plans to really expand what they already have.”
Romero said there are some differences between IslamInSpanish and other mosques in the area.
“The biggest one is obviously that they speak Spanish,” he said. “It’s people from all over Latin America — Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and so on. But I think the biggest difference that many people told me has drawn them to this place is that men and women pray together here, which for my understanding, isn’t very typical for most mosques. They’re separated, you know, men are in front and women are in the back, but they’re all in the same room.”
Another difference? The food.
“Like I said, many of these people come from all over Latin America so, you know, things like empanadas or flautas, enchiladas, all these Latin American staples are very common whenever they have community dinner events,” Romero said. “I’m sure Eid tonight will have some great food options.”
A lot of the people who attend the mosque converted to Islam, Romero said.
“I can’t speak for them, but I think a lot of people were kind of disenchanted with their lives or the religion that they were practicing and were kind of looking for a reprieve,” Romero said. “Some of the people that I spoke to, including Mujahid, told me that they grew up around a lot of gang culture here in Houston, either on the north side or on the southwest near Alief. They told me that Islam has brought them peace and a community that kind of gives them a better life than what many had grown up with.”
Romero said that for people who are curious about Islam or the mosque, the community events are open to the public.
“There’s quite a few people who will go and then eventually convert. There were a few people that I spoke to in my story that were like that. There was a 20-something-year-old who was studying to be a teacher who had been studying Islam. And then he started showing up to this mosque and eventually converted himself,” Romero said. “So many people from other cultures have ended up coming to this mosque because it’s so open. A lot of mosques, from my understanding, aren’t like that. So, you know, this mosque has people from Pakistan, from Bangladesh, from Jamaica, even. You know, it’s really a very, very curious mix.”