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Eliana Lopez: A Marine Discovers Islam in Iraq

20 August 2011 Huffington Post 9 Comments Email This Post Email This Post
Marine Seal

Marine Seal

Before Ibrahim Abdel-Wahed Mohamed left Sea Cliff for a tour of duty with the Marines in Iraq, he was Anthony Grant Vance, the son of American and Panamanian parents who had raised him as a Catholic.

Despite his Christian upbringing, though, he had been curious about Islam since his childhood in Kansas, where he had two Afghani friends. He thought about pursuing anthropology studies to further learn about religion and different cultures, but instead ended up joining the military.

Mohamed felt the pull toward the faith strengthen in Iraq — “the heart of the Islamic world,” as he says — and he reached out to the Muslim contractors on his base and started learning about the precepts of the Quran.

Convinced that he was being called to Islam, he officially became a Muslim while still serving in Iraq. There he underwent Shahada, a profession of faith where a person testifies in front of others that “there is no god but God and Mohammad is the messenger of God,” as the Sunni declaration reads.

His transformation may seem dramatic, but it’s not entirely unique. The number of Latinos in the U.S. converting to Islam is growing, and Long Island is no exception.

In 1997, the American Muslim Council counted approximately 40,000 Hispanic Muslims nationwide, but that number could nowadays be closer to 75,000, according to Latino American Dawah Association (LADO), an organization committed to promoting Islam among the Latino community within the United States.

Juan Galvan, a member of LADO, affirms that Latino converts to Islam are increasing. “Many Muslim organizations have stated that the Latino Muslim community tripled or quadrupled after 9/11,” he says.

He explains that after the attacks, people wanted to know more about the religion. “Many people came to learn about Islam for the first time. Some people came to hate Islam, and some people came to love Islam.”

Mohamed firmly stands with the latter, as one of a small percentage of soldiers who fought in Iraq and returned with a new faith.

In some ways, his roots may have predisposed him to theological experimentation.

Born in Panama to an American Marine father and Panamanian mother, he was baptized and raised as a Catholic. His parents divorced when he was an adolescent, and his father became a Jehovah’s Witness. The conversion led his father to retire from the military after 13 years of service, telling Mohamed that once you decide to follow God, “you don’t pledge allegiance to a country, but you pledge allegiance to God.”

Still, Mohamed followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Marine Corps after he finished high school. As a Marine, traveled around the country, living in California, Virginia, North Carolina and New York, where he finally settled down.

It was working at the military base in Garden City when Mohamed first saw the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, a place that always intrigued him. “We passed by the mosque a couple times and I had the curiosity” he recalls. After several years on Long Island, he was sent to Iraq in 2008.

Two years have passed since Mohamed converted to Islam. Now he lives in Westbury, attends theIslamic Center of Long Island and is pursuing a major in education at CW Post.

He still maintains an open mind when it comes to other religions.

“I’m not here to put anyone else down for their beliefs,” he says. “I still believe that there are many lessons to be learned from other faiths.”

This is the first part of a series looking at Latino Muslims on Long Island. It was originally published on Long Island Wins.

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Original post: Eliana Lopez: A Marine Discovers Islam in Iraq


  1. well this can’t be good. according to this website 42% of american terrorist are latinos!! sorry that was such a softball, i couldn’t resist. anyways, why religious people are scary and why their allegiance are open to question, ““you don’t pledge allegiance to a country, but you pledge allegiance to God.””

  2. […] Catholic, is a most interesting one. Huffington Post 20 August 2011 Huffington Post One Comment  Email This Post Marine […]

  3. miky..dont speak too fast, you may be closer than you think, as the ones who were kown to hate islam the most, ended up being the best muslims..

  4. sahra,

    i wouldn’t hold your breath. i don’t know why you keep insisting that i hate islam. i don’t hate islam, or judism, or christianity i just think they are the source of a lot of violence in the world. which ofcourse seems quite contradictory to what they claim their goal is. and i think in a crisis people gravitate to people who share their religion. it’s kind of like a global tribalism.

    i see tripoli may fall soon. it should be an interesting next 20 years in north africa, maybe the whole middleeast. do you think the syrians will be able to up root assad. who then? king abdullah? either one? jk the saudi’s have too much money to keep the hoi polloi happy.

  5. Mike,

    Religion may seem to be the source of a lot of violence in this world, but it actually isn’t. If you study history as I’m doing now, you will have to do a lot of analysis on the particular events, including the cause. Most of the events that were “supposedly” caused by religion is actually caused by everyday political issues, such as power, land, avarice, and religion is sadly used as a tool to justify these horrible events that occur.

    Anyway. Since the fall of Gadaffi yesterday, lets hope this change can lead to more perseverance across the arab world. I have no doubt that the Syrian people will win, and HOPEFULLY the saudis can get up their backsides and realise that Salafi Islam is not the right path :).

  6. danial,

    sorry my bad, i seem to have contradicted myself. i said, abrahamic religions are the “source of a lot of violence” then i said “i think in a crisis people gravitate to people who share their religion. it’s kind of like a global tribalism.” sorry for my discombobulated thought. source was a poor chose of words. i agree with you totally that “Most of the events that were “supposedly” caused by religion is actually caused by everyday political issues, such as power, land, avarice, and religion is sadly used as a tool to justify these horrible events that occur.” my point was that what makes religion dangerous is it’s ability to be manipulated so easily. and to rally the masses. yes see the crusades to the cartoon and koran burning violence in modren times. tunisa, egypt and libyian all seem to not have fallen in that catagory, manipulated by religion. but i’ll go out on a limb here and say it is only a matter of time. i would put economics on the top of your list for the source of violence. when the populace has enough to eat they can afford to look the other way at the power and greed. but i think the future will be hard times for developing nations. things will go one of two totally different ways and they will both be bad for those three nations and much of the world. maybe liybian less so do to their oil. 1st the western world will pull out of this economic nose dive and that will continue to enrich india and china (2 plus billion) and there consumption will continue to rise. food prices will continue to raise. the whole arab spring is based on the back of rising food prices. or the western econimies will tank under our debt burden and that will be very bad for everyone. and food prodution will plumet and therefore prices will continue to rise, plus net exporters of food will begin to horde food. if that happens it will be really bad for the desert nations who already struggle to feed their people. i’m sticking with my theory that overpopulation is the greatest problem. democracy can’t cure that.

    anyways. did you see the salafist in egypt formed a political party. i think it is even named after my favorite surah, the 24th, an-nur (the light) once the secular government fails, relgion will be the rallying call.

  7. Mike,

    You’re very correct. Globalization is a big problem for our future generations.

    This salafist part is indeed named after the An-Nur(The light) surah, called “The Al Nour Party”. It is one of the most symbolic verses in the quran.
    However, I think the majority of egyptians are smarter than the Saudis, so this party shouldn’t be a threat to egypt anyway.

  8. miky..instead of worring about the political parties of the middle east(which is none of your bussiness to be honest), why dont you start worring about the fanatic evangelicals who are actually tring to christianize your constitution in U.S, but also the endless wars of the U.S, who are bankrupting your economy, for the jubilation of China..

    All i know is that the arabs had a political awakening, and whom so ever they ELECT will be their choosing. The future political parties of the Egypt-Tunisia-Libya-Syria-Yemen(ect..)therefore should be in line with their people demands, whether those parties are from religious back-ground or secular back-ground.. And yes all the autocratic leaderships of that part of the world will fall, some sooner than others, but they will fall for sure insha-Allah..But dont you think there should be also an american awakening??

  9. sahra,

    i don’t worry “about the political parties of the middle east”. i just find them interesting. i don’t understand how ghaddafi was a dictator for 42 years? mubbarak for 30 years, ali for 30 years, assad and his father for how many years? the house of saud? king abdullah and king hussein for how many years? (sorry for my spelling but my english is not too good so i imagine my arabic is much worst) as for “(which is none of your bussiness to be honest)” sorry i thought we were a global community, one race, the human race.

    “why dont you start worring about the fanatic evangelicals who are actually tring to christianize your constitution in U.S,” now that i do worry about. but maybe you missed my other post. that evangelicals actually seem to be loosing their battle, prayer in school, religous symbols being removed from government buildings, gay marraige, abortion,,, (perhaps you see a rise but i don’t) so i don’t know how they are taking over america??? i vote against them in ever election. do you want me to shot pamela geller in the head? i hope our constitution is never christianized or islamizised, or any other religionized.

    “but also the endless wars of the U.S, who are bankrupting your economy, for the jubilation of China..” we have been at war for most of our history. the revelolution, the war of 1812, the mexican-american war, the civil war, the spanish-american war, ww1, ww2, the korean war, the veitnam war, the first iraq war and now the afghan and second iraq war. and i’m no historian so i’m sure i missed quite a bit. i don’t think our wars are bankrupting us. they are certainly expesive but i think entitlements (social security, medicare and medicade are bankrupting us). so you really think the chinesse would be jubilent at our bankrupcy? they hold trillions of dollars in our debt. so if we default that “wealth” all dissapears. did you not see gold hit a new high? it’s come back down a bit. did you not see that biden was in china trying to reassure the chinesse that we will pay our debt? did you not see that standard and poor’s has down graded the US from AAA to AA+?

    “All i know is that the arabs had a political awakening” you maybe right there. i guess we will see how it shakes out. so why do you think now will be different than anytime in the last 200 years? i do truely hope them the best, for all of our sakes.

    but don’t worry about me i have a couple hundred acres in belize, and if worst comes to worst i can grow my own food. that is if they don’t decide to kill the gringo.

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