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Small wave of Latinos feel draw of Islam

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On a Sunday afternoon, while millions in Los Angeles celebrated Easter, Elizabeth Chawki and her brother, Benny Garcia, sat in a quiet back room at the ILM Foundation, a small storefront Islamic center, to speak of what had brought them from traditional Christianity to a religion little practiced by their fellow Latinos.

"Faith and logic have to go hand in hand," says Ms. Chawki, her smiling face framed by the folds of her hijab.

It was a spiritual and intellectual conjunction which Chawki, who is of Spanish American and native American descent, was unable to find within Roman Catholicism or the born-again Protestantism her family explored after moving to South Central Los Angeles.

But, she says, she did find it at Pasadena City College, in a chance conversation with Lebanese students. This ultimately led her to become one of the tiny but growing number of Latinos who have embraced Islam - now about 15,000 nationwide.

The talk, she says, was challenging - she recalls one student asking, "Why do you worship Jesus and not the one who created him?" No one pressured her to convert and, in any event, she says, "I'm not easily persuaded."

Still "being brought up Catholic a lot of things are done by tradition [and] ... didn't move me emotionally." And she realized she had other doubts about what she'd learned and accepted.

"I went home frustrated. I was trying to defend my faith and I couldn't." Nevertheless, she felt compelled to continue the conversations. "I've always asked God to guide me."

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