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Houston’s Spanish-Speaking Mosque, Latino Imam Reflects on How He Got There


Imam Isa Parada shares some word at the grand opening of what is believed to be the nation's first Spanish-speaking mosque. (Courtesy photo from Islam In Spanish)

Imam Isa Parada shares some word at the grand opening of what is believed to be the nation’s first Spanish-speaking mosque. (Courtesy photo from Islam In Spanish)

Growing up in a neighborhood where gang violence and crime prevailed, Isa Parada could have ended in prison or dead. Instead he chose to convert to Islam, a decision that tested his family bonds and forever changed his life. Today, he is the first full-time Muslim leader, or imam, at Centro Islámico, believed to be the nation’s only Spanish-speaking mosque.
His journey began when his parents immigrated to New York from El Salvador in search of a better life and moved their family to Houston after learning the cost of living was lower and the neighborhoods were safer. Parada, who previously attended Catholic school and was an altar boy, was suddenly thrust into a hostile environment plagued with negative influences. Though his working-class parents had instilled in him the importance of hard work, faith and family, Parada began hanging out with the wrong crowd.
“Those morals and values they had taught me, such as being proud of who I was and never changing who I was, being very strict about speaking Spanish at home, were tested,” Parada said.
His own father ended up in prison for 13 years during Parada’s most trying stage in life: adolescence. Parada grew into an angry young man who resented the white community and the way government worked. He had little regard for women, his own health and other people’s property.
His older friends tried keeping him from falling into the same traps they had. Parada also noticed how his choices were affecting the women in his family, especially his younger sister.
At 19 years old, he decided to reconsider religion to confront his issues, but felt drawn to Islam over Christianity after reading Muslim leader and activist Malcolm X’s autobiography, which resonated with his own experiences.
“He went from growing up in a good environment to a criminal one, to having racist feelings for white people, and Islam changed his life,” Parada said. “He wanted justice for his people and general good for society, as a whole, and I really related to that and it made it easier to connect with his story and Islam.”
Parada opted for a new name, Isa, which means Jesus in Arabic, over his birth name of “Christian.” The drastic change did not come without tension and apprehension from those closest to him.

Imam Isa Parada talking with community members. (Courtesy photo from Islam In Spanish)

“My father thought I was going to be a terrorist as he watched old Chuck Norris movies and had a real negative view of Islam,” he said. His mother…..
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