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Conversions to the Islam in Mexico

Arely Medina
El Colegio de Jalisco, Jalisco, Mexico

Conversion; Identity; Information technology;

Proselytism; Hybridity

Islam in Mexico has surged as a phenomenon
characterized by various stages, but of these two
large periods can be distinguished. The rst is
marked by the migration of Arab pioneers, of
which there is little record of how these Muslims
lived in Mexican lands. A second block is marked
by transnationalism and cultural globalization.
The rst block is related to the arrival of Moors
and Muslim slaves in the period of conquest and is
extended by the arrival of Arab Muslim immigrants until approximately the 1980s (Cobos
2008). In this stage, it is imagined that the
Moors hid their faith through false conversion to
Catholicism. This conversion included a change
of name and the absence of an Islamic education
as well as communities or groups of prayer.
After la Reforma, between 1833 and 1980,
there came the immigration of Syrians, Lebanese,
Palestinians, Iraqis, Egyptians, and Turks, not all
of whom were Muslim but who were managing to

integrate to the society through marrying

The second block can be considered as part of
the process of transnationalization and cultural
globalization. This ranges from 1980 to the present and is characterized by the establishment of
embassies and with them Muslims that make up
the diplomatic body, the establishment of
aljamas Muslim quarters (Cobos 2008) and the
construction of the rst mosques in Torren by
some of the immigrants. The beginning and consolidation of Muslim communities in Mexico
City, Morelos, and Chiapas came from international proselytizing and with that re-Islamization
and conversions. But also the growth of small
groups in the interior of the Mexican republic
came as a result of various matrices that are part
of the transnationalization of Islam.
This entry offers a brief panorama of how
Islamic identity in Mexico has been dened
through conversion. It will show that the identity
of converts resists being seen and interpreted in
any sole manner and especially under clichs
awarded to the Muslim world. Rather, they are
best dened by sometimes fuzzy and hybrid elements due to the local circumstances in which
they operate.

# Springer International Publishing AG 2016

H. P. P. Gooren (ed.), Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_212-1

Conversion and Muslim Identity

in Mexico
The conversion is, [. . .] a transformation of ones
self concurrent with a transformation of ones
basic meaning system (McGuire 1992). It is a
process of adaptation to the new system of reference, in this case pertaining to religion, and of a
new vision of who one is and what place they
occupy in the world and in each social category.
This leads to the alteration of perception
between self and other. Identity play a crucial
role here, if this is understand as, [. . .] the subjective point of view of the social partners about
its unity and its symbolic borders; respect to its
relative persistence over time; and its location
around the world, i.e., in social space (Gimnez
The Islamic religious system provides to the
convert an interpretive mark of their reality, their
place in the world, and demarcates boundaries.
And while it may be presented and interpreted in
different ways depending on where it operates, it
can be considered as a unique culture with different zones or worlds contained in it (Zeraoui 2010),
i.e., ways of living Islam.
This interpretation situates the analysis of conversions and processes of identity in a theoretical
framework that addresses both the macro level as
well as the microsocial. It starts from the idea that
conversion to Islam is not only a rite of passage, it
is a state of being or their perception of self and
other. But it is also a whole learning process,
adaptation and reconguration of identity and
thus also behavior in various social areas.
In Islam, the rite of passage that makes one a
Muslim implies the recitation of the testimony of
faith, known as shahada, with which the convert
accepts that there is only one God and that
Muhammad is his messenger, and this is done in
front of at least a pair of Muslim witnesses. This is
said in Arabic: Ash hadu an la Ilalaha il-la Allah,
wa Ash hadu an-na Muhammad Rasulullah and
followed by the idiom which the convert can
understand. Thus, in the case of Mexicans the
shahada is recited in two languages: Arabic and

Conversions to the Islam in Mexico

To give the testimony in front of two witnesses,

from the viewpoint of the process of conversion,
does not imply the substantive change of conversion, but only the exteriorization of desire and to
be accepted in a community or group. The conversion starts before and after the shahada. There
is a preparation before the conversion, an apprehension of a system of belief, initiated for diverse
reasons, but that lead him/her to question his/her
religious afliation, values, and even immediate
social system. The testimony of faith, or shahada,
refers to the acceptance of a new creed, as an
intermediate point in conversion. After this continues the process of apprehending and
reformulating their identity.
Conversions to Islam in Mexico still require
more investigation; nevertheless, there can be
some structural elements delineated that permit
understanding the process of identity construction
among Muslim converts in Mexico. Amidst these
elements, there can be distinguished those that
pertain to the macro level and the micro.
The second block that characterizes the presence of Islam in Mexico permits the understanding that the processes of globalization and
transnationalization have made channels of information and approaches to Islam. Various
mediums of communication, cultural industries,
diverse types of migration and immigration, and
proselytization have served as doors to Islam in
The different Muslim communities in Mexico
have been taking root with different local tints,
according to what the social scene permits.
This can be seen with Indian and Islamic community in southern Mexico; small groups trying to
organize settings, although secular, within a predominantly Catholic milieu; communities organized under the Mexican ag that impart dawah
or proselytizing. But above all, with new Muslims
who mediate their religious identity between the
community and society, including the family that
usually is not Muslim.
Decrypting the empirical framework of conversions requires the development of types of
Muslim identity; in them the consideration of
criteria that have to do with religious contact,
socialization, and projection of their identity.

Conversions to the Islam in Mexico

Under these criteria converts show different ways

to solve and model a Muslim identity.
Several of the Mexican converts in different
communities and groups have assumed Islamic
identity to such a degree that they achieve socialization in different social spheres being identied
as Muslims by wearing the veil, preparing spaces
for prayer, with characters and exhibitors of Islam
in various public spaces. Others achieved thus
only within the community in certain social conditions, including her family. These are generators
of Islamic identities in dissimulation.

The way that converts resolve their Muslim identity has nothing to do with a single type of being
Muslim. Converts have found different solutions
to be Muslim in a distant social space prepared to
practice Islam in their context; for example, they
do not have services, jobs, or interaction spaces
that would be typical of an Islamic environment. It
is they who have been given the task of
constructing that environment and in any case
adapt or circumvent it.
Converts must mediate between living as Muslims and living in a sometimes challenging environment for religious tolerance that is little
adaptable to the requirements that the Islamic
system dictates. So conversion and identity can
be viewed as processes that are created and recreated according to the sociocultural system in
which they occur, which is achieved along the
lines of the adaptation of individual Muslims
interests and desires.

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