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Islam in Mexico Traveling History of Islam in Mexico

Arely Medina It is difcult to precisely identify the arrival of

El Colegio de Jalisco, Jalisco, Mexico Islam to Mexico, some information points to the
period of Spanish conquest (Taboada 2004;
Keywords Alfaro-Velcamp 2011) with the arrival of fellow
Arabs; Conversion; Dawah; Immigration; travelers.
Community The demonstration of Muslim culture during
the viceroyalty of New Spain had to do with
Moorish and Andalusian culture that developed
in Spain and then settled in America (Taboada
2004). The closest to a Muslim community
during this time were the rebellions of some
Islam in Mexico is represented and characterized
Islamized slaves in Brazil, although never in
by a minority of Mexicans, immigrants, or
New Spain, because although the Indians were
natives; by a series of small groups or communi-
forbidden to be Muslims in New Spain had
ties in the interior of the Mexican Republic; and
(Taboada 2004, 114) despite the prohibition of
by a short history, thus one can not yet speak of a
Emperor Carlos V (Lpez 2010, 151).
Mexican Islam.
That is why the Moors found it difcult to
profess Islam and were motivated to accept con-
version to Christianity or did not transmit their
Introduction religion to their children. This stage is considered
mandatory dissimulation or taqiya (Cobos 2008)
The history of Islam in Mexico started with the and extends from conquest to the triumph of the
conquest of the American territory: Muslim con- liberal reforms of 1833.
versos arrived in Mexico as Catholics and crypto- A second stage still characterized by dissimu-
Muslims. The history continued with the series of lation runs from the triumph of liberal reform until
Arab immigrations and the constitution of Arab 1980 (Cobos 2008) and is linked to the immigra-
embassies, by which is the arrival of the religion is tion of Muslims of Arab origin. Between 1895 and
still currently permitted, via the enhanced mobil- 1960 the entry of 37,500 Arabs among them
ity of traveling agents of the Islamic belief system. included a minority of Muslims (Alfaro-Velcamp
2011, 285). This stage, said Alfaro-Velcamp, has
some methodological implications about who was
# Springer International Publishing AG 2016
H.P.P. Gooren (ed.), Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_213-1
2 Islam in Mexico

dened as Arab; this time frame played a histori- (Medina 2014) which is part of a gradual change
cally important role in geopolitical changes in the from Islam in Mexico.
Middle East, and thus the nomenclature to iden-
tify the Arabic is variable. In the case of Mexico,
in the waves of Arab immigrants came those who The Soraya Mosque of Torren
emerged from the Ottoman Empire, and who were
identied as Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, At the start of the twentieth-century, immigrants
Iraqis, Egyptians, or Turks. These waves came to of Arab origin arrived to Laguna Region of
Mexico between 1878 and 1882 (Hernandez Torren starting as agriculturalists and commer-
2009). cial businesses. They grew as families who live in
Many of these immigrants were simply identi- their religion in an intimate and familiar way, in
ed as Arabs because this term was generalized dissimulation, or taqiya.
for those who spoke Arabic. Immigration records It was in 1989 that the Soraya mosque started;
show that the borders of entry to Mexico were in the rst in the country with a specically mosque-
the ports of Veracruz, Tampico, and Progress like architecture and which is still running.
(Zeraoui 2010), which were registered with Cas-
tilian surnames. Other immigrants simply were
not recorded because they had in mind moving The Halveti Yerrhi Order
to the United States, later to be stalled in the
northern states of Torreon, Saltillo, and Monterrey The tekke, or institutional gathering place, of the
(Musalem 1997). current Su community of Mexico is located in
Attention to Arab immigration in regards to Mexico City, owes its beginnings to the interna-
religious identication must be provided, as not tional movement Halveti Jerrahi.
all were Muslims, but some were Jewish, Ortho- After secularization in Turkey, the Halveti
dox, or Catholic and only a very small minority Jerrahi Order continued to meet clandestinely.
were Muslim. This minority managed to be visi- The sheikh made his way to the United States
ble only from 1922 to 1924 (Hernandez 2009). and in New York opened a tekke where some
It was toward the end of the twentieth-century Latina/os participated (Gonzlez 2009).
that Muslims started to return as immigrants, tak- In 1987, the sheikh traveled to Mexico City
ing part in the Mexican religious eld. In this because he had three Mexican dervishes who also
period started to see conversion of non-Muslims, belonged to the conchera tradition. They told him
from among the Mexican population. This period that they had a revelation in a dream that inspired
was characterized by the establishment of the rst him to bring the movement to Mexico.
communities, community prayer (salat and
jumaa), as well as the preaching of Islam (da
wa) (Cobos 2008). The Sunni and Salafi Community
It is here that the emergence of the Shiite Mus- in Mexico City
lim community of Torreon, the Su and Sunni
communities of Mexico City, and the Murabitun The majority of Muslims has concentrated in
of Chiapas are to be placed. The existence of these Mexico City. There emerged Su, Sunni, and
is linked to an international proselytizing move- Sala communities.
ment, save Torreon. We must also consider other In its early stages, immigrant Muslims, espe-
communities that emerged since 1990 as a result cially the diplomatic corps, gathered for commu-
of the intensication of transnational processes nity prayer. The incorporation of converts came
and cultural globalization, such as in Guadalajara. after the arrival of the Englishman Omar Weston
It is framed in a way within the establishment of in 1994. Weston, with the help of the local com-
Islamic communities in Mexico known as con- munity and some Arab embassies, created the
version and autonomous Muslim communities Islamic Cultural Center of Mexico A. C.
Islam in Mexico 3

(CCEM, A.C.). The CCEM integrated not only directed by Juan Gomez sunni Yahya and the
immigrants but was dedicated to dawah, includ- other group linked to MMM. The reason was the
ing the formation of a local mosque that raised the accused double standards of the Spaniards and
national colors as a way to connect to locals. their criticism of indigenous customs along with
Weston, with some immigrants, and also some the prohibition to send their children to govern-
low-level ideological and organizational opposi- ment school. Thus, some of them, with the help of
tion, created the Educational Center of the Muslim CCEM and Weston, decided to separate.
Community A. C. (ETCC), better known as the Murabitun dissidents of the community kept
Dar Assalam Center. their faith and formed another community along
Abdullah Ruiz, a Sala leader who was a mem- Sunni lines. This group perform their religion in
ber of CCEM founded the Islamic Mexico Orga- their homes and only meet at the time of prayer in
nization (IOM) in 2003, also known as Al Markas the leaders own Al-jamma AlKawthar.
as Sala. In 2004, he created the Sala Center of
Mexico, which gradually found an echo in the
Wahhabi tradition. Islam in Guadalajara

The only record of Muslims in Guadalajara was in

The Muslim Communities in Chiapas 1910 in the census of population and housing;
however, the presence of Islam in Guadalajara as
Two Muslim communities are located in Chiapas a community project emerged in 1993 with the
among the indigenous Tzotzil: the Murabitun presence of immigrants and converts gathering for
community, a Su group, and a Sunni community. Friday prayers. The precarious conditions and
The Murabitun community are presented here social perception of the neighbors constantly chal-
as an exception among Muslim communities in lenged them and forced a later change of address
Mexico, and not for being a rural indigenous (Medina 2014).
community, or because their members are con- The community harbored only fty people;
verts, but by the way in how this community twenty to thirty were Mexican and foreign stu-
was created segregated from those who they con- dents, particularly from South America; the pop-
sidered indels to carry out its own model of ulation did not increase in its infancy. Since 2001
society. It is a community located in a corneld the group met was called Casa Islam or Dar
in San Cristobal de las Casas, founding the rst al-Islam, which closed in 2005.
Indian Muslim mosque in Latin America. It was not until 2009 that the center of worship
In 1995, Spaniards from the Murabitun World Islam Guadalajara launched under the organi-
Movement (MMM) ocked to Chiapas to publi- zation of Abdul Kareem, who after coming from
cize their project of society and the message of Houston, Texas, returned to Guadalajara to open
Prophet Muhammad (Canas 2006). The Spaniards it. With some tracts, Kareem managed to contact
made contact with a Tzotzil who were convinced some immigrants and attract converts.
his Tzotzil family group converted. The new Without a building, it began its activities on a
Murabitun Muslim community settled in the out- website which provided the rst platform for
skirts of San Cristobal de las Casas and founded socialization. Later, sites were established for
the Islamic community of self-sustaining Mexico. prayer: a religious center, a medical ofce, and a
This community does not attempt to make building rented for parties and alternative medi-
contact with other Islamic centers in Mexico, cine sessions were used Friday to Friday to recre-
which is why when Weston began his proselytiz- ate an al-jamma, a space for prayer.
ing and visited the community, the leaders of the The beginnings of this community arose from
community Murabitun refused socialization. various stories of crisscrossing conversion and
In 2001, the community sustained a break and immigration. The presence of a posterior Muslim
two groups were formed: one linked to CCEM community was due to the immigration of Arabs
4 Islam in Mexico

and Pakistanis, but also the old and new converts competition in the national economy (Alfaro-
who knew Islam through the use of Information Velcamp 2011, 290).
Technology and Communication (ICT), and from The last step brings us closer to understanding
this with their own methods and resources for the challenges that cross religious systems in the
converting others. The process of these conver- era of globalization. Currently, we are facing a
sions has been analyzed and called autonomous new and different wave of arrival of Islam that is
Muslim conversions (Medina 2014). linked to the channels of information via the Inter-
The autonomy of the community is not only its net and new media. While communities born in
chief characteristic but makes it unique in Mexico the third stage remain in force, as well as via
because unlike the rst communities in the coun- international proselytizing, there is a new trend
try, it did not receive proselytizing help or instruc- marked by increasing and intensied labor mobil-
tion. Thus, their own conversion experiences and ity, tourism, academic, and different means of
the means used for the interpretation of Islamic information and communication, where the Inter-
exegesis were through their own self-created rst net plays an outsized role at times. There are now
channels of education. However, over time it has individuals who seek different religious experi-
built up a network of relations at both national and ences by these means, and it is not simply prose-
international levels. lytizing but individuals here and there seeking a
Guadalajaran Islam began as a process of adap- new membership and meeting to initiate their own
tation and thus in the due course of time very community project, as happened in Guadalajara.
different interpretations of the practice arose. Overall what has characterized the settlement
Thus, there was a separation, whence the Cultural of Islam in Mexico is the immigration of Muslims,
Center of Western Mexico emerged: The Messen- proselytizing, and transnational experiences offer-
ger of God B.C. Currently in Guadalajara Islam is ing various sources of encounter with the Islamic
represented by Islam Guadalajara and the Mus- belief system.
lim group in Guadalajara. Mexico now has different groups and Islamic
communities distributed in Chiapas, Mexico City,
Ciudad Juarez, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Merida,
Conclusion Monterrey, Morelia, Puebla, Queretaro, Quintana
Roo, Rosarito, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora,
Islam in Mexico has advanced in several stages, Tamaulipas, Tijuana, Toluca, Torreon, and
which help researchers understand the historical Veracruz.
moments and processes that anchor the modern Talk about a Mexican Islam seems misplaced
community: taqiya, dissimulation, and Islamiza- since localism prevails. Each community
tion. The rst two are characterized by the arrival described here maintains its own interpretations
of Muslims by birth and waves of immigration; and practices. However, among the similarities
the third by processes of transnationalization and that can be registered are: meetings on Friday to
cultural globalization, leading to a new form: the community prayer and sermon in places of wor-
conversion of autonomous groups (Medina 2014). ship; religious festivities in group and inclusion of
The rst Muslim immigrants to Mexico were non-Muslims; transliteration of the Holy Quran;
few, and religious life was put to the side as it gave challenge to religious tolerance, alteration hijab as
way to social integration. However, although they a symbol of Mexican and Catholic identity; redef-
managed to integrate into the sociocultural con- inition of the Catholic creed; Universal member-
text, Mexican society began to create a vision of ship Umma through travel experiences; and
who were Arab and Muslim. And although not Internet use.
every Arab was a Muslim (their ranks included The history of Islam in Mexico is still short but
Catholics, Jews, or Orthodox), it was immediately has managed to maintain exibility to adapt to
linked with Islam and with it the clichs of polyg- space, time, and ethnic, linguistic, and sociocul-
amy but also by an anti-Arab sentiment due to tural local factors.
Islam in Mexico 5

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