Indians of Mexico Choose Islam

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The descendents of the Maya in a predominantly Catholic area were always viewed as backward and were discriminated against.  Since the Catholic Church had no answer after hundreds of years, they turned to Islam.  The spread of Islam and its association with the indigenous movements fighting exploitation and predatory capitalism has alarmed the Mexican authorities.

This article was from 24th, December 2009.  More and more of the Maya and tsottsil in the Mexican state of Chiapas take Islam.  Changes occurred in the region after the uprising of the Zapatistas, the radical left of the Army named after Emiliano Zapata, “fighting for land reform and the rights of Indians, 15 years ago.  One of them is the appearance in the state of the new religion - Islam.  The Muslim community, which is dominated by Muslim converts from among the Maya and tsottsil, is constantly growing.

Molino de los Arcos is one of the poorest suburbs of San Kristabal de las Casas, the second largest city in the state of Chiapas.  It is popular among tourists for its colonial beauty.  In this area dominated by the Indian population, people communicate mainly in the Mayan language and tzotzil.  However, on Fridays in the suburbs, one can hear the Muslim call to prayer in Arabic.  In a wooden hut, painted with quotations from the Qur’an, tsottsilskih Muslim families pray in the sparsely equipped mosque.

“Here, we purify our souls and we pray to Allah (s.w.t.).  Not all are here today, some people are working," says Imam El Salvador Lopez with a smile.  “But things are good.  Our community is still small, we are only two hundreds, but gradually it is growing.”

Lopez converted to Islam in 1995 and took the Islamic name Muhammad Amin.  He was one of the first Muslim tsottsil.  Imam Muhammad said that he had converted to Islam as a result of a two-year spiritual search.  “In Chiapas, people practically know nothing about Islam.  No one actually knows what kind of religion it is.  At first I was not sure that it was a religion fit for me.  For the first time my family was against my decision.  Yes, it was hard.”

Alternative to Capitalism

Muslims have lived in Mexico before, but these were mostly immigrants of the Muslim countries of Africa and the Middle East.  Mexicans themselves have begun to convert to Islam mostly only since 1995.  A group of Spanish Muslims, led by Auleriano Peres arrived in Mexico to spread the word of God.

The arrival of the Spaniards was soon followed by the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in 1994.  Living in a poor state Chiapas willingly responded to the call to Islam.  After the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, the Maya and tsottsily were marginalised.  They lived in extreme poverty, and experienced exploitation and discrimination by whites and mestizos.  Among the Indians, alcoholism was rife.

After converting to Islam, Maya and tsottsil have adopted a strict prohibition on the use of alcohol and stopped using credit.  Indians in Chiapas saw in Islam a good alternative to capitalism.  However, Muhammad Amin stressed that Islam is a way not only for Indians but for all: “God makes no distinction between races.  We look forward to everyone."

Muslims & the Zapatistas

Part of Muslims supported the Zapatista rebels led by Subcomandante Marcos.  Many of his fighters, who fought for the inalienable human rights and land reform, were tsottsilami.  Some of them embraced Islam, despite the fact that Marcos initially opposed it.  The Mexican government was alarmed at the spread of Islam.  Former Mexican President Vincente Fox has even accused the Indian Muslims of having links with al-Qa’ida.  However, he has not provided any evidence of this.

Muhammad Amin with a smile commented on these attacks: “We do not have ties with any foreign military groups, or Muslims, and we have no conflict with adherents of other religions here.  ‘Islam’ means ‘peace’ and we respect all those around us.”

However, Christians were not pleased emergence of competitors.  Andre Ferrer, who took his Islamic name Muwahid, embraced Islam in 1998.  He was confronted with a huge amount of prejudice: “Many people treat me badly, because they did not know what Islam is.  Some called us terrorists.  And my family considered me crazy!”

Muslim Pizzeria

Despite the opposition of local residents, Muslims in general have not had it all bad in Chiapas.  Muslims opened madrasah, Islamic missions, carpet shops and halal pizzerias.  They are taught the Arabic language of their converts brothers and sisters, and even organise the hajj to Makkah, which they have already done for many Indian Muslims.

Islam spread slowly but surely.  Imam Lopez concludes, “This mosque visit, there are 17 families.  But more and more people are opening their hearts to the Religion of Allah (s.w.t.).  I am sure, with the Permission of Allah (s.w.t.), we are getting well established in Mexico.”

Radio Netherlands

Mexican Indian Minority Converts to Islam


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