Indigenous Mexican Converts

Imam Salvador Lopez Lopez (a.k.a. Muhammad Amin) performs zikhr, or remembrance of God, in a San Cristóbal mosque. Photo: Radio Netherlands Worldwide

In my recent post about the history of Islam in Mexico, I mentioned that Muslims in the country are generally concentrated in four cities: Tequesquitengo in Morelos, Torreón in Coahuila, San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, and Mexico City.

While Muslims in Mexico represent diverse Islamic denominations, Muslims in San Cristóbal de las Casas are different from the other groups in the country. For one thing, they’re all converts. For another, they’re mostly descendants of the Mayan and Tzotzil indigenous groups.

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Islam in Mexico

In Chiapas, Mexico, portions of the indigenous populations, such as Mayans and Tzotzils, have embraced Islam. Photo: Tumblr: Ihavefaith

Nayantara Mukherji is a journalist, editor, Inside Islam radio producer, and a recent addition to our writing team.

Although traditionally known for its strong Catholic community, Mexico is also home to a small yet diverse community of Muslims. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the country had about 110,000 Muslims in 2009. That’s less than 1 percent of the population of Mexico. But according to Zidane Zeraoui, professor of international relations at the Technological University of Monterrey, the history of Islam in Mexico goes back to its earliest days.

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Islam in Brazil

Brazilian Muslims Pray in a Rio de Janeiro-Area Mosque during Ramadan

When most people think of Brazil, images of Carnival, soccer, and beaches likely come to mind. All three are alive and well, and recent changes to Brazilian culture may add new visual associations with “the land of happiness.” While still not widespread, Muslim women wearing headscarves and men dressed in long djellaba robes are becoming an increasingly more common sight among the vast array of peoples and cultures that make up Brazilian society. Islam, predominately concentrated in São Paulo, is growing throughout Brazil, but it is anything but new to the eastern shores of South America.

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Latino Muslims: A Growing Population

Latino Muslims are a  population that is relatively unknown within the Muslim American community. While still a small minority within the United States, they are a growing segment of the Muslim community’s population. The American Muslim Council estimates that in 2007  there were 200,000 Latino Muslims, a significant jump from 40,000 in 1997. A study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life in 2008 estimates that Latino Muslim U.S. residents make up 4%  of Muslim Americans.

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Islam is about empathy not violence

Even though the prevailing image in mainstream media is often that it is a religion of violence, many forget that since its inception Islam called for a system of social justice and responsibility for others. From early on in his life, the Prophet Muhammad was concerned about the state of the less fortunate. In Muhammad’s time, Qurayshi society, which once took care of its members, not only neglected the less fortunate, but did not even provide basic protection in a world that depended on tribal protection. Among the central principles reiterated time and again in the Qur’an is the responsibility to help the other.

Muslims are never to become complacent or assume that hardship can never affect them. In fact, a great responsibility is placed on a Muslim to work for social justice and to be at the forefront of alleviating social ills like poverty. This is one of the core messages of Islam that are too often neglected by many, including Muslims.

I feel it is important to reiterate this point in light of the earthquake in Haiti. Continue reading