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.
In my interview with Zeraoui here in Madison, he emphasized the fact that Muslims and Jews actually came to Mexico early in the colonial period.
There were ‘false Christians,’ or marranos who came to Latin America as Catholics converted by force. Officially, they were Catholics, but inside, in their private lives, they were still practicing their religions.
Zeraoui said there are many indications of early Jewish and Muslim migrations in Mexico. For example, many buildings in Mexico (including churches, convents, and government buildings) are built in an architectural style called “Mudéjar,” a term that refers to Muslims living under Christian rule in Spain.
The city Zeraoui lives in, Monterrey, was founded by marranos, and even today, Jewish and Muslim influences remain strong in the city. Unlike the rest of Mexico, Zeraoui says people in Monterrey prefer goat meat to pork, an influence of kosher and halal food practices. They even have a type of meat they call “Sarassan meat.”
In Monterray, we don’t eat much pork, but if you were to go to Mexico City, the basis of food is pork.
Muslims in Mexico are generally concentrated in four cities: Tequesquitengo in Morelos, Torreón in Coahuila, San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, and Mexico City. About half the Muslims in Mexico today are converts/reverts. The groups are extremely diverse, and include both Shias and Sunnis.
Are you surprised to learn about the diversity of Islam in Mexico? Where do you see the influence of Islam in Latin America more generally? Please share your thoughts and comments below.