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Thursday 18 December  
Imam Muhammad Amin reciting the Qur'an
RNW English section's picture
Chiapas, Mexico
Chiapas, Mexico

Islam is the new religion in rebellious Mexican state Chiapas

Published on : 17 December 2009 - 11:13am | By RNW English section
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More and more Mayan and Tzotzil people in the Mexican state Chiapas are becoming Muslims. It's fifteen years since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas and the region has undergone some profound changes. One of them is the emergence of Islam as a new religion in the state. The Muslim community, dominated by converted Mayans and Tzotzils , is slowly gaining ground.

By Jan-Albert Hootsen
Molino de los Arcos is one of the poorest neighbourhoods of San Cristóbal de las Casas, the second largest city in Chiapas and popular with tourists for its colonial beauty. The barrio is ethnically almost entirely indigenous, with Tzotzil Mayan as the dominant language. On Fridays, though, you can hear the slow, monotonous Arab chants of Muslim prayer. In a wooden shack, painted with Arab religious phrases, some twenty Tzotzil Muslim families have established a small place of worship.

"This is where we cleanse our spirits and pray to Allah. Not everyone came today, some people have to work," Imam Salvador Lopez Lopez smiles. "But we are doing well. Our community is still small, we are maybe two hundred, but little by little we're growing."
Lopez converted to Islam in 1995 and adopted the Arab name of Muhammad Amin. He was one of the first Tzotzils to embrace the religion. He describes his conversion as a tough, two-year period of soul searching. "There is a lot of ignorance in Chiapas about Islam. Nobody really knew what it was and at first I myself wasn't sure it was the thing for me. My family didn't agree with it either at first. It was hard."

Alternative to capitalism
There have always been Muslims in Mexico, but they were usually immigrants from Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East. It wasn't until 1995, when Spanish Muslims led by Aureliano Pérez left for Mexico to spread the word of Allah, that Mexicans themselves started converting to Islam.

The arrival of the Spanish can be seen in direct relation to the uprising of the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, in 1994. They saw the impoverished state as fertile ground for the principles of Islam. Indigenous Mayans and Tzotzils have led marginalised lives ever since the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. They live in extreme poverty, suffer exploitation by corrupt governments and racism by white and mestizo Mexicans (people with mixed European and Native American racial origin). Alcoholism among indigenous Mexicans is rampant.
The Mayans and Tzotzils belong to the Murabitun movement within Sunni Islam, which upholds a strict ban on the use of alcohol and profits made on money lending. It has proven to be attractive to indigenous Chiapanecos as a viable alternative to capitalism. Yet Muhammad Amin stresses that Islam is not just for indigenous Chiapanecos: "Allah makes no distinction between race. We welcome everyone."
Zapatist Muslims
The social component in Chiapaneco Islam did present itself in its early days though, when the Muslims under Nafia offered to support the Zapatista rebels of Subcomandante Marcos. Many Zapatista rebels, who fight for indigenous rights and land reform, are Tzotzils. A number of them did convert, even though Marcos was hesitant at first. The Mexican government was alarmed and started monitoring the presence of Islam. Former president Vicente Fox even accused them of having links with Al-Qaeda, although solid proof was never presented.
Muhammad Amin chuckles when he refers to these accusations. "We have no links whatsoever with any foreign group of Muslims, and we have no problem with any other religion here. Islam means peace, we respect everyone around us."

That doesn't mean that Christians responded positively to their new competitors. Andrés Ferrer, who now goes by the Arab name of Muyahid, converted to Islam in 1998. He's had to overcome a lot of prejudice:

"Many people reacted badly, because they have no idea what Islam is. Some of them even called us terrorists. My own family called me crazy!"

Islamic pizza restaurant
Despite the opposition Islam is doing well in Chiapas. The Muslims have opened a madrasah or Qur'an school, an Islamic mission, a carpenter's shop and a pizza restaurant. They teach Arabic to new converts and even organize the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, which many indigenous Muslims have already undertaken. Islam is growing slowly but surely, says Imam Lopez:

"In this particular mosque there are seventeen Islamic families now. Gradually more people are opening themselves up to the word of Allah. Yes, I think we are here to stay."

  • The mosque in Molino de Arcos<br>&copy;
  • Tzotzil muslims praying<br>&copy;
  • Imam Salvador Lopez Lopez, or Muhammad Amin, praying<br>&copy;
  • Molino de Arcos, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in San Cristóbal, where the mosque is<br>&copy;
  • Molino de Arcos, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in San Cristóbal, where the mosque is<br>&copy;

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Anonymous 7 May 2014 - 8:13pm / sss

only 2 ethnic miniorities in chiapas,in a country with more than 60 minority groups...this is kind of Sensationalistic, i mean islam is definetly growing here but the fastest growing group are the non religious,then folk religion and then islam,protestantism...

Amir 29 May 2013 - 9:33am / Pakistan

i want moor about Islam in maxico

resfolidia 8 July 2013 - 3:56am / Indonesia

Salam from Indonesia, we keep supporting and praying each other.

A. Aziz Ismail 26 January 2012 - 1:51pm / Malaysia

Allah bless them..........proud of them......

Anonymous 17 April 2013 - 8:14pm / usa

Yes, May God Bless Them. In addition, May God allow them to find true salvation through God's only begotten son, Jesus Christ.

Nenitoloco 8 November 2011 - 3:16pm / Mexico

Of course you forgot to mention that these people is indigenous and ease to brainwash .. They have no acces to tv no acces to conventional media( and they doesn't now the danger of Islam they doesn't now that they kill themselves in midle-east because a misundertanding of their own religion ,they doesn't now that Christian followers have prosecuted in moslim countries , we live in a Christian country we enjoy freedom of mind ,we don't treat our womans like inferiors we don't feel shame of them ,we don't cover their hair,or face we feel proud of our woman's I think this people can't resist that religion for long ..mexico is experimenting a rapid economically grow when this people get acces to the benefits of a Christian world I'm sure they descendants will disapir into the Christian world.. I have no problem with moslim countries we are great friends of then ,I don't support the occupation in Arab lands including palestina cu's we have a histories of fight occupations too but is not a good idea because moslim growing population have shown history of torn countries frome within and prosecute the minorities .. Thank you god bless you ..

muaithaimartinez 8 April 2012 - 3:57am / U.S.A.

Hilarious how you mention how the limited access to television and media makes them "easy to brain wash" when that's how your government and every other government has brainwashed their own people, showing only what they want you to see and hear. What a perfect example here as well when you watch the news all you see is "they kill themselves in midle-east because a misundertanding of their own religion" and you think they mistreat their women. You have absolutely no idea what the religion is about so you depend on a source that is completely biased in educating yourself because you are to lazy to go out and do some research. If anything Muslims have spared and have been far more lenient to the Christians than vice versa. By the way I am a Catholic Mexican, I just cannot stand the sight of such stupidity, ignorance is no excuse. Thank you, May Allah Bless you.

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knirb 4 September 2011 - 6:29am

A few facts:
Protestant Evangelical Christianity is the fastest growing religion in Central and South America.
In North America and Europe, it is Buddhism.
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This community in Chiapas is free to grow and is doing so very slowly even though they are not being persecuted like other religions are in Islamic countries. The "prejudice" mentioned here does not compare to what happens in those countries.
I agree that the growth of Islam is not stoppable, but I do not think that it will take over as some confidently brag. The current projection of Islam at 28% of the world population by 2050 may be a bit rosy and I believe is dependent upon Islamist states forcing their members not to defect.
Nothing to brag about.

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