A Muslim Community thrives in Chiapas, southern Mexico.
“I was born to a family of Tzotzil in Chamula city. A few years ago, I converted to Islam, as well as my parents, wife, and children,” said Ibrahim Chechev, who was born as Anastasio Gomez.
The Muslim convert explained that in order to avoid discrimination from the local Chamula community – whose religious practices are an eclectic mixture of traditional Spanish Catholicism and an assortment of ancient Mayan rituals and beliefs – he relocated to neighboring Jovel, some ten kilometers away.
According to Mexican sources, Chechev is one of about 2,000 locals who have converted to Islam in Chiapas state where Catholics, Protestants, Jews and a variety of other religions peacefully coexist.
Within the Mexican society, Tzotzil Muslims are distinguishable with their adoption of an assortment of Islamic traditions; including the wearing of hijab for women, kufi for men, as well as performing prayers five times a day.
The Muslim community has thrived in Chiapas and its members form educational groups for their children to educate them under Islamic principles and teach them the holy Qur’an.
Tzotzil Muslims are fluent in their mother tongue, the Tzotzil Mayan language, as well as Spanish, but they can also speak Arabic as they use it in their prayers and to greet each other with the traditional Islamic phrase “Assalamu Alaikum”.
“Fortunately, Jovel is multicultural and there are many religions, Islam being one of them since 1996,” Chechev said about the town, where four Muslim communities have taken root, adding that the religion is growing in the area.
Islam in Mexico
According to Pew Research Center, there were 111,000 Muslims in Mexico in 2010. Islam is mainly practiced by Mexicans of Middle Eastern descent. Yet, there’s also a growing population of Muslims among Amerindian Mexicans.
According to Public Radio International, Islam in Mexico is reportedly growing from a rise in conversions among Mexicans.
Some of the largest Islamic missionary groups in Mexico are ‘Centro Cultural Islámico de México’ (CCIM) and the ‘Spanish Murabitun community’ which focused its efforts on Jovel city and the local Amerindian Mexicans.
Islamic culture got in first contact with Mexico during the Spanish colonialism of the Americas when Spaniards erected buildings that expressed forms of influence by the Islamic Mudejar architectural style.