Muslim Community Grows in Catholic Cuba

HAVANA – A famous Spanish documentary photographer has dug into the small, but growing, Muslim community in Cuba, focusing on the lives of reverts who accepted Islam in Catholic Cuba.

“When I learned there were Islam and a Muslim community, I really liked it because I never heard of it,” Joan Alvado told CNN on Monday, April 11, about his photos in Cuba.

“It was breaking all the preconceived ideas that we have about Cuban society.”

Cuba is a predominantly Catholic country with about 85 percent following Christianity.

The Muslim population, though growing by new numbers of reverts, is a few thousand people, forming about 0.1 percent of population.

“That applies to absolutely everybody in (my photo) series,” he said.

“Many of them were Christians before or some other religion, or a few of them were atheists as well.”


Muslim women gather for prayers. They meet every Friday in Havana’s Marianao quarter. (photo by Joan Alvado)

Entering homes of Cuban Muslims, the Spanish photographer found that reasons behind Cubans decision to revert to Islam varied.

For some, Islam is viewed as “a little bit more true or pure religion than others,” while other turn to Islam for more personal and specific reasons.

For those who have problems with alcohol, Islam was a way for them to avoid alcohol, which is forbidden in the holy Qur’an.

Yet, the growth of mosques or places of worship for the growing number of Muslims remained a challenge for the minority.

“The communities are being organized in very, very small groups, and someone in each group will offer their home on Fridays (to pray) or something like that,” he said.

Alvado says Cuban Muslims are constantly learning about their new religion and evolving together.

“Everyone is doing a little bit of their own interpretation on how to read (Islamic) rules and be with them, more or less, and that’s interesting,” he said.

The photographer added that the Cuba project was just as much of a learning experience for him.

“I have learned more things about Islam and Islamic beliefs and their ideas in Havana than working in Turkey,” the Spanish photographer said.

“I felt that they are wanting their story to be told, and it didn’t happen before,” Alvado said, referring to his promise to the local Muslim to publish their photos and share their stories.

“To see that they have these expectations about what can come out of it, it made me have a reflection about myself. You also have some sort of responsibility towards them about what you are going to do with this.”