Islam on Lands of Ancient Maya: Closer Look at Muslim Community in Mexico

A Mexican Tzotzil native woman who converted to Islam, at her house in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas state

Islam on Lands of Ancient Maya: Closer Look at Muslim Community in Mexico

© AFP 2018 / Yuri Cortez

Courtesy: Sputnik International

Few would be surprised at seeing a girl wearing a hijab in Mexico’s San Cristóbal, as for more than 20 years there have been Muslim communities living there. Today the city may be considered the unofficial center of Muslims in the state of Chiapas.

Sputnik has spoke to a leader of one of these communities to understand how Islam came to prosper in the lands of the ancient Maya.

The history of Islam in Chiapas is linked, oddly enough, to the 1994 Zapatista uprising. Shortly after the rebellion, a group of Spanish preachers suggested converting the rebels to Islam to Subcomandante Marcos, the main ideologist of the group. However, the Zapatista leader refused to meet with the preachers from Spain and hence they started converting local people on their own.

© AFP / Ronaldo Schemidt

A Muslim indigenous woman walks at a mosque in the outskirts of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas state, Mexico

Over time, the local Muslims separated into four groups. Among the members of the Chiapas Muslim community, the majority consists of Maya and Tzotzil peoples.

© AFP / Ronaldo Schemidt

A Muslim indigenous woman prays at a mosque in the outskirts of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas state, Mexico

According to the last census of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), in 2010 there were 3,760 Muslims in the country, 110 of whom lived in Chiapas.
However, these data may be considered obsolete. According to some Muslim groups, there are currently around 12,000 Muslims in Mexico. However, these figures are pending confirmation.

Ibrahim Chechev

an imam from San Cristóbal
© AFP / Ronaldo Schemidt

One of the Muslim groups with a large presence in the state of Chiapas is the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Ibrahim Chechev, an imam from San Cristóbal, told Sputnik of the community’s origin and prospects.

Today the Ahmadiyya community is made up of 60 families and this number is increasing.

Many indigenous people are looking for a true guide. They find it in our community and get it through the teachings of Islam

Ibrahim Chechev
According to Chechev, the majority of Muslims in San Cristóbal de las Casas, which is the community center, are of indigenous origin.

Several groups converted to Islam in 1995. Many people were part of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), Chechev said.

Once they were converted to Islam, all kinds of fighting were left aside. So, the Muslim community is free of any armed group

Ibrahim Chechev

“Now there we don’t have much contact with the EZLN. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community has no prejudice against anyone, much less with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation,” Chechev said.

According to Chechev, of San Cristóbal’s four Muslim groups, two are Sufis, one is Wahhabi and the other is the Ahmadiyya community.

© AFP / Ronaldo Schemidt

A Muslim indigenous young man prays at a mosque in the outskirts of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas state, Mexico

The Ahmadiyya community of San Cristóbal de las Casas has a very close relationship with both the municipal and the state government, as well as with the federal government. Moreover, the group tries to take part in social life.
The Ahmadiyya Muslims cooperate with the Humanity First organization. As part of this cooperation, members of the group have helped many women prevent a range of diseases, in particular, cervical and breast cancer.

© AFP / Ronaldo Schemidt
Among other things, the group helped alleviate the consequences of earthquakes in Mexico in 2017. Muslims were helping people who were left homeless.

“Being Muslims and San Cristóbal’s citizens, we don’t have any kind of misunderstanding or any other issues. On the contrary, we’re strengthening maintaining ties with other religions,” Chechev said.

We’re always in favor of peace and union, regardless of the type of religion that is professed. We respect, love and follow our Christian brothers no matter if they are Evangelicals, Catholics or anyone else.

Ibrahim Chechev

“The members of the community have a good and close relationship both in the environment of their mosque and with the society in general,” the imam added.

According to Chechev, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is totally against terrorism and those who tarnish the name of Islam.

© AFP / Ronaldo Schemidt

Muslim indigenous people pray at a mosque in the outskirts of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas state, Mexico

He explained that the root of the word “Islam” is Arabic for “peace,” while the word “Muslim” could be translated as “the one who obeys the will of Allah.” Therefore, members of the community must, in a positive way, “teach people the true message of Islam,” Chechev explained.
Our goal is to promote and correctly interpret Islam to all these people who take it wrong. There is a lot of confusion in society; people usually link Islam with terrorism and abuse of women.
Ibrahim Chechev
That’s one of the reasons the Ahmadiyya community “is constantly fighting” against these prejudices to transmit the most beautiful teachings of Islam.

© AFP / Ronaldo Schemidt

Mexican Imam Ibrahim Chechev gestures as he speaks during an interview at a mosque in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas state, Mexico on January 22, 2016.

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