Written by Elizabeth Rivera and Laura Vidal
Translated by Clara Guest
The Southern Mexican state of Chiapas is known for having a diverse population of people from various ethnic and faith groups, creating a unique social interplay of people whose cultures com together and intertwine with one another.
For a long time, the region’s communities, many of whom are indigenous, witnessed a conversion from Catholic groups to Evangelist ones and the fusion of these new beliefs with a vision of the world that remained compatible with Mayan traditions. However, it is the Tzoztil communities from San Cristobal de las Casas who have most recently caused a stir in the media, due to a rise in conversions to the Islamic faith.
Many reports and online commentaries have reacted towards these communities with shock, rejection and fear. In a time when indigenous groups are already targets of racism and discrimination, these recent conversions to Islam have brought to the surface debates surrounding the complexity of identity as well as a rise in online attacks from those who fear what these changes might mean in Mexico (...)
Members of the Tzotzil Muslim community report being victims of discrimination, targets of defamation campaigns.
The online media company Zoomin.TV Latinoamérica has collected testimonies that reflect the difficulties and social adaptation process that converts to Islam face. Despite what some may think, the Tzotzil people’s ancient traditions are not simply forgotten or thrown away but instead adapted to the practice of Islam (...)
Despite these problems, members of other faith groups and residents of San Cristóbal recognize that Tzotzil Muslims are peaceful members of the community and are figures that combat stereotypes about Islam.
The number of Tzotzil Muslims continues to grow and their communal activities are developing. Families study the Koran and the new generations learn Arabic from an early age. The community organises group trips to participate in the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. For many members of the community, this is often the first time they travel outside of Mexico and have the opportunity to meet Muslims from all over the world.
Origins of Islam in ChiapasIslam was first introduced to Chiapas by missionaries from the Murabitun World Movement. The missionaries arrived in the country looking to create links with leaders of the Zapatista uprising, an event that took place in Mexico in 1994, the same day that the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect.
At first, the objective of the armed uprising, led by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), was to create a new state model and defend indigenous populations. These peoples had, historically, had their rights violated. According to the document sent by the Muslim missionaries, they were hoping to unite and support this Zapatista cause, but it seems that the EZLN didn’t respond to them.
Nevertheless, one person did respond to the missionaries’ invitation to Islam, and that was Salvador López, who now goes by the name Mohammed Amín. Amín was the first Muslim originating from the region. It was at this moment that the region's Muslim community was established and started to grow, though this was not without internal and external conflicts. Often such conflicts resulted in divisions within the new community, and today Chiapas is home to four different groups of Muslims.
Evolving IdentitiesThe work of Paulina Villegas, Marcela Zendejas and Lasso de la Vega, published in the magazine ‘Letras Libres’ (Free Letters) –and later leading to the creation of a documentary – tells the story of these communities and explores the complexity of their history, from beliefs inherited from pre-Columbian cultures to the melting pot of Chiapas today. The testimonies collected by the authors reflect a new direction in an ancient history and a spiritual quest of identity that connects many around the globe (...)
Published on Global Voices on September 5, 2017.