San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. In the highland city in Chiapas, lies a true story of bullet free Jihad. This community that mixes both Maya and Spanish identity left their pagan traditions behind for embracing a new faith: Islam.
They are a part of the Totzil Mayan indigenous group of Mexicans, whose community embraced Islam as early as the 1990’s.
Islam via The Zapatistas
During the times of arms uprising of the Zapatista movement. A Spaniard from Mexico City, Aureliano Perez (nicknamed Sheikh Nafi’a) came with a man named Munir Abdul Bashir who then taught Islam to the Zapatista commander in Chiapas, a man named Marcos.
While the Zapatista guerillas never embraced Islam, they were critical of Christianity, Catholicism, and the establishments. The indigenous communities living in the mountains were forced to move into cities to avoid conflicts in the mountains.
When Sheikh Nafi’a and his friends came back from the jungle, after meeting with the Zapatistas, they began talks with the local community leaders, including church leaders. One person who attended such a meeting was Anastacio, who was moved by the message that he converted and changed his name to Ibrahim. He later converted his father, who was a Catholic priest, his grandfather, and his community.
Ibrahim Checev is now the imam of his community, and he has spent several years learning about Islam after attending studies in Spain and Morocco.
A Minority Within A Minority
Now, the Muslim community is relatively small, with only approximately 600 Muslims in Chiapas and growingv. All without a single bullet fired in the name of religion, The majority of Mexico’s population is Catholic. Only 0.02% of the population are Muslims.
The Tzotzil Mayans are one of many Mayan ethnic tribes in Mexico. While their ancestors had paganistic roots, the Spanish conquest of Mexico meant that they had converted to Catholicism over the centuries. They speak in their own language, although most are fluent in Spanish, the official language of the country.
“People gave us a weird look when we converted, they thought we were terrorists and were scared of us,” said Mustafa, a member of the nearby Muslim community. “But with the passage of time and our own actions, that opinion has changed,” he added.
Despite current perception on Islam, the Muslim in Chapias are becoming an example. They have a Madrassah teaching Quran, Dawah mission and have a Muslim pizza restaurant. They also organised trips for Haj or Pilgrimage. Islam is growing slowly but surely in this part of Mexico.