Islam in Mexico


Mexican Wave

In Tijuana on the Mexican-US border, Islam is beginning to establish a presence – not just imported by Muslim immigrants but also chosen by native Mexicans, despite occasional disapproval and suspicion from their families. Amy Leang reports

Naima (née Nancy) Carr, 29, seated in black hijab, and Jamila (née Daniela) Ortiz, 24, standing in red hijab, pray at the Masjid Al-Islam located in the Las Playas neighborhood of Tijuana. 'A lot of my family has stopped talking to me because of my religion,' said Carr who married an American convert but chose to follow Islam of her own volition after witnessing his dedication to ritual during Ramadan two years ago. -

Naima (née Nancy) Carr, 29, seated in black hijab, and Jamila (née Daniela) Ortiz, 24, standing in red hijab, pray at the Masjid Al-Islam located in the Las Playas neighborhood of Tijuana. ‘A lot of my family has stopped talking to me because of my religion,’ said Carr who married an American convert but chose to follow Islam of her own volition after witnessing his dedication to ritual during Ramadan two years ago. –

Jamila Ortiz, a 24-year-old divorced mother of two and massage therapist in Tijuana, Mexico, belongs to a growing number of “reverts”, the name given to Mexicans who believe they were born into Islam but had their original faith changed by their families. For them, this is not a conversion but a return.

While the majority of Mexico is Catholic and generally tolerant of other religions, “reverts” face challenging circumstances at home: their families are often the last to accept their conversion. A turn towards Islam, they fear, is a turn away from them and what it means to be Mexican. Ortiz’s own sister told her she had been “brainwashed” when she first wore a headscarf last year. They stopped speaking for a month.

“Then they decided to be my family again,” says Ortiz. “We just can’t talk about religion.”

TJ, as it is commonly known, is a border town in Baja California that sprang up in the late 19th century and quickly became a popular tourist destination. In more recent times, it was regarded as a violent battleground for drug cartels. At its brutal peak, according to the Trans-Border Institute of the University of San Diego, one out of every eight drug-related killings in Mexico occurred in Baja California. Today the streets are much quieter. Instead of the rattle of gunfire, another sound reverberates; the call to prayer. Since 2010, six new mosques and Islamic centres have opened up in Tijuana and its neighbouring cities throughout the state of Baja California, Mexico.

“When we started here, there were just 30 to 40 Muslims. In three years, it became 200,” says Muhanna Jamaleddin, the Palestinian-American imam of the Masjid Al-Islam in Tijuana’s sleepy, idyllic Las Playas neighbourhood.

Masjid Al-Islam imam Muhanna Jamaleddin, 37, leads a sermon on love at their mosque located in the Las Playas neighborhood of Tijuana. 'Wherever you go in the USA and Canada, people are defending themselves. 'No we are not terrorists.' They don't even have time to do the da'wah. Don't spend time defending yourself. Just do. Act as a Muslim. I see Muslims these days. They are not Muslims. There's a lot of challenges in this country. We are growing. If we don't start it right, we will not succeed,' advised Jamaleddin, a Palestinian American entrepreneur in the gold and silver business who donates his time and money to the mosque. 'Crossing back and forth was difficult. I do all of this for the sake of Allah because I love my religion. I want everyone to know more about my religion. The problem is that we really need an imam who speaks Spanish.'

Masjid Al-Islam imam Muhanna Jamaleddin, 37, leads a sermon on love at their mosque located in the Las Playas neighborhood of Tijuana. ‘Wherever you go in the USA and Canada, people are defending themselves. ‘No we are not terrorists.’ They don’t even have time to do the da’wah. Don’t spend time defending yourself. Just do. Act as a Muslim. I see Muslims these days. They are not Muslims. There’s a lot of challenges in this country. We are growing. If we don’t start it right, we will not succeed,’ advised Jamaleddin, a Palestinian American entrepreneur in the gold and silver business who donates his time and money to the mosque. ‘Crossing back and forth was difficult. I do all of this for the sake of Allah because I love my religion. I want everyone to know more about my religion. The problem is that we really need an imam who speaks Spanish.’

His congregation is a mix of Muslim immigrants from around the Arab world and Mexican nationals. Mexico has always had a population of immigrants from Lebanon and elsewhere, and religious growth has largely been spearheaded by people like Ortiz. While there are male reverts, the majority are women who discovered Islam through their spouses, from other Mexican Muslims or via social networking sites.

That’s how Maryam Alvarez came to develop the Muslim community in Tijuana. An acquaintance had earlier introduced her to the faith and her curiosity led her to seek out other Muslims online.

“I found a sister and then I found another. I put ads up on Facebook and MySpace. They would all meet at my house,” says Alvarez, who was then living in nearby Rosarito. She was one of the first reverts in 2009. A group of 10 women – college students, a teacher, an accountant, an estate agent and a factory worker – followed. They would gather at her home to pray and study Arabic and the Quran, but soon outgrew the space, pooled their money together and created Masjid Al-Islam.

Maryam Alvaarez

Maryam Alvaarez

“This has grown so fast,” says Alvarez, who has plans to create another centre that will incorporate a school and a place to help single mothers and the disabled.

At his home not far from the Masjid Al-Islam, Amir Carr carefully leads Abdullah, who converted nine months ago, in a lesson on the character endings of Arabic at his home. Abdullah traces a series of “wah”s over and over on lined paper as Amir’s wife Naima sorts through piles of clothing donations in the next room.
“The difficult thing about Islam in Mexico is illiteracy. Our goal is to get brothers and sisters to study. It’s important to study Arabic so that we capture the true inspiration of the Quran itself and not the interpretation,” says Carr, who moved to Mexico in 2009 to join his wife. He taught himself Arabic after converting to Islam in a Texas prison, where he was held for a short period for an attempted car robbery. Now his focus in life is to obtain a degree in Islamic studies through an online university. “Islam, the study of it, teaching it and practising it are the few things that have given me a sense of balance and satisfaction,” he says.

AmirCarr

Amir Carr

 

In the most unexpected of places and with limited resources, Islam has begun to prosper due to the enthusiasm of a handful of believers. The community hopes it will soon be able to find an imam who speaks Spanish.

 

“We are looking for a teacher,” says Amir Carr. “We sent a letter to the Egyptian embassyin Mexico City but heard no response so far. We’re looking for volunteers. We need help with materials and things. We’re not going to stay in this mosque forever.”

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Terrorism strikes again


Six people, as of this writing, were killed in a terrorist attack against federal officials in Arizona on Saturday.  That’s probably how the news would read if the attacker(s) were Muslim, but instead the “attack” is invariably called a “shooting spree” or merely a “shooting” and any notion that this was politically motivated is even further dispelled with descriptions of the shooter being mentally unstable, deranged, almost apolitical or so crazy that one cannot make any political sense out of what he did.

Jared Loughner, right,  is the man and there’s nothing about his identity to lead people to suspect anything other than the obvious…he quite simply is a murderer, like so many who’ve gone before him in this country.  What’s special about him is not the crime…..America is as violent as apple pie; we are a Nation steeped in violence and in many cases we inflict it on others.  Just ask the Iraqis.  What’s special about Loughner is he committed this crime at a time when we have politicized murder and led the country to believe that only a certain group of people are able to carry it out; that they lie in wait to unleash it against us and that all of our efforts should be aimed at this group of individuals exclusively to identify them, flush them out and bring them to justice.  It didn’t help that tangential notions like places of worship, choices of food, articles of clothing, ballot initiatives in Oklahoma, etc.,  got put into the mix to further confuse and infuriate us our goal was shortsighted and pretty damn near illegal.

In 2009 after Obama came into office and HIS Department of Homeland Security came into power and identified the treat to the homeland as being from right wing extremism, a hue and cry went up from those on the right lambasting government for targeting them….in much the same way as Homeland Security targeted others before Obama and it’s been denial ever since.  Perhaps even today, with the identity of this latest terrorist, captured alive I might add, there is every effort to distance him from the ideology or way of thinking he embraced. I opined somewhere that perhaps we might waterboard this captured shooter to know the extent of his act; whether he was helped in any way by others who might be ready to pounce on the next government official, since for now such a notion is likely,  and I was half joking.  Remember when “waterboarding” was considered appropriate for some in our not too distant past?

Why we aren’t more honest with one another during hard times is a case study for psychologists. Speaking of which I would like to mention one who I think has nailed down what ails us today.  In a piece entitled ‘Rudeness is a Neurotoxin’, Dr. Douglas Fields says we are a product of our environment and today’s environment is one of ‘profane language, hostilities and stress from which we adults, raised a generation ago, were carefully shielded.’  In other words the lack of civil discourse, the in-your-face, put-on-your-man pants attitude is the blowback which causes us, Americans,  to be terrorist and makes it perfectly acceptable in our minds, or rather the minds of those so affected, to kill men, women and children….there was a six year old girl killed yesterday.  After being battered for the last 10 years about the power of words and how important they are in giving ‘aid and comfort’ to the enemy when many of us rallied against government intrusion into our lives and the lives of others who were of no threat to us or our interest, we no doubt will be told how the words that rang in the ears of this latest terrorist are of no importance in talking about his heinous crime, and that, no doubt, will make us all feel better about what happened.

But really folks, what we have is an American terrorist, a murderer….all murder, especially against an unsuspecting victim is terror isn’t it?  He even used the tools of terrorism…..his suicidal confessional on his My Space page and Youtube were some of the trappings he had in common with other terrorists but he’s distinct from them in he’s more acceptable as a murderer than as a terrorist, because terrorists have a special place in the American psyche that only people of certain persuasions can occupy and therein lies the problem.  We have made race, religion, the standard by which we make things legal or illegal or how we categorize crime and criminals.  Once again, despite all the trappings of being an advanced society, mature and wiser after  all these over 230 years, we still have the inclination to either raise or lower the bar depending on who the perpetrator/victim is.  Jared Loughner is either a terrorist or a murderer, and Major Hassan Nidal is either a terrorist or a murder and they both belong on the same page in American history with the same designation applied to them and if they’re not then we still too color conscious to be just.  It’s our call America.

 

UPDATE

One has to wonder whether the news that this attempted assassination was religiously inspired, anti-Semitic in origin might make the “terrorist” label more palatable.

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security memo reportedly notes that Gabriel Giffords is Jewish in describing the motives of the Arizona congresswoman’s alleged assailant.The memo, obtained by Fox News Channel, says that Jared Lee Loughner mentioned American Renaissance, an extremist anti-immigrant group, in some of his own postings.

“The group’s ideology is anti-government, anti-immigration, anti-ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), anti-Semitic,” says the memo sent to law enforcement, which also notes that Giffords, a Democrat, was the first Jewish congresswoman from Arizona.

In this writer’s opinion, however, all of that is irrelevant.  It is now what it was then, an act of premeditated terror which resulted in the deaths of 6 humans and the maiming of many more.  Are the parents of the 9 year old girl killed by the assassin any more relieved from their anguish and grief that because one of the survivor’s of his terror was Jewish, therefore the crime which killed their daughter should be considered an act of terrorism?   Hardly!  The broadest most inclusive definition, ‘any actions that endanger human life or violate U.S. laws’ is indeed the best.  Not that it would mean anything more in terms of a punishment, but it removes the racist element of the term and hopefully makes truly combating and solving terrorism more urgent.