SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (Reuters) – A trip to Mexico’s indigenous Maya heartland showed me how a vibrant Muslim community had sprung up in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.
In the southern state of Chiapas, home to a lush mountainous landscape, I photographed members of a small Muslim community made up of hundreds of mostly indigenous Tzotzil men and women, many of whom converted to Islam from Catholic or other Christian denominations.
The Muslim men here are distinguished by their prayer caps, or kufis, and the women by their hijabs which take the form of traditional Maya shawls.
Locals say the conversions to Islam here began in the late 1980s, around the same time Mexico’s Zapatista movement was gaining traction in Chiapas, as institutions including Christianity and capitalism came under increasing criticism.
According to the last census, some 83 percent of Mexicans are Catholic. And although Muslims make up less than 1 percent of Mexico’s 120 million population, a disproportionate number are indigenous clustered in and around San Cristobal de las Casas, a highland city in Chiapas that mixes both Maya and Spanish identity.