MEXICO CITY – Two decades ago, a Muslim visitor to Mexico would have strived to find a place of worship in the crowded city. This fact has changed.
“It’s growing fast, incredibly fast,” Said Louahabi, a Moroccan national who arrived in Mexico City in 1994, told Fox News Latino.
Back in 1994, Louahabi and his fellow Muslims used to attend religious services at the Pakistani embassy because there were no mosques or Islamic centers.
“I started looking for Muslims and a mosque when I first arrived,” Louahabi, an English teacher, told Fox News Latino.
“At the time, we met at the Pakistani embassy, and there were only about 80 people — most of us were foreigners.”
Currently, he prays alongside hundreds of other Muslims — foreigners and Mexicans alike — at the three-story Muslim Community Educational Center in the city’s upscale Anzures neighborhood.
Serving a diverse community of Mexican converts to Islam, expatriates, and embassy staff, Friday prayers at the Islamic Center are given in Arabic and Spanish.
A large number of this community represented converts who found Islam.
The 9/11 attacks and the internet were two key factors in the increase of Muslim converts in Mexico City.
“I think Islam is expanding mostly because of the Internet, and what happened on September 11,” he explained.
“People were waking up, digging and searching to see whether we are really terrorists.”
“We are just the opposite of what the media proclaim,” he added.
“Islam is against terrorism.”
Mexican convert Alexander Huttanos, an airline pilot who goes by his Islamic name, Ahmed Abbas, agreed.
“I used the Internet and books to learn about Islam,” he said.
“Islam has come a long way in Mexico.”
“Allah’s path is very mysterious,” said Omar Remy, a Mexican who adopted Islam after a visit to Egypt in 1979 and now works for the Community Educational Center.
“The Internet has helped. It allows people to communicate and investigate the religion.”
Thought growing rapidly over the past few years, Islam has long been established in Mexico, dating back to the Spanish conquest.
“In all of Latin America, not just Mexico, Islam arrived with Spanish colonialism,” Zidane Zeraoui al Awad, a professor of international relations at the Technological Institute of Monterrey, said.
Zeraoui added that while the children of many Muslim immigrants in Mexico have lost their religion, the number continues to grow because of Mexican converts.
“On one hand, the children of (immigrant) Muslims in Mexico tend to be non-Muslims,” he said.
“But Islam is growing through converts. They are compensating for the loss of Islam among those with Muslim origins.”
Among the most prominent members of Mexico’s Muslim community is British-born convert Mark Omar Weston, formerly a world-class professional water-skier who runs an Islamic Center and hotel in the Mexican state of Morelos.
“There is a bit of a cultural divide between immigrants that already came as Muslims and have taken their religion seriously and Mexicans converts who are curious,” noted Omar Weston.
“But generally speaking, teenagers and people in their 20’s have been around and see that there are other options,” he added.
“I think that education as a whole helps people be more open to it (Islam).”
Estimates of the number of Muslims in Mexico vary widely.
While the Mexican government put the number at about 3,700 Muslims in the country, the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimated there are approximately 110,000.
Numbers aside, among Muslims in the country, there is little doubt that the community is already robust.
“It will keep growing,” Eduardo Luis Leajos Frias, a Mexican convert who adopted the Islamic name Lokman Idris.
“It will be comparable to the growth of evangelicals we’ve seen in recent years.”
Related Links:US Latino Women Find Islam
US Latino Muslims Bridge Cultures
Community Dream for NY Latino Muslims
Convert Sets Example for American Muslims