SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico – A growing number of members of the Tzotzil indigenous community are converting to Islam in this city in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
Ibrahim Chechev, born Anastasio Gomez to a family of Tzotzil Indians in San Juan Chamula, a few years ago converted to Islam, as did his parents, wife and children.
To prevent clashes with the local Chamula community – whose religious practices are an eclectic mixture of traditional Spanish Catholicism and an assortment of Mayan rituals and beliefs – Chechev relocated to neighboring San Cristobal de las Casas, some six miles away.
Chechev is one of the some 2,000 locals who have converted to Islam in a state where Catholics, Protestants, Jews and a variety of other religions peacefully coexist.
After conversion, Tzotzil Muslims adopt an assortment of Islamic traditions, including the wearing of a turban of kufi and praying five times a day.
The Muslim community has thrived in Chiapas in such a way that there is even a group of children educated under the Abrahamic religion’s principles, including the teaching of the Koran.
While the members of the community grew up speaking Tzotzil and are fluent in Spanish, they now use Arabic in their prayers and to greet each other with the traditional “assalamu alaikum,” which translates to “peace be with you.”
“Fortunately, San Cristobal de las Casas is multicultural and there are many religions, Islam being one of them since 1996,” Ibrahim said about the town, where four Muslim communities have taken root, adding that the religion is growing in the area, with between 70 and 80 members belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect.