Mayans convert to Islam - 300 new Muslims in Mexico were evangelicals
Mayans convert to Islam / 300 new Muslims in Mexico were evangelicalsSee how if one set of god/s /religion/s doesn't work, try another. Somewhere there's a real miracle...And see how all of them are fundamentalist...
www.sfgate.com Return to regular viewMayans convert to Islam
300 new Muslims in Mexico were evangelicals
Dudley Althaus, Houston Chronicle
Sunday, June 30, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.
San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico -- In recent years, Agustin Gomez Mendez and other Mayan Indians in far southern Mexico have taken yet one more sharp turn in a long quest for redemption, deciding that Jesus Christ isn't their personal savior after all.
"There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger," says Gomez Mendez, a poor farmer and father of six who converted his family to Islam in 1996 under the tutelage of Spanish missionaries.
Over the past few years, about 300 evangelical Christian Mayans have converted to Islam in southernmost Chiapas state, which has been riven by spiritual struggles for centuries.
The conversions have left the converts' neighbors and academics mystified. But their missionary guides hope the new Muslims will prove to be the first in a wave of converts in Mexico.
The missionaries themselves are but the latest in a long line of religious teachers who have tried to mold the Mayan soul. Dominican monks arrived in these chilly highlands with Spanish conquerors nearly 500 years ago. They were followed by Presbyterians, Pentecostals, evangelical preachers, left-wing Roman Catholic priests and Mormons.
The Muslim Spaniards are the first of their kind here. They have forged a small but devoted following among the Mayans.
A missionary leader, Esteban Lopez, 52, said Chiapas Mayans have been abandoned by Mexican society and are ripe for the Islamic message of another path. "They have lost their culture, everything," he said. "Islam allows them to return to their roots."
Most of the new Muslims once belonged to Chiapas' vibrant community of evangelical Christian Mayans, which has been gaining thousands of converts since the first U.S. missionaries arrived 45 years ago.
The evangelicals rejected the traditional faith of their communities, which mixes ancient Mayan beliefs with 16th century Roman Catholic tenets.
They refused to participate in or pay for festivals they considered pagan. They also gave up the heavy alcohol intake that often defines village life.
The evangelicals' defiance of the status quo and a critical shortage of farmland led to their expulsion in recent decades from San Juan Chamula, a tradition-bound cluster of villages a few miles north of San Cristobal.
Since the early 1970s, thousands of evangelicals have crowded onto the steep mountain slopes on San Cristobal's north side. Competition for the faithful has long been fierce among the dozens of churches that dot the neighborhoods. And many Chamulan evangelicals have switched congregations frequently, going where the message is stronger and benefits better, experts say.
"They change religions like they change socks," said Abdias Tovilla, a non- Indian who heads a coalition of Protestant churches in San Cristobal. "As long as a church is helping them, they are happy."
But Tovilla and other experts say that some Mayan evangelicals, although fervently religious, never fully embraced their new faith. Shorn from the centuries-old traditions of their community, they keep searching for a path to God.
Lorenzo Gomez, 67, was among the spiritual wanderers.
"I didn't feel secure in the religion," said the convert now known by his Muslim name, Mohammed Ali. "I have always had in my mind that I am not good, not safe. I should know more about what is in the world, how to be right with our lord."
The Spanish Muslim missionaries arrived in 1995, amid turmoil caused by rebellion a year earlier by the mostly Mayan Zapatista National Liberation Army. Starting slowly, the Spaniards began speaking about Islam to any Mayan who would listen and wooing evangelical leaders.
In 1996, the Muslims offered to help the evangelicals establish a new market in San Cristobal, attracting many to the planning meetings.
The 300 Muslims in Chiapas join several hundred others in this largely Catholic nation of 100 million, according to Omar Weston, head of the Muslim Center in Mexico City. That number pales in comparison with the estimated 1 million Muslims in Brazil and 300,000 in Argentina.
Partly with financing from abroad, the Chiapas Muslims began creating businesses to employ the new faithful.
The four dozen children at their madrassa, or religious school, spend 90 minutes a day studying the Koran and Islamic teachings in Arabic, said Lopez, the missionary. Classes also include mathematics, geography, Spanish and other lessons. But the greater mission, Lopez said, is to forge a pure Islamic society.
Lopez and the other Spaniards are members of the Murabitun, a largely European group of converts to the mystical Sufi strain of Islam. The group hopes to return to the fundamental Islam lived by the prophet Mohammed.
The group's spiritual leader, Shiekh Abdalqadir as-Sufi, a Scotsman, has sharply condemned democracy and global capitalism. But he also recently spoke out against the terrorism of Sept. 11, arguing that the terrorists' real aim was to discredit and destroy Islam.
Active in South Africa, Chechnya, England, Spain and elsewhere, the Murabitun have been accused of being anti-Semitic. They have also been dismissed by many mainstream Muslims as a quasi-Islamic cult.
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle. Page A - 18