By: Kunza Shakil
Living in an unfamiliar land for 10 weeks awakens a spiritual need that cannot be felt in any other way. Being Muslim in Mexico, a nation with a 97% Catholic population draws its own challenges. Your host family does not really know about Islam, Muslims, the Qu’ran, dietary restrictions and the daily prayers. It is all new to them and in a way, this is new to you too. In Chicago the vast majority of people who barely know anything about Islam at least have some idea about it but that is not the case here in Mérida. It is harder to explain your faith in another language that you are still learning but you do it anyway.
My professor told me about a mosque he found as he was walking one day. I made it a point to visit that mosque at some point before the end of my trip. One Sunday afternoon I was walking downtown with a friend when I saw a woman with a headscarf. I immediately stopped and looked up the building where it read “Comunidad Musulmana Ahmadia” or “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community”. I went inside and looked around and the mosque itself was very simple. There was a small general lounging area for visitors, a musullah to pray, and the office of the director. I had so many questions.
I spoke with the director about the community center and discovered that it was only about two and a half years old. He told me that in the entire Yucatan area, there were only about 100 Muslims. Also, the Ahmadiyya sect in Islam is a fairly small number of people compared to the overall Muslim population in the world and so I was curious as to why Sunni or Shia community centers did not exist. This center in particular was focused on portraying Islam as a peaceful religion and countering the negative narrative that is often portrayed in the media. It was very different than the various Islamic efforts present in Chicago that are both catered to the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Nevertheless, I think any footprint by a Muslim entity is a positive step in vocalizing the presence of Muslims even in Mexico.
I could not help but think that I was one of the 100 Muslims in the Yucatan Peninsula and that too for only 10 weeks. Although this community center was one that I could not connect to as much as those in Chicago, it still helped me feel a little more spiritually at home. I may be only one Muslim out of very few in this entire region but I still felt like a part of a global community. When surrounded by people of different faiths, it is easy for me to feel like an outsider, different, and forget about the connection I share with my Muslim brothers and sisters worldwide but the experience I had at the Comunidad Musulmana Ahmadia reminded me to never forget these connections no matter how few Muslims there are around me.