MEXICAN MUSLIMS

AT THE DAWNING OF TRUMP

Mexico, 2016


 
Spanish translation of the Holy Quran.

Spanish translation of the Holy Quran.

The mosque is located in one of the quiet little streets of Polanco - one of the wealthier neighborhoods of Mexico City. It is one of three places where Mexican Muslims gather, and where I have an appointment.

It's the Imam's assistant who is trying to keep me from entering. «I'm in charge here,» he sneers at me as I phone the Imam. Eventually I'm allowed to enter. On the fact that I'm there to shoot a reportage on Mexican Muslims, the Imam's assistance has only to say that he is no «filty Mexican. But an Egyptian.»

“I can not let you enter without ritual purification.”

“Maybe you just fucked and you're still dripping inside your pants.” My reception at the Centro Educativo de la Communidad Musulmana, the central Mosque of Mexico City, is not how I had imagined.

“The mosque is open to all. Atheists, Christians, philosophers, everyone,” the Imam had ensured me over the phone.

I guess not.


 
A truly proud Mexican Muslim greets me as I finally enter the mosque.

A truly proud Mexican Muslim greets me as I finally enter the mosque.

«In this mosque all the ambassadors of the Islamic countries come to pray. Keep a low profile. We don't know what their bodyguards will do to you if they see your camera.»

The mosque is small and the crowd diverse. Mexicans, West Africans, Pakistanis and Arabs. Some in rags, others in expensive designers.

Veronica & Claudia, two Mexican converts.

Veronica & Claudia, two Mexican converts.

“Since I converted I don't make any new friends. People have become scared of me. I'm like an exotic flower.”

“Mexicans don't know how to treat me. But neither do the Arabs and the Pakistanis, here at the mosque. The Muslim men here appear to be from a different planet. It is impossible to have interactions with them.»

Veronica and Claudia have just started opening up to me as the Imam's assistant leads me away from them. I shouldn't be talking to the women according to him.

An African Muslim enters the mosque for the Jumu’ah prayer.

An African Muslim enters the mosque for the Jumu’ah prayer.

A Mexican boy keeps busy as his father connects with Allah.

A Mexican boy keeps busy as his father connects with Allah.

During the Friday Prayer the three floors of the mosque fill with people. The men are on the second and third floor, the women on the first. On the top floor a wedding ceremony commences shortly after the Jumu'ah.

The mosque’s Imam solemnizes the marriage.

The mosque’s Imam solemnizes the marriage.

I make a couple of photographs, until two heavy set bouncer-type men politely, though urgently, ask me to leave the premises. The presence of a nonbeliever - who isn't ritually purified! - is not wanted. I've visited countless mosques all over the word. This is a precedent.

A Mexican Muslim after the Jumu’ah.

A Mexican Muslim after the Jumu’ah.

On to the next appointment.

The suburbs of Mexico City are treacherously colorful. The rusting car wrecks and theoverwhelming noise of nearby highways hint at the true nature of these rundown neighborhoods.

The building of Al Hikmah, in one of the suburbs of Mexico City.

The building of Al Hikmah, in one of the suburbs of Mexico City.

The Instituto de Lengua y Cultura Árabe Al Hikmah (Institute for Arab Language and Culture) - the place where Mexicans go to gather information on Islam - lays hidden behind shrubs and walls. Camera's survey the scarce passersby's.

Hamza Rojas, Mexican convert and informational staff member of Al Hikmah.

Hamza Rojas, Mexican convert and informational staff member of Al Hikmah.

“Those are needed,” Hamza Rojas ensures me. Rojas is informational staff member of Al Hikmah. “Two years ago this mosque was besieged. Masked men broke in and destroyed everything. Before, our gates were always open. Now this place isn't safe for us anymore.”

Rojas explains Islamic faith and religion to Zeltin Mota (Right), who wishes to convert.

Rojas explains Islamic faith and religion to Zeltin Mota (Right), who wishes to convert.

 

“I NO LONGER FELT INNER PEACE IN CATHOLICISM.”

 

Zeltin Mota, a young Mexican girl, and her boyfriend hang on Rojas' every word. She's looking for more information on Islam. She discovered the religion online, and is now looking to convert. “I no longer felt any inner peace in Catholicism,” she explains.

Rojas paints a grim picture of the growing Muslim community in Mexico. “People keep asking me where I learned to speak Spanish. 'Brother,' I tell them, 'I am Mexican.” His dark eyebrows and long beard seem to give even his fellow Mexicans a different impression. “When I walk down the street, people will often shout at me. 'Terrorist, Bomb, or even Osama!' My family still calls me by my Mexican name, Ruben. They keep serving me alcohol and pork, and at family gatherings the girls still want to hold my hand, kiss me, and dance with me. All those things are haram.”

 

“THE HARDEST THING FOR US MEXICAN MUSLIMS, IS MUSIC.”

 

I am wary. Rojas' informative talk takes a suspicious turn. “The hardest thing, for us Mexican Muslims, is music. It's everywhere here. In the subway, in the streets, everywhere. You only realize how bad music is, once you realize how it stands in the way of Islam. It is a distraction. During prayer you should be able to focus solely on Allah. When listening to music, little by little, the Quran will be driven out of your mind. But if you recite Quranic verses, music will be driven out of you.”

Spanish Islamic literature, written and printed in Saudi Arabia, distributed in Mexico.

Spanish Islamic literature, written and printed in Saudi Arabia, distributed in Mexico.

The brochures ('Muhammed, El Mensajero de Dios' and 'La Mujer en el Islam', a.o.) that Rojas hands out - while, ironically, singing a Mexican song - leave little doubt as to where he picked up his religious ideas. The Spanish Quran he hands out also originates from Saudi Arabia. I'd be surprised if the people that gather here, like Zeltin Mota, to receive information on Islam, are aware they are being preached extreme Wahhabi Islam. It paints a grim picture indeed, knowing that this is one of the few places from whence Islam is spreading through this city. About the money with which this facility was build, Rojas prefers to remain silent.

The women’s prayer room on the top floor of the Al Hikmah center.

The women’s prayer room on the top floor of the Al Hikmah center.

 

“REAL MUSLIMS DON’T WORRY ABOUT TRUMP.”

 

“Life in Mexico is hard,” Rojas continues. “As a man it's a bit easier, though. Nobody harasses you. In Mexico City, women get sexually harassed so frequently that there even is a trending hashtag, 'My First Harassment'. Even Trump could learn something here,” Rojas laughs.

“Muslims, real Muslims, don't worry about Trump. A man can not reign over anything, anyway. Only Allah can. Trump and his rhetoric should have a big impact on us. But they don't, if you are a true Muslim.”

I leave Zeltin Mota and her boyfriend alone with Rojas. I wonder if the extreme Wahabi Islam she is being preached by Rojas will eventually withhold her from converting.

 
Vivian, a Mexican girl (center) being converted to Islam.

Vivian, a Mexican girl (center) being converted to Islam.

Someone who does convert, is Vivian. A ten year old Catholic girl who was recently cured from a supposed incurable cancer. According to her aunt this miracle occurred thanks to the prayers of the El Nur-Ashki-Yerráhi Sufi order. Sufi's believe in a mystical and spiritual inner connection to Allah. Also in Mexico City.

Sufi leader Amina al Jerrahi in the prayer room of the order.

Sufi leader Amina al Jerrahi in the prayer room of the order.

I have an appointment with Amina al Jerrahi, the charismatic leader of this Islamic order. Sitting on her prayer mat and sipping her Starbucks coffee, she engages with me. The rain trickles down onto the glass ceiling of the prayer room.

«Islam is like water. It takes the shape and the color of that wherein you pour it.”

 

“In this prayer hall we eat tortillas and sing in Mexican.”

 

Men and women—some of whom are not wearing hijab—greet each other heartily, with hugs and kisses. A sight I've never witnessed in any mosque before. “Because of the influences of Mexican culture, Islam in Mexico isn't entirely pure and very diverse.” al Jerrahi explains. “How many ways aren't there to prepare a tortilla?”

Men and women pray together in the Sufi order of Mexico City.

Men and women pray together in the Sufi order of Mexico City.

Al Jerrahi takes her seat at the head of the congregation. I ask questions. She answers in the form of a sermon. Her Starbucks cup next to her, the order in front of her.

“In the words of Shakespeare; All the world is a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” The order nods in agreement.

“Our theater, our stage, is this time, five hundred years after the colonization of America. Perhaps even the era of Trump. On this stage he embodies that character which provokes souls into restlessness, and who reveals that which was previously hidden. His racism isn't a new thing.”

Vivian looks at her aunt, shortly after her own conversion to Islam.

Vivian looks at her aunt, shortly after her own conversion to Islam.

Newly converted Muslim Vivian listens attentively. So does the whole order. Every now and then a whispering voice translates al Jerrahi's words into Spanish.

 

“On the stage of the Trump-era, we are proudly embodying the character of most rejected profile, which is Mexican Muslims.”

 

“People, like Trump, that are against a specific profile, they are a test. A test that honors the souls of those who carry that burden.”

Loud applause erupts.

After our interview Amina al Jerrahi leads the Sufi order in its spritual ceremony.

After our interview Amina al Jerrahi leads the Sufi order in its spritual ceremony.

“American extreme right was legitimized when John McCain asked Sarah Palin to be his running mate. She started inflaming the electorate with horrible rhetoric, in the same way Trump does now. It started with Palin, and Trump is the crescendo.”

 

“If Allah wants us to suffer Trump, we will suffer Trump. As the Jews had to suffer Hitler.”

 

After that well-received comparison, musical instruments appear and the order starts swaying whilst chanting melancholically. Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim. The Sufi ceremony commences.

Accompanied by chanting and music, a Mexican dervish twirls into the early morning.

Accompanied by chanting and music, a Mexican dervish twirls into the early morning.

The Sufi order reaches—long after midnight but with electrifying energy—its spiritual climax. The light is dim and the raindrops loud. The chanting becomes more rhythmic and the swaying more energized. With the twirling dervish at their center, the men and women of this Mexican Sufi order seem to be reaching the pinnacle of true rapture.

If only Trump were here to see...

 
 

Text & Photographs © Sam Asaert