Growing Population of Muslims Calling Tijuana Home

Amir-CarrBrooke Binkowski, Fronteras

TIJUANA, Mexico -- Mexico is a predominantly Catholic country, but the border city of Tijuana has always hosted a more diverse population of worshipers. In the last few years, one of the largest religions in the world has begun making inroads and building a presence there.

Every day, at a small, nondescript building in Playas, Tijuana, a handful of people gather to pray.

They are worshiping at a masjid, or mosque, one of two new Islamic centers within a mile of one another, both of which have opened within the past three years. This mosque is called Masjid al-Islam, and it opened just over two years ago to give the estimated 200 practicing Muslims in Baja California a place to worship.

The population here is small, but incredibly diverse. People from all over the world attend this mosque; there are people here from India, Costa Rica, the Middle East, and of course all Mexico and the United States. They are all bumping up against the border together. While some live in this sleepy beach community by choice, many more are stuck here waiting for visas or, in recent years, deportees caught up in the net of the United States' ever-more-aggressive immigration policies.

"It changed my life, you know," says Amir Carr. He is a native Californian, and a convert to Islam. He is lanky and tall, wearing glasses and a taqiyyah, or prayer cap. He is sitting in a wheelchair across from his wife, Na'eema, who is wearing a loose blouse and a head scarf.

"I was a -- a street kid, you know. I got put in this wheelchair for hanging out and hanging out with gangs and stuff like this, and I got shot. And for the first time I sat down in my life and listened, and when I listened to Islam, it actually changed my life," Carr said. ...

Cortes and Carr are part of what the Council for American-Islamic Relations calls says is the fastest growing number of post-9/11 converts in the United States. According to CAIR, Latinos made up 12 percent of all converts in 2011, compared to only 6 percent in 2000.

Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, a professor of Islamic and religious studies at San Diego State University, says he believes that the relatively high rate of Latino converts is due to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

"The Catholic emphasis on family and family values meshes a lot with Islam. The difference, however, is that whereas many Catholics see the Roman Catholic values being eroded in the United States in particular, a lot of them are seeing in Islam a difference in that there are more Muslims trying to stick to the traditional Islamic values than leave them aside," Mohammed said. (Full article)


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