SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, MEXICO —
A vibrant Muslim community exists in the indigenous Maya heartland of Mexico, a predominantly Roman Catholic country.
In the southern state of Chiapas, home to a lush mountainous landscape, a Reuters journalist took pictures of members of the small Muslim community, made up of hundreds of mostly Tzotzil men and women, many of whom converted to Islam from Christian denominations.
The Muslim men here are distinguished by their prayer caps, or kufis, and the women by their hijabs, which take the form of traditional Maya shawls.
Locals say the conversions to Islam here began in the late 1980s, around the same time Mexico's Zapatista movement was gaining traction in Chiapas, as institutions including Christianity and capitalism came under increasing criticism.
According to the last census, 83 percent of Mexicans are Catholic. Although Muslims make up less than 1 percent of Mexico's 120 million population, a disproportionate number are clustered in and around San Cristobal de las Casas, a highland city in Chiapas that mixes Maya and Spanish identity.
"People gave us a weird look when we converted. They thought we were terrorists and were scared of us," said Mustafa, a member of the nearby Ahmadia community. "But with the passage of time and our own actions, that opinion has changed."
Umar, an indigenous former evangelical pastor, converted to Islam in the late 1990s and now serves as a bridge between local Christians and Muslims.
"Ours is a monotheistic religion," he said. "But we don't worship saints."
Resident Mohamed Amin, 55, explained the main reason behind his conversion to Islam.
"I like to be clean and change my clothes," he said. "This is a clean religion, and that's what originally drew me to it."