Tuesday 5 November 2019

Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Colombia

Colombia, a country mainly of Catholic Christians, is located at the northern tip of South America. Talking of Colombia, the rain forests, the Andes come to one's mind. Its rich coffee is one of the world famous. 

Amid these beautiful surroundings and landscape, some 14,000 Muslims are also part of this Latin America country. Muslims constitute mere 0.03% of the total population as per the Pew Research Center report. Most Muslims in Colombia are descendants of Arab immigrants from Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine during the late 19th to early 20th century. It was African American Muslim, Esteban Mustafa Meléndez who introduced Islam to Colombia. The Afro-Colombian Muslims in Buenaventura, Colombia’s main Pacific port city, have over the years embraced the teachings of the Nation of Islam, mainstream Sunni Islam, and the Shia denomination. 
Mezquita Central Abou Bakr Alsiddiq (Mosque of Abu Baker Siddiq) - Bogota [Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Author: Felipe Restrepo Acosta ]

It is said that the first wave of converts tended to be more political than spiritual: they said their prayers in English or Spanish, read more political pamphlets than the Qur’an, and had a shaky understanding of Islam’s central tenets. But by and by Islam started to take roots as a true religion and faith.

Sheik Munir Valencia, who was raised Catholic and planned to become a priest before turning to Islam, now who manages a family-home-turned-mosque in the poor, violence-racked Colombian city of Buenaventura. The Sheik says" “Just like that we were Sunni, we learned to read Arabic, we read the Qur’an, we no longer looked toward the United States and started looking toward Saudi Arabia.”

Today, there are a number of Islamic organizations in Colombia, including Islamic centers in San Andrés, Bogotá, Guajira, Nariño, and Santa Marta. There are also primary and secondary Islamic schools in Bogotá and Maicao. Maicao plays host to the continent's second largest mosque, the Mosque of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab.
The Mosque of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab [Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Author ]

Valencia also runs two private charter schools where around 200 children of some of the poorest neighborhoods of the city not only learn their ABCs but their alif ba tas as well. 

How do Muslims mesh with the fellow Colombians? According to the Imam of the Muslim community of Medellin, Ahmed Dasuki, "Muslims encounter the Colombian society and culture with respect and tolerance. Although, Muslims do not take part in the Christian traditions of Colombia, they neither want to change the behavior of the majority non-Muslim population, nor would they want to convince them to convert. Instead, people should find their own way to Islam.If you want to convert, that’s good. If you don’t want to, that’s also fine. The mosque is open to anybody who can come anytime and however many times he wants. We can only teach the Muslim traditions to the people who come to learn the Muslim traditions."
Muslims girls learning to read the Quran [Photo]

Still, Dasuki recognizes the difficulty of Muslim life in a predominantly Christian society, especially in regards to raising children. The questions all immigrant communities struggle with in regards to assimilation become amplified due to the religious and moral divide. “We do live in a very difficult society, with all the clubs, the debauchery and the ‘free love’ which is totally forbidden in Islam,” Dasuki told Colombia Reports.

Islam is taking roots in the native Colombian population slowly. Although no official figures for the number of people who have converted to Islam throughout Colombia, converts are believed to represent a large part of urban Muslim communities. How to converts explain their conversion, according to Jusuf, a Medellin native whose name was Jose before he converted 8 years ago, Islam helped him to get away from a life of drugs and alcohol. He says it was God that told him to convert to Islam, adding that he had always been a religious person, “a good Catholic”, before God intervened and showed him “the path of light,” as he put it.

Is there notion of Islamophobia in Colombia? Well yes it is to an extent and a section of Colombians label Muslims as radicals and terrorist, which is perhaps become common in most of the non Muslim countries around the world. Despite all negative claims, by and large, Muslims have managed to co-exist with Christians within Colombian society. In cities where there is a strong Arab immigrant presence, Arab customs have even blended to certain degrees with the local culture. Arab food, for example, is considered one of the specialties of Barranquilla, a city on the Caribbean coast.

Please watch the video below "Ramadan 2017: Muslim community growing in Colombia":
Author's Note: The data for this post has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

To know more about life of Muslims in other non Muslim countries, please visit our page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |
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