Minaret and Muslims in Mexican city set to host pope

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Source: Yahoo News

San Cristóbal de las Casas (Mexico) (AFP) – The domed mosque with a minaret rises above small homes in a seemingly unlikely place: A southern Mexican indigenous city that will greet Pope Francis in three weeks.

Surrounded by the misty mountains of Chiapas state, San Cristobal de las Casas is home to many members of Mexico’s growing Muslim community.

Women wearing colorful hijabs walk down the dusty streets of the highland neighborhoods. On Fridays, hundreds of Muslims go to the imposing mosque or smaller places of worship to pray to Allah.

“I wasn’t born a Muslim. I became a Muslim in 1995. I was the first one in my family,” said Ibrahim Chechev, the 34-year-old imam of the Ahmadiyya sect, one of the three Muslim denominations in San Cristobal.

Wearing a dark skullcap, Chechev is a Tzotzil Maya who changed his name, Anastasio Gomez, after converting to Islam. But even here, Muslims are divided between different groups, like in many other countries.

While the Murabitun World Movement owns the big mosque, the Ahmadiyya followers hold their Friday prayers in a cold, windowless room of a home where two families live.

Chechev is among many local Muslims who left the Murabitun movement, a Sufi group led by Spaniards who brought Islam to San Cristobal two decades ago.

“They were uncomfortable with our Tzotzil customs, like our language and corn-based food. That’s why I left them,” Chechev said.

The town also counts a Wahhabi group and another Sufi movement founded by a Syrian man.

– Soaring community –

When Pope Francis visits San Cristobal and nearby Tuxtla Gutierrez on February 15, he will see a state with a religious mosaic that includes Buddhists, Evangelists and Jews.

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