Islam and Muslim Socialities in and of Latin America and the Latinx U.S.

A special collection collaboration with the International Journal of Latin American Religion (IJLAR)

8/31/20235 min read

In recent decades, the study of global Islam has expanded to include geographies and cultures beyond a conventional Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) core. Research in South Asia, Europe, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa has widened the field’s scope, introducing fresh, critical understandings into scholarly discourses about Islam and Muslims’ lived realities across the world. Nonetheless, global Islamic studies’ scope still fails to fully incorporate marginal geographies and the study of Islam beyond the MENA region remains underrepresented.

At the same time, research on religion in Latin America has continually grown to appreciate the changeability and variety of religious expression in the region. Studies of various traditions have thickened scholarly understanding of the region’s religious diversity and introduced new ways of tracing transformations in culture, society, and politics across the American hemisphere. Still, the study of Islam and Muslim socialities in relation to this evolution remains scarce when compared to the focus given other traditions.

This special collection invites articles presenting qualitative and quantitative research results from various disciplines, geographies, and historical periods — from the “long” 16th century to today — dealing with the broad theme of “Islam and Muslim socialities in and of Latin America and the Latinx Americas.” Through case studies and original research, articles move beyond surveys, overviews, and questions of conversion to address theoretical and methodological gaps in the respective fields of global Islam and/or religion in the Americas.

A series of articles already published in the collection explore the many lives of Muslims in Latin America and the Latinx Americas, as well as their transnational networks and diaspora connections.

The collection brings together a group of articles that introduce communities in various geographic locations, in places like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Puerto Rico, the Latinx U.S, in addition to surveys of dynamics across Latin America and the Hispanophone Caribbean.

  • In “Islam in Mexico: Diversity, Accommodations, and Perspectives on Approach,” Arely Medina takes a longue durée approach to both “the presence of, and studies concerning, Islam in Mexico.” Doing so, Medina not only offers an extended view of the changing presence of Islam in Mexico, but also the ways scholars have studied the subject from anthropological, sociological, and historical perspectives, identifying gaps and making suggestions for future research.

  • Also touching on the Mexican context is an article by Cristina Maria de Castro and Elaine Meire Vilela entitled, “Muslims in Brazil and Mexico: a Comparative Quantitative Analysis.” In this piece, the authors analyze the socioeconomic and demographic profiles of Muslims living in Mexico with those living in Brazil, based on data provided by the countries’ respective demographic censuses, both conducted in 2010. This offers the opportunity to situate and contrast the historical Muslim presence in two of the most populous and economically relevant countries in Latin America and, by extension, suggest how each community has maintained their religiosity on the margins of comparable contexts.

  • Other articles build on more hemispheric frameworks and transregional comparisons to address particular communities that are spread across vast geographic distances. For example, Ken Chitwood’s article on “Muslim AmeRícans” in Puerto Rico and the U.S. asks what it might look like to approach the study of Islam and Muslim communities in the Americas from a more cosmopolitan perspective.

The interdisciplinarity of the collection results in a variety of issues being explored. The sample includes analysis related to ethnicity, cultural production, migration, traveling traditions, Islam and Christian-Muslim relations, technology, gender, race, representation, and politics.

  • For example, based on fieldwork in Los Angeles, California, Arely Medina reflects on how processes of Americanization and expectations around migrant assimilation impact notions of being and becoming among Latinx Muslims in Southern California.

  • Also in the Latinx U.S., Harold Morales examines how identity-based associations and organizations like the Latino American Dawah Organization or Islam in Spanish help mobilize diverse individuals toward liberation, combat injustices, and provide mutual support in contexts of marginalization and complex relations between Latino Muslims and the scholars who work with them.

  • Further south, Nik Hasif takes up immigrant identifications in Mexico’s YouTube sphere, analyzing how Muslim migrants express their identifications via digital video and how these identifications are received by Mexican audiences on YouTube.

  • Shifting from the contemporary scene, Diogo Bercito contextualizes and analyzes the Arabic manuscript Musalliyat al-Gharib, which narrates the experiences of the Ottoman imam ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Baghdadi in mid-nineteenth-century Brazil. Bercito’s essay, “Teaching Islam to African Muslims in Brazil: an Ottoman’s Nineteenth-Century Travel Account,” offers critical insights into the paired dynamics of race and religion and how the tension and overlap between have been persistent in the lives of Muslims in the Americas.

  • To the south of Brazil, Mayra Soledad Valcarcel looks at at “Women Embracing Islam in Buenos Aires,”questioning sex-gender models and sociabilities prevailing in Argentine society.

  • Elsewhere, Juan F. Caraballo-Resto looks at how orientalist and philo-semitic hermeneutics have not only both flourished in Puerto Rico, but impact broader discussions around evangelical and Puerto Rican identity.

Several articles also explore various Islamic ideologies and communities present in Latin America and the Latinx U.S., including Sufi, Shia, Ahmadiyya, and Sunni circuits and socialities.

  • For example, Cynthia Hernández-González contextualizes the establishment of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi tariqah in Mexico City as a branch from the Halveti Jerrahi tariqah in Istanbul, Turkey.

  • Similarly, Mark Sedgwick looks at how Perennialist and Guénonian Traditionalism came to Argentina and Peru, which includes Gurdjieff Sufism.

  • In her work from Buenos Aires, Mayra Soledad Valcarcel includes interviews with Sunni, Shia, and Sufi women.

Also included in this collection are book reviews of Aliyah Khan’s Far From Mecca: Globalizing the Muslim Caribbean, Ken Chitwood’s The Muslims of Latin America and the Caribbean, Harold Morales’ Latino and Muslim in America: race, religion, and the making of a new minority, and an edited collection entitled Crescent over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA from María del Mar Logroño Narbona, Paulo Gabriel Hilu da Rocha Pinto, and John Tofik Karam. Each volume under review has helped grow this burgeoning field and add to its evermore complex corpus of research and investigation.

So too does this collection. Across the articles below, key intersecting themes arise that push the limits of how we currently approach the study of Muslims in Latin America and the Latinx U.S., as well as how we might look for new directions in future scholarship. In particular, these entries address three broad arguments:

  • That Islam and Muslims are not foreign to Latin America and the Caribbean, but are an integral part of the region’s historical and contemporary evolution.

  • That Latin America and the Caribbean should be considered part of dynamics of change in global Islam despite relatively lower numbers of adherents.

  • That recognizing these two facts helps us see the reordering of Latin America, the Latinx U.S., and global Islam in new light, thus opening new avenues for historical understanding, contemporary research, and public debates over religious versatility and resilience in the late-modern world.

Thus, this collection adds new depth to the matrix of previous scholarship on the subject by revisiting the structures and sources of our study, as well as exploring new geographies, global networks, and our own theoretical, thematic, and methodological approaches. Future submissions and contributions should continue to reframe presiding scholarly conventions in novel ways by considering new sources, exploring new communities, probing new perspectives, charting new theoretical directions, and offering new ways of understanding Muslims in Latin America and beyond. Especially welcome are submissions dealing with questions of (post)coloniality, gender, race, interreligious encounter, ethnicity, precarity, resilience, transregionalism, materiality and embodiment, technoscapes and media.