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Peru’s Mosques: Pearls of Latin America’s Muslim Immigrants

Bab Ul Islam mosque in Tacna, Peru. Detail of image on Flickr by user Karin Ibarra Saavedra (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Bab Ul Islam mosque in Tacna, Peru. Detail of image on Flickr by user Karin Ibarra Saavedra (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Peru is a multicultural country, so it's no wonder that Lima celebrates Chinese New Year, as Global Voices reported recently. In the south of the country, however, in the city of Tacna, we find evidence of another migration in the Bab ul Islam mosque, where Peru's Muslims convene to worship.

The mosque, which now has its own Facebook page, was built by Muslim citizens who arrived in the 1990s. It opened its doors 15 years ago, in 2000.

The website IslamHoy.org sums up Muslim migrations to Latin American over the past five centuries:

La historia de la llegada de los musulmanes al Perú suele circunscribirse a las oleadas migratorias llevadas a cabo a partir del siglo XIX hasta el siglo XX. Sin embargo, debe tenerse muy en cuenta migraciones anteriores a éstas y para ello debemos intentar retroceder en el tiempo, hasta el siglo XV.
[…]
los musulmanes llegados a América legaron mucho de su arte. Por ejemplo, hasta ahora se pueden observar en la ciudad de Lima (e iniciadas en la Lima colonial) construcciones con diseños mudéjares […]. En cuanto a comida, podemos aún deleitarnos con mazapanes, turrones, alfeñiques y mazamorras (derivado de masa mora), entre otros.
[…]
Actualmente hay cerca de 300 musulmanes pakistaníes, recalcando el número elevado de conversiones, en especial de mujeres. También hay inmigrantes de India, algunos países árabes, así como chilenos y colombianos.

The history of the arrival of Muslims to Peru is usually limited to the migratory floods carried out from 19th century until 20th century. However, it's worth mentioning earlier migrations and thus we have to try to get back in time, back to 15th century.
[…]
Muslims who arrived in America left much of their art. For instance, until now we can observe in the city of Lima (initiated during colonial Lima) buildings with Mudejar designs […]. When it comes to food, we can still enjoy marzipans, turrons, alfeñiques and mazamorras (a term that comes from masa mora, moor dough), among others.
[…]
Nowadays, there are about 300 Pakistani Muslims, and we shall stress the high number of conversions, especially among women. There are also migrants from India, some Arab countries, as well as Chileans and Colombians.

Meanwhile in Magdalena, a district of Peruvian capital Lima, we find a mosque built in 1986. Blogger Juan Luis Orrego Penagos recounts the history of this house of worship:

Estrictamente, la construcción no es la de una mezquita (como por ejemplo, la que se ha levantado en Tacna), sino una vieja casa “acondicionada” como templo de oración para los musulmanes que viven en nuestra ciudad (por ejemplo, la colocación de una gran cantidad de alfombras para facilitar la posición del rezo orientado hacia La Meca). […] Se puede visitar en cualquier momento del día, sin interrumpir los rezos. […]
Uno de sus miembros fundadores, Said Faroud, confiesa: “Antes no había mezquita. Pero qué es lo que pasa… los musulmanes se dan cuenta que están siendo perdidos; ellos y sus hijos, pierden su cultura, su religión, todo… y comienzan a avisar que vamos a hacer mezquita… y en 1986, después de años de esfuerzo logran fundar esta mezquita.

Technically, this building is not a mosque (such as, for instance, the one built in Tacna), but an old house “set up” as a praying temple for Muslims living in our city (we find many carpets displayed to make it easier to face Mecca). […] It can be visited anytime during the day, with no interruption to prayers. […]
One of the founder members, Said Faroud, says: “There used to be no mosque. But the thing is… Muslims were aware that they were getting lost; them and their children, losing their culture, religion, everything… and started to spread the word that we are going to build a mosque… and in 1986, after years of hard work, they manage to create this mosque.

A group of Muslims from California, in the United States, who came to Peru “to spread Islam,” were surprised when they arrived:

Para nuestra sorpresa, la persona que contesto el teléfono, era la persona encargada de la mezquita en Lima. Su nombre era Sabed, es el imam de la mezquita de Lima (esta en la avenida Tacna, Magdalena) e insistió en recogernos en el aeropuerto. Nosotros le dijimos que tomaríamos un taxi. Nosotros nos pusimos contentos y aliviados de encontrar una mezquita. Saeed, estaba muy feliz, porque era la primera vez que llegaba un grupo de los Estados Unidos a visitar la mezquita de Lima. La mezquita, que era una casa gigante con 12 cuartos, fue donada por un hermano árabe.
[…]
Perú es un país gigante con más de 24 millones de personas. En la capital de Lima, hay aproximadamente 400 musulmanes. La mayoría de los musulmanes en Perú son una mezcla de palestinos y sirios que partieron de sus tierras buscando una vida económica mejor para sus familias.

Much to our surprise, the guy who answered the phone was the one in charge of the mosque in Lima. His name was Sabed. He is the imam of the mosque in Lima (located in Tacna Avenue, Magdalena) and insisted on picking us up at the airport. We told him we'd take a taxi. We were glad and relieved to find a mosque. Saeed was very happy, as that was the first time a group came from United States to visit the mosque in Lima. The mosque, which used to be a big house with 12 rooms, was a donation from an Arab brother.
[…]
Peru is a huge country with over 24 million people. In the capital Lima, there are about 400 Muslims. Most of Muslims in Peru are a mix of Palestinians and Syrians who left their homelands looking for a better economy for their families.

Some Twitter users have also addressed Peru's Muslim presence:

Muslim mosque, Tacna, Peru.

We hear the call for prayers.

And there are also expressions of amazement:

Mosque in Tacna, did you know we have one here?

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