Salaams From Puerto Rico: A Preview of Islam in the Caribbean

Since 1958, the island of Puerto Rico has been blessed with the crescent moon along with an initial Palestinian community as a result of the declaration of Israel, and now growing side to side with Puerto Rico and other communities like Pakistan, Egypt and others. Islam can be dated back to the time where the Spaniards took over the country in 1493, making it a colony to which African and Arab slaves were brought. These African and Arab slaves had to work in the cacao, coffee, and sugar industry as well as household care. This created a melting pot of races on the island. Later, after the Spanish-American War, the invasion of Puerto Rico took place on July 25, 1898: the U.S. Navy, led by General Nelson A. Miles, landed at Guánica. The U.S. invaded and took over, providing a certain freedom among Muslim slaves and mestizos, which is a person with a mixed European and Amerindian background.

The last Puertorican Muslim census dates back to 2007, estimating a total of 5,000 Muslims on the island including reverts, making it a 0.10% of the population itself growing yearly in the Spanish speaking community of Puerto Rico and other islands: the Dominican Republic (3,000 since 2015) and Cuba(10,000 since 2010). Our Islamic population is expected to reach 5,300 or 0.14% in 2020, 6,200 or 0.17% by 2050, and 6,700 or 0.22% by 2100. These statistics where provided in the year 2012. The current census, being the one of 2015, is unknown.

Currently, Puerto Rico holds nine mosques in general. Masjid Montehiedrah and Masjid Vega Alta are the most active among them. In 1981, the first mosque was established in Puerto Rico in the city of Rio Piedras with a capacity of 200 men and 40 women. This mosque is located near the University of Puerto Rico, which was founded in the 1920s. The second mosque is open to the public and was built not as long ago: in 1992. The latter is currently the largest mosque of the entire island and has a capacity of 1,200 men and 120 women at most with an Imam. The building can be appreciated from the island’s longest highway and gives the impression of a beautiful palace. To go to the third establishment, we head over to the center of the island where agriculture is at its finest. In the region called Jayuya, there is a small room being rented and changed into a mosque with the capacity of 25. This happened one year later, in 1993.

Most of the mosques are working with full time Imams. On the north eastern coast, where tourism is well known, a mosque with a gold and blue dome was built in the city of Fajardo in 1995. This dome house has the capacity of 50 males and 15 females and operates during Ramadan. Ponce births the fifth mosque of the island in 1997, with a 20% of maximum capacity in Jummah Prayer and a capacity of 200 men and 30 women. The sixth mosque was opened on the west of the island in Aguadilla in 2002 and has the capacity of 50 people. It is generally used for Friday prayers.

The eighth and one of the most active mosques on the island was built in Montehiedra in 2007. It is located in the southern suburbs of San Juan, having the capacity of 400 men and 50 women. It has a school called Al-Noor that teaches children Islam and Arabic during the weekend and organizes activities like monthly BBQs, Muslim sleepovers, and daily food during Ramadan. This mosque currently launched the first Islamic Scouts on the island in 2015, ever since Boy Scouts of America was founded on the island along with Girl Scouts of America in the 1920s by a committee team. This mosque currently holds the largest converted population in Puerto Rico. At the moment, women form the largest part of the group, accepting the islamic religion and obtaining higher education through Islam and Arabic weekend classes.

The ninth mosque was established in Loiza in 2011, an eastern suburb of San Juan, which is also a hub for tourism and leisure. It was adopted by local Muslims with a capacity of 20 people but it is not as well known as the other mosques.

Islam is not very well known in the Caribbean. It currently lingers in an awakening process that began in the 1950s. Although Puerto Rico currently holds a Palestinian, Pakistani, and Egyptian community, a new Latin Caribbean community is growing and is in the spot light. This provides Dawah to their own people from all over the island. Thanks to social media, Islam has already been accepted by so many Latinos. Social media has gradually informed the natives about Islam, creating more education and attacking the idea of islamophobia caused by the media and a lack of education.

Written by Leslie M. Perez Rios

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Latina Caribbean Muslim revert with a love of chai, good books and souls that travel. Citizen of the world.