by Carlo Bevilacqua
According to a recent, yet unofficial, survey, the Cuban Muslim community should count around 4,000 people, most of them converted in recent years. Raul Castro’s government is in fact more flexible not just in terms of diplomatic and trade relations, but also in terms of freedom of belief. This resulted in a smoother approach to religions.
The Islamic enclave in Cuba has recently grown bigger in terms of new conversions, even if many of them, especially among women, occurred to comply with the Islamic precept which forbids Muslims to marry non- Muslim women, so it’s not always a choice of faith.
In July 2015, in Havana Vieja, where once was an automobile museum, a mosque where Cuban Muslims could pray was finally built.
There’s someone, like Turkish President Erdogan, arguing Islam arrived on the island well before Christopher Columbus: fascinating thesis, but almost impossible to prove. Islam began to be present in Cuba during the 70s and 80s of last century, while a real diffusion occurred between the late 90s and the beginning of the new millennium with the arrival of Pakistani and Yemeni students reaching Cuba to study after some agreements between the Cuban government and several Middle East countries. Many Cubans were attracted by the sense of brotherhood they could sense in the Islamic students’ communities, as locals are always trying to escape a frustrating fate or (and) a borderline life. Like other religions do, Islam grew up and spread among the poorest, those who see religious practices as a social redemption, a chance to be part of a community very different from the socialist one, whose values aren’t shared by the majority of the Cuban population anymore.
A latent islamophobia exists, in Cuba, and sometimes it produces discrimination against Muslims. After their conversion to Islam, some Cubans have even lost their jobs, and obviously the reasons given for those layoffs hide the true motivations. But the Islam world keeps growing even under the Caribbean palm trees.