Religion Changing Communities

Reading this article, “How Islam Took Root in One of South America’s Most Violent Cities”,  reminded me of all the ways in which religion can bring people together and also empower them in some ways.  The people of Buenaventura, Columbia live in a city in which there is much violence, crime, and poverty.  In the 1960s Islam was first brought to this community by Esteban Mustafa Melendez, and African-American sailor who taught about the Nation of Islam.  To the people of this city, “The Nation of Islam offered an alternative identity and it was a way to fight back against the situation of structural racial discrimination in the port.”  90 percent of the population was Afro-Columbian and to them the message of black power and self-esteem united them in a time that was fraught with racism and violence.

The people who joined the small Muslim community learned to read Arabic, read the Qu’ran, and looked to Saudi Arabia for guidance on Sunni and Shia interpretations.  The community that started off small quickly took off in the 1979 following the Islamic Revolution.  A community center that doubled as a mosque was built as well as a school that integrates Spanish and Arabic songs praising Allah.  portraits of Malcolm X and the Ayatollah Khamenei are hung on the walls and the people greet each other with ““Salaam alekum” and then switching back to Spanish.

This is an amazing example to me of how religion can take root in a community and bring people together as well as provide a means for self-empowerment and a haven from the violence that surrounds their daily lives.  This community is also an example of how religious organizations can interact with their social environments and embed itself into the culture of a people.  In McGuire Chapter 6, she talks about social cohesion in society and how religion is the expression of social forces and social ideals.  The people in this community wanted to change the rhetoric of how they view themselves and strove towards ideals that were accomplished partially through the adoption of Islam.

How Islam Took Root in Buenaventura (Link)