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Mexicali Muslims Finally Find a Home

Chelcey Adami - Imperial Valley Press
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September 24, 2012

Ivan Guzman Martin reads the Quran while visiting the Centro Islamico de Mexicali on Thursday. (Chelcey Adami)

MEXICALI — Curious passers-by often peek in the window of the new Centro Islamico de Mexicali on Michoacan Avenue, just 15 minutes walking distance from the Calexico West Port of Entry, where at least twice a week, the few but faithful Mexicali Muslims come to pray together.

Valley resident Mustapha Guerbaz saw that many Muslims in Mexicali couldn’t cross into the States to meet with Valley Muslims since they don’t have the necessary visas. He then collected roughly $2,800 in donations to rent out a space in Mexicali and by the end of Ramadan this year, the Centro Islamico de Mexicali was open for visitors.

“For a long time it’s been difficult for them to find a place of worship,” he said. “In our religion, it’s an obligation if you see someone who needs help, you help them, whether they’re from your religion or not.”

Guerbaz usually comes there on Tuesdays and Thursdays to help lead prayers as well as teach the Arabic language to Mexicali Muslims so they can eventually read the Quran on their own.

It’s not easy being a Muslim in Mexico.

It’s difficult to find tortillas not made with pork lard. Some people assume that the reason women wear a head scarf is because they have cancer. Others ask if they are from a non-existent country called “Muslimania.”

These are just a few of the challenges Mexicali Muslims face.

However, finding a place to pray together and to learn more about the Arabic language as well as their faith is no longer one of those challenges.

Mexicali resident Ivan Guzman Martin visited the center for his first time Thursday out of curiosity and asked Guerbaz to show him how to write amor, or love, in Arabic on the center’s dry-erase board.

Roughly 15 people come to the center now, and Guerbaz hopes that as the center becomes more established, it will move closer to the university area of Mexicali to increase its accessibility to others.

Islam and mosques in Mexico, while still a rarity, are increasing in numbers. Mexico City’s Centro Cultural Islamico de Mexico was established in the late 1990s, and Guerbaz said Tijuana’s first mosque was built in just the last couple years.

A study by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography reported only 59 Baja California residents practicing Islam in 2000 and 3,700 in the entire country according to the 2010 census.

All of the visitors to the center are converts to Islam except one, and each has a unique story as to why they converted.

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