The Study of Islam and Muslim Communities in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Americas: the State of the Field


This essay offers a brief review of existent literature in the field of Islamic studies in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Americas focusing on its main themes and suggesting some areas for further consideration and research. The essay makes theoretical suggestions for where scholars could inject their energy and efforts to advance this unfolding field of study. These theoretical considerations suggest that more work could be done in expanding the field in its engagement with prevalent theories in the field of global Islamic studies and those that treat the Americas as a geography of dynamic hemispheric engagement and encounter. Essentially, the paper argues that there is still a necessity to explore the tensions, interactions, frictions, and collaborations across and at the boundaries between the global umma and the American assabiya, between the global and the local, and between immigrant communities and the growing number of regional converts. Finally, the author suggests some practical considerations that may prove beneficial to the field’s advancement.

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  1. 1.

    This section relies on previously published work: (Chitwood 2016c)

  2. 2.

    Ibid., 60

  3. 3.

    Galvan estimates that Brazil is home to over one million Muslims (Galvan, 27), but this number is so different than those found in the World Religion Database, and lacks corroboration or proper source information, that it is not treated seriously here.

  4. 4.

    These population numbers come from (Pew Research Center 2011)

  5. 5.

    Galvan, 28. Including the Islamic Charity Center of Bogotá, Columbia (1979), the Muslim Community Educational Center in Anzures, Mexico City, Mexico (post-1994), and the Círculo Islámico (CIRD) in Santo Domingo, Domican Republic (1994).

  6. 6.

    For example, scholars such as Carolyn Dean and Sophia Rose Arjana have pointed out how Both Dean & Rose-Arjana help us to see how the Reconquista and its attendant imaginations concerning Muslims traveled to the Americas with Spanish colonizers. The conquerors and settlers transferred existing fears from Spain to the “New World” impacting how they conceived of things such as limpieza de sangre, spurring demonized fantasies, and influencing the practice of festivals such as Corpus Christi in Lima, Peru or the Festival of Santiago de Matamoros in places such as Loíza Aldea outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Essentially, colonizers and settlers saw indigenous Americans as monsters/Muslims. Combined with a sense of Christian destiny and divine agency, this resulted in the creation and confluence of multiple enemies to the faith of the empire—American Indians, Mexicans, Africans, Muslims. This invariably impacted the way the “New World” and the Spanish American colonies were founded and constructed. Cf. (Arjana 2015), (Dean 1999).

  7. 7.

    This section relies on previously published work: Ken Chitwood, "Review: Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America ," Reading Religion: A Publication of the American Academy of Religion, August 26, 2016:

  8. 8.

    Much of the above commentary on Cook’s work comes from my published review: “Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America,” Reading Religion, (American Academy of Religion [AAR]), (August 26, 2016).

  9. 9.

    Gomez, 47.

  10. 10.


  11. 11.


  12. 12.

    This section relies on previously published commentary from Ken Chitwood, "Review: ISLAM AND THE AMERICAS. Edited by Aisha Khan," Religious Studies Review 41, No. 4 (October 2015): 206.

  13. 13.

    Cf. Diouf.

  14. 14.

    Cf. Gomez, Black Crescent.

  15. 15.

    This chapter emerged from her extended fieldwork in the region since 1997. A fuller account, from which this chapter was derived, is published as Sandra Cañas Cuevas, “Koliyal Allah Tsotsunkotic, Gracias a Allah sue solos mis Fuertes: Identidades étnicas y relations de genera entre los sunníes en San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas.” Master’s thesis, Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiors en Antropologia Social (CIESAS), México, D.F. Other significant research on this topic in Spanish is available from (Escamilla 1992, 2004).

  16. 16.

    Khan, 4.

  17. 17.

    Ibid., 7.

  18. 18.

    Much of this critical review of Khan’s work came from published review: (Khan 2015b)

  19. 19.

    Much of the first part of this section was previously published as (Chitwood 2015).

  20. 20.

    The preferred term (as opposed to “conversion”) for Latina/or Muslims who view conversion as a remembrance of their fitra—original submissive nature to Allah—and also a return to their authentic Latina/or roots (see below on “Andalusia”).

  21. 21.

    This does not mean there have not been serious attempts. Juan Galvan, Harold D. Morales, Hjamil A. Martínez-Vásquez, and myself have attempted large-scale surveys of US mosques and the Latina/or Muslim population, but results have been deplorably mixed.

  22. 22.

    Ibid., 115–143.

  23. 23.

    Bowen, “The Latino American Da’wah Organization and the ‘Latina/or Muslim’ Identity in the United States,” 2.

  24. 24.

    Bowen, 8–13.

  25. 25.

    Allianza Islamíca no longer exists and LADO is not nearly as active as it once was since many of its leaders have gone on to be part of other organizations, work on independent projects (i.e., Juan Galvan’s book Hispanic Muslims) or retire from active participation in da’wah efforts.

  26. 26.

    Daniel Abdullah Hernandez and Mujahid Fletcher shared with me the fact that they regularly engage in outreach to Latina/os in foreign countries. Each imam spends 2–4 weeks a year on short-term mission trips to support masjids in these countries, to train da’is there, or to preach in “revival-style” meetings that call Latina/os to Islam. Hernandez also raises funds and support for an Islamic learning center he helped launch in Moca, Puerto Rico.

  27. 27.

    Kerr, 160.

  28. 28.

    This book is drawn from her doctoral thesis in the Social Sciences Graduate Program of the Universidade Federal de São Carlos, which represents a significant recent work written in Portuguese and now made available in English. Her research emerges out of a long history of Portuguese and English language publications on Islam in Brazil and throughout the region, including: Alcheik 1989; Cavalcante 2008; Chagas 2006, 2013; Kalandar 2001; Maria and Oliveira 2006; Marques 2000, 2009; Montenegro 2000, 2002; Pinto 2011a, b; da Silva Filho 2012.


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Chitwood, K. The Study of Islam and Muslim Communities in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Americas: the State of the Field. Int J Lat Am Relig 1, 57–76 (2017).

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  • Islam
  • Global Islam
  • Islam in the Americas
  • Islam in Latin America
  • Islam in the Caribbean
  • Muslim communities
  • Muslim world
  • Global Islamic studies