Giulia Iacolutti

2016 - Ongoing

Chiapas, Mexico

“Their reward with Allah will be gardens of perpetual residence beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever, Allah being pleased with them and they with Him. That is for whoever has feared his Lord”.

Chapter (98) sūrat l-bayinah (The Clear Evidence), Koran

In 1995 a group of Sufi Murabitun Muslims travelled from Granada, Spain, to Chiapas, a state of mostly indigenous Mayans in southern Mexico known at that time for the presence of the revolutionary militant group "Zapatista National Liberation Army". Their message to the leader of the movement, known as Subcomandante Marcos, was explicit: “The Murabitun World Movement invites you to sit down with representatives of the great nations of Chechnya, Kashmir, Euzkalherria and other nations at the forefront of the struggle against the tyrannical world banking order […] The struggle for the freedom of all people must be under the flag of a transformative Islam, following the message brought to us by Mohammed, the liberator of humanity”.

It is unknown if the Murabitun messengers had any response from the rebels, but they saw the impoverished state as fertile ground for the principles of Islam. Indigenous Mayans and Tzotzils have led marginalized lives ever since the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, living in extreme poverty and suffering from exploitation, racism and alcoholism; the Murabitun’s alcohol prohibition has proven to be attractive to the indigenous community as a viable alternative. This community was originated twenty years ago after the Chechev clan, a Tzotzil Mayan family from the municipality of San Juan de Chamula, professed their faith in Islam and their belief in the oneness of God. This conversion meant abandoning the Church which had guided the religious practices of the indigenous communities in Chiapas for more than 500 years.

JANNAH (in Arabic "Garden", the Islamic concept of paradise) is a project that aims to tell how in San Cristobal the Koran took the place of the Bible and the indigenous women started to wear the traditional wool skirt and colorful blouse with the hijab.

The Muslim population in Mexico has grown nearly fivefold in the last 15 years, from 1,500 in 2000 to 5,260 in 2016, according to the The National Institute of Statistics and Geography. The most populous Muslim communities are in urban areas like Mexico City or Guadalajara where Islam arrived mostly with immigrants. In Chiapas, there are approximately 400 Muslims, but inside the community there were two rebellions against the Morabitun who expected the new Muslims to forgot their tradition; in 2000, the Al Kautsar Sunni indigenous community was founded and in 2014, almost 70 people opened the Ahmadiyya mosque. (The Ahmadiyya community is not recognized as Muslim by the Muslim World League).

Today the community not growing by conversion, but because each woman has an average of six children.

The project wants to show one unknown face of this much-discussed and misunderstood religion. In a tropical climate, far from the political influences of the Middle East, it will visually depict the syncretism born from a mix of Islamic dogmas, pre-Columbian tenets based on oral teachings and 500 years of Catholic religious practices.

JANNAH tells the story of this conversion process and build a political and social reflection about the causes and consequences of religious conquest in territories where people try to preserve indigenous traditions that mix with ideologies external to their environment, building their own paradise in syncretism.

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  • Salama Palamo Diaz was born muslim in 2000; in March of 2016 she gave birth to her first daughter, Asia. In the picture she wears the traditional tzotzil wool skirt and she poses in front of a maize field, staple food of the Indigenous Mexican Community.

  • The hatchet and the machete used to sacrifice the cow during the Eid al-Adha, also called the "Sacrifice Feast", the second of the two Muslim holidays celebrated worldwide every year. It honours the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, as an act of submission to God's command. Before he sacrificed his son, God had intervened by sending his angel Jibra'il, who then put a sheep in his son's place.

  • Rakma, born in 2006, fixing her hijab on the way to the mosque.

  • For the sacrificial feast the Muslim men sacrificed two cows, in the direction of the Mecca. During the pre-Columbian era, human sacrifice in the Maya culture was the ritual of offering nourishment to the gods. Blood was regarded as a potent source of nourishment for the Maya deities, and the sacrifice of a living creature was a powerful blood offering. The most common form of human sacrifice consisted in the heart extraction.

  • The garden of Yamila Gomez Gomez, sister of Yahya, Imam of the Sunni Mosque Alkawzar. She was born in 1980 and she converted to Islam together with her brother when she was 15 years old. She is the wife of Mohamed Sharif, the muezzin of the mosque, with whom she has seven sons.

  • Hotel with Turkish baths built in the early '900 by a Mexican family in the center of San Cristobal de las Casas. The land, after becoming a parking space, is on sale for many years.

  • A sajjāda, a prayer rug used by Muslims, placed between the ground and the worshipper to ensure cleanliness during the various positions of the Islamic prayers, spread out in the garden. Yahya Goméz, Imam of the Sunni Mosque Alkawzar, brought these rugs as a present from his pilgrimage to Mecca.

  • Domingo López Ángel is the second indigenous convert and he's a leader of the Council of Indigenous Representatives of the Chiapas Highlands (CRIACH).

  • The group of Sufi Murabitun Muslims from Spain started building their mosque more or less in 2012, but is still unfinished. The building has a 17-meter minaret, visible from more than three kilometres away. The minaret will call to the azhan adhan (prayer), five times a day.

  • Child praying in the Ahmadi mosque.

  • "Their reward with Allah will be gardens of perpetual residence beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever". Koran

  • The Ahmadi mosque. Ahmadiyya is an Islamic movement founded in the Punjab, British India, at the end of the 19th century, inspired by the life and teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). The Ahmadi movement identifies itself as Muslim and follows the teachings of the Koran. However, it is regarded by orthodox Muslims as heretical, because it does not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet sent to guide mankind.

  • A detail of a representation of the Black Stone in Mecca, inside the home of Yahya Gomez, the Imam of Alkawzar Sunni Mosque. He bought this souvenir during the pilgrimage to the Mecca.

  • A little girl praying.

  • Salama Palamo Diaz in her room with her favorite hijab, a gift from foreign Muslims who have come to know the community.

  • Siamese embalmed calf in a butcher shop, a metaphor of syncretism. Muslims consume halal meat, the word ‘halal’ literally means permissible. The Halal food Authority rules for halal are based on Islamic Shari’ah that require animals to be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter, since carrion is forbidden and, jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe have to be severed by a razor sharp knife by a single swipe, to incur as less a pain as possible. They can't eat pork meat.

  • Yalal, 13 years old. His brother studies in Yemen, but he prefers to follow schools near his family and support them.

  • In the Quran, paradise is described as filled with material delights, such as beautiful maidens, precious stones, delicious foods, and constantly flowing water, For these will be the ones brought nearest to God in Gardens of bliss: many from the past and a few from later generations.

  • "Be". Hadiya in her home, before going to pray in the mosque. She was born in 2012, she is the youngest daughter of Imam Yahya Gomez.