"Cuban Muslims" photo  series: A 71-year-old Cuban muslim named Muhammad Ali attends weekly yoga classes in Havana. -Photo: Joan Alvado

Cuban Muslims” photo series: A 71-year-old Cuban muslim named Muhammad Ali attends weekly yoga classes in Havana. -Photo: Joan Alvado

Islam converts are on the rise in communist Cuba.

Cuba is one of the few remaining communist states in the world. Officially, it is a secular state. The 1980s saw an increase in religious freedom. In 1992, the Cuban government amended the constitution and dropped the state's characterization as atheistic. The largest religion in Cuba is Roman Catholicism. There are only a few Muslims in Cuba, about 10,000. They make up less than 0.1 percent of the entire population. However, the numbers are rising. Recent years have seen a lot of Cubans converting to Islam, with the majority of them previously Christians or atheists.

Islam was introduced to Cuba in the 1970s and 80s by Muslim students who came from countries such Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, and so on, says Pedro Lazo Torres, also known as the Imam Yahya, the president of Cuba's Islamic League. Torres is considered as Cuba's first Muslim. He converted in 1988.

The majority of Muslims in Cuba are converts. The reason for conversion varies. Some choose Islam because they find it as a more pure and true religion than others. Some convert due to specific or more personal reasons.

Ahmed Abuero, age 48, converted to Islam after reading the biography of Malcolm X, an African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist. The conversion was difficult for him since it involved stopping alcohol consumption, removing ham from his diet, and putting a stop to most of the Cuban lifestyles.

Practicing Islam in Cuba is tough. There are many challenges. Prominent among them is finding a place to worship. The state's first and only mosque was opened just last year. The new mosque is located in Old Havana, next to The Arab House, Cuba's only Islamic museum. Before that, the Cuban Muslims had to worship in their homes.

"Cuban Muslims" photo  series: A muslim enters the so-called mosque of Camaguey. It is a very humble place of worship that was built in 2001. -Photo: Joan Alvado

Cuban Muslims” photo series: A muslim enters the so-called mosque of Camaguey. It is a very humble place of worship that was built in 2001. -Photo: Joan Alvado

The mosque has Spanish-Arabic copies of the Koran. Observing the holy month of Ramadan is yet another challenge. Traditionally, an iftar meal has to have dates, but there are no dates in Cuba. Cuba has found a friend in the Saudi embassy who supplies Muslims in Cuba with dates, as well as with halal meat and traditional garments.

Joan Alvado, a documentary photographer based in Barcelona, recently did a photo series based on the lives of Muslims in Cuba. His project is titled Cuban Muslims. According to him, when he learned about the Muslim community in Cuba, he instantly liked it and decided to do a project based on them. Alvado says it broke all the preconceived ideas that he had about the Cuban society. He was not sure how the Cuban Muslim community would react to his project, but they welcomed it with excitement.

According to Alvado, Cuba is a passionate and spiritual city. He was able to learn more about Islam and Islamic beliefs while working on the project.

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