Islam had an estimated 3 million adherents in Latin America and the Caribbean as of the end of last year, marking an increase of nearly 25 percent from the 2.3 million who were residing there in 2010, a Breitbart News analysis of U.S. Department of State (DoS) data shows.
Among the Muslims in the region are people who emigrated from Muslim majority countries – including Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan – and locals who converted. Most of them are recent migrants and descendants of those who made the journey years and even generations ago, namely Palestinians, among others.
The most recent data found in the International Religious Freedom Reports issued annually by the DoS reveal that there were at least an estimated 2,990,000 Muslims residing in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2015.
In 2010, the number was about 2,290,000. That means the Muslim population grew by nearly 700,000 (23 percent) between 2010 and 2015. Some experts have indicated that Shiites outnumber Sunnis in the region. Iran’s growing influence has sparked concern within the U.S. government.
DoS, also known as State, did not include estimates for all the countries in Latin America and Caribbean, so the actual number of Muslim residents there could be much higher.
Various sources, including State, show that in 2015 there were concentrations of Muslims across the region: in Brazil (1.5 million); Argentina (750,000); Colombia (10,000); Venezuela (100,000); Panamá (14,000); Suriname (81,200); and Trinidad and Tobago (60,000).
Breitbart News’ analysis comes nearly a month after the top U.S. commander in Latin America and the Caribbean warned that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is actively recruiting and radicalizing converts in his area of responsibility.
In fact, Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, chief of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), revealed earlier this year that “hundreds” of Muslims from countries in the region, primarily Trinidad and Tobago, have traveled to the Middle East to fight on behalf of ISIS. Some of those nations have expressed concern about the possibility of such individuals returning radicalized and launching attacks.
Moreover, the U.S. military has sounded the alarm about human trafficking groups that specialize in bringing in individuals from terror-linked countries into the United States. Hundreds of them have been recently apprehended trying to sneak across the southwest border and into the U.S. It remains unknown how many actually got through.
Latin America has not been immune to the crisis involving migrants from war-ravaged nations in the Middle East, namely Syria.
Countries in the region with already large Muslim populations like Brazil have taken in thousands of Syrian refugees.
Some South American nations are also housing detainees released from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba including at least one who allegedly went missing in Uruguay and resurfaced in Venezuela.
The Muslim religion is the fastest growing in the world and Latin America appears to be no exception.
Nevertheless, despite the recent growth in the Muslim population, Latin America and the Caribbean are projected to remain primarily Christian.
Most Muslims across the globe favor Sharia law, the strict Islamic rules that govern a Muslim’s life, according to the Pew Research Center
While DoS data shows that the overall Muslim segment of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean grew at a rate of 23 percent between 2010 and 2015, in the United States it grew at a rate of about 17 percent over a similar period, from 2.75 million in 2011 to 3.3 million in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.
Nevertheless, the center estimates that increases to the Muslim population in the Americas will be concentrated in the United States and Canada.
In the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack by a jihadist who primarily targeted Latinos, Waqas Syed, deputy secretary general of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), told Breitbart News that the relationship between Hispanics and Muslims in Latin America is strong.
“[The] relationship between the Latino and the Muslim community stretches back eight centuries to Islamic Spain. Many Muslims have migrated to Latin America and have become very successful and productive citizens,” he declared. “Unlike Europe and North America, Latin America has been quite untouched with any of the anti-Islamic rhetoric and the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslim Latinos can be described as excellent and strong.”
The residents of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, recently elected a mayor, Nayib Bukele, whose father served as the leader of the region’s Muslim community. Bukele, from the leftist guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) that became a legal political party in the country after launching a war against the government, has not publicly identified as Muslim despite his heritage.