The reasons for conversion in Cuba vary. Some people view Islam as ” more true or pure religion than others,”.
Most of the images we see out of Cuba are similar — classic cars here, vibrantly colored buildings there. But Joan Alvado shows us something different. His photo series, “Cuban Muslims,” focuses on the lives of those who have converted to Islam.
“When I learned there was Islam and a Muslim community, I really liked it because I never heard of it,” Alvado said. “It was breaking all the preconceived ideas that we have about Cuban society.”
An estimated 85% of Cubans are Catholic. Just a few thousand people — are Muslim, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center (PDF).
Alvado says almost all of them are converts.
“That applies to absolutely everybody in (my photo) series,” he said. “Many of them were Christians before or some other religion, or a few of them were atheists as well.”
He says the reasons for conversion vary. While some people view Islam as ” more true or pure religion than others,” there are those who turn to Islam for more personal and specific reasons.
He provided the example of how Islam might be positive for those who have problems with alcohol, as Islam is a way for them to avoid alcohol.
There are challenges, though, that come with practicing Islam in a country where it’s such a drastic minority. One of the main ones is finding a place to worship.
“The communities are being organized in very, very small groups, and someone in each group will offer their home on Fridays (to pray) or something like that,” he said.
Alvado says Cuban Muslims are constantly learning about their new religion and evolving together.
Cuba is a spiritual and passionate city, he said, especially when it comes to religion. In the beginning, he wasn’t sure how people would react to him wanting to photograph their lives. Working to develop a mutual respect and being open about his intents from the outset — such as by making sure his subjects knew he is atheist — was a significant part of his work.