Muslims came to Peru with the coming of the Spaniards. Many Muslims, then called “Moros”, or Moors by the Spaniards, arrived fleeing persecution in Spain. They settled in many places in Latin America, especially Peru, where they had a strong influence on the local way of life including, dress, food, architecture, and the social and political systems. Many of them had very important positions in society, and the women until recently used to wear hijab and were known as “Las Tapadas Limeñas”, or “the Covered Ones from Lima”. This was a sign of distinction, as many of the Muslim women who immigrated from Spain were the social elite. Today in Lima we have the famous “Balcones Limeños”. These balconies are crafted in the “Arabescos” style. They are wooden balconies which protrude from the building’s facade and offer the women views with privacy. Walking through the streets of Lima, one can almost imagine that he is walking through the streets of Al-Andalus. Islamic architecture pervades the city.
So the Limeño way of life has been heavily influenced by Islam. But many Muslims, because of persecution, were forced to go into hiding and became “crypto-Muslims”, identifying as Christians but secretly practicing Islam. Over time, even this secret affiliation was lost and Islam disappeared from Peru.
The second wave of Muslims came with the migrations from Palestine and Lebanon in the 1940’s of Muslims fleeing the Jewish persecution in their homelands. These Muslims were largely merchants. Over time they developed considerable wealth but lost some of their Islamic identity. The descendents of these immigrants still exist in Peru in large numbers, but their Islam is, for the most part, not apparent.
Beginning in the 1980s, Latinos who had travelled abroad and encountered Muslims began converting to Islam. They began da’wah activities, inviting both the immigrant Muslims and the Latino community to Islam. However, being for the most part economically disadvantaged, the resources of these Latino Muslims has been limited. A musalla was opened in a neighborhood in Lima called Jesus Maria in 1993 but was closed due to lack of funds. Another musalla, opened around the same time in Villa El Salvador, was later closed for the same reasons.
Today these nomadic Muslims of Lima have no place to worship Allah as a group. LAMU’s immediate goal is to re-open a musalla in Lima which will serve the needs of the Latino Muslim community.