La Frontera Islámica: Building Religious Community at the U.S.-Mexico Border


In the last decade, musallas (places of prayer) and mosques have been constructed across northern Baja California, Mexico. These spaces serve both Mexican converts to Islam and Muslim migrants from around the world who come to the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes of gaining asylum. My research investigates the ways in which Muslims in Tijuana and Rosarito engage the Islamic discursive tradition to negotiate ways of leading a coherent Muslim life in a space of waiting. In summer 2021, I began conversations with imams and the director of a refugee shelter for Muslims in Tijuana. With the support of the Tinker grant in the summer of 2022, I was able to deepen my understanding of the most pressing issues Muslims face. Spending time at the refugee shelter for Muslim migrants in the Zona Norte neighborhood of Tijuana, I built stronger relationships with the Mexican Muslim women who run the shelter, had conversations with the shelter’s imam on Islamic ethical debates on the obligation to migrate, and witnessed the many different ways the Mexican government interacts with the shelter. Additionally, I attended talks at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) on the changing migrant population in Baja California Norte and on internally displaced Mexicans to enhance my understanding of how the federal and local governments as well as NGOs are addressing migrant needs. Through all of this, I learned that the burden of assisting migrants falls on NGOs and other aid organizations. For this reason, the shelter for Muslim migrants is a vital space. It not only provides a safe place to stay but also access to pro bono legal services, assistance in obtaining residency and work permits, and a space in which migrants can fully practice and fulfill religious obligations (a place of worship, halal food, etc.).

Brittany Dawson
Publication date: 
October 24, 2022
Publication type: 
Student Research