By: Houssain Kettan
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is unincorporated, organized territory of the United States with area 13,790Km2. It has been under US control since 1898, when it was captured from Spain. It is an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and over a 100 smaller islands mostly to the east of the main island and almost all are uninhabited, the largest of which are Vieques (348Km2), Culebra (30Km2), and Mona (57Km2 but uninhabited).
The first Muslims are said to have arrived in Puerto Rico around the mid-20th century from Palestine as a result of the declaration of Israel. Their population rose from none in 1940 to 2,000 (0.07 percent) in 1970. They were estimated to be 3,000 (0.09 percent) in 1980; 4,500 (0.13 percent) in 1990; and 5,000 (0.13 percent) in 2010.
Assuming that the percentage of Muslims will continue to increase by 0.01 of a percentage point per decade, the Muslim population is expected to reach 5,300 or 0.14 percent in 2020, then 6,200 or 0.17 percent by 2050, and 6,700 or 0.22 percent by 2100.
As part of the Makkah-based Muslim World League fact-finding mission on Muslims worldwide, my father Dr. Ali Kettani (1941-2001) visited this Island in 1973 among several countries in Europe and the Americas and recorded his findings.
He had then found no mosques in Puerto Rico, and estimated the total Muslim population at 2,000, 80 percent of which were Palestinians. He described their religious situation as the worst he found during his 78-day long trip starting Oct. 22, in which he visited 28 countries.
Today, the number of Muslims more than doubled but the percentage of Palestinians remains the same. The number of mosques mushroomed to nine that are spread throughout the main island. Only one Muslim family lives on Vieques, none in Culebra, and the rest of Muslims live on the main island.
The first mosque was established in 1981 in Rio Piedras, part of the capital San Juan, and on a walking distance from the University of Puerto Rico. It was purchased and adopted as a mosque and has the capacity of 200 males and 40 females. The mosque has a full time Imam and adhan and khutba are heard by speakers outside the mosque.
The second mosque which is the biggest on the Island was built in 1992 in Vega Alta, about 30 minutes west of San Juan on the top of a hill overlooking the northern expressway 22. It has the capacity of 1200 males and 120 females. This mosque also has a full time Imam.
A small rented room was adopted as a mosque in 1993 in Jayuya, in the middle of the Island. The room has a capacity of 25 people and mainly used for Friday prayers where a fifth of the capacity attends.
A small mosque was built in 1995 in Fajardo, in the northeast of the Island. It has a yellow dome resembling the Dome of Rock. The mosque has the capacity of 50 males and 15 females. At Friday prayers however, only 10 percent of the maximum capacity are present. The fifth mosque was built in 1997 in Ponce, in the mid-south of the island. It has the capacity of 200 males and 20 females. At Friday prayers however, only 20 percent of the maximum capacity are present.
The sixth mosque was built in 1998 in Hatillo, in the northwest of the Island. It has the capacity of 200 males and 30 females. At Friday prayers however, only 20 percent of the maximum capacity are present.
A second floor apartment was rented in 2002 in Aguadilla, in the northwest of the Island and converted to a mosque. The room has a capacity of 50 people and mainly used for Friday prayers where a fifth of the capacity attends.
The eighth mosque was built in 2007 in Montehiedra, a southern suburb of San Juan, on the top of a hill overlooking the south-north expressway 52. It is the second largest on the Island in terms of capacity, but the largest in terms of total land which is about a hectare. It has the capacity of 400 males and 50 females. At Friday prayers however, less than 50 percent of the maximum capacity are present. This mosque also has a full time Imam.
The ninth mosque was established in 2011 in Loiza, an eastern suburb of San Juan. It was adopted by local indigenous Muslims with a capacity of 20 people.