Alabama's Changing Face of Faith - Immigrants Bring New Religions to Once Monolithic Christian State

November 23, 2008

Author: Greg Garrison

Source: The Birmingham News

On a typical Saturday at the Riverchase Galleria, shoppers include Hindus from India with red marks called tilak on their foreheads, Mennonite teenage girls from Uniontown wearing homemade dresses and headcoverings, and Muslim women from Pakistan adorned in traditional scarves.

They pass without a sideways glance, as if nothing's out of the ordinary, perhaps a sign that religious pluralism in Alabama has arrived.

"This is a melting pot, and we are melting," said Davinderjit Bagga, a Sikh woman from India who has lived in Birmingham almost 30 years.

But there's something different about the ethnic religious identity of Birmingham from what it was a decade ago.

The city now has multiple Islamic mosques, Hindu temples and Buddhist centers. Its Christian churches include members from around the globe.

"I can tell the change," said Maria Pomare, a native of Cartagena, Colombia, who has an accounting degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "When I moved to Birmingham eight years ago, it was rare to see a Hispanic in the store."

Now she can speak Spanish nearly everywhere she goes. When she put her car up for sale recently she got a call from a man with a familiar accent. He was from Bogota, Colombia, living in Birmingham.

"If you go to UAB, there are people from all over the world," Pomare said. "I met people from Egypt, Tanzania, India and Brazil."

Those people are bringing distinctive languages, culture and religion.