Islam gaining popularity in Brazilian culture and TV

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There are millions of Muslims in Latin America, but how is Islam gaining popularity in the United States' neighbors to the South? 
Photo: Muslim girls play soccer, on of Brazil’s most popular sports (AP)

WASHINGTON, January 6, 2014 — While the Middle East appears to dominate much of the discourse relating to Islam and Muslims, the growth of Muslim communities in countries such as Brazil seems to go unnoticed.

The rise of the religion in the country has become so widespread, that it has permeated the entertainment industry. A popular “telenovela” called “O Clone” features a heroic Muslim woman, who wears the Islamic hijab (scarf), as the main character.

Paulo Pinto, of Brazil’s Fuminense Federal University, believes that O Clone introduced many fascinated Brazilians to Islam and its practices. The show was highly regarded in the country, and taught many Brazilians common Islamic phrases, such as “Alhamdullilah” (Praise be to God), which was said by characters on the show after sneezing and other situations indicating happiness; “Inshallah” (God willing), used for planning future events; and “Mashallah” (It was God’s will), typically used for congratulating someone on a particular accomplishment.

Young Muslims shorten the three on various forms of social media, and it is not uncommon to see the phrases abbreviated as “aA”, “iA”, and “mA” on Facebook.  The second letter is intentionally capitalized because it refers to Allah, which is the Arabic word for God.

The well-known Islamic greeting “Salaam Alaikum” (Peace be to you) becomes “SA” or even “ASA.”

The show has been syndicated to several countries, and even airs on Telemundo in the United States. In typical fashion for modern television, an updated remake is being filmed.

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According to Imam Khaled Taqi el-Din, founder of the Ali bin Abi Taleb Islamic Center in Sao Paolo, and current President of the Supreme Council of Imams and Islamic Affairs in Brazil and the Manager of Islamic Affairs at the Federation of Muslim Associations of Brazil, Latin Muslims are fiercely patriotic.

He told, in an interview “Brazil is famous for maintaining good relations with Arabs and Muslims… Moreover, it is a state based on freedom, law, and citizenship rights.

“Arabs -both Muslims and non-Muslims- played a large role in the economic and political advancement of Brazil. There are about 10 to 12 million Brazilians from Arab origins which is a large number. They enjoy a lot of freedom. It is a country that recognizes all sects and religions on equal basis. There are many organizations protected by the state with the mandate of opposing all kinds of religious discrimination.

“Brazil also stood firm against pressures to introduce harsh measures to put  Arabs and Muslims under strict surveillance following the 9/11 explosions, preferring to deal with the issue rationally and wisely.”

A recent posting on advertised a series of religious commemorations throughout the country, giving times and dates of services
, as well as the following summary:

“The Brazilian Islamic community also follows this tradition in major cities with Islamic presence in the country. Muslims from São Paulo, Curitiba, Foz do Iguaçu and Ponta Porã will gather in their mosques to show their appreciation for the Islamic cause and a great sorrow for the suffering of Imam Hussein (as), the grandson of Prophet Mohammed (SAW), and his followers.”

The post is referring to the historical (7th century CE) Imam Husain, the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Muslims around the world focus their attention on Imam Husain, culminating with the religious day of “Arbaeen”, which marks the end of mourning rituals for the fallen leader.

The Rio Times says “According to a census conducted by the IBGE (Brazilian institute for geography and statistics), the number of Muslims living in Brazil has risen by 29.1 percent between the years 2000 and 2010. The survey also indicated that the largest number of Muslims can be found in São Paulo, followed by Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.”

Brazilian Islam has grown in reach as well, expanding outside of the country. A recent exhibit in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, showcased the history and art of Brazilian Muslims.

Pakistani newspaper The Nation, reported on the display “The exhibition aims at showing Pakistanis a little known side of life and culture of Brazilian Muslim community. The Ambassador of Brazil, Alfredo Leoni, inaugurated along with Rector National University of Sciences and Technology, Engr Muhammad Asghar, inaugurated the photo exhibition at the NUST.”

The University of Wisconsin, Madison campus asserts that the growth of Islam in Brazil is not from immigration or from large increases in births from traditional Muslim families. Instead, researchers from the school state that the increase to the population of Muslims in Brazil are converts “largely from Catholic Brazilians and those of other non-Muslim backgrounds (Protestantism, Spiritism, and no religious background).”

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