Latin America

Islam in Brazil

Maria Moreira, Islam For Today

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. However, in Latin America, and specifically in Brazil, this is not the case. Why? Maria Moreira, a Brazilian convert who teaches at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, examined the history and current state of the Muslim community in Latin America’s largest country. She found two main reasons for the low conversion rate.

The first is the lack of trust and understanding by Brazil’s Arab-Muslim community. The new converts were treated more as “intruders” to the community. They “have to fight alone against the criticism of his/her family, friends, the Brazilian society and worst: fight against the criticism of their own fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. The feeling of isolation leads some to abandon Islam after a while.” The second reason is the shortage of good books and other resources about Islam in the Portuguese language. “The other Latin people are Spanish speakers and can depend on good works translated to Spanish. However, Brazilians are the only Portuguese speakers among Latinos and this fact increases their difficulties.”

The Contribution of Muslims to the Development of Music


The influence of Muslims on the musical revival of Europe can be detected as early as the period of the Carolingian Empire.

Charlemagne tried to emulate and compete with Baghdad and Cordoba. He too invited scholars from abroad to his court and established schools. This revival was chiefly mastered by three influential scholars; Theodolfus (d.821), Claudius (d.c.839) and Agobardus (d.840), all of whom had contacts with Muslim learning as they were Goths born or educated in Spain or Southern France.

The Islamist Presence

Douglas Farah, International Assessment and Strategy Center, 2007

Hezbollah remains the primary Islamist force in Latin America. The traditional divisions between the Shia Muslim sects and the Sunni wahhabi/salafist sects remain deep. However, in Latin America, as in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the differences on the ground appear to be overcome by tactical alliances, particularly in the movement of money and the procurement of services such as false identity papers.

In Latin America Hezbollah (Shia) and Hamas (Sunni) have developed sophisticated but little studied financial structures, largely through the unregulated exchange houses and free trade zones in specific parts of the region, including Panama’s Colon Free Trade Zone, Isla Margarita in Venezuela, Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, the Aruba Free Trade Zone and others. The overarching structure that enables both groups to work along side each other is the international Muslim Brotherhood, the one pan-Islamist group that has for several decades served as a bridge between the two factions.

There is also evidence, in the form of corporate registrations, that the international Muslim Brotherhood has established dozens of offshore companies in Panama and the Caribbean. Additionally, Brotherhood companies appear to have financial dealings with specific banks that are often also involved in money laundering activities for drug cartels and other illegal transactions.

One of the most interesting and least studied developments of the past decade is the growth of salafist mosques, complete with outreach literature in Spanish and Portuguese.

Since about 1997 there has been a concerted effort by Sunni Muslims to proselytize in South America. The mosque websites, tied to ISNA and the World Association of Muslim Youth (WAMY), offer information on “reversion,” the Islamic term for conversion; literature, points of contact, and offers of aid. In some of the countries where new mosques have been built, the Islamic population remains negligible (for example in Bolivia, where the total national Muslim population is estimated at 3,000).

Further Reading