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2012/02/14

Islam conquering Brazil

There is no doubt about it: Islam is gaining ground in Brazil. After the September 11 attacks and under the impetus of the Telenovela television mini-series popular in Latin America, the conversion to Islam have increased in the urban Brazil. Rosangela seeks the direction of Mecca five times a day in her small apartment in Vila Ferreira, a poor district of Sao Bernando do Campo, an industrial city located a few miles from Sao Paulo. At the age of 45, her life is punctuated by Islam, she embraced in the early 1990s. She is veiled, wearing the long tunic of Muslim woman at the Center of Disclosure of Islam in Latin America. "I also give classes on Koran," she says. Conversing with Rosangela is not easy. The dialogue stops every five minutes when she answers the phone and inform visitors about the upcoming conference by Sheikh Jihad Hassan Hammadeh, the director of the center. "The demand of Koran in Portuguese is so huge that I've run out of stock; so I hand out the Spanish versions." The biggest Catholic country in the world, Brazil has enjoyed a decade of significant growth of Islam invasion. "It's impossible to know for certain how many Brazilians are Muslim, as most register themselves into the category: other," say the professor Paulo Pinto da Rocha from the University of Fluminense. To him the best indicator of Islam's invasion of Brazil is the multiplication of mosques. Despite the arrival of Muslim masses in the early 20th century from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, that the Brazilians called the 'Turcos' (the Turks) in reference to the guardianship exercised at the time by the Ottoman Empire, the first mosque was inaugurated in 1960. The construction of mosques did not truly start until the 1980s and has accelerated since early 2000s. Effective invasion After the September 11 attack on America by Muslim terrorists, "people wanted to learn more about the people who were able to shake the core of American empire, other doubted the media stories," says Rosangela. "The people of Brazil saw that Islam had nothing to do with hatred and terrorism, and gradually Brazilians converted into Islam." The Islamic conversion movement has always existed in Brazil, despite the very low early proselytism. "In general the conversions were linked to marriage or friendship. The 9-11 attacks increased the visibility of Muslims and fueled curiosity," said Paulo Pinto da Rocha. The University courses on Islam, once ignored, are now over crowded. The renewed interest in Islam is a world-wide phenomenon. But in Brazil the craze has been fueled by the local specificity: the Telenova. Three weeks after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Globo Channel launched the Clone series. The TV series located in Morocco, had the ambition to portrait the Arab and Muslim world in a good light. "It's quite coincidence that the soap operate was planned for months," remembers Francirosy Feirreira, an Islam expert at the University of Sao Paulo.