According to statistics, the number of Muslims in Latin America is over four million, with 700,000 in Argentina and more than 1,500,000 million in Brazil
1 – When did Latin America first meet Islam. How did Islam reach this region?
Although Islam first came to Latin America in the early 17th century, it was more established as we know of currently during the 1920s and 1960s with three waves of migration, when Ottoman citizens of Arabic background came to this continent. In this continent there are Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese and Muslims of other backgrounds coming from the Ottoman geography. They are referred to as Los Turcos and for this reason they think that Arabic is the language used in Turkey.
2 – What is the age difference of the local Muslims? In general from which countries are their background?
Latin America has attracted attention as a geography where the youth aged between 18-24 are converting to Islam. The interesting aspect is that most of the converts are women. In general people do not change their names accordingly but however there is a proportional increase amongst the youth. In general you can witness the the proclamation of faith every month in the mosques. From Mexico to Argentina and Colombia to Brazil in all these nations there is a similar trend. In this perspective, the world of Islam should show a more closer and thorough attention to this continent.
3- What is the total Muslim population? Are they spreading?
The total population of the continent is approximately 625 million. The total population of Muslims in the continent is estimated to be about 5 million. This estimate includes all those of Arabic background and new converts also. However as a realistic consensus is difficult and when you consider the rapid increase in converts, it is only reasonable to assume that in actual fact these numbers must be higher. In the times to come, it is an expected possibility that Islam will continue to spread amongst the youth.
4- Are there insufficient mosques? How many mosques – masjids are there in each country?
In general there is a mosque in the capital city of every nation. In some cities there are 3-4 and in some only one. However outside the capital cities there are only smaller masjids, usually on the bottom levels of apartment blocks. The Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs) should build mosques in the second largest cities of Latin America that can service around 150-200 people, with the appropriate architecture similar to what they have done in the Balkans, that can also be a center of attraction as well. I do not advise them to build in the capital cities because there are already places of worship established there. Also because in the capital cities there can be unreasonable quarrels over leadership issues. Rather there must be an entrance from Turkey in places where these services are minimal or none. In Latin America a mosque is not only a place of worship but also a place where people learn about, see, show attention to and get introduced to Islam. It is also highly probable that it can be a destination for tourists as well due to its architecture. When you think of all of these aspects, a mosque that is to be constructed in Latin America would have a different purpose to a mosque that is to be constructed in other areas, that being it would serve as a ‘visual propagation center’. This should be evaluated properly and so therefore the religious groups and the charity organizations in Turkey should become closer with Latin America.
5- Are there organizations such as Directorate of Religious Affairs or groups for the Muslims in Latin America?
The leader of Muslims in Latin America are usually comprised of the Imams of the mosques and members of the management committee. Every year they come together in one of the nations for interaction of ideas, however there is no organization that covers the whole continent. In addition, there can also be subdivisions in the same nation as well as the continent. These divisions can be either from personal reasons or even a difference in political ideologies. However these are not so indifferent as in general they are all aiming for the same outcome. It is possible to see members of the Tabligh Group in many of the mosques and also the Selefis are slowly entering the continent. There is a lack of Islamic literature in Spanish and there must be special efforts made to compliment this need. There is also structural growth every year in their organization as a continent. As the new Pope is from Argentina, there is a possibility that this year the congregation of religious leaders can be in Rome and hence quite possible that Muslim leaders will be invited to represent the continent. It is said that there is a process conducted in this regards by the Pope and the Vatican, also it has been acknowledged that the Pope and the Muslim leaders of Argentina are personal friends from the past. In my opinion, It has become necessary for a high level delegation of the Diyanet to take part in these meetings that are conducted every year, in order to exchange ideas and to follow the new developments.
6- Are they facing difficulties to live their lives in accordance with Islam?
In general the Muslims of Latin America do not face any problems with their life styles. It is possible to say however that they have two big issues: Halal meat and Islamic clothing outlets. In regards to clothing, they normally tackle this issue when they are traveling, however this is not so much a localized solution but rather a copy cat solution. Hence the topic of Islamic attire in Latin America should be dealt with, while also considering the climate and culture of the individual nations in order to achieve a localized solution that is more permanent and suitable for the region.
7- What do the Muslims there need the most?
The biggest thing that is lacked is Islamic education. This ranges from books to the schools that are to give this education. As the world of Islam is distant to this region, it is not always financially possible to travel the distance to get Islamic education. Even though there are sponsored programs from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to bring students there from Latin Muslims, this is still insufficient. Diyanet had also taken some people in this perspective for an education.
8- What are there conditions in social life?
They are very successful in business, so therefore their social stance is quite good. The are respected. They had a president in Eqvador and Argentina, with many members of parliament in Venezuela. In general they are successful in social integration, but this success is inevitably a demise for them religiously because Latin culture is a very dominant and strong culture.
9- How do the Catholics of the region look upon the Muslims?
Their relations are quite good and there are no negative perceptions. There were some small groups who were influenced by the events of 911 and tried to portray some Muslims as close to terrorism, however this was not successful.
10- Are there similarities in the political outlook of Latin America when compared to the political outlook of the Middle East?
The destiny of Latin America and the Middle East have many similarities. That being, since the 1950s both these continents had seriously based its politics on anti western propaganda. The representatives of the anti western propaganda were Islamists in the Middle East and the Leftist movement in Latin America. However if you remember on both sides there was intervention by the west via military coups. Both places had developed three types of political agenda which started after 1990 and became more apparent since 2000. The first type being anti western politics, which was carried out by Iran in the Middle East and Venezuela in Latin America. The second type being pro western politics, which was represented by Egypt in the Middle East and Colombia in Latin America. Colombia is one of the nations which receives the most funding from the West after Israel and Egypt. Both these political stances were in opposition to each other. Hence for this reason it was necessary to have a third political style which would therefore be based on regional-global benefits and balance. In Latin America this political style was represented in Brazil by Lula da Silva. In the Middle East it was Turkey, where Erdogan represented it. At this point in time, the competition between the three political sides, hence the struggles of the methods in political styles is apparent and it seems that the Erdogan-Lula model has won.