Saturday, February 11, 2006

Islam in South America: Population of Muslims growing in Latin American countries

The protest of Muslims on Danish caricature issue in Venezuela had brought spotlight on the presence of Muslims in Latin America. The countries of South America have substantial Muslims and it is estimated at 2 million Muslims live in Brazil.

Though this is a minuscule percent in the huge population of Brazil, the presence of Muslims in cities is nonetheless significant. Though majority of them are from the middle-east who emigrated to South America in search of jobs, there is a population of 'reverts' as well.

The Blacks who were taken as slaves for centuries and the crypto-Muslims from Spain (who were forcibly made Christians but secretely remained Muslms during Inquisition in Spain) kept observing Islam. Until the end of nineteenth century these Muslims families were present in Latin America.

But except Surinam where Indian Muslims reached late and maintained their distinct identity, the rest somehow disappeared in the most Christian of all continents--South America. Some of these families have converted or rather reverted to Islam.

There is also a so-called Muslim triangle at the border of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Here migrant Arabs and Palestinians reside. Argentina has a visible Muslim population, especially in Buenos Aires that has several mosques.

Among major countries in the continent--Brazil, the biggest country, has a population of over 180 million and Muslims account for less than a million but they have presence in cities like Sao Paolo and Rio De Janeiro. Argentina has nealry 700,000 Muslims. The community is quite visible in Venezuela's Caracas and Chile's Santiago.

Suriname has the largest percentage of Muslims, around 18%, though it's a small country. Guyana has nearly 12% inhabitants practising the religion. Trinidad and Tobago that has a population of over 1.2 million has a Muslim population of 8-10%.

However, in the last couple of years the increase in trade has led to growth in Muslim population. Indigenous South Americans have also converted to Islam. There are Islamic centres in almost every country and the major cities, which help in acclimatising the coverts.

Muslims also live in Bolivia, Uruguya, Panama, Colombia and Peru. Hispanics have an old relationship with Islam and though it had the least Muslim presence among all continents, steadily Islam is also becoming part of the South American cultural heritage.