By Shaykh Abdur Rahman
Although I am fifth generation Guyanese, I knew little of the Muslim communities in other parts of South America. I often wondered, what have people heard about Islam? Do they have Masaajid? Does anyone do da’wah?
A few months ago, Farhan, the coordinator of WhyIslam, a project of ICNA, emailed me. A group of dedicated and experienced individuals would be going to Brazil to give da’wah at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Without hesitation, I decided to join the team. This was the perfect opportunity for me to find answers to my questions.
Brazil is all about football. Football is bigger than religion, bigger than life itself. WhyIslam’s chosen theme was fitting – “What is your Goal?”, or in Spanish “¿Cuál es tu meta?” and in Portuguese “Qual é o seu objetivo?” The question facilitated and spurred dialogue about existence and purpose.
One day as I was standing at a corner handing out flyers, a Brazilian journalist began to interview me on the role of religion at the World Cup. I took advantage of the opportunity to explain the significance of what we were here to do. Beyond the goal on the football field is the bigger goal of life. A match ends and the hard won goals are transient. The real goal of life is everlasting. Thus our da’wah began.
Most of our outreach was focused around the games. Whenever there was a match, huge crowds would pour into the “Fan Fest Zone”, a free area to watch the action on big screens. “Obrigado”, thank you, and “muito obrigado”, thank you very much, were on our lips as we distributed material and engaged in conversations. With these two phrases and a smile, we handed out thousands of booklets and flyers.
The most novel experience was doing da’wah in the favelas of Brazil. These slums are situated within urban areas beside tall multi-million dollar high-rises. The stark contrast of poverty and wealth is disconcerting.
We met Imaam Kaab, the resident leader of the local Muslim community, who had singularly established a musallah on the outskirts of the favela. He informed the “boss” of that particular favela that we wanted to go around and distribute flyers and afterwards hand out food hampers.
The boss met with us and joined us as we went from house to house. He led us through nooks and crannies and streets so narrow that two individuals would find it difficult to walk together. Most people we met greeted us with a smile despite crippling poverty and a lack of access to basic resources.
On the last day, Carlos, our taxi driver, decided to take the shahaadah. He said that he had been observing us from the beginning, and although he understood little of what we said, he felt that it must be the right way because of our kind behavior. This reinforced the very important point that da’wah is not just words. It is also the way we interact with others.
On my way home I had a extensive layover in Panama during which I decided to venture out. The taxi driver showed me several important sites and during our trip we spoke in depth about religion. The last stop was at a Masjid in Panama City. I invited him to come inside and he stood next to me for prayer. Afterwards, he too took the shahaadah by Allah’s mercy.
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to give da’wah in South America. People are genuinely interested in Islam. In my experience, the Islamic Centers in Brazil and Panama are built to serve the Muslim population in their rituals, but there seems to be a lack of outreach into the greater community. My suggestion to the Imams would be: Go out and provide people with words of comfort and hope. Remember: smile and obrigado!
Full article will be available in Message International