Muslim Voices — Latin America
0:00:06:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Welcome to Muslim Voices. I'm your host, Rosemary Pennington. There's been a lot of research and reporting on Muslim populations living in the United States and Europe that work, often, centers around issues of identity and integration. Issues that are often portrayed as being unique to the, quote, "West," unquote. What that scholarship and that reporting has often overlooked is that there are Muslim populations in other non-majority Muslim regions that includes Latin America. A Social Science Research Council funded project at Florida International University's Latin American and Caribbean Center is working to educate English speaking scholars and reporters about the Muslim populations in the region. I spoke with Project Director, Maria La Grownio about what they've been doing and asked her why Muslims in Latin America have been overlooked when it comes to academia.
0:01:04:>>MARIA LA GROWNIO: I think there's a good reason. For those of us who work on Islam, most of these various studies, I think we have to think about the way in which various studies are conceived. And for ours, it requires that we learn a Middle Eastern language, right? We have to learn either Arabic or Turkish or Persian, which already takes plenty of time. So, and these is actually fine for the Middle East but not when you want to move around, when you want to consider Islam in its larger version, right? And I think Latin American has been one of the forgotten regions, mostly because of the Spanish and the Portuguese. I think the linguistic barrier has made a huge difference here. That on the question of various studies and how do the students and the scholars approach the Middle East not thinking - thinking in terms of various studies but not thinking a little bit beyond the geographical bar their stuck with. So I think that's one of the main questions. As for a journalist, I guess we can say that journalists have approached Islam in Latin America but I think they have approached it only when there's conflict and tension. That some of the experiences that are amongst the learning, the question of tension and conflict. And in the case, of Latin America, they have mostly been concerned about the question of the tri-border area, particularly after the terrorist attacks to two Jewish institutions in Argentina and later on with September 11. But this is media attention for what they consider to be a terrorist, location of terrorism, so-called terrorism. So that's the kind of journalistic attention that Islam in Latin America has received. What we are trying to do is analyze, what are the pros and the cons of that approach and particularly, increase awareness on Islam, the whole, not just on where the tension and the conflict has been supposedly identified.
0:03:00:>>: I know that the whole purpose of your project is to increase the visibility of Muslims living in Latin America. What have you guys been doing for the last year?
0:03:08:>>: Well I - we are just finishing producing about a 21-minute video, a documentary that we filmed in Brazil and we filmed in Buenos Aires. And it included several locations, Sao Paulo, Curitiba, Foz do Iguacu, also, Cida de leste, In pera wine, and Buenos Heights. I'm going to say. We went and filmed communities and their gathering and their practices and their histories. And so that to show the diversity of Islamic - of Muslim communities in Latin America. And because we couldn't accomplish all Latin America, this is another question that we'll have to think about, Latin America is such a diverse place in itself. What we tried to do is take two of the most representative places but obviously, trying to open questions for debate and hopefully, for future research.
0:04:05:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Often, in discussions of Muslim populations in the west specifically, there is this kind of tension over whether or not Muslims should integrate into the larger societies they find themselves in. I wonder what the situation is like there in Latin America. Is there this tension between assimilation and integration and sort of retaining their own sense of a Muslim identity?
0:04:30:>>MARIA LA GROWNIO: The Muslim populations that you have in Latin America are mainly and this is particularly the case of South America, are mainly the case of both, migration but also conversion. So these are two different questions, right? I guess you also have that phenomenon in Europe. And when it comes to integration, for instance, what we have noticed is that historically speaking, Muslim migrants have integrated very well into Latin America. The question, for instance, different from the United States is the approach of race, right? Whiteness is defined differently in South America as it has been defined in the United States. So, and there has been a fairly thriving, economically thriving community. So the integration has happened fairly easily and smoothly I would say.
0:05:20:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: When I was poking around on your website, I came across this idea of creolization of Islam. Could you explain what that is?
0:05:26:>>MARIA LA GROWNIO: Well the question here and this is actually something under debate by many scholars, is there a Latin American Islam, right? That's the main question. And again, here you have regional differences and country-based differences. For instance, scholars who work on Islam in Cuba, for instance, will tell you that yes, there is actually an attempt of creolization of Islam or creating a Cuban Islam in which something as unthinkable of like eating pork, may be something that Muslims in Cuba are considering because as everyone knows who studies Cuba, pork, for instance, is one of the major staples of Cuban food, right? This is unthinkable in any other context. In Brazil, some scholars actually argue that there is an attempt to bring Islam into a Brazilian with a little bit of openness and more closer to what Brazilian culture is about. Although, in my experience, I tend to agree with other set of scholars that think that this Brazilian Islamic doesn't really define accurately the experience of Islam and Muslim communities in Brazil. So what we are finding, for instance, in Brazil and I think that also applies to Argentina as well and Mexico is that Muslim communities try to identify with the larger Muslim communities and try to become part of the cosmopolitan Muslim identity. Again, I guess Cuba, in this case, seems to be and probably there will be other studies done on this regard, but at this point, it seems to be a little bit different from other cases.
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0:07:16:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: This has been Muslim Voices, a production of the voices and visions project in partnership with WFIU public media from Indiana University. Support comes from the Social Science Research Council, music was provided by Animus. You can find Muslim voices on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes. There's also our blog at muslimvoices.org. org.
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