First Institute for Latin American Imams
By Hany Salah
February 4, 2009
SAO PAULO – The first-ever institute for training imams and preachers in the entire Latin American continent will soon see the light in Brazil to meet a dire need for homegrown scholars.
“The institute will open its doors by March,” Abdelbagi Sidahmed Osman, executive director of the Latin American Institute for Islamic Studies, told IslamOnline.net.
“It will be the first of its kind, not only in Brazil but in Latin America.”
Headquartered in Maringa city in the northern Parana state, the ground-breaking institute will focus on teaching Islamic studies and training imams.
It will have a 12-member teaching staff, six of them from abroad.
The institute is expected to enroll 150-250 high school graduates, each will pay $1000 for a two-year study divided into six semesters.
“So far, only students from Maringa will be able to enroll, but we are planning to build a dormitory to enable students from across Brazil to study at the institute,” Osman said.
However, the institute will offer online e-learning programs to serve those who want to take the curriculum, he added.
Osman said the graduates will be granted a locally and internationally-accredited degree.
“We have already coordinated with the Brazilian government and with a number of leading universities in the Muslim world to credit our degree,” he explained.
The institute comes in response to the scarcity of local imams and preachers.
“Brazil, and Latin America in general, is facing a dearth of local and foreign imams,” says Osman, the executive director.
There are some 120 Islamic centers and mosques across Brazil, two-thirds of them suffering the absence of imams and preachers.
According the institute’s website, Brazil has only 50 imams, only few of them speak Portuguese, Brazil’s official language.
“Most of the foreign imams come from Al-Azhar,” explains Osman, referring to the Cairo-based highest seat of learning in the Sunni world.
“They stay here for only two years. This is not enough to get acquainted with the norms and language of the country.”
There are 27,239 Muslims in Brazil, the continent’s most populous country, according to the last census of 2001.
But the Islamic Brazilian Federation puts the number at around one and a half million.
The majority of Muslims are descendants of Syrian, Palestinians and Lebanese immigrants who settled in the country during World War I and in the 1970s.
“Hopefully our institute will help fill the gap,” says Osman.
Muhsin bin Mussa Al-Husni, head of the Islamic Society in Parana state, agrees that the institute will address a dire need, not only in Brazil but across Latin America.
He says the lack of support from Muslim-majority countries to the continent over the years has motivated the Muslim community to depend on itself.
“We had no other way but to prepare homegrown imams.”