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There has 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. And these issues are often portrayed as being unique to the “West.”

What that scholarship and 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 & Caribbean Center is working to educate English speaking scholars and reporters about the Muslim populations in the region.

“I think Latin America has been one of the forgotten regions because of the Spanish and the Portuguese,” says Project Director Maria Logrono. She says most scholars who study Islam learn Arabic or Persian or focus on a traditional region in which to study the religion. “Most scholars approach the Middle East in area studies, not thinking about the larger geographic borders of it.”

Logrono says English-speaking media often ignore the Muslim populations in Central and South America until something bad happens.

“I guess we can say journalists have approached Islam in Latin America,” Logrono says, “But I think they have approached it only when there’s conflict and tension.”

Logrono says there is certainly tension in some parts of Latin America, especially where Islam chafes against Catholicism, but that’s not true of every country in the region or every Muslim group, either.

“The Muslim populations that you have in Latin America are, and this is especially the case of South America, mainly migrants and converts,” Logrono says. “When it comes to integration … what we have noticed is that Muslim migrants have integrated very well.”

In fact, there’s some debate whether a kind of “Creole” Islam has begun to develop in places like Brazil and Cuba.

“Scholars working on Islam in Cuba will tell you, ‘Yes, there is actually an attempt at Creolization of Islam, or creating a Cuban Islam,’ in which something as unthinkable as eating pork may be something that Muslims in Cuba are considering.”

Logrono and her project staff have been working on a short documentary for the last year about Islam in the region. It’s limited in scope, focusing on Argentina and Brazil, but Logrono hopes it will give viewers a taste of what life is like for Latin American Muslims.

“We went and filmed communities and their gatherings and their practices and their histories to show the diversity of Muslim communities in Latin America,” she says. “Because we couldn’t accomplish all Latin America…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.”

You can find more find more information about Logrono’s work as well as view photos and the documentary at the project’s website.


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