BRASILIA – Surrounded by World Cup festivities everywhere, a small, yet growing, Muslim minority in Brazil have been observing an easy fasting for the holy month of Ramadan with short days and pleasant weather.
“In my country, at the moment, it is so, so hot. Here it is very pleasant, and the day is short,” Ibrahim Nashawaty, a refugee from Syria now living in Brazil, told Anadolu Agency at the only mosque in Brazil's capital Brasilia.
“I am hungry, but I am happy to be here with all my family.”
In the majority of Muslim countries, Ramadan started on Sunday, June 29.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks.
Around the globe, Muslims observe Ramadan with a set of traditional rituals including family gathering at iftar, religious lessons, special evening prayer and helping the poor.
Back in Nashawaty’s home country in Syria, fasting hours extend to more than 15 hours a day, compared with only 9-11 hours in Brazil.
Yet, the Syrian refugee has been facing some challenges in preserving his fasting in the Christian-majority country.
“In some ways it is much harder here,” he said.
“Everyone is eating and drinking on the streets all the time, because they are mainly Christians.”
According to the 2001 census, there are 27,239 Muslims in Brazil.
However, the Islamic Brazilian Federation puts the number at around one and a half million.
Islam expert Paulo Pinto of Fuminense Federal University estimated Brazil is home to about a million Muslims.
With no confirmed number of Muslims, the best indicator of the growth of Islam in the country is the rapid increase in the number of mosques.
There are now 127 mosques, four times as many as there were back in 2000.
In Brasilia, many Muslims gather for prayer at the Islamic Center of Brasilia, a tranquil walled mosque in the city's north.
During Ramadan, the mosque hosts iftar at sunset where Muslims like Yassin Adnane share the meal with his friends.
Adnane, a translator for the Iraqi embassy who is originally from the north of Morocco, estimates that there were between 3,000 and 5,000 Muslims in Brasilia.
“There are aspects of Brazil that make fasting here more difficult,” he said, “such as the dryness of the climate, the way women dress, the smell of coffee and cigarettes on the street – for me, giving up coffee is the most difficult thing.”
“But in Iraq or Kuwait, it could be 53 or 54 degrees Celsius at this time of year,” Adnane said.
“We eat little salt at night, to diminish our thirst the next day, and no blue fish, like tuna, which also encourages thirst.”
Ramadan came into the international spotlight this week when the coach of the Algerian national team angrily rebuffed questions about Ramadan fasting ahead of their second-round World Cup game against Germany.
Algeria held the European powerhouse off until extra time, but ultimately lost 2 – 1.
“The Algerian players could have asked for a dispensation, sure, but I understand why they didn’t. They are Muslims, and they are accustomed to fasting,” said Adnane.
“No one dies for not drinking water for a few hours.”
Unlike the Syrian refugee Nashawaty, Bakhtear Binalam, from Bangladesh, who has been working in Brasilia for a year and half as a waiter, fasting while seeing people eating and drinking all day was not a problem for him.
“For me this is the greatest expression of my religion, so I am very happy to do it," he said. “It is not just about fasting, but also about charity, about giving a portion of your money to help poorer people.”
“Similarly, in fasting, I am giving a portion of my health to Allah.”
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