Chile is a country where Catholicism is the majority faith; it was the belief system of the Spanish and Portuguese invaders who at one time or another dominated the lands of the indigenous peoples of South America. It is recorded historically that In the 1800’s two Muslims from an unidentified part of the Ottoman Empire settled in Chile. By the turn of the century, the number of Muslims had risen to nearly 1500, living mainly in the northern part of Chile.
Today, Sami Elmushtawi, an Egyptian immigrant, is the imam of the Al Salam Mosque in Santiago, Chile. The construction of the mosque, the first in Chile, was begun in 1990; it was finally completed in 1995. The King of Malaysia attended the inauguration. “I’ll never forget that day; the day of the mosque’s inauguration was a day where the dreams of the Muslim community became true,” said the Egyptian Imam, or community leader, commenting further that it is not everyday that anyone receives a visit from a king. The Al Salam Mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques in Latin America, after those in Venezuela and Brazil.
There are over 3000 Muslims in Chile now, many native Chileans who have adopted the culture and spirit of Islam, and have changed their names to Arabic ones; these numbers include Sunnis, Shi’a, and Sufis (who are mostly non-Arabs). The mosque was built to accommodate 500 people, however,it usually only fills during special religious occasions. “There are some people who come to pray during the day, but due to work the majority come to the mosque in the evening,” explained Imam Almushtawi.
Muslim Women in Chile
Karima Alberto is a housewife who is married to a Syrian merchant; they have two children. “He is the reason I converted to Islam, he told me marvelous things about Islam, so I began to go to the mosque and learned more about Islam. It was like self-discovery,” she said. She aspires to visit Mecca, a holy city for Muslims, and she has met her husband’s relatives in Damascus. “It was not difficult to give up eating prok and drinking alcohol [drinks]. Its God’s will, and its stated in the Holy Qur’an. Although some people think its a big sacrifice, I don’t look at it that way at all. Islam has given me a new vision.”
Carla Olivari, an 18 year old student, says that she does not feel the peer pressure to drink intoxicants, or commit other acts that are immoral. Carla related that when she was 16 she used to pass by the mosque, and one day she decided to go in; when she left the mosque – she was a Muslim. “I feel that Allah chose me,” she recalls. Her parents are Catholic, and did not oppose her acceptance of Islam, however, her brother did. “When he sees me praying in my room, he calls me a lunatic.” She fasts during Ramadhan, the month of obligatory fasting for Muslims, and she also keeps some extra fasts on other days. “Above all,” she stated, “ I pray for the victims of Palestine and Iraq.” Carla added, “My husband has to be a Muslim. I want my children to grow up in a Muslim family that teaches them important family values.”
Habiba Abdullah is a doctor at the Roberto Del Rio Hospital in Santiago. She emphasizes that she carries the surname of her father “because Islam permits us to conserve our surname, and not [have] to be Mrs Somebody.” Habiba has 6 brothers, an 18 year old son, and her entire family is Muslim. “I was born Muslim, and I’m proud of it! I remember my father taking us to the mosque…we would learn the Qur’an, and we would study Arabic. Although it was difficult when I first wore my veil at work…little by little people started accepting me. “
Imam Almushtawi says that things were difficult after September 11, but says that now “there are always people coming to the mosque out of curiosity; some come to learn Arabic, and some to learn more about Islam…but it definitely gives me greater joy that the Muslim community is increasing in Chile.”
Mezquita de Santiago de Chile