Though Muslims enjoy a unique atmosphere of tolerance in Brazil, many of their mosques are closed because of the rarity of imams, something that threatens the Islamic identity of many Muslims, particularly the younger generations.

"Though there are some 120 mosques in Brazil, there are only 40 imams and preachers," asserts Khaled Taqei Ed-Din, an imam of a Sao Paulo mosque.  "Only few of those imams have finished their university degree in Shari`ah, while the rest are only imams by practice."

Despite the massive buildings and unique designs, two thirds of these mosques are almost deserted, with no signs of life.

"Many mosques do not even hold all five prayers of the day," laments Othmani (pictured).

Muslim leaders attribute the crisis to the lack of financial aid to Islamic centers and mosques in Brazil, hampering the training of more mosque leaders.

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.

The majority of Muslims are descendants of Syrian, Palestinians and Lebanese immigrants who settled in Brazil in the nineteenth century during the World War I and in the 1970s.

Many Iraqis have arrived in the country after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Most Muslims live in the states of Parana, Goias, Riod de Janiero and Sao Paulo, but there are also significant communities in Mato Grosso do Sul and Rio Grande do Sul.

Identity

Muslim leaders warn against the serious repercussions of the deafening silence inside many mosques.  "Many of the younger generations know nothing about Islam," Ahmed Othman Mazloum, a preacher of Lebanese origin, told IOL.  "Some are only Muslims by name and others have even expunged anything related to their faith."

Muslim leaders agree that much of the blame lies with their community, which did not exert enough efforts to support the mosque institution and its message.

Othmani suggests that Muslim organizations and groups should strife to recruit qualified, full time imams with financial support from within the community, instead of resorting to volunteer imams.

Professor Mohsen Bin Musa El-Husseini, head of the Islamic Center in Foz du Iguacu, the city which has the second majority of Muslims in Brazil after Sao Paulo, has another solution. "The Muslim community is in dire need of an Islamic endowment, whose revenue would be dedicated to Muslim institutions, " he said.  "This is the only way to preserve the Muslim identity of the future generations. "