RIO DE JANEIRO: “As-salam aleikum!” Omar greeted worshippers as he entered Mesquita da Luz, Rio’s first mosque where he had just broken his Ramazan fast at dusk.

Those are some of the only words Omar knows in Arabic, and he quickly continued his conversation in Portuguese with fellow Muslims who mostly, like him, converted recently to Islam in the world’s biggest Catholic country.

In a land known more for its bikinis and extravagant Carnival featuring scantily clad women, a small but growing number of Brazilians of various backgrounds call themselves Muslim.

For decades, it was primarily families of Libyan, Palestinian and Syrian descent who practiced Islam in Brazil.

Omar, who until just four years ago officiated as Catholic priest at a local church, explained why he embraced Islam.

“I found in Islam everything I had always looked for. I met God as he is, with no adaptation,” the 34-year-old graphic designer told AFP.

Wearing a traditional long djellaba robe, he refused to give his official name, instead only revealing his Muslim one: Omar Israfil Dawud bin Ibrahim.

“At the seminary, you learn that Islam is one of the monotheistic religions. There is no prejudice against this religion,” said Omar as he stood by his wife Alessandra Faria, who goes by the name “Fatima” after converting and deciding to wear the veil.

“In the beginning, my mother was mortified at the thought of going outside with me. I wear the veil to show I am Muslim and aware that I am part of a minority,” she said.

Fatima’s hijab may raise eyebrows in Rio, where it is more common to see women walking the streets in bikinis in seaside neighborhoods, but she says her beliefs can find a place here.

“Brazil is a mix, made up of several different cultures. This mix makes Brazilians very adaptable and tolerant.” Like most practicing Muslims here, Omar and Fatima are only recent converts to Islam. They plan to travel to Saudi Arabia next year on a Saudi government grant to learn Arabic.

Originally posted: Islam takes root in land of bikinis and Carnival

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