As Brazil government were adding the final touches on World Cup preparations, a Brazilian active Muslim community was working around the clock to prepare their own welcome for hundreds of thousands of fans expected to arrive soon in the South American country.
“We expect around 50,000 Muslim fans to visit for the World Cup, mainly from Iran, Nigeria and Algeria, but also from countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Malaysia and the Gulf region,” Ali Hussein El Zoghbi, the Brazil-born vice-president of the Federation of Muslim Associations in Brazil (Fambras), told Emirati newspaper The National.
“We see this as a great chance not only to welcome Muslims, but also to spread the positive word of Islam to non-Muslims.”
Hosted by Brazil for the second time, the FIFA World Cup football tournament would run from June 12 to July 13, 2014.
Twelve cities are scheduled to host matches: Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Cuiaba, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Manuas, Natal, Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro
A total of 32 teams split into eight groups will be vying for the coveted World Cup trophy in Brazil, including six countries with a Muslim majority or large Muslim population including Algeria, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Finalizing their preparations for the huge event, staff at Fambras was preparing their own welcome to about 600,000 fans expected to visit the country during the month-long competition.
Fambras has several initiatives to “help dispel prejudice and ignorance of Islam,” El Zoghbi said.
Earlier this month, the group announced that a special guide book has been published in Brazil for Muslim fans in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Titled “Salam (hello) Barazil”, 65,000 copies of the 32-page booklet have been published by the Union of Islamic Associations of Brazil in cooperation with the Omani embassy in the South American country.
Al-Zuqbi said the book provides Muslim fans with addresses of Islamic centers, places of worship, Halal restaurants and entertainment centers whose activities are in accordance with Islamic Shari`ah laws.
Along with the written guide, the federation prepared a cuddly bearded mascot called Salaminho (Little Salam), a smart phone application and a a hotline to advise visitors on how to observe Islam while in Brazil.
Moreover, Fambras has planned special visits to hotels where teams from the six Muslim countries would stay.
The visit would aim at educating hotel staff on the workings of Ramadan, expected to start in the middle of the competition on June 28, and any special requirements that may be expected of them.
“In some of these countries — Iran is a good example — football is a national passion like it is in Brazil,” El Zoghbi, whose father moved to Sao Paulo from Lebanon in 1949, said.
“We have contacted all 32 teams and told them we are available to help in whatever they need.”
Along with the printed guide Fambras will launch its smartphone app next Sunday.
The app will include a compass to locate the direction of Makkah for daily prayers and a list of halal restaurants in each of the host cities.
A 12-hour daily phone service — in English, Arabic, Spanish, French and Portuguese — will also launch before the tournament starts.
Ahmed Khalaf, an Egyptian who works at Fambras added that another service would include a branded “Salam Bus” which will travel around the country distributing a wide range of books in several languages.
The bus will carry the slogans “Conheco o Islam” (Know Islam) and “Islam é Paz” (Islam is peace).
“I have lived in Brazil for four years,” Khalaf said.
“The situation is different as the Muslim here is in the minority, but the most important thing is still to make sure your religion is the most important part of your life. For instance, I make all my prayers, even if I am on the metro.
“People take an interest and ask me questions, but it is never a problem. People are open-minded.”