How Latin American Muslims observe Ramadan amid sadness and solidarity with Gaza

The feeling of closeness to Gaza is omnipresent even in Muslim communities in Latin America that do not have a high number of Palestinians. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 March 2024

How Latin American Muslims observe Ramadan amid sadness and solidarity with Gaza

  • Mosques throughout the region have launched charity efforts and awareness campaigns for Palestinians
  • Community leaders say the holy month has been more subdued than usual owing to the suffering in Gaza

SAO PAULO: Throughout Latin America, Muslim communities are observing Ramadan this year without the atmosphere of festivity that is common during the iftar meal owing to the suffering in Gaza, where more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on Oct. 7.

“This will be one of the worst Ramadan celebrations for us,” said Bashar Shakerat, a community leader in an area on the border between Uruguay and Brazil called Little Palestine due to the relatively high concentration of Palestinian immigrants.

“We’re praying at the mosque and there’s no festivity later. Everybody is sad.”

On Sundays during Ramadan, women traditionally cook large meals and people gather at the social club to celebrate. On weeknights, groups usually gather at home for iftar. Shakerat said nothing like that is happening this year.

Smoke billows behind highrise buildings during an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City. (AFP)

“We just want to pray and stay quiet at home,” he told Arab News. “We just want this war to be over. We’re tired. We want peace.”

Born in the Palestinian city of Jenin, Shakerat said he has family in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as do many of the residents of Little Palestine.

“We traditionally collect food kits and distribute them among needy families in our city. We know that our brothers and sisters in Palestine are also starving,” he added.

Muslim communities in Latin America do not have a high number of Palestinians. Even so, the feeling of closeness to Gazans is omnipresent.

“Our mosque was founded decades ago by Palestinian immigrants. They moved to other cities or died over the years, and now most of our community are Africans or Brazilians,” Turkish-born Sheikh Adil Pechliye, spiritual leader of Palestine Mosque in the Brazilian city of Criciuma, told Arab News.

Despite the demographic change in the community, the mosque’s members still have a deep connection to Palestine, said Pechliye, who graduated in Madinah in 2001.

“We’ve joined Criciuma’s pro-Palestine committee, and have been active in protests and marches against the genocide in Gaza,” he added.

Pechliye has been giving lectures on Palestine, and gave a Friday sermon in a public square a few weeks ago in order to disseminate information on Gaza.

A couple of months ago, the Muslim community promoted a relief campaign and sent aid to the Palestinian enclave.

Pechliye believes that most Brazilians support the Palestinians despite the pro-Israel stance of the Brazilian press.

He praised President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has been fiercely critical of Israel and even compared what is happening in Gaza to the Holocaust.

A Palestinian carries sacks of humanitarian aid at the distribution center of UNRWA. (AFP)

“The Holocaust was undeniably terrible, but I don’t think Lula tried to downplay its seriousness. He wanted to emphasize the horror of what’s happening now,” Pechliye said.

In the city of Santa Ana in El Salvador, the Muslim community also gathers to pray at a mosque named Palestine.

Mezquita Palestina Tierra Santa was founded in 2011 by a community that is almost completely made up of converted Salvadorans.

“We wished to honor Armando Bukele, who introduced Islam to El Salvador and whose family came from Palestine,” Sheikh Guillermo Sanchez told Arab News.

Bukele was born in El Salvador to Christian parents from Palestine, but he converted to Islam and was an imam for several years. His son Nayib is the current president of El Salvador.

Sanchez said his community “has strong ties with Palestine, and has been struggling to support Gazans in every way possible. A few weeks ago, we promoted a campaign to collect donations and sent it to Gaza.”

In the Colombian city of Cali, the Muslim community is in constant sorrow for the Palestinians, said Egyptian-born Sheikh Amr Nabil.

“At night we’ll have something to eat with our brothers here, but Gazans won’t have anything,” he told Arab News. “That’s very painful, and at the same time it helps us understand the injustices of our world.”

Since the beginning of Ramadan, the community in Cali has been praying for the Palestinians, and leaders such as Nabil have been giving lectures about Palestine and the roots of the conflict.

“I believe that only somebody who is completely uninformed about the Palestinian struggle is capable of supporting the ongoing genocide, or it’s a person who has completely lost humanity,” he said.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has criticized on several occasions Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Many Muslims in the South American nation support his stance.

“His declarations are those of a human being who expressed solidarity to a people that’s being massacred. We appreciate it very much,” Nabil said.

Sheikh Abu Yahya, a Mexican-born community leader who converted to Islam 12 years ago, told Arab News this is “the most difficult Ramadan. Our community in (the city of) Leon is formed by Mexican converts and by Muslims from Arab countries. We’re all equally sad.”

People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. (AFP)

He said the community has been focusing on “developing empathy and suffering together with those who are suffering, so prayers for the Palestinians have been constant.”

Abu Yahya added: “We decided to take part in the local pro-Palestinian committee. We’ve been taking part in several activities and sharing information about Palestine.”

He said amid pro-Israel campaigns in the Mexican media, many Mexicans do not have adequate information about what is happening in Gaza.

“That’s noticeable during our lectures, but when people discover the reality, they express their solidarity with the Palestinians,” he added.

Many Latin Americans have been receiving information and images of the victims in Gaza via social media, which has been impacting the perceptions of a growing number of people in the region.

“The war doesn’t spare anyone, and hunger is undoubtedly the worst way of dying. That’s why it’s impossible not to think about Gazans during Ramadan,” said Shakerat.


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UK’s Sunak, Starmer face televised grilling by unhappy voters

Updated 4 sec ago

UK’s Sunak, Starmer face televised grilling by unhappy voters

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer were grilled by voters at a televised event on Wednesday, with both challenged over past decisions, pledges and how they would fund policies if they won a July 4 election.

At their last meeting in television studios before the poll, the two men took turns to face an interviewer and then an audience, whose questions and responses underscored the everyday struggles of many in Britain and the mistrust of politicians.

With just over three weeks until an election opinion polls suggest Labour will easily win, Sunak was booed and heckled over doctors’ strikes, migration and his policy to introduce national service for young people.

Starmer was taken to task for what one audience member said was his avoidance of answering questions, and over his previous support of his predecessor, left-wing veteran Jeremy Corbyn.

A poll taken after the event in the northern English town of Grimsby said 64 percent believed Starmer had won the event on Sky News.

Starmer told the audience that he would start implementing his policies from ‘day one’ if he won the election but shied away from answering whether he was being honest when in 2019 he said his left-wing predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, should become prime minister.

“I want to get the place when I can roll up my sleeves and work with you ... to say the government is on your side,” Starmer said to applause. “That will be a massive difference to the last 14 years.”


Sunak was challenged over some of his policies, which audience members said had yet to solve their inability to get dentist appointments, reduce waiting lists in the National Health Service or stop the arrival of migrants in small boats.

“I know we’ve been through a tough time, of course we have... its been tough for all of you here tonight, all of you watching, but I do believe we have turned a corner and we’ve got a clear plan for the future,” he said.

“I am going to keep fighting hard until the last day of this election.”

The event came a day after Sunak unveiled 17 billion pounds of tax cuts in his governing party’s manifesto, trying to convince voters’ that he had a plan to make them better off while Labour’s policies are vague and ill-thought through.

He said again on Wednesday that a vote for Starmer was akin to writing him a blank cheque, repeating the contested accusation that a Labour government would increase taxes by more than 2,000 pounds. Starmer denied that was the case.

On Thursday, Labour will be try to set the story straight with its own manifesto, a document which sets out the policies the party will pursue in government, an agenda Starmer said would put wealth creation and economic growth at its heart.

Labour has repeatedly said it will stick to strict spending rules — a line Labour, traditionally seen as the party of tax and spend, has adopted not only to try to show it has changed since being led by Corbyn but also to challenge Conservative attacks that it will increase taxes.

But it was Corbyn who came back to haunt Starmer on Wednesday, when he was asked whether he believed what he said when in 2019 he said the veteran leftist would make a good prime minister and when he made 10 left-wing pledges to become Labour leader a year later, several of which he has since dropped.

“Have I changed my position on those pledges, yes I have,” said Starmer. “I think this party should always put the country first.”

US slams Russia over alleged abduction of Ukrainian children

Updated 18 min 12 sec ago

US slams Russia over alleged abduction of Ukrainian children

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday again accused Russia of taking Ukrainian children, some of whom were put up for adoption, after fresh media accounts detailed alleged abductions.

“This is despicable and appalling. These Ukrainian children belong with their families inside Ukraine,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.

“Russia is waging a war not just against the Ukrainian military — but against the Ukrainian people.”

An investigation by the Financial Times, published Wednesday, identified and located four Ukrainian children allegedly transferred to Russia, then offered for adoption on the website usynovite.

The children are aged between 8 and 15 years old.

According to the report, the name of one child was changed to Russian and no mention is made on the site of their Ukrainian origins.

Ukraine is demanding the return of nearly 20,000 minors it says have been illegally taken by Russia since the start of Moscow’s invasion in 2022.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, over the allegations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told AFP last month that he planned to make the return of children a top priority at this weekend’s summit in Switzerland on ending the war.

US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China

Updated 28 min 36 sec ago

US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday dramatically broadened sanctions on Russia, including by targeting China-based companies selling semiconductors to Moscow, as part of its effort to undercut the Russian military machine waging war on Ukraine.

Among the steps, the US Treasury said it was raising “the risk of secondary sanctions for foreign financial institutions that deal with Russia’s war economy,” effectively threatening them with losing access to the US financial system.

It also said it was moving to restrict the Russian military industrial base’s ability to exploit certain US software and information technology services and, with the State Department, targeting more than 300 individuals and entities in Russia and beyond, including in Asia, Europe and Africa.

Separately, the Commerce Department said it was targeting shell companies in Hong Kong for diverting semiconductors to Russia, taking steps that would affect nearly $100 million of high-priority items for Moscow including such chips.

It will also expand its lists of items Russia cannot import from other nations to cover not just US-origin products but US-branded goods, meaning those made with US intellectual property or technology, a senior Commerce official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

US-made chips and other technology have been found in a wide array of Russian equipment, from drones to radios, missiles and armored vehicles, recovered from the battlefield, Ukrainian officials say.

After seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor in 2022, triggering a host of new US economic sanctions on Moscow.

While many analysts do not expect US and other nations’ sanctions to materially change Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculus, they believe they will both make it harder for Moscow to wage war and, over time, weaken Russia’s economy.

“Today’s actions strike at their remaining avenues for international materials and equipment, including their reliance on critical supplies from third countries,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

The Treasury also said it was imposing sanctions on key parts of Russia’s financial infrastructure, including the Moscow Exchange (MOEX), which operates Russia’s largest public markets for equity, fixed income, foreign exchange and other products.

MOEX and its related subsidiaries have facilitated sanctions evasion by obscuring the identities of parties engaged in such transactions, a senior Treasury official told reporters. By sanctioning them, the official said, the US would force greater transparency on cross-border transactions, making it harder to evade sanctions.

MOEX, in a statement rushed out within an hour of the US moves on Wednesday, a public holiday in Russia, said the new sanctions had forced an immediate suspension of trading in dollars and euros on its leading financial marketplace.

The news came as President Joe Biden departed for a summit in southern Italy with leaders from other Group of Seven democracies: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

One of the G7 leaders’ priorities is boosting support for Ukraine, now in the third year of resisting Russia’s invasion, and disarming the Russian war machine.

Peter Harrell, who served as White House senior director for international economics in 2021 and 2022, described the latest sanctions as a “paradigm shift,” partly because they expose foreign banks to the risk of being cut off from the US financial system if they deal with key large Russian banks.

The Treasury accomplished this by increasing to 4,500 the universe of Russian companies and individuals who could trigger such sanctions from about 1,200, the senior Treasury official told reporters.

“For the first time, the US is shifting toward something that begins to look like ... an effort to set up a global financial embargo on Russia,” Harrell said.

Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

Updated 36 min 17 sec ago

Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

PARIS: Iranian authorities have released a French citizen held since September 2022, France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday, urging Tehran to free three other French citizens “without delay.”

“Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran,” Macron posted on X, thanking Oman in particular for helping to secure “this happy outcome.”

Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border

Updated 39 min 20 sec ago

Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border

  • The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day.

WASHINGTON: A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday over President Joe Biden’s recent directive that effectively halts asylum claims at the southern border, saying it differs little from a similar move during the Trump administration that was blocked by the courts.

The lawsuit — filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others on behalf of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and RAICES — is the first test of the legality of Biden’s sweeping crackdown on the border, which came after months of internal White House deliberations and is designed in part to deflect political attacks against the president on his handling of immigration.

“By enacting an asylum ban that is legally indistinguishable from the Trump ban we successfully blocked, we were left with no choice but to file this lawsuit,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the ACLU.

The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day. It went into effect immediately because the latest figures were far higher, at about 4,000 daily.

The restrictions would be in effect until two weeks after the daily encounter numbers are at or below 1,500 per day between ports of entry, under a seven-day average. But it’s far from clear when the numbers would dip that low; the last time was in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order went into effect June 5, and Biden administration officials have said they expected record levels of deportations.

But advocates argue that suspending asylum for migrants who don’t arrive at a designated port of entry — which the Biden administration is trying to push migrants to do — violates existing federal immigration law, among other concerns.

Biden invoked the same legal authority used by the Trump administration for its asylum ban, which comes under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. That provision allows a president to limit entries for certain migrants if their entry is deemed “detrimental” to the national interest.

Biden has repeatedly criticized Trump’s immigration policies as he campaigns, and his administration argues that his directive is different because it includes several exemptions for humanitarian reasons. For example, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors and those with severe medical emergencies would not be subject to the limits.

“We stand by the legality of what we have done,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on ABC’s “This Week” before the lawsuit was filed, saying he anticipated legal challenges. “We stand by the value proposition.”

Under Biden’s directive, migrants who arrive at the border but do not express a fear of returning to their home countries will be subject to immediate removal from the United States, within a matter of days or even hours. Those migrants could face punishments that could include a five-year bar from reentering the US or even criminal prosecution.

Meanwhile, those who express fear or an intention to seek asylum will be screened by a US asylum officer but at a higher standard than currently used. If they pass the screening, they can pursue more limited forms of humanitarian protection, including the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits returning people to a country where they’re likely to face torture.