The Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce is launching a Portuguese edition of the Koran, the Islamic holy book, in Brazil. This is the first Portuguese translation that is considered "official," according to the traditions of this religion, which has over a billion followers in the world today.
For the vice-president of the Chamber, professor Helmi Mohammed Ibraim Nasr, the edition represents "a step to acquaint the people of Latin America with Islam in a correct manner."
Nasr, who teaches Arab language and culture at the University of São Paulo, immigrated to Brazil from Egypt 43 years ago. He is also responsible for the translation.
"We want to give Brazilians an idea of a universal religion," he explains, adding that "the purpose is not to turn Brazil into an Islamic nation."
He says that, as a university professor, he is still astonished at how little Brazilians, even those in privileged socioeconomic conditions, know about Arab culture and religion.
"It makes me sad to hear them always referring to Islam as terrorists," he lamented in a collective press conference on Tuesday, October 18.
"The distance between countries is very great, so there are very erroneous notions."
The translation began 23 years ago, in 1982, when, on a trip to Mecca, Nasr received a proposal from the Islamic League of America. He spent four years working on the translation and nearly another 20 revising it.
"Anyone who wanted to learn about our culture did not have a legitimate document like this one before. It is something for the future, a foundation," he says.
Nasr is also the author of the first Arab-Portuguese dictionary published in Brazil.
Religious principles prohibit copies of the Koran from being sold. They can only be given as presents; therefore, the edition is being financed by the government of Saudi Arabia, where it is being published.
According to Nasr, the eight previous translations of the Koran into Portuguese (four in Portugal and Africa and four in Brazil) were not done by Muslims, so they were not considered official.
Copies will also be distributed to universities and libraries. In Portugal, according to Nasr, they will be used to prepare an adapted version requested by the local Islamic community.
There are only 40 officially recognized translations of the Koran, which was written in Arab in the 7th century.
Among the Islamic principles that Nasr hopes to clear up with his translation are rules such as the prohibition of alcohol, considered dangerous because "it alters the way people think," according to Nasr, and the ban on charging interest.
"Interest is prohibited, because it allows people to make money without working. It is a vile thing," he says.