Brazilian Muslim’s Struggle for Existence

Translator: Fatıma Nur Dinçer

When we hear talk about Brazil, a colorful ethnic structure, equatorial climate, and welcoming people are what the majority instantly think about. However, to most people’s surprise, it is also home to the highest population of Muslims in Latin America. One percent of the countries population, an estimated 1.5 million, is composed of Muslims. Muslims in Brazil have been maintaining their existence here for hundreds of years. Many years ago African Muslim ‘slaves’ provided the country great historical input with their strive for equality and freedom. In particular, the Male rebellion of 1835, which took place in the Eastern state of Spain, Bahia, holds importance in history and for Muslims.

The Arrival of Muslims to Bahia


The emergence of Islam in the Bahia region occurred with the bringing of Western African ‘slaves’ from Nigeria, where Islam as a religion was vastly spread, to Brazil during the 18th century. This community of ‘slaves’ was named Hausa. Following this, the Muslim majority of the region was maintained by bringing Nigerians from the Yoruba tribe to the capital of the Bahia state, Salvador. While enabling the spread of Islam, these two communities also gave great struggle to practice their religion freely. With time, many different Muslim communities such as the Nagos, Jejes, Hausas, and much more were given as one name, Males. In comparison to other slave communities, the Males started to catch the attention of others with their strong personality and their knowledge of literacy.

Muslims Living in the Region Introduced


Muslims living in the region introduced Islam to the rest and even enabled some to be honored with the religion. Official authorities started to become uncomfortable with the increase of unity and togetherness, as a result, they started to form pressure against Muslims. The systematic pressure against Muslims showed its first breakout, in the form of two unsuccessful rebellions, in 1814 followed by another in 1816. Following Brazil accepting Catholic Christianity as the official religion of the country in 1824, and Islam being reduced to the religion of the ‘slave’ class, Muslims found themselves striving for their freedom. 

1835, the last Sunday of the holy month of Ramadan, marked the start of one of the most important events of Brazil, the Male Rebellion. Although Muslim ‘slaves’ saw this rebellion as a revolt against the authority which had restricted their religious freedom and forced them to convert to Catholicism, they were not alone in this struggle for freedom. Non-Muslim ‘slaves’ also played a great lead role in the struggle to have independence and freedom. Over 1000 soldiers fought against 300 rebellions on the streets of Salvador for three hours. Despite the Male Rebellion not succeeding for the minority, it played an important part in the rebellions leading slavery to be abolished. In much the same way, despite the defeat, it can be said that the rebellion did result in one success. It has been stated that one of the aims of the rebellions was for the Muslims to be sent back to their countries, and following the rebellion, the Brazilian authorities took the decision to send many Muslim and non-Muslim ‘slaves’ back to their countries, in fear of further rebellions arising. 

The Status of Brazilian Muslim Today


The government’s policy of forced religious conversion was committed to suppressing further revolts on the people of Male. However, despite the decrease in figures of Muslims from the 1900s onwards, Islam carried on to be a widespread religion amount the African ‘slaves’. With this being said, the declining number of African Muslims was replaced by an increase in Arab immigrants, particularly from Lebanon and other regions in the Middle East. Muslim immigrants from the Middle East also brought different sects of Islam with them to the area, the Brazilian Muslim population is made up of 90% Sunni and 10% Shia.
It is still possible to come across the intellectual remnants of the colonial era in Brazil. The little respect shown towards the people of Male is shocking, so much so that only a small number of people accept the existence of the Male population. In addition to this, although Brazil is officially considered to be a secular country, the influence of the Catholic Church across the country is undeniable. Although there is tolerance towards other beliefs, no effort is made for the acceptance and freedom of those beliefs. The latest official census results confirm this. Since the majority of the Muslims are registered as ‘other’, they are not included in the Muslim statistics and therefore are included under a smaller minority status. Official figures show that around 35,000 Muslims are living in Brazil, while other sources indicate the population of Muslims has reached an altitude of about 1,500,000.

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