• Category Category: B
  • View View: 2037
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

BRAZIL The history of Islam in Brazil begins in Portugal, which conquered and colonized Brazil from 1500 to 1822. Colonial customs such as the seclusion of women and their wearing of the veil have been traced to Muslim influence in Portugal. However, a deep seated anti-Muslim sentiment was expressed by the Portuguese crown in its determination to bar descendants of Muslims from filling posts of authority either at home or in its colonies. Moors-like Jews, Indians, and blacks were considered an “infectious race.” The Inquisition persecuted Islam as well as Judaism and other non Christian beliefs, although there is no record of the arrest of Muslims in Brazil.

Mosque brazil

The first important Muslim migration to Brazil originated not in the Mediterranean but in tropical Africa.

These Muslim Africans were probably islamized Mandinka slaves, brought to Brazil in small numbers over the sixteenth to eighteenth century. Very little is known about their religious practices beyond the fact that they gave name to the famous bolsas de mandinga (Mandinka pouches or amulets). The great wave of African Muslims came in the first half of the nineteenth century. They were primarily Hausas and Yorubas and less frequently Bornus, Nupes, and Fulanis brought as slaves to work in mines, on cotton and coffee plantations, in cities, and above all on sugar plantations. Historians have estimated that at least 354,100 slaves, including a significant number of Muslims, were imported from the Bight of Benin between 1791 and 1850. Most had been taken prisoner during political and religious conflicts within present-day Nigeria, including successive revolts that led to the demise of the Yoruba empire of Oyo and the jihad initiated by Usuman Dan Fodio in 1804, followed by Islamic expansion into Yoruba land.

In Brazil, Muslim slaves were initially known by the Hausa term musulmi and later by the more popular Yoruba term imale or male, indicative of the greater number of Yoruba in the Muslim community in the 1820s and 1830s. These slaves’ religious culture became interwoven with their political history. They remain known for their involvement in a series of more than twenty revolts in Bahia, then a sugar-producing province in northeastern Brazil that received the majority of Muslim slaves.

In 1814 slave fishermen from whaling warehouses on the coast revolted with the help of runaway slaves and freedmen from the Bahian capital city Salvador. More than two hundred men set fire to nets and warehouses, attacked a nearby village, and tried to reach the plantation area, killing more than fifty people before being overpowered by troops. The rebel ranks were overwhelmingly Hausa but included a few Nupe, Bornu and Yoruba. Their principal leader, a man called Jodo, was described as “malomi or priest”, the term malomi being certainly derived from malam, a Hausa word for a Muslim priest. The Muslim contribution to the episode is confirmed by confiscated papers written in Arabic.

A more serious episode occurred on 25 January 1835, the so-called “Male revolt.” For nearly four hours, about five hundred African rebels fought in the streets of Salvador. They were mostly Yoruba and Hausa slaves and freedmen, who paid bitterly for their actions, receiving punishments that varied from the death penalty to whippings and hard labor.

The movement was led by Muslim preachers, most of them elders who had promised to protect their followers with Islamic amulets. Although there is no reason to believe they sought to establish an Islamic state or saw the movement as a jihad of the sword, the uprising did not lack a ritual dimension. For instance, it was planned to occur at the end of Ramadan, probably after the Laylat al-Qadr festival of AH 1250 (25 January 1835). The trial that followed revealed, through the testimony of participants, a network of Muslim practices: the celebration of Muslim holy days, daily prayers, the observance of food and sexual taboos, initiation rites, Qur’anic reading meetings, the teaching of the Arabic language, and the making of Muslim clothes and amulets. There is evidence that a strong process of conversion to Islam was under way at the time of the rebellion, particularly among Yoruba slaves and freedmen.

The brutal repression disrupted and dispersed the Muslim community. Hundreds of freedmen were deported back to Africa, and others willingly crossed the Atlantic to avoid continued police violence and ethnic discrimination; numerous slaves were separated and sold south to coffee plantations. Any blacks found with Muslim writings were immediately viewed as suspect. Following the abolition of slavery in 1888, in Bahia and elsewhere in Brazil, Muslim ex-slaves could still be found as isolated practitioners of their faith; some of them became famous for making amulets, which they sold to a clientele immersed in magical beliefs. But beyond this, Islam was unable to penetrate the African Brazilian community, who developed a syncretism of Catholicism and African ethnic religions.

As the last African Muslims were disappearing at the turn of the century, Middle Eastern Muslims were arriving to Brazil in small numbers along with Christian immigrants from the Ottoman territories of Syria and Lebanon. Today, however, the great majority of Muslims in Brazil are descendants of Sunni Muslims who left Lebanon after World War II. Mostly engaged in commerce, some two hundred thousand (estimates vary widely) are concentrated in the greater Sao Paulo area, the economic heart of Brazil, where they continue to follow Muslim ways through mosques, Islamic centers, periodicals, and social clubs.

[See also Islam, article on Islam in the Americas.]


Kent, Raymond. “African Revolt in Bahia, 24-25 January 1835.” Journal of Social History 3.4 (1970): 334-356.

Nina Rodrigues, Raimundo. Os africanos no Brasil. 4th ed. Sao Paulo, 1976.

Reis, Joao Jose. Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia. Translated by Arthur Brakel. Baltimore, 1993.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/brazil/

  • writerPosted On: November 3, 2012
  • livePublished articles: 768

Translate »