Monday 3 December 2018

Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Brazil

I have been writing this series of Muslims and Non Muslim countries and have a mixed feeling of how Muslims are treated in most of the non Muslim countries. But Brazil, oh boy, what a fresh breeze I felt while reading about Muslims in Brazil, a South American secular country famous for its Football team and almost 60% of the entire Amazon rain forest, beside the Christ Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro is one of the 7 Wonders of the World. 
"Muslims in Brazil are in a state where they are proud of their faith and more concerned about sharing their belief with people than defending it. Though the general public has limited knowledge of Islam, Brazilians hold no prejudice towards Muslims despite the infiltration of rhetoric echoing American Islamophobia. Moreover, despite a trend of Brazilians changing their name when they become Muslim, they are very much proud of their cultural and national heritage as Brazilians. Almost all agreed that what they love about Brazil is its tolerance, hospitality, acceptance of others, and just happy attitude to life," writes Ammar Asfour who has been exploring Islam in different countries around the world. [1]
The history of Muslims in Brazil begins with the importation of African slave labor to the country in the 16th century. The Muslim uprising of 1835 in Bahia by Malês, as African Muslims were known in 19th-century Bahia. The revolt, the largest slave revolt in Brazil and the largest urban slave revolt in the Americas, left fifty to a hundred dead. Fearing the example might be followed, intensive efforts were made to force conversions to Catholicism and erase the popular memory of and affection towards Islam. However, the African Muslim community was not erased overnight, and as late as 1910 it is estimated there were still some 100,000 African Muslims living in Brazil. 

Brazil received a lot of Arab immigrants after the world wars, specially from Syria and Lebanon. Our current President is of Arabic ancestry. In spite of that, the majority of Arabs that came to Brazil were Christians, Maronites and Melkites mostly. Don´t expect to find a lot of Muslims among the Arabic Brazilian society.[5]

The number of Muslims in Brazil, according to the 2010 Brazilian census, was 35,207. Muslim associations in Brazil, however, gave higher numbers of adherents: from 400,000 to 1.5 million. [2] According to a census conducted by the Brazilian institute for geography and statistics, the number of Muslims living in Brazil has risen by 29.1 percent between the years 2000 and 2010. 

The Muslim culture cane be felt and seen in the architecture. As for the cuisine, the second largest fast food chain in Brazil is Habib's, which serves Arab food. The diversity of influence also stretches to businesses such as the textile industry, which is mostly run by merchants of Syrian-Lebanese origin. The São Paulo city council has a Muslim Councilor by the name of Mohammad Murad, a lawyer. A number of mosques dot the greater São Paulo area, the oldest and most popular of these being found on Avenida do Estado. Since its establishment, the mosque has added a Quranic school, library, kitchen and meeting hall for various functions.

During the past 30 years, Islam has become increasingly noticeable in Brazilian society by building not only mosques, but also libraries, arts centers, and schools and also by funding newspapers.A growing number of people have converted to Islam in recent years in Brazil. According to local Muslims and media reports, conversions to the religion have contributed significantly to its spread in the country. A recent Muslim source estimated that there are close to 10,000 Muslim converts living in Brazil. Significant Muslim communities are located in the industrial suburbs of the city of São Paulo and in the port city of Santos, as well as in smaller communities in Paraná State in the coastal region and in Curitiba and Foz do Iguaçu in the Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay triborder area. There are over 150 mosques in Brazil and the number is growing.

Generally speaking, Brazil is much more tolerant than the United States or European countries when it comes to the coexistence with the Islamic religion. It is not common to see someone making the prejudiced association Arab-Muslim equals terrorism, as you see in other countries. The multicultural traces of Brazil (it is estimated that 15 million Brazilians have Islamic backgrounds) have shaped a society that can live just fine with differences, and this is not a cliché, but reality. [3]

As for Halal meat, something most Muslims look for when visiting a new country, Brazil is a big producer of halal meat, most part of it is exported. But despite that it is difficult to find the halal products, aside from metropolitan cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, that are very well supplied with halal meat. The rising Brazilian halal meat industry employs a lot of Muslim skilled workforce. In terms of food, Brazil’s second largest fast food chain is Arabic style restaurant Habib’s and, in Rio, traditional Arabic dishes such as hummus, kafta and felafel can be found everywhere. Another place to taste Arabic food is Amir restaurant, situated on the seafront of Copacabana.

Education for Muslim children is not much of a problem as they can study wherever they or their parents decide. Although many Brazilian private schools still teach based on catholic values and have catholic names, yet, the schools cannot forbid a Muslim student to take lessons there, what configures religious discrimination, punishable by Law.

There is no prohibition when it comes to people's garment. So, the use of hijab, niqab or burka (and its variations from Islam's culture to culture) is not forbidden, but it draws a lot of attention and curious glances, as Brazilians are not used to these costumes and habits. Women in those garments are free to circulate through absolutely everywhere in Brazil, inclusive public institutions. It is not legal for a Muslim to miss work or school etc, based on the Islamic holidays, but, of course, this can be agreed between the parties. [3]

How do Muslims of Brazil feel describe Islam and being a Muslim, well the answers are generally positive and reassuring.[1]
  • Kaab, a community leader who when asked about culture said, “I don’t really care much about culture. My culture now is my relationship with God and caring for the community.”  
  • Leandro is an impressively knowledgeable 26-year-old Brazilian lawyer says, "Islam means three things. It means a serenity and comfort at heart. It means a way of life through connecting with God. And, lastly, it means a balance that he references with a short verse in the Quran, “Thus We have made you a middle nation.” His favorite thing about Brazilian culture that he maintains as a Muslim is the hospitality of Brazilians and their family values. He also thinks that Brazilian culture loves and appreciates food and he loves to maintain that as Muslim.
  • Yousuf, a graphic designer, says he finds it reinforcing to his spirituality. It is as if his faith is a white dot in a sea of darkness which encourages him to focus on protecting it. For him, it is part of the Brazilian culture to have a strong guiding faith, regardless of what that religious belief is. “Brazilians have faith!” he says.
Sami Isbelle a spokesperson for SBMRJ [Sociedade Beneficente Muçulmana do Rio de Janeiro] in Rio de Janeiro, revealed in an interview with a Pakistani news network, “The number of Muslims in Brazil continues to grow and most are Brazilians who are converting. […] They are drawn to Islam for different reasons, such as marrying a Muslim, getting to know the religion through friends or the Internet or while searching for answers to spiritual questions.” [4]

31 year-old Fernando Celino, who converted to the Islamic faith from Catholicism in 2006, “It happened during my adolescence. I continued to believe in God but not religion. I first came across Islam through a Muslim friend and while at university I began to study the religion myself in greater detail. It explained things to me better than any other religion had.” [4]

I could go on and on sharing views of the Brazilian Muslims, but suffice to say all have similar experiences and aspirations as expressed by Kaab, Leandro and Yusuf above. So it is happy living for Muslims by and large, something not found in other non Muslim countries. They enjoy celebrating their religious events with full religious zeal and fervor. Herein under watch Muslims in Sao Paulo adapt for Ramadan:

Photo | References: | 1 | 23 |  4  | 5 |
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