Islam in Brazil

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Mosque in Foz do Iguaçu.

Islam is a minority religion in Brazil, first brought by African slaves and then by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants.[1] It is not independently included in charts and graphics representing religions in Brazil, being grouped in "other religions", which generally represent about 1% of the country's population. The number of Muslims in Brazil, according to the 2010 Brazilian census, was 35,207.[2] Muslim associations in Brazil, however, gave higher numbers of adherents: from 400,000 to 500,000.[3] These estimates encompass a range of 0.02-0.35% of the Brazilian population.


African immigration[edit]

Capoeira or the Dance of War by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1835

The history of Muslims in Brazil begins with the importation of African slave labor to the country. Brazil obtained 37% of all African slaves traded, and more than 3 million slaves were sent to this one country. Starting around 1550, the Portuguese began to trade African slaves to work the sugar plantations once the native Tupi people deteriorated. Scholars claim that Brazil received more enslaved Muslims than anywhere else in the Americas.[4]

During the days of the Barbary Wars, some native Brazilians came into interaction with Muslim lands. It was noted by Dr. Antonio Sosa, a Portuguese cleric held captive in North Africa in the 1570s, that the infamous port of Algiers maintained one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world including Amerindians from Iberian colonies in the New World.[5] Barbary corsairs were known to attack the shipping of slaves and merchandise while taking prisoners coming from the Americas. In 1673, 140 prisoners were taken from a Rio de Janeiro fleet while a 1674 capture of a Brazilian ship contributed in the decision to increase naval protection.[6]

Malê Revolt[edit]

The Muslim uprising of 1835 in Bahia illustrates the condition and legacy of resistance among the community of Malês, as African Muslims were known in 19th-century Bahia. The majority of the participants were Nago, the local designation for ethnic Yoruba. Many of the "Malês" had been soldiers and captives in the wars between Oyo, Ilorin and other Yoruba city-states in the early part of the 19th century. Other participants included Hausa and Nupe clerics, along with Jeje or Dahomean soldiers who had converted to Islam or fought in alliance with Muslims.[7]"

Beginning on the night of January 24, 1835, and continuing the following morning, a group of African born slaves occupied the streets of Salvador and for more than three hours they confronted soldiers and armed civilians.[8][9]

Even though it was short lived, the revolt was the largest slave revolt in Brazil and the largest urban slave revolt in the Americas.[10] About 300 Africans took part and the estimated death toll ranges from fifty to a hundred, although exact numbers are unknown. This number increases even more if the wounded who died in prisons or hospitals are included.[9] Many participants were sentenced to death, prison, whippings, or deportation. The rebellion had nationwide repercussions. Fearing the example might be followed, the Brazilian authorities began to watch the malês very carefully and in subsequent years intensive efforts were made to force conversions to Catholicism and erase the popular memory of and affection towards Islam.[11] 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.[12]

Muslim immigrants in Brazil[edit]

Following the revolt of the Afro-Brazilian Muslim community, the next period of Islam in the country was primarily the result of Muslim immigration from the Middle East and South East Asia. Some 11 million Syrian and Lebanese (mostly Maronite Christians) immigrants live throughout Brazil.[13] The biggest concentration of Muslims is found in the greater São Paulo region.[citation needed]

Architecture and cuisine also bear the trademarks of the culture brought to the hemisphere by the Arabs. As an example, 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 (mainly of Christian faith). The São Paulo city council has a Muslim Councillor by the name of Mohammad Murad, a lawyer.[14] 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.


Mosque in Cuiabá, Brazil.


According to the Brazilian census of 2010[15] there were 35,167 Muslims living in the country, primarily concentrated in the states of São Paulo and Paraná, compared to 22,450 Muslims in 1990 and 27,239 in 2000.[16] There are significant Muslim communities 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. The community is overwhelmingly Sunni; the Sunnis are almost completely assimilated into broader society. The recent Shi'ite immigrants gravitate to small insular communities in São Paulo, Curitiba, and Foz do Iguaçu.

A recent trend has been the increase in conversions to Islam among non-Arab citizens.[17] A recent Muslim source estimated that there are close to 10,000 Muslim converts living in Brazil.[13] During the past 30 years, Islam has become increasingly noticeable in Brazilian society by building not only mosques, but also libraries, arts centres, and schools and also by funding newspapers.[18] The growth of Islam within Brazil is demonstrated in the fact that 2 of the 3 existing Portuguese translations of the Qur'an were created by Muslim translators in São Paulo.[13]


Islamic Centre of Campinas.

There are over 150 mosques in Brazil and the number is growing.[19] As has been the case in many of the larger metropolitan mosques in South America, foreign assistance and individual effort have played major roles in the sustainability of the mosques in the greater São Paulo area. For example, the Imam of the Av. Do Estado Mosque is from the Middle East and often Imams are chosen jointly by the Mosques' management committees and the Arab governments that pay for the Imam's services. Ismail Hatia, a South African who came to Brazil in 1956, built a mosque in Campinas many years ago. Hatia, who also runs a language school, felt that the approximately 50 Muslim families in Campinas were in dire need of some community organization to help provide cohesion and direction for the Muslims. The Campinas mosque now holds regular Friday juma'at prayers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ P Forsythe, David. Encyclopedia of Human Rights, Volume 2. Oxford University Press. p. 187. ISBN 0195334027.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "International Religious Freedom Report for 2013". Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  4. ^ Lovejoy, Paul E., Muslim Encounters With Slavery in Brazil, Markus Wiener Pub., 2007. ISBN 1-55876-378-3.
  5. ^ Garcés, María Antonia. "Cervantes in Algiers: A Captive's Tale." Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2002, p. 35
  6. ^ Hanson, Carl A. "Economy and Society in Baroque Portugal: 1668-1703." London: Macmillan, 1981, p. 250
  7. ^ Slave rebellion in Brazil: the Muslim uprising of 1835 in Bahia, p. 139
  8. ^ Kent, R K. "African Revolt in Bahia: 24–25 January 1835." Journal of Social History 3 (1970): 334-356. Jstor. UNCC, Charlotte. 24 Oct. 2007.
  9. ^ a b Reis, João J. "Slave Resistance in Brazil: Bahia, 1807-1835." Luso-Brazilian Review 25 (1988): 111-144. Jstor. UNCC, Charlotte. 24 Oct. 2007.
  10. ^ "Slave Rebellion in Brazil". 1 September 1995. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  11. ^ Joao Jose Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia, Johns Hopkins University Press, London 1993
  12. ^ Steven Barboza, American Jihad, 1993
  13. ^ a b c Oliveira, Vitória Peres de. Islam in Brazil or the Islam of Brazil?. Translated by Jeffrey Hoff. Relig. soc. [online]. 2006, vol.2, Special Edition [cited 25 October 2007]. Available from World Wide Web: <>. ISSN 0100-8587.
  14. ^ "Islam Under Wraps - IslamiCity". Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  15. ^ IBGE - Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics). 2010 Census. Accessed 07.08.2012.
  16. ^ "Os caminhos do Islã no Brasil [The paths of Islam in Brazil]". IstoÉ. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  17. ^ "Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor International Religious Freedom Report 2009" October 26, 2009, US Department of State report on Brazil
  18. ^ "Loving Muslims Through Prayer » Brazil's Muslim Peoples". 16 March 2007. Archived from the original on 16 March 2007. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  19. ^ "A Guide to Finding Mosques in Brazil". Retrieved 20 September 2018.

External links[edit]