ISLAM IN THE LARGEST BLACK NATION IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
..excerpts from the book, REBEL MUSIC: RACE, EMPIRE and the NEW MUSLIM YOUTH CULTURE
written by HISHAM ADI
In the wee hours of January 25, 1835, the last day of Ramadan, Muslim slaves wearing abadas (gowns), skullcaps, and silver rings gathered in the basement of a two-story house in Salvador in northeast Brazil. They were making last-minute preparations for an uprising set to start in a few hours. Discontent had simmered among Bahia’s Muslims for years, and events had brought matters to a boil: the Brazilian police had two months earlier disrupted a Muslim gathering to celebrate Lailat al-Miraj, the night when the Prophet ascended to heaven; then they publicly destroyed the community’s makeshift Vitória mosque, and arrested two respected community leaders. A revolt was planned for the day after the “Night of Power” at the end of Ramadan, when the Quran was revealed. The Brazilian authorities, however, were alerted to the conspiracy ahead of time, and they broke into the lodge, attacking the insurgents. Violence erupted all over the city of Salvador, leaving seventy people dead, among them fifty slaves, and scores wounded.
Bahia in northeast Brazil, like the American South, was the primary destination for slaves transported from Africa. During the 1800s, thousands of Muslims, mostly Hausas, captives of the wars then raging in northern Nigeria, were imported from the Bight of Benin to Bahia. As their numbers increased, the Muslims (imales, as they were called), imbued with a religious fervor from the wars in Hausaland, grew restive. Insurrections erupted frequently, culminating in the rebellion of 1835. The Malê Revolt, as it came to be known, failed, but its Muslim character captured the attention of American and European publications, like the Times of London. The court trials and hearings that took place in Salvador afterward would reveal the complexity of Muslim communal life in nineteenth-century Bahia. Objects confiscated— amulets, documents, dozens of wooden writing boards— showed that the Muslims had mosques and schools, where students studied under community elders called alufás. Bahian Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan by sacrificing sheep and, like their counterparts in North America, exchanging rice cakes, called saka. As historian Michael Gomez has observed, the material collected after the Malê rebellion revealed the similarities in cultural practice between Muslims in Brazil and their co-religionists elsewhere in the New World, showing that “Muslim dress and diet in Bahia were also distinctive, as they were in coastal Georgia and South Carolina.”
HISHAM ADI makes the connections between the musical genre known as hip-hop and the recent interest and spread of Islam in Europe and in South America along with its historical roots. A must read for anyone interested in current Islamic trends. m.a. ibrahim