Juliana Mello

Juliana Mello

The Brazil Business


Work and Live as a Muslim in Brazil

Juliana Mello

Juliana Mello

The Brazil Business


Brazil has a large Islamic community, formed from several migratory waves throughout its history. Know in this article how Muslims are integrating in the Brazilian society and how the country deals with the coexistence of different religions.

Brazil, a secular country?

Born and formed under the Catholic religion, Brazil only became a secular State in 1890, after the advent of the Republic. The first republican constitution not only provided the secularism, but also consecrated the broad freedom of religious faith and worship. The secularism was reaffirmed and acknowledged by the Brazilian Constitution currently in force, which was promulgated in 1988.

Although claimed as such in the Constitution, Brazil is far from being a secular country as it says is on the paper. There are several attitudes from the society and the public institutions that go totally against the secularism principles. To give an idea, let us enlist some anti secular positions commonly taken in Brazil:

  • Public institutions and spaces (schools, courts, universities, municipalities, companies, graveyards etc) are forbidden to display any religious symbols in its rooms. Yet, we can see several crucifixes hanging around on public walls. Also, it is common to see some politicians and judges preaching passages from the Bible before their sessions.

  • Some religious groups put pressure on politicians, to avoid the promulgation of laws and scientific researches regarding sexual and reproductive rights, such as abortion and sexual orientation matters.

  • The Brazilian currency notes and coins have this phrase printed: “Deus seja louvado” (May God be praised).

  • There is a constant interference of the Government when it comes to religious events. The Pope visit in Brazil, for example, mobilizes lots of public resources and the military and federal police.

  • Several Christian dates are adopted as national holidays, such as Passion of Christ, Corpus Christy, Nossa Senhora de Aparecida (Brazil's catholic patron saint), Christmas etc.

  • Politicians are not allowed to demonstrate their religion, but that simple does not happen. They actually use their religious principles to gain votes.

Adds to those attitudes, the extreme religiousness of the Brazilian society, permeated with Christian, especially Catholic, values. The process of secularism in Brazil is stepping forward, but we are still a very Catholic country.

Islam in Brazil

Now that we have discussed a little about secularism in Brazil, we can start talking about the Islamic community in the country. It is almost impossible to define who are the Muslims living in Brazil. There are converted migrants, professionals, entrepreneurs, workers in various fields of production, traders etc.

According to the Brazilian Islamic Federation, there are about 1.5 million Muslims living in Brazil. The greatest part of them are Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian and Palestinian descendents, but there are still other nationalities involved. Throughout the country, there are more than a hundred mosques and praying Islamic rooms. There is also a rising number of people converting to Islamism in Brazil. Some Islamic religion centers were even founded by Brazilians.

The greatest part of the Muslims in Brazil live from sales businesses.The great commercial street 25 de março, located in São Paulo city, was founded by arabic immigrants. Most of the stores are quite ancient, as they were inherited by the families' owners, passing from generation to generation. The same happens to Arabic food restaurants and groceries selling typical Arabic ingredients, which are very well received by the Brazilian people.

Living as a Muslim in Brazil

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 cliche, but reality.

Actually, it is inside the Brazilian Islamic community, that occurs the greatest intolerance, especially from Arabic-Muslims to Non-Arabic Muslims. The Brazilians converted to Islam, for example, are the ones who suffer the most.

It is good to know that in Brazil:

  • 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. Also, the national calendar (and its several christian holidays must be respected.

  • For now, it is not forbidden to preach or pray on the streets or other open places.

  • Islamic garment: In Brazil 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. Also, if asked by authorities, they are not obliged to take off the veil, but they may have to show their face if necessary to prove identity.

  • Halal meat: Although Brazil is a big producer of halal meat, most part of it is exported. Here in the country, is very difficult to find the product, 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.

  • Muslim kids can study wherever they or their parents decide. Many Brazilian private schools still teach based on catholic values and have catholic names. That happens because, Brazilian education was founded and conducted for centuries by the Jesuits. Yet, the schools cannot forbid a Muslim student to take lessons there, what configures religious discrimination, punishable by Law.

Secularism in the Constitution

Here goes some inserts of the Federal Constitution regarding secularism, that are important for everyone to be aware of:

  • Article 5, VI: states the inviolability of freedom of belief, ensuring the free exercise of religious worship and the protection of places of worship as well as their rites.

  • Article 5, VII: claims to be secured, under the law, the provision of religious assistance in civil and military hospital conference.

  • Article 5, VIII: stipulates that anyone shall be deprived of rights because of religious belief, philosophical or political conviction, unless he invokes it to exempt himself from a legal obligation imposed upon everyone and refuse to perform an alternative set by law.

  • Article 19, I: prohibits the States, Municipalities, the Union and the Federal District to establish religious cults or temples, embarrass them or keep working with them or have representative relations of dependency or alliance, except, as provided by law, when in collaboration of public interest.

  • Article 150, VI: Forbidden to the Union, states and the municipalities to establish religious worships or temples, subsidize them, embarrass them or keep working with them or their representatives in relations of dependency or alliance, except, as provided by law, when in the collaboration of public interest. Refuse faith to public documents or create distinctions between Brazilians or preferences among themselves.

  • Article 210: states that schools will not teach any religious content, in order to ensure a common basic education and respect for cultural values.

  • Article 226, paragraph two: states that the religious marriage has civil effects, in accordance with law.

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