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The role of Muslims in the Bahia(Brazil) Slave Revolt

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The Islamic Slave Revolts of

Bahia, Brazil



Other key figures who were Muslim teachers in this revolt included Silverstre Jose

Antonio. He was a wealthy Hausa freedman and trader who made frequent trips into the rural

areas of Reconcavo trading and organizing the revolt.193 There was Antonio, who had studied

Islam in Hausaland.194 He was a teacher of Islam and was a trader of amulets to Muslim and



The Muslim community of Bahia had a very cohesive society in spite of their

condition as slaves. What we know from the evidence is that the African Muslims, both slave

and freedmen, met for the obligatory Friday prayer called juma`a. This is significant because

according to classical texts of Islam the Friday prayer was the most important prayer of the

week. There could be no excuse for a Muslim missing it except for sickness or death. For this

reason Shaykh Sanim collected a monthly sadaqa (alms) of 320 reis from all the Muslims,

slaves and freedmen. Some of these funds would be used to pay the daily sum owed to the

masters by slaves who took off from work to pray the Friday prayer.206 This demonstrates that the Muslims took their Islamic customs quite serious and they were not nominal Muslims

as some scholars have suggested.207

The Muslims often met every day to perform the obligatory prayers, learn the

fundamentals of Islam and to memorize the Qur'an. After the rebellion, the police seized

more than one hundred writings boards called allo in Hausa or wala in Yoruba.208 This no

doubt was taken from the Arabic word al-lawh which was a flat wooden board about 10

inches by 2 feet. It was used by Muslims to write down those lessons they were to memorize.

This instrument was used all over the Sudan for instructions and memorization and is still

used today throughout Muslim Africa.

There were more than twenty mosque in Salvador where Muslims would congregate

and worship. Sometimes these mosque only amounted to one room or two rooms inside of a

house.209 Women were conspicuously absent from these meetings with the exception of

Imam Dandara's wife who would often serve food and give rings to new Muslims.210 There is

no legal prohibition for women being in the mosque except during times of monthly

menstruation. Therefore, I assume the absence of women in the mosque was only due to the

size of the small rooms that could not accommodate women. To these mosques the African

Muslim community would dress in their distinctive white jalabiyas (long shirts), white skull

caps and white turbans. In Bahia these garments were called abada.211 This word is a

corruption of the Arabic word `ibaada which means all forms of worship. These clothes were

never worn in public, especially after the 1816 slave revolt. This was out of fear of

persecution from the Bahian authorities. Thus, these clothes were only worn during the

congregational prayers and the Islamic classes. It was not until the Salvador revolt, were

these white garments seen on the streets of Salvador.212



There were many customs that the Muslim community of Bahia kept alive in order to

maintain their cohesiveness and unity. One of these customs was the carrying of the tesseba,

which the Brazilians called "pagan's rosary".213 As mentioned earlier these tesseba were

used in meditation and liturgical practices where the names of Allah were repeated a number

of times. Another custom that the Bahian Muslims innovated and adopted was the use of

rings as a way of identifying one another. These rings functioned as "Male badges" as a

symbol of belonging to the Muslim community of Bahia.214



Another major custom which the Muslims of Bahia practiced which acted as an agent

of socialization was the feeding of food. Every one of the twenty mosque of Salvador served

food every day to its members. According to many witnesses the Muslims strictly observed

food taboos and often met to eat together. Malam Bilal was reported to have, "frequently

207 Raymond


killed rams and organized meetings with his comrades in his room during the day".215 This

was a practice performed in all the mosque and meeting places of Bahia. The utility of this

was the fact that the Muslims had no place to obtain food that was prepared in accordance

with Islamic law. Another reason could have been purely religious, because apart of ones

excellence Islam was the feeding of guest. It was reported that Prophet Muhammad was

asked about the best Islam. He replied, "The best Islam is to feed food to others, and to give

the greetings of peace to those whom you know and to those whom you do not know."216

These customs united the Muslims and were evidences that there was the persistence

of a historical conscience among the Muslims of Bahia. This historical conscience unified the

disparate elements of the African Muslims and made them into a whole. It engendered in

them qualities that made them distinguished from the population of Bahia. This distinction did

not in any way alienate them from the non-Muslims of African descent, but worked to attract

other Africans of various ethnic origin who might have lose their sense of historical

conscience as a result of the system of slavery. This was the cause of many of the Yoruba

accepting Islam and some of the non-Muslim Africans joining the revolt of 1835. The

religion of Islam acted as the cultural weapon that cemented the Africans into an effective

force against the cultural aggression and repression of Bahia. The effectiveness of this force

was seen in the final but most organized slave revolt to take place in the history of Bahia.

The conspiratorial centers of the revolt were only four of the twenty mosques, which

were situated in certain homes or rooms in Bahia.



These centers were the mosque of Manuel

Calafate, the house of Belchior da Silva Cunha, the mosque in the tobacco shop of Dandara

and the mosque of Victoria Street.217 It seems that the mosque on Victoria street stood at the

forefront of the revolutionary organization. This was because the Imam of this mosque was

none other than the chief Imam Malam Bubakar Ahuna, the leader of all the Muslims of

Brazil. The members of this mosque consisted of several free African Muslims and slaves

owned by English residents in the city. One of the main assistance to Malam Bubakar was the

fiery and zealous slave named Thomas. He assisted the Malam in teaching the members the

prayers, Arabic and how to recite the Qur'an. According to trial testimony,

"The straw house was built by the partners Jamie and Diogo, for the purpose of

uniting all their countrymen, where they often had dinner and conversed,...and

where there gathered all Yoruba slaves of Englishmen, and boatmen who came

from the City, and other slaves of Brazilians...including Sule, Pedro, Carlos,

Joao, Nelson, Antonio, Mama, Burema, Cornelio, Martinho, Ricardo, Thomas,

Tomp, Luiz...On the afternoon of the 24th of January some of

members...advised him that they would all gather that night for the purpose of

killing all the whites, pardos, and creoles."218

Along with the various mosques, the most active mobilizers of the revolt were the

African Muslim boatmen who worked in the harbor. They passed the news of the revolt by

word of mouth. And it was perhaps by them that ships would be commandeered, if needed, to

return back to Africa. The first stage of the revolt was the conversion of as many Africans as

possible to the faith of Islam.219 This explains the accelerated pace at which Africans came

into the religion just prior to the revolt in 1835. They were very secretive with regard the

exact date of the revolt. This no doubt was a result of the failure of the previous slave revolts.

215 Ibid.,



Some of the rebels were veterans of these revolts, like Imam Dandara, who fought in the

revolt of 1816.

There are many factors, which could have motivated the Muslims to consider that

there was a possibility for victory against the Bahian authorities. The first of them could have

been the news of the successes of the Islamic armies throughout the Central Sudan back in

Africa. As mentioned earlier there were African Muslims traveling back and forth between

Bahia and the Bight of Benin. Therefore, it is highly probable that the news of the successes

of the Muslim armies did reach Bahia. Another factor which could have contributed to the

confidence of the Muslim of Bahia was the fact of the solidarity created by the fasting of the

Islamic months of Rajab, Shaban and Ramadan. It has been reported that Muslims increased

their fasting of these months in order to mobilize the courage for the impending revolt.

The Muslims sent out commissioners throughout the Brazilian Reconcavo in order to

expand the Muslim community. These commissioners were those African Muslims who were

freedmen who had the freedom of movement and who would not be suspect for the coming to

and fro in Bahia. They were Imam Dandara, and Imam Manuel Calafate. These businessmen

were both Islamic teachers who mixed business with religious proselytizing.220 It must be

noted that this was a common feature for the spread of Islam throughout Africa. And it was

still persistent among the Africans of Bahia. Enslaved Africans like Malam Bubakar Ahuna

used to work between Santo Amaro and Salvador. This allowed him to travel back and forth

to organize and teach the Muslims the fundamentals of the faith. Because he was the almamy

of the entire Muslim community of Brazil, there is no doubt that the revolt revolved around

his words and activities. Other centers for the revolt or casebres included the churchyard of

Pelourinho, the cemetery of Campos Cantos and later the jail of Ajuda where Malam Bilal

Licutan had been jailed. In these casebres were stored all the weapons which were purchased

by Malam Sanim using the funds collected from the sadaqa. Some of these weapons were

supplied by the African gunsmith Antonio Bomcaminho.221

The date of the revolt was chosen to be during Ramadan while the Muslims were

fasting and gathering spiritual strength. The exact date was January 25, 1835, which

corresponded with the 27th of Ramadan.222 This date is usually considered as the time of the

Lailat'l-Qadr, one of the most auspicious nights for Muslims, because in this night the Qur'an

was revealed and the Muslims can gain strong support from Allah and his Angels. This date

also corresponded with the Bahian holiday Nossa Senhora da Guia. During this time the

majority of the white population would be attending mass at the church of Bomfim, and large

numbers of Bahian soldiers had been withdrawn from Salvador in order to suppress a

separatist movement in Rio Grande do Sul.223 Again like all the Muslim revolts of the past,

the revolt would begin after the dawn prayer called fajr.

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i heard muslims who accepted christianity didn't become slaves ... christians who accepted islam didn't become nazis .. jews who actually accepted moses (pbuh) didnt's become zionists also known as slave-nazis.


nice article .. with a soft drum&bass musical background it would be jazz-peotry .

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Thanks for sharing. It's a very interesting topic. Sheikh Abdullah Hakim Quick, who is also a historian, has written and lectured a lot about it. Muslims have had a presence in the Americas and the Caribbean since before the arrival of Columbus so the role of Muslims in the Bahia slave revolts is just one part of the long yet still little-known history of Islam in this part of the world.

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this from the "fiqh-sunnah" by sayid sabiq



Abdul Malik bin Qurair reported from Mohammad bin Sirin that a man came to 'Umar bin Al-Khattab and

said: "A friend of mine and I ran after a wild game while we were in pilgrim garb. We killed a deer.

What is our atonement?" 'Umar told a man next to him: "Come, you and I must judge together." Then

he gave his verdict and told the man to sacrifice a goat in compensation." The man left saying, "This is

the Chief of the Faithful, who cannot pass a judgment concerning the killing of a deer!" 'Umar heard the

man's remark, and he called him back and asked him: "Have you read Surah Al-Ma'idah (of the

Qur'an)?" The man said: "No." 'Umar asked further: "Do you know this man who participated in the

judgment with me?" The man said, "No." 'Umar said: 'Had you told me that you have read Surah Al-

Ma'idah, I would have made you ache from beating." Then he added: "Allah, the Exalted One, says in

His Book: 'If any of you doeth so intentionally, the compensation is an offering, brought to the Ka'bah,

of a domestic animal equivalent to the one he killed, as adjudged by two just men among you.' And this

man (who judged with me) is Abdur-Rahman bin 'Awf'."

Earlier generations of Muslim scholars gave verdicts that a camel is to be sacrificed for an ostrich, and a

cow for a zebra, a stag or a deer, and similarly a sheep for a woodchuck, a pigeon, a turtledove, a

mountain quail, and certain other birds. A male sheep is to be sacrificed for a hyena, a goat for a deer,

a four month old goat for a rabbit, a baby goat (kid) for a fox, and a four month old goat should be sacrificed for killing a jerboa.


i went to a sufi camp .. met the kung-fu master and he read that to me ..

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