Illuminating the Blackness : Blacks and African Muslims in Brazil by Habeeb Akande is an account from a British Historian from Nigerian descent who did an extensive research on the contribution of Africans in the spread of Islam amongst other things in a country where the population of Blacks is the highest in the world with Nigeria second to it.
There is a wrongful assumption that is still going around even in 2016 that Black Africans or Blacks in general are ignorant or descendants of monkeys. There are people who will deny this bias still occurring and say that there is racial democracy around the world. In their eyes, racial discrimination is a myth. Well, I agree with the author when he says ‘it’s a myth to believe in racial democracy’ in certain places of the world.
It’s hard to prove racism and that right there makes it hard for many people around the world to see the micro-aggressions and cyber bullying non-Whites face on a regular basis especially in countries like the U.S.A, Brazil, and South Africa. Akande presented several cases of racial discrimination in his book from 2015 and prior years in Brazil. It’s appalling to say the least that many people behave like they are uncivilized. Clearly, they are uneducated. The Creator made us different for a reason; so that we might get along and embrace each other by accepting our differences. It’s about tolerance.
One racist attack mentioned in the book actually reminded me of the plight of Viola Davis (in 2014) when she was called ‘less classically beautiful’ or unconventional beautiful. It was the case of Maria Júlia Countinho in July 2015.
Now, in my opinion, there are two types of non-Blacks who discriminate; those who are genuinely oblivious to the plight of non-Whites because of the blindness their privilege caused them and those who are hypocrites. The latter sees what’s happening but chooses to look the other way or pretend they didn’t see anything. This latter UNFORTUNATELY also includes the Muslims who think that just because our religion ordered us not to discriminate, all Muslims are immune to jahil; ignorance and preferential treatment. We are still human and our nafs can get in the way of practicing the deen properly.
To continue the review, Illuminating the Blackness : Blacks and African Muslims in Brazil by Habeeb Akande is divided into two parts.
Part I covers ‘the issue of race, anti-black racism, white supremacy, colourism, black beauty and affirmative action in contemporary Brazil.’ while part II covers ‘the reported African Muslims’ travels to Brazil before the Portuguese colonisers, the slave revolts in Bahia and the West African Muslim communities in nineteenth century Brazil.’
It’s really not a light read and it has to be heavy because many things play in the current state of affairs in Brazil. To understand the black consciousness movement in Brazil where colorism has 136 plus shades, you have to go at the beginning somewhat and read what activists and researchers have said all along.
At the beginning, they were Blacks and African Muslims in Brazil and the course of History has been changed and whitewashed. Realizing that, many Brazilians are now embracing their black heritage and prefer calling themselves Afro-Brazilian now instead of using colorism shades. Many are also turning to Islam instead because it gives them closure. After all, it’s the religion of their ancestors, the white supremacists tried to hide it from them and erase it.
While I’m not a true supporter of affirmative action due to personal reasons, I believe that if it can help less privileged minorities, why not.
Furthermore, ‘The author explores the black consciousness movement in Brazil and examines the reasons behind the growing conversion to Islam amongst Brazilians, particularly those of African descent. The author also shares his insights into the complexities of race in Brazil and draws comparisons with the racial histories of the pre-modern Muslim world including a comparative analysis of the East African Zanj slave rebellions in ninth century Baghdad with the West African Hausa and Yoruba slave rebellions in nineteenth century Bahia.’
While these Black Africans (Muslims and non-Muslims) were revolutionary military leaders and greatly contributed to the abolition of slavery in Brazil, this country still faces racial issues. The issue of race is very complex in Brazil because a person we might consider Black in the USA or in other parts of the world might call himself differently in Brazil. Race is truly in the eye of the beholder. Having said that, things are changing and many Brazilians with a miscegenated ancestry are choosing the term ‘Afro-Brazilian’ to identify themselves with a lot pride and defiance like I mentioned earlier.
And Brazil, a country with such a high population of Blacks still finds itself plagued with socio-economics disparities where the non-Black minority has the monopoly on EVERYTHING. Many successful non-Whites are now trying to change the status quo. Akande did a great job traveling there and interviewing the locals so that they may share their real experience with us. He also captured some pictures of the life there with some Historians, Activists, Muslims, Imams, non-Muslims, Models, Artists and Singers, etc.
In the end, it’s clear that the author is also trying to fight the assumption that Blacks needed slavery to become well-travelled and educated when Islam had already done that! Islam came to educate and instruct us to seek knowledge which many of the Black Africans had already done. Nevertheless, they were considered heathens and wrongly imprisoned. There are countless accounts of Black Africans travelling before Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas. There are also countless reports of Black Africans being fluent in many languages and most of all Arabic.
Now, the tricky part was that because they knew Arabic, their African-ness was being denied to them. ‘These Blacks are perhaps not 100% Blacks because they appear smart and literate. They might be mixed’ was roughly the mentality the slavers and white supremacists and supporters thought of this African elite they had enslaved. Many Africans were already educated and believers before they fell prey to slavery from their own brothers and the white slavers.
In conclusion here, I found Illuminating the Blackness : Blacks and African Muslims in Brazil by Habeeb Akande a must read because it sheds a lot of light on many societal issues many people believe to be a myth to this day. Finally, the book forces the long and overdue honest discussion we need to have about race.
My rating: 5/5.
Thank you for reading,
P.S. You can read more reviews on the author’s works here and here.
Originally published at HAYATI MAGAZINE.