I know you guys haven't seen a lot of me around recently, and, yes, I'm totally aware that what I'm about to say is going to sound like a big whopper, but I've been meaning to come back here for centuries. You know when you get into a vicious cycle of procrastination that you simply cannot get out of? That's exactly what I'm going through right now. No matter how much down time I manage to get or how much I keep telling myself that I'm going to use it to write a little, I always wind up doing something else - or nothing, for that matter (yeah, it does happen). Guess this is finally my lucky day.
As many of you already know, I've been a Muslim for nearly two years (time flies). Despite that and all the posts I've written so far, there's one thing I was totally missing: MY overall experience in Brazil. It's never been told, has it? As far as I know, the posts where I did mention it were mostly about family matters. Maybe that's why people won't stop asking the same thing over and over again...
Time to appease your curiosity!
Before we start, however, I'd like to make it very clear, FOR THE UMPTEENTH time, that I haven't even been to a mosque yet. That means I'm NOT going to be able to give you a lot of details - just the big picture (according to myself). If you're ok with that, then bear with me a little longer.
Here we go!
FAMILY & FRIENDS - RECAPPING
Where to begin? Yeah, you know their reaction - stop playing dumb! Christian parents + not-so-religious friends = trouble. As bad as it was when they found out, at least I could see it coming. My main problem is that they're not over it yet. Not a week goes by that I do not get taunted in a way or another. I've been trying hard not to lose my head (although I did blow up a few times) and disappear without a trace. For now, let's just say I'm on a leash (that's what happens when you're a 21-year-old guy who still depends on mommy and daddy to get what you want). My so-called friends, by the way, are literally gone. Not because of Islam itself, but because that's how it goes when you grow up - we simply split up and lose touch. The ones I have now are half way across the world, and chances are I'm never going to meet them in real life. Tough luck, but they still make happy anyway. :)
Brazilians are... Diverse! No shit, Sherlock! Yeah, I know. This should be something positive, right? Well, yes and no. Let me tell you why: this whole "diversity" thing is all about race and culture. Religion is NOT part of the mix. If you're not Christian, Spiritualist or Atheist, guess what? Exactly. You'll turn quite a lot of heads on the street. If you manage to stay undercover somehow, good for you. BUT, as a muslim (especially if you're a woman), there's no way you'll be flying under the radar. While it is true that a lot of them won't give a hoot about you or your religion, I'd suggest that you watch out for maniacs. Men tend to hurt the things they fear, and Muslims are still feared (or even seen as aliens) by some. Apart from getting psychologically hurt, I've never really been through anything physical (alhamdulillah). However, some of my virtual friends have, and their experience was nothing pleasant. Ever had tomatoes or stones thrown at you? Or maybe you even got stabbed? No? You're lucky (and so am I!). They, on the other hand, can't say the same. I'm not trying to blow things out of proportion or be dramatic in any way. I'm just saying that anything could happen, so... BE CAREFUL!
WORK & SCHOOL
When you have a muslim community nearby, working and studying are just two regular things you do everyday. I mean, even if you don't... That's just what we, humans, are supposed to do in order to survive in this world. The difference between the first scenario and the second basically lies in how dreadful these tasks can be (whether you like them or not is beside the point here). Amongst Muslims, you don't need to worry about taking breaks so you can pray, mixing, wearing a hijab, growing your beard, attending the mosque on Friday or anything else, do you? After all, this is what everybody else does. What happens in Brazil is that they're few and far between! Muslim traditions are not part of this culture. The things I mentioned above... Let's just say your colleagues and your boss may not be as understanding. Then, unless you're ok with changing yourself in order to fit in (which is totally NOT recommended), my bet is that you ARE going to have a hard time getting through to them. Again, it's not impossible, but you'd better be EXTREMELY flexible, easy-going, have a shield against nasty jokes, know how to stand your ground and have excellent communication skills, because, believe it or not, they WILL want to know about that upfront.
This part is quite interesting! Think of a muslim from your own country. Done? Ok. This is not how Muslims in Brazil are like. When you do find the casual-kind-of-muslim walking around, stereotypically speaking, he's usually not Brazilian at all. When talking about Brazilian Muslims, we have to keep in mind that most of them are just like me (new reverts). That's why the local culture still carries a huge weight on how they act or even dress like. Besides, in spite of not having had the chance to be with any of them in person (I live so far!), what I could get from my experience across the web is that they have a lot of "cliques" that aren't exactly easy to get into. Please, don't get me wrong, but I personally find it a lot easier to make friends with Muslims from other countries. It's just that they've always seemed to be "warmer" and more "receptive" to me than Brazilians have ever been (don't you dare say I'm kissing anybody's boots!). Another thing I've noticed is that they and Arab expats are literally foes to one another (yes, I AM generalizing). Word on the street is that the Arabs here and their offspring think they're somehow superior and, therefore, treat them like dirt in their own country. I thank Allah for not being part of this fight, because, the ones I've met are wonderful people. May they remain like that!
That is one thing you want to be careful about! Did you know that brazilian cuisine is filled with pork and alcohol? Oh yeah! But this isn't even the biggest problem I have to face everyday. The thing is knowing wether or not they've been used to make what I'm consuming. That delicious spaghetti mama's just fixed for dinner? Well, maybe there's a little bit of wine in the sauce. Candies? You'd better hope they don't carry animal fat. Ice cream? I would make it myself if I were you. Remember that beautiful cake you saw at the bakery earlier? Come on, I'm sure you were dying for a bite. Well, it might have vanilla extract, which contains alcohol, and uh... You know the rest. Haram! Barbecue? Assuming you were lucky enough to find meat that is truly halal, let's just say that you should keep an eye on it and prepare it yourself. Brazilians just LOVE to marinate it in beer! All right, you got it, I know. Just one more thing: to top it off, there isn't even a single local website that provides info on national products. We have to figure it all out by ourselves. How I'm holding up? I'm not. Actually, YouTube's been a great teacher. Yes, I'm making stuff myself. As for meat, I've only been eating fish for months. I don't even remember what a burger tastes like.
What does it even mean? Holidays have been gone from my life for a long time. Why? Quite simple! The ones I can celebrate would be Christmas, New Year, Carnival, Easter, Valentine's Day, bla bla bla. The list goes on! They're either "Christian" (we call them Christian, but we know their roots well enough) or... The ones that are not are just another way of bleeding us dry. Knowing these things and following the religion that I follow, I guess there's no need to say that I'm supposed to stay as far as I can from them, right? But what about Ramadan (it isn't a holiday, I know, but I'm counting it anyway) and Eid, for instance? Let me break it to you: mine are dull. There's no "celebrating" it when you're alone. If you have a Muslim community around, as I said above, fine! But if you're like me, then they're probably just going to be like any other day. In the end, it's neither Muslims nor my family, so... Make sure to remember that if you're coming here. Big cities rule!
No, it hasn't been easy, but, if we look on the bright side, some people have it worse. Although limited to big cities for the most part, Islam IS starting to grow in this country, and I truly hope things will get better in a few years down the line. It's a long run (we still need to make a lot of Dawah), but I'd love to see and be part of a muslim community around here someday. In the meantime, we need to get educated so we can avoid the haram that's all around, give it a good name and spread the word. It'll all work out for the best, in shaa Allah.
P.S.: Do you speak Portuguese? If yes, how about checking out my new YouTube channel? There you'll find much more on topics like that. Don't forget to subscribe and stay tuned!
Are you Brazilian? Have you ever been to Brazil? Would you like to share your experience in the comments?
We'd love to hear from you! :)