Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Religion, Performance, and Public Space: Living an Ethical Muslim Life as a Senegalese Migrant in Brazil

In Brazil, many Senegalese Muslim migrants known as Murids work as street vendors. The Murids, followers of the Muridiyya Sufi brotherhood, also form a social religious organization called Dahira. During Dahira meetings, they discuss and chant Sufi poetry written in Arabic but also in Wolof Ajami, a grassroots literary tradition based on a modified form of the Arabic script. The Baay-faal, a sub-group of the Murids who can be recognized by their unique colorful patchwork outfits, perform devotional music (zikr and sama') in public spaces which, along with the cultivation of ordinary virtuous acts in their host community, they see as a form of da'wa (Arabic: proselytizing). This dissertation studies the expressions of Muslim religiosity and Murid identity in public spaces in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Porto Alegre. It shows that fashioning of the body and resignification of ritual practices by the Murids draw a lot of attention and play a significant role in the revival of the Muslim slave heritage among Afro-Brazilians and in the recent increase of conversion to Islam in Brazil. Because the Murids hold their performances of devotional music in public spaces and draw attention, they lead people of all backgrounds to come into contact and therefore serve as key venues for intercultural dialogue and exchange. The project examines the mutiple functions and impacts of the way these Muslims bring religion into the secular Brazilian public sphere. It shows that devotional music serves ritual as well as proselytizing purposes. It also shows market actors who do not solely seek to accumulate capital but who also see doing fair business as way to build a positive image as a Black African Muslim minority and, most importantly, to earn spirtual blessings.