January 2015 : following the attack on Charlie Hebdo in France, Islam, Judaism and Catholicism are in the center of all discussions. France, a secular country, has seen from the beginning its citizens organize and have passionate, and sometimes violent, debates on social media networks.
France, a once strong symbol of freedom of expression and who fought against racism with fervor, has known better days… So how, in Brazil, do Christians, Jews and Muslims live in peace?
Number of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Brazil, France and Canada
Here’s the division of these three religions in Brazil compared to those of Canada, known for its pacifism and its respect for religions, and those of France:
Country Brazil (IBGE, 2010) France (CSA, 2012) Canada (2011)
Christians 64% 58% 67.3%
Jews 0.06% 1% 1%
Muslims 0.02% 6% 3.2%
Just a reminder, in France the law forbids the production of statistics related to religious beliefs or ethnicity. The numbers above come from a sociology study done by CSA in 2013 on the theme “Catholic audience and the people that identify with this religion”. These numbers show only certain tendencies, they are not representative of every religion.
It is clear that Christianity is the dominant religion in all three countries, which can be partly explained by history. Jewish and Islam beliefs represent a very small percentage in Brazil (less than 1%) compared to France and Canada. This could immediately lead to the conclusion that this difference could explain the lack of conflicts in Brazil.
But when we compare France and Canada (where Islam and Judaism are more present than in Brazil), we notice that France is actually marked by numerous conflicts with religious origins while Canada is an example of harmony between the different communities.
Therefore caution needs to be taken when analyzing these findings. Let’s look now at the history of these three countries.
History of religious cohabitation in Brazil
The numbers remind us of an important fact : Christians founded these three countries.
France and Brazil were two countries with Catholic traditions before becoming secular and separated the Church and the State. Canada has a different history but was also founded by Catholics.
Jewish and Islamic beliefs, two religions brought by people who traveled across the world, came and enriched French, Canadian and Brazilian history and were able to live side by side despite their religious and cultural differences.
For centuries, the three religions did not coexist in the same conditions in these three countries.
France has known the most tragic, violent and recent events directly related to religion. To only name a few: the profanation of the Carpentras Jewish cemetery in 1990 and more recently the heads of pigs placed around a Mosque to desecrate it.
Thankfully, Canada and Brazil haven’t known events such as these related to religion. In Quebec, for example, there have been heated debates regarding the Quebec Charter of Values and about whether or not it is disregarding religion, however Canada remains a pacifist country that hasn’t been very affected.
We could conclude this article by making responsible the indelible traces left by ancient and contemporary history of some countries and not, or by insisting on the small percentage of Jews and Muslims in Brazil compared to Brazilian Christians.
But finally… after this numerical analysis… we haven’t talked about religion, what it represents in Brazil and how Brazilians feel about it… so what do they think?
Brazilians and religion : testimonies
Religion, whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or other (there exists a large number of Afro-Brazilian religions), has a very important place in Brazil.
I interviewed two Brazilian friends for this occasion, and chose to keep the Portuguese version to reinforce the message that they wanted to pass, with the translation for non-Portuguese speakers.
Ana Paula, Catholic, SP :
Penso que a religiao é algo bem pessoal, e cada pessoa se sente bem na sua crença. Mas é importante respeitar a religiao dos outros. Deus cultiva o amor…e nao a guerra. Devemos ajudar o proximo e fazer o bem aos outros, tenho minha fé e com minhas oraçoes tenho recebido diversas graças. Agradeço a Deus todos os dias pela minha vida, familia e amigos.
I think religion is something personal and that people need to feel good about their beliefs. It is important to respect other people’s religion. God cultivates love… and not war. We should help people and do good unto others, I have my own faith and with my prayers I have received many graces. I thank God for every day in my life, for my family and my friends.
Sandra, SP :
A palavra chave para se viver em harmonia no Brasil ou em qualquer lugar é saber respeitar as diferenças e as crenças das pessoas. Ninguém gosta de ver seu Deus ser ofendido. Talvez a pluralidade existente aqui (construiída por várias raças, culturas, religiões) permita essa convivência amigável. Apesar do Brasil ser um país com muitos católicos, temos amigos que são da Umbanda e Candomblé, temos familiares que se converteram e hoje são protestantes (crentes), não podemos esquecer que temos também nossos índios com seus ritos diferenciados etc. E às vezes encontramos aqueles que não são religiosos. Ao meu ver o importante é propagar o amor e a caridade, independente da cor, raça ou religião.
The key to living in harmony in Brazil or anywhere in the world is to respect differences and the beliefs of everyone. No one likes to see God offended. Maybe the diversity that exists here (ethnic, cultural, religious) permits this amicable coexistence. Despite the fact that Brazil is a country where the majority is Catholic, we have friends from the Umbanda and Candomble religions, and families that have converted and are Protestants today, and we can’t forget that we also have Natives with their different rituals etc. Sometimes, we encounter non-religious people. In my opinion, it is important to promote love and charity, regardless of color, ethnicity or religion.
Jews and Muslims – So far, so close
Karima Dirèche (CNRS, France) concluded, in the excellent documentary “Jews and Muslims – so far, so close” with these words :
“As if the culture of conflict was stronger than everything. That we have suffered so much that we don’t know anything other than suffering and we don’t know how to be at peace.”
Sad fact… but the documentary finishes with the nice conclusion and we are reminded of one important detail :
“The inability to hear and see each other, but to recognize the brother he was for over a thousand years, brother, enemy sometimes, but never a stranger.
As if Muslims and Jews are condemned to go round and round for all eternity in the prison of their identity… a mental prison truly, where the walls have no more reality than the dreams they are in.”
Religions are sisters, as history has shown us…. After the statements of my two Brazilian friends, religion is a synonym for peace and respect for everyone, without borders between men of different cultures and religions, as well as atheists, that is religion with a capital R…
I have immigrated and decided to leave my country to discover other cultures and enrich my life. So perhaps that is the solution, or at least part : immigration and travelling has allowed me to discover the Canadian pacifism, and the harmony between religions in Brazil without every being divided. Perhaps it is time to be inspired.
I would like to thank Sandra and Ana Paula, two very good friends, for their statements.
Profanation du cimetière Juif à Carpentras: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H83Onw1hBCQ
Profanation d’une mosquée à Montauban : http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2012/08/01/la-mosquee-de-montauban-profanee-avec-des-tetes-de-porc_1741143_3224.html
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