Capoeira and Islam: How can one go about both?

Capoeira is spreading to new places and cultures and the shock seems unavoidable, maybe even inherent. There are religious, and cultural matters. Some are related to the clash of a socio-cultural practice like Capoeira, and the western individualism. Some may be related to westernised versions of Capoeira being practised in eastern countries. The truth is: there is no universal truth in the art-form; no matter how wise and/or knowledgeable one can be. Capoeira’s syncretic and intercultural birth as a weapon of resistance certainly has gave it characteristics and purposes that might be seen as universals, but I don’t think the diffusion process of Capoeira happens as smooth as most practitioners like to believe.

I once heard from a ‘mestre’ that one can not be truly a good capoeirista without embracing Candomblé. Saracura’s questions are related to that early syncretic and intercultural environment that gave origin not only to Capoeira but also to other Brazilian practices; all somehow fighting oppression and a colonialist agenda of acculturation. In the following post Saracura, from Aú Capoeira, share with us his concerns about the practice of both Islam and Capoeira. One guides his transcendent dimension defining him as person, the other draws him into a different universe inviting him to experience an embodied practical philosophy of life.

Saracura is opening up an important topic – Capoeira and religion – and inviting us to participate in it. What is your understanding about the practice of the art-form and one’s own religion? About about Christians, Jewish, or Candomblé people? And atheist people? How do we make sense of our Capoeira and our believes?

Obrigado pela participação Saracura! The path of apprenticeship is much more productive when taken with open-minded and honest friends. I’ll reply to your questions over the comment box. Axé!!

Questions about the practice of Capoeira and Islam

by Saracura

Hi, I have a question that I would like to gain some insight on. The question is related to integration of Capoeira with Islam, so anybody with a deep profound knowledge in Islam and/or Capoeira can contribute. Before I bring forward the question let me introduce a piece of information as a basis for this discussion as follows:

In Islam, for Muslims, to my understanding our faith/conviction is comprised of 3 main elements, which are:

1) what we believe in our heart
2) what we say
3) what we do with our limbs/body

So everything we say/do/believe is accountable in the day of judgement, so we can’t really say things even if its just for fun etc. (hence lying is a major sin) and the words we speak are a form of prayer and acknowledgement, even though we don’t mean it, hence we should watch our tongues, with intent/belief being a separate but parallel entity. From a more conservative viewpoint I think even singing songs with lyrics such as “father into your hands, I commend my spirit” is considered blasphemous, despite the intent as only singing a song.

My question is related to the Capoeira songs, as quite a few of the songs contain Christian elements, such as “Valha meu Deus Senhor São Bento”, “São Bento me chama”, or “Santo Antônio é protetor”, maybe even the louvação “Ié, Viva meu Deus”(which may be generic so maybe its ok) or any other such song with elements related to that. So by far I suppose if a song does not have lyrics that have elements of praise or worship but sings about history or tradition is okay to sing keeping in mind point 2) mentioned above. My question is, to your knowledge, how would you define the songs in this case? And taking a more conservative viewpoint, what songs should I then opt not to sing?

I know the songs can be very symbolic, so to my understanding, to learn about the songs significance and respect it is not a problem, just that singing those particular songs would most likely be a no go. With that, while considering the conservative viewpoint as well, I would appreciate any intellectual and factual feedback. Thank you and Axe!

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13 Responses to Capoeira and Islam: How can one go about both?

  1. Ragdoll says:

    Hi Saracura and all,

    I sort of understand your dilemma here. I, too, am a Muslim. I used to practise Capoeira a couple of years ago, but I had to stop due to high school studies. Currently I am in university and have been thinking for a while whether I can/could go back to practise Capoeira.

    From my exposure to Capoeira, I can definitely agree that there will be some stumbling blocks in trying to be both a practising Muslim and a Capoeira practitioner at the same time, and one of the issues was with regards to music and song, as you have brought up.

    As far as I know, there is actually a wide debate on whether music is lawful in Islam. The most conservative point I know is that it is totally not allowed. The reasoning is that music can affect and alter the emotions of the listener, so in a sense it is an ‘intoxicant’. Also music, especially the kind played on the radios today, is very ‘adult-oriented’ (sex and drugs and partying found in rock music and rap; summer love in pop, etc.). These things are definitely unacceptable in Islam.

    However, a shaykh that I know said to me, that, if you want to listen to music, at least think to yourself, is this putting me on the path towards God or away from God?… and sincerely judge from there. This would include having a proper listen at the meanings and implications in the lyrics and the music that compose the song. This would be applicable to Capoeira songs as well.

    Now on the topic of the capoeira songs themselves, there are a good amount of them that do not involve any religious influences of which would contradict with Islam. Two examples, off the top of my head (sorry, my knowledge is rusty) is “…no mercado modelo tem acaraje…” and “no balanco do mar”. But then there are the ones Saracura mentioned. Following what my shaykh said, for those songs I can honestly say that no, they are not acceptable to sing. Even if we do not believe or follow in the message that is propagated in those songs, it is definitely ‘dangerous’ for us to sing, for we may slowly become accustomed to it and even adopt such religious influences. So no, those types of songs are a no go. You can learn the songs, but not sing them.

    And also do not forget to tell your Mestre or Instructor of your religious background. I’m sure all capoeira groups understand when it comes to its members’ faiths. Discuss with him/her about those religion-influenced songs, and see if you can find some arrangement. If it is the ‘call-response’ type being sung in the roda, for example, I think the safest thing is to be quiet, but continue clapping. In this way, (if the Mestre/teacher accepts) the group not only acknowledges your faith, but for you to continue clapping is acknowledging the faith of the mestre and you are also respecting the roda.

    But now the problem is, can I be a true capoeirista? For this, I am not sure. I’ve read Nestor Capoeira’s comparison of malandragem to Hindu teachings, and from this I can see conflict with Islamic philosophy. But besides this I have not looked that deeply into the Capoeira philosophy. If someone else (another reader perhaps?) could provide me a proper definition for capoeirista and provide a summary of capoeira philosophy, then we can continue from there.

    Hopefully I have not offended too many people with my ideas. I admit that I’m not the most knowledgeable person here, but I hope that my two-cents worth has helped the readers in some way.

  2. Espada says:

    Hi,
    1st of all I would like to say that what I am about to tell is not meant to be offensive. I may sound harsh at some point but that is probably because what I’m going to say is so contradictory to what you believe.

    2nd, I am an atheist and that needs some explanation. The ONLY thing “we” atheists have in common is that we don’t believe in (a) god(s). That’s it. We where different clothes, some want there women to be fully clothed and some want to be half naked…

    listening to music can alter
    So there is no “we” atheists.

    So now to get to the article.
    I think this is one of the silliest things i ever hear. Its more absurd then a Monty Python sketch.
    let me recap:
    The imaginary friend someone else made up, tells you that you cant sing about an imaginary friend some other person made up…

    “The reasoning is that music can affect and alter the emotions of the listener, so in a sense it is an ‘intoxicant’”
    So does food, a smelly flower, a beautiful sight and ALL the other things you sense.

    AND so does playing capoeira all together. If you don’t want to be intoxicated then don’t play capoeira. That is why we keep playing it. That is why it makes us travel miles and miles to get in a circle with some people, make music and vadiar!

    So as for me, who is a ferm non-believer, I do sing songs about god and orixas. when I get kicked by some malandragem using guy, I look up to the sky and make a cross. When I’m ao pé do berimbaun I though the berimbau to get its energy. I dont believe Why? Because its part of the theater, the act. its a common way to communicate certain emotions in an way that is understood by a lot of people.

    So as what a “real” capoeira is? It’s someone who can let go of himself when he is participating in roda. Nothing more nothing less.

  3. Oi Saracura,

    It’s a shame that we couldn’t have this conversation in person, but on the other hand it was really kind of you to share it with all of us. Thank you so much for that. I elaborated my comments a bit further from our last communication, and here are they.

    In Brazil groups of fundamentalist Christians do not sing any songs with references to Saints or African religion. In fact, they don’t even use African words at all. Acarajé, for instance, it’s been called, and sold, by some ‘Bolinho de Jesus’ [Jesus little cake]. All this is part of the neo-Pentecostal Christian Churches’ hegemonic agenda. The majority of their followers come chiefly from poorer classes and do not realise how the swapping of words (like in the example above); the manipulation of information; and condemnation (read demonising) of other cultural and religious practices, intend to re-invent people’s way of life, cultural and religious practices, and ultimately the country’s history in line with fundamentalist (power and money-driven) neo-Pentecostal believes. Not much different from he Catholic Church, its crusades and inquisitions, or pretty much any other religion that aims for hegemony. These ‘clerics’ simply want to erase other influential matrices, other ways of living, other faiths.

    Some Brazilians are more attached to radical branches of the Black movement, in turn, heavily influenced by their American counterparts, even though the historic and cultural differences between these two social settings are widely known. In Brazil, these movements are fighting with all they have to rescue and uphold the African matrices and its references. A righteous quest. Ironically, however, these anti-racist branches of the Black movement, tend to strongly condemn miscegenation and syncretism. Their inclination to fundamentalism, based on myths of purism, tend to deny the miscegenation that formed the Brazilian people. Such perspective denies, or devalue, the syncretic forging features of Brazilian-ness in favour of a fundamentalist ‘Africanism’ (see Is Miscegenation a Synonym of Racial Democracy?). The ‘invention of traditions’ (Hall, Stuart; 1993) is one of their strategies as well.

    Both these movements are only part of a somehow broader, and more complex, antagonist ideological blocks; as fundamentalist Christians tend to be chiefly reactionaries, and the majority of the oppressed people in Brazil fighting for their right to uphold their culture and values are, to a greater or lesser degree, Negríndios (Afro-Amerindian-descendants). Of course, not all Christians agree with this hegemonic agenda (see for instance the Liberation Theology), and not all those part of anti-racist movements becomes radical fundamentalists. But this conflict and its religious implications impacts Capoeira much more than we seem to realise (see also, Fundamentalism and Capoeira, and Capoeira and Global Trends).

    In Brazil, neo-Pentecostal churches are now allowing their members to practice Capoeira but only if it’s their Church’s version of it. Back in the day I started Capoeira, whoever joined these churches would have to stop playing Capoeira; as it was a practice of the Devil, packed with Candomblé, Amerindian, and/or other non-Christian references. In my city one of these churches launched its own Capoeira group, called Pata Leão de Judá [Lion of Judah's Paw Capoeira group]. Their emulation of Capoeira do not mention any Saint’s name nor African or Amerindian references in their songs. Maculelê became ‘A Dança dos Bastões’ [The Dance of the Sticks] and its songs were all parodied using Christian thems.

    On the other hand, we have ‘Mestres’ who, due to their fundamentalist ‘Africanism’ do not respect other styles of Capoeira, White practitioners, and even, Blacks or Mestizos who are not adept of Candomblé; for these ‘mestres’ all these would be second-class capoeristas.

    As you can see faith plays a major role in struggles for hegemony. Religion is supposed to legitimise not only the reasons behind conflicts, but also the means chosen to fight them (the Crusades, religious war in general, manipulation of information, market control, etc.). And though it might sound awkward, Muslins, and Jewish are not a novelty within the Brazilian and the Capoeira-related cultural and religious struggles. The hinterlands, the cultural and geographical marginalised areas from where the Brazilian openness to ethnic mixing was both cause and consequence were long known to have Muslins, Christians, and Jewish in its amalgam (see The Day of the Black Consciousness and Capoeira: Origins, Developments, and Global Diffusion) in spite of its predominant African and Amerindian cultures and believes.

    Now, after all this contextualisation, I would like to go back to your questions. Throughout the slavery time, a truthful emancipatory approach was much more important to all those enslaved, oppressed, and acculturated than ruling their interactions and practices by dogmatic approaches. Despite religion, Africans, Amerindian, Negríndios, Christians, Jewish, and Muslin (these later two also fighting the Catholic Inquisition, hence the establishment) used to get along frequently in Quilombos and other marginalised communities in which cultural customs and believes were already and predominately a mix of influences from many African and Amerindian nations. For those interested in the Muslin influence in Brazil (and Capoeira) I recommend to start with the Revolta dos Malês – only the most important example, but not at all the only one; and Georges Bourdoukan’s novel A Incrível e Fascinante História do Capitão Mouro [The Amazing and Remarkable Story of the Moor Capitan], based on a XVII century letter written the the Governor of the captaincy of Pernambuco and addressed to the King of Portugalreal manuscript, mentioning a Moor who allegedly helped Zumbi dos Palmares to build the fortification of Quilombo dos Palmares.

    Brazilian syncretism, therefore, draw its strength from both this intercultural environment, and the deceptive attitude of pretending to believe in the Christian God, and Saints, while actually worshipping their own Orixás, and entities. With syncretism slaves from many nations could pretend to obey the slave-owners’ culture and religion while upholding their own. In Capoeira, for instance, all the rhythm’s names carrying ‘São Bento’ are a tribute to St. Benedict “The Moor”; the first and only Black Saint from the Franciscan Order. In Brazilian syncretism he is also know for been a ‘Preto Velho’, a Candomblé/Ubanda entity in which he represents all the Elder Slaves and Black men with lots of wisdom and healing powers. On the other hand, as a consequence of the Africans and Amerindian ‘animist alliance’ occurred in the Quilombos (as stressed by Mestre Cláudio Danadinho in his PhD thesis – Queiroz; 2003) Brazilian Candomblé naturally absorbed Amerindian influences as well.

    My point is that Capoeira’s connection with syncretism (comprising Catholic, Muslin, and Afro-Ameridian-Brazilian religions) is so complex and strong that if you choose to be strict you might end up having problems even with the rhythms we play. You might as well choose not to sing Saint-related songs, which is possible, but if you choose a strict approach, you’ll end up having to ‘pretend’ not to know where Capoeira, its rituals, and principles comes from, and ultimately ‘pretend’ that swapping names (like the hegemony-driven neo-Pentecostals, and their brain-washed followers are doing in Brazil) can erase Brazilian culture’s (and Capoeira’s) intercultural ancestry.

    It is this ancestry, this cultural and spiritual luggage, left by enslaved and oppressed nations in search for freedom, teaches us that the Other, even though different, is not necessarily an enemy; and further, that syncretism can uphold cultural principles and practices without the exclusionary consequences of purism.

    Abraço! E Axé!
    Eurico

    References

    Hall, Stuart. (1992). The Question of Cultural Identity; in: S. Hall, D. Held and T. McGrew. Modernity and its Futures. Politic Press/Open University Press.

    Queiroz, C. V. (2003). Arquitectônica, intercultural, herança e síntese de modernidade (re)voluta, ou aforismos sobre a ética no espaço, Unpublished Doctorate Thesis – Universidade de Brasília. Centro de Desenvolvimento Sustentável, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, Brazil.

  4. Vovo' says:

    I agree with Espada: Saracura you should not feel guilty or offensive in regard of your religious beliefs and lines of thought.
    Just consider that what we sing is sometimes regarding the aims of the old Capoeiras to camuflage themselves . They named their candomble’ gods and demigods with Christian names in order to enlarge their possibility to practise capoeira and partecipate to their gathering aimed to gain freedom. Doing that allowed themselves to protect their Orixas (=as to say themselves) ,their whole world of spirituality.
    Capoeira had chosen you: let go for it.
    As Espada advises ,do not sing ,just clap. Be honest with yourself and speak with your Mestre.

    To finish , I would like to quote a say by Krishnamurty : if you split people ,creating groups ,you put the base for future conflicts.
    Saracura, Spirituality and freedom will unify the pratictioners. It will be a long and not-smooth process .
    Practise Capoeira, be joyfull, respect yourself and your religion, try, as each of us, to feel free with no limits. The solution to your conflict is inside the problem.

    AXE’

    VOVO’

  5. Saracura says:

    First and foremost, thank you CM Eurico for sharing the question for discussion here, It has been a pleasure to read and understand the historical significance of religion here.

    What i am trying to bring forward is the sensitivity of religion, as I myself have a lot to learn and i am only trying to gather knowledge from those who know and have an in depth understanding of Islam and capoeira likewise. Coming from a country that has a more conservative practice of the religion I myself have to be careful of what i present within capoeira. As for me the sensitivity lies within the words as per my discussion topic, but to know and learn about the history of syncretism and theological influences is a most welcome factor.

    What i am bringing to the table here is not to disregard the historical and cultural element of the history of capoeira, as I am not trying to shift the paradigm, i am only trying to bridge the two understandings together while respecting the conservative view on religion and on capoeira itself. It is a pleasure for me to learn about the history, and even learn the songs that i “should not sing” per se, and to teach its significance to my students is necessary, and it is all knowledge in its own right.To share that knowledge with respect to the roots of capoeira i think should be preserved. Singing those songs i believe is one way of educating and sharing the ancestral knowledge. But there are other methods in which this knowledge can be cascaded, i.e in a lecture for example. It does not mean we try to erase and redefine the roots of the art. Its just the mechanism of knowledge sharing is different.

    Capoeira has been evolving, and still is, with different schools adapting different philosophies and methods etc. I presume that this does not mean that the roots are forgotten or erased, just appreciated in a different manner. As long as the historical link is still shared and stongly conveyed i believe that it is very possible to integrate Capoeiras philosophies and respect religion. The key to it all is knowledge. As a simple analogy i could say that if a person is a vegetarian, and his friend only eats meat, it doesnt mean that they cannot have dinner together, its just that both have to respect each others principles, and both have to know and understand and know everything about food.

    To me, i believe everything is about respect,and my religion teaches me about respect, and for myself, to appreciate Capoeira, i must respect it as a whole, as i have to respect people of other religious beleifs, races, philosophies etc. With the world that is constantly changing and evolving, knowledge is ever growing, all I am trying to do is define the boundaries of respect with respect to Islam and Capoeira, and i believe its so very possible, but it requires a lot knowledge, and a lot of respect ;)

    That being said, thank you everyone for contributing, please do continue the discussion as it always an honor to share knowledge.

  6. Ali says:

    Interesting question posed. On the most simplistic philosophical terms both Capoeira and Islam are so diverse that there are overlapping spheres that are symbiotic and other spheres that conflict. I’ll try and separate singing and music in what I’ll state.

    I am a Muslim too, and regarding songs, there are some songs I don’t sing, some I don’t even clap to (all depending on intentions) but most I do sing and clap to. If you take the basics of Islam, then Capoeira and all its elements are permissible. However, the cultural manifestations often based on interpretation of hadith (which is directed from the basics) is where there can be problems. Here even in simplistic terms, almost everything can be ‘GREY’ i.e. not haram/forbidden or halal/allowed.

    In terms of Ideology, Islam teaches anything that is good for the mind/body/soul is allowed/halal and anything that damages the mind/body/soul it is not/haram. It is strongly recommended to stay clear of anything that may lead to something bad/haram. There are a lot of similarities to teachings by many Mestres for Capoeira, including Bimba’s like no intoxicants/drugs, but yes to food/family/community…

    Most Muslims follow a school of thought of some kind, hence their faith is a religion. These are based on the Quran and to various extents often also around a collection of hadiths/jurisprudence that are/was more strongly adhered to compared to others. This is complicated by the very fact the hadiths allow/absorb many pre-existing cultural manifestations. An example of this is drumming before calls to prayer in mountainous regions like parts of Indonesia on Fridays, another is clothing i.e. ninja/burqa outfits in the middle-east from the hadith that says cover yourselves modestly. The obvious complications are when Islam spreads; it can carry some of these traditions/cultures (that are not strictly Islamic) with them: rather than being freshly prescribed but this is a matter of debate. This is a very complicated subject but is often where conflict between Islam and Capoeira arises, especially when practiced by non-African or non-liberal Muslims. However, it is also where there is a lot of synergy and pride i.e Malés (although generic mainly those with Yorubean roots), Mandinga (Mali) whom in Brazil lead many attempts at rebellion against slave masters and were thus -part- of the ‘Afro-Brazilian slave communities giving birth to Capoeira.’ Please note, I stated ‘part.’

    An interesting addendum to the above is the silent interaction/absorption of Sufism, not the pure Dervish form but the adoption of Sufi practices by Sunni-Muslims that migrated to Brazil. Here subtle practices are incorporated into traditions/culture all around the world, in Brazil this includes: Patua and singing songs —-I mean Nasheeds at community gatherings ;-) layla-illah

    Regarding music, I understand opinions are related hadiths which are very strongly adhered to by most Muslims that say you should not use the devils wind instruments plus voices plus other musical instruments together. Now if you apply, what I stated earlier about keeping distances from something bad/haram, this is what has lead to many shariah/shoura councils declaring/fatwa music as bad/haram, due to the devils wind instruments. Personally, being born and brought up in England, I compromise and see music as ok as long as long as it does not have many wind instruments like organs/trumpets… so Capoeira/Berimbau-related music is ok.

    Summary: most songs are ok, almost all music is OK, the exercise is definitely ok and recommended from a modest Islamic point of view.

    p.s. Saracura, Unless you are explaining Taqwa/piety, most people agree the Islamic faith consists of 5 elements, the conviction bit/Shahada can be said to have seven sub-elements.
    p.s.s. VoVo I really like your wise reflection “The solution to your conflict is inside the problem.”

  7. Zepeda Mayen says:

    i thought Capoeira was started by Muslim slaves in the first place o.O

  8. ANIMADO says:

    Salam alekum Saracura, Ali and to all the muslims of that forum, and Hi to everyone else from another beleive or religion,
    Saracura i am very interested in that topic , as I am a Muslim and a capoeirista and ve been researching alot about the capoeira song and the capoeira culture .
    to start with history what i found briefly from some of the origin of Capoeira in Africa is that there was a big muslim empire in north africa including Ivory cost Mali senegal from the west down to Sudan in the East in that empire they were 2 warior tribes that were allway competing for ruling the Empire these are the MALE and the MANDINGA like most Africa muslim they followed (‘tasawuf’) the Islamic SUFI schools of thought wich is very spiritual ( a tarikat). From the pratice of tasawuf they will perform ZIKR or HADRA in wich they sit or stand in circle prasing Almighty ALLAH , the prophet Mohamed(peace be upon him) and all the other prophets and holly saints. 2 or more will be playing a Pandero a Berimbau and kachichi the rest will be siting or standing holding hands ,( the standing version is what is known as HADRA) , in the middle there was mans spinning or two mans doing warrior games (acrobatic and high kicks).
    Unfortunatly at some point when the MALE were ruling the MANDINGA tribe faught them to take over the Muslim Empire. I ve also red that the MANDINGA were using voodo Magician wich is unlawfull Islam and Sufism while the MALE restrained from this practice and where strict Muslim Sufi .
    i red that the MANDINGA took over most of west africa and encercleded the MALE in ivorycost . after that Magic become more practiced in the Mandinga tribe(this why maybe the word Mandinga was used to mean Magic for the African salve ) and it was the collapse of the muslim empire . the portuguese came then and enslaved alot of African from them alot of MALE and alot MANDINGA and took them to BRASIL.

    In Brasil the Muslims Slave continued to practice the roda Zikr and Hadra
    trainng in secret there fighting skills in whatis known today as Capoeira
    In 1835 in La Bahia the Muslim Malê revolted and faught calling all the slave to unite against the opression of the portuguese , However they were all killed by the firing weapon of there opressor .
    “Fearing the example might be followed, the Brazilian authorities began to watch the malês very carefully and in subsequent years intensive efforts were made to force conversions to Catholicism and erase the popular memory of and affection towards Islam.[7] However, the African Muslim community was not erased overnight, and as late as 1910 it is estimated there were still some 100,000 African Muslims living in Brazil.[8]” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Brazil)

    Slowly muslim chant and praise were replaced by catholic and coundomblé song in the roda Zikr or hadra .

    some muslim of that time hided their religion and when they were discovered they were either killed or deported to Angola . this explain why alot of Brasil carry Muslim Names but are Catholic in faith .

    In conclusion brother if we hide our religion we are training under the effect of the opression of the Brazilian authorities of 1835 who forced the conversion of 1000 of our brother and sisters . And our children might get from our Islam only our names.
    I respect that other have different religion and beleif and in return other should respect mine !
    So No I won’t sing the song with religious lyric that contradict my religion and won’t even aplaude them . and this is my freedom of choice .

    Thanks ,
    Animado

  9. Magicflower380 says:

    I agree with Animado. Very wise. ^_____^

  10. Abdul Karim says:

    Salaam Aleikum to all

    i am a brazilian muslim and i look forward to star learning capoeira. I am very glad that a lot of brothers are already practicing it. I have and idea! Why don´t we create a roda song praising Bilal Habash (ra) ? I think it fits in capoeira philosophy because we would be singing a song about a great african of the past. It´s the same with Zumbi dos Palmares, who was a hero to the afrobrazilians.

  11. Yusef says:

    I was really excited to find this discussion. I think when asking if one can go about both it depends on the perspective given to the discussion. For instance are we talking about absolute universals or are the definitions of Capoeira and Islam fluid and always in flux?

    The writer who introduced the discussion discusses Capoeira’s
    “syncretic and intercultural birth and also”. Also “there is no universal truth in the artform”.

    I would argue that Islam also encompasses diverse intercultural and spiritual traditions and diverse Islamic traditions can can be found for instance throughout Africa, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.

    I think Some Muslims may disagree and argue that Islam is a strict set of rules and regulations and that the traditions I discuss below fall outside of Islam. They may further interpret the discussion from the perspective of for instance an orthodox Sunni scholar’s perspective. ie. Is Capoeira haram?

    However my interest in the subject is different and like the discussions about the syncretic intercultural traditions that gave birth to Capoeira; I am interested in the diverse and often syncretic cultures that exist within the Muslim world.

    I read with great interest Eurico’s description of the African Muslims who were in Brazil at the early stages of Capoeira’s formation. I suggest people research the Gnawa tradition of Morocco. musicians who play the Guembri, a three stringed lute and practise healing rituals using incense, music and trance. Their songs mix praise of God and the Prophet with songs of the saints and spirits. Find below a link to one Gnawa master Maleem Mahmoud Ghania
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuGR8345-bA

    Also the Mouridiya movement and the Baye Fall of Senegal. Founded by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba and his disciple Ibra Fall it is another example where African traditions interacted with Islam to create an authentic spiritual tradition.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6zyAKAQA-Y

    What I also found interesting about Eurico’s post, was the description that certain Christian groups won’t use African words or sing certain songs when they practise capeoira. I think one has to be careful as not to acknowledge the wider traditions and culture of Capoeira is disrespectful.

    There are also other traditions in the Muslim world where one can find spiritual fighting arts such as Silat in Indonesia, again a syncretic mix of cultures, traditions and magic.

    I think at the end of the day its a personal decision. The encounter between Islam and Capoeira happens within oneself and the decision to practise or not is personal.

    I saw a translation of Mestre Pastinha’s words somewhere on the net,

    “Friends, the body is a great system of reason; behind our thoughts is thought to be a powerful Lord, an unknown knowledge …” – He also sings, “E Maior e Deus”, God is Greatest and that says it all for me. I practise Capoeira as a form of knowledge and it also forms part of my spiritual life and I respect its traditions. Its also kind of cool to practise, I may not be very good but I love to play Capoeira, it’s nice. Likewise the music is nice, the songs are brilliant and many of them have deep layers of meaning.

    I also practise Zikr, read the Quran and study the writings of the Sufis especially the great Sufi Master born in 12th century Spain Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi

    When the early Muslims encountered the teachings of the ancient Greeks, those of Plato, Phythagoras and Aristotle, also of ancient Egyptian alchemy and the traditions of Hermes Trismegistus; there were many Muslims, some of whom are considered amongst the wisest of historic figures who didn’t discard these supposedly foreign teachings. They sought to understand them and saw them as parallel paths to the one universal truth.

  12. MarMar al Marmar says:

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to see muslim capoeiristas talking about capoeira. I was a capoeirista myself and still am at heart. I benefitted and disciplined a lot from capoeira while still practicing my religion especially during my highschool days. Both are great tools for nafs and body discipline and i feel like they do go hand in hand. I’m also religious muslim woman. I started wearing hijab when I was practicing capoeira. I start practicing when I was 13 and quit when I was 19 because a change of axe in the academy and myself and i started getting more into my religion and wearing hijab. I had no problem practicing. before that as a young woman. I was too young at the time to understand the adult matters and drama that went on in the dojo. My far intent was to one day teach as I look up to my mestre but my fate took me a different route. My whole concern when I was practicing and beginning t understand dynamics were the other aspects of the art I would have to learn and teach. such as samba and the whole sexual aspect of it and the brazillian culture. I thot this would be challenging for a muslima because those are supposedly the fun parts of it. My mestre always used to hug and kiss his students as a form of comfort and welcoming and also its part of the culture. I thot this would be a problem when if I teach cuz we rn’t supposed to do so. There was also the touching of students or guiding their bodies to learn a movement. WHen I started wearing hijab I stopped him from hugging me one time with me and put out my hand to just shake and he was utterly shocked. He watched me grew up and was sort of a father figure to me and all of a sudden I put up boarders. As far as the songs were concerned I never took into consideration all that went into it cuz i was still learning translations.

    Capoeira is slowly making its way into the middle east and inshallah there will be some mestres coming out of there. There is now capoeira in indonesia and turkey. The next generations of capoeira mestres will be interesting because they will have roots from different areas of the world and different faiths. I think if any of these mestres are knowledgeable muslims they will tweek the songs as needed. and they could even make up their own songs. As far as the sexual and touching aspects of it i’m sure there are tactful ways around it and teaching to show the students that you care and are knowledgeable and still maintaining islamic ettiquette. But the other cultural aspects of it such as samba and other things I am in agreement with others that there might be problem with muslims teaching it and it may make their rank as a mestre a bit lower and undesirable by students but again it just depends on the population and geography of where they are teaching.
    Inshallah Khair and I wish the two things that made me who I am to day the best in this world and I hope that the muslims in those regions will benefit from it as I did.

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