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The Muslim Minority in Jamaica

Joanna Ferguson
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    Dressed in a pale pink-coloured hijab, which formed a covering for her hair and shoulders, 26-year-old Rashida Khan, a postgraduate student in the Pure and Applied Sciences Faculty at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, is easily recognized as one of a few Muslims in Jamaica.

    “I was born into the Islam faith,” said Khan, whose parents ensured that she and her six siblings were brought up according to this doctrine. From a very early age she learned how to conduct herself as a Muslim. 

    Although only a few Muslims are seen on the campus at any given time, Khan said she knew of at least nine practising Muslims, that included medical students, and lecturers, such as Abdullahi Abdulkadri- lecturer in the Economics department, Dr. Sultana Afroz- lecturer in the History department, and Rafi Ahmad and Dr. Faisal Butt, lecturers in the Geology department.

    The 2002 International Religious Freedom Report disclosed that there is ‘an estimated 5,000 Muslims’ in Jamaica. However, an article in the Jamaica Observer newspaper with the headline, Media portrays Muslims only as terrorists, says local Islamic head,dated February 22, 2006, said there are “approximately 4,500 Muslims in Jamaica.”

    Abdul Baseer, teacher of the fundamental principles of Islam for 15 years at the Islamic Council of Jamaica, said, this figure represents “less than one per cent of the population,” and “there are 12 places of worship in Jamaica.” Mosques, also called masjids, are located in Kingston, (Spanish Town) St. Catherine, (Port Maria and Albany) St. Mary, (Newell) St. Elizabeth, and (Three Miles River) Westmoreland.


    Baseer still considers himself a student of Islam “who has the responsibility to teach others who don’t know as much as [I do].”

    There are only two schools in Jamaica that are run by Muslims, such as the Islaamiyah
    Basic School, and the Masjid Arrahan Kindergarten School, that are mostly populated with students from Christian homes.      

    In contrast, according to official government statistics, gathered originally during the 1991 census on religious demography in Jamaica, and released by the United States’ State Department, Christians vastly outnumber other faiths in the island. The Church of God had the largest membership of 21 per cent. Seventh-day Adventists and Baptists each had a nine per cent membership; this was one per cent higher than the Pentecostals, which were at eight per cent. The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches comprised six per cent and four per cent respectively. The United Church and Methodists each had a three per cent membership, whereas Jehovah Witnesses comprised two per cent. The Brethren and Moravians had a low membership of one per cent, which also represented the group named ‘unstated’. The group ‘other’, comprised Hindus, Jews (approximately 300 members), and Rastafarians. Of the total amount of persons surveyed, the remaining 24 per cent with no religious affiliation were children.  

    "The purpose of Islam is not to conquer the world;” [rather], “our aim is to worship Allah, so that when we die, we are successful in the next world: paradise,” said the Islamic teacher told The Insider, with great conviction.


    Still, this may be difficult for Christians and people of other religions to believe, as they link Islam with violence. “That a jus plain wicked,” said a source who requested anonymity, and who believes Muslims are responsible for the terrorist attacks, and suicide bombings of Israeli citizens, in the Middle East. For example, the suicide bombing of a shawarma restaurant in Israel in January 2006. 

    An article posted on the Jamaica Gleaner website, with the headline, Religious Fundamentalism and the scourge of violence, dated, September 26, 2001, said, “Fanaticism has been used as part of the ideology of terrorism throughout the years.” There has been “the rise of militant expression of [Islam] by extreme conservatives who have sought to respond to what they identify as ‘liberal’ revisions that have weakened the fundamentals of their faith. Muslim terrorists [therefore] use religion to recruit zealots…further infecting their minds with propaganda that the Christian west, led by the United States of America (USA), is on a crusade to colonize Muslim lands and weaken Islam."

    The day the two airplanes hit the World Trade Center (the twin towers) and the Pentagon was filled with catastrophe and confusion for Americans. This act was tragic as it amounted to deaths of over 1,000 civilians. The September 11, 2001 act of terror drew much media attention to the Middle East, because the Bush administration wanted to know the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, the ‘world’s foremost terrorist’, and his Al-Qaeda organization, whom, they alleged, orchestrated the disaster. Consequently, persons of diverse religions, and persons with no religious affiliation, tend to discriminate against Muslims. They are called ‘Muslim terrorists’ or ‘Islamic terrorists’, which is a great offence.

    Rejecting this argument Baseer said, “The 9/11 is a deliberate demolition of those two buildings [World Trade Center]. The media is untruthful; the whole thing is a set up…by the American administration [which] knew ahead of time that this would occur."

    Also, Khan, the postgraduate student said, “It’s like an oxymoron; when they [Bush Administration] are blowing up people they are not referred to as Christian terrorists. I am a bit disheartened with the situation in the Middle East [because]…the whole thing started with America [not the Muslims]. The United States went and imposed economic sanctions in Iran and Iraq, to get these countries to be weak and [so] depend on them for [food and other things]. The people are suffering, and in retaliation against the system of the west [and in their defence], they blow themselves up [and purposely kill others in the process]. Islam does not condone suicide. It is totally forbidden… [such a] person would be damned [to hell].”

    However, Alfred Roache, teacher of Christianity or more than 10 years at the Church of God Seventh Day said, "It is not a matter that [Muslims] were fighting against the East or West. Their aim was to rule the world...they will fight the [holy Jihad] war to gain control of the world [Qur'an 9:29]. They are against America because they protect Israel."

    President of the Islamic Council of Jamaica, Mustafa Muhammad said, “There is bad media coverage of Muslims; people tend to show more interest in Islam when bad things are being reported of us. When people get the true teaching they will have a greater understanding and appreciation for it.”

    The term ‘Islam’ in its Arabic form ‘salaam’, means “peace.” In spite of this, it does not seem that Muslims are, by nature, a non violent people. History documents that the Islamic faith originated in West Africa and was introduced to Jamaica during slavery.

    The Nation of Islam was an organization that was formed, in the United States of America, by Master W. Fard Muhammad,  who was regarded as ‘the saviour of the black man and woman’. He preached that ‘God is one’, and that it was now time for blacks to return to ‘the religion of their ancestors’. The Honourable Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), who was born and raised in Sandersville, Georgia, eventually became the leader of the Nation of Islam, and was responsible for ‘resurrecting the black man and woman’. He did this because his teacher, Master W. Fard Muhammad, disappeared from the public eye, after several cases of police harassment in Detroit and Chicago, in 1934.

    "The first Muslims were slaves, brought by the Europeans from West Africa to Jamaica, where they tried to practice and maintain their religion [Islam]. Maroons were originally Muslims, [but] today they have forgotten their religion; [therefore], in the mid-twentieth century, indentured servants, who were responsible for the resurrection of Islam in Jamaica, started to build places of worship for Muslims,” said Baseer. He said indentured servants were responsible for the resurrection of Islam in Jamaica. The Muslim doctrine preached “the belief: 1) in one God (Allah), 2) in the angels, 3) in the divine scriptures, such as, the Torah and the Psalms, “the rest of the Bible,” and the Qur’an, which “is composed of Allah's words, dictated by the Archangel Gabriel to Muhammad, 4) in the books revealed by Allah, such as the a) Torah, revealed to Moses, the prophet, b) Zaboor, revealed to David, the prophet, c) Injeel, revealed to Jesus and d) Qur’an, revealed to prophet Muhammad; this [Qur’an] is the only revelation that is unchanged and [not] tampered with, and, in it [are] the basic fundamental [guidelines],” said Baseer.    

    He said it is not difficult to maintain the Muslim beliefs in a Christian society because the belief comes from within the heart and mind. He said, “At the present time in Jamaica, the community [of Muslims] is small, and there is [only] communication between different brothers in different localities; however, there is still…a hope for unity and oneness [among all Muslims]. We are now at a point in which there is great potential for the expansion of Islam in the island. [Although] other Muslims had their own plans and decisions [for expansion],” for example, Muslim leaders “in St. Elizabeth and Kingston…we have now decided that collective vision is required for this growth to occur.

    God (Allah) has prescribed one religion for mankind. It is straightforward; there is no strain in practising. Islam is not viable because persons, [in exercising freewill], choose not to open their hearts and minds to serve Allah. When they [accept these teachings], their lives will become easy in the natural and spiritual [way]; they’ll become prosperous both materially and spiritually…and have happiness and [internal] prosperity, and this internal prosperity will become external prosperity."

          

    SOME OF THE MUSLIM BELIEFS & PRACTICES:

    End.