Muslim Situation in the Caribbean

There are 31 countries in the Caribbean, which are classified linguistically into four regions, such as English speaking, French speaking, Spanish speaking and Dutch speaking Islands. There are 19 English speaking countries;

five French speaking countries; three Spanish speaking countries and four Dutch speaking Islands.

Muslims from different parts of the globe have settled in these regions. Immigrants vary from medical students to traders, from Indo-Pakistan to Indonesian and African countries. Some are very active Islamic view-point on critical issues like break-up in the media in Bahamas. Whereas, in other places, they are economically disadvantages. Most of them have a common problem of getting permanent work permit for their imams and Islamic workers. Some of the countries are getting a lot of pressure from the government which is characterized as the most hostile to Islam in the whole of Caribbean as in Dominico. Some of the countries have built mosques but most of them have no mosques as yet. They have just a prayers place or prayer house. Let us first describe in brief the socio-demographic backgrounds of the different islands of the Caribbean:

SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC BACKGROUND
Country Total Population Muslim Population
English- speaking 5,836,601 172,250
French- speaking 7,178,572 2,600
Spanish- speaking20,537,000 3,500
Dutch- speaking 635,415 121,000

There are 19 countries of the Caribbean where people speak the English language. These are, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Monsterrat, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Trinidad, Tobago, Virgin Islands US. Among the English-speaking countries, Jamaica has the largest population in the Caribbean where more than 2,450,000 people live, among whom 5,000 are Muslims. They constitute 3.75 percent of the total population of the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean, but this varies from 5 to 15 percent. The largest Muslims concentration of those speaking English is found in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago (i.e. 100,000), where they constitute 13.33 and 8.10 percent of the total population respectively. Muslims from India and Indonesia came here first as indentured servants and farm labourers respectively. They have preserved their Islamic Identify and culture but have developed not many community institutions such as schools or awqaf.

Christian missionary activity has, on the whole, failed to convert Muslims to Christianity. But some youths have been neutralized: low commitment to Islam while remaining nominally Muslims. Over the past 30 years, Afro-Caribbeans have been converting to Islam. Many Islamic organization have been formed since the 1970s, which are active in various endeavours.

The most well-organized Muslim community in the Caribbean region is the one in the Caribbean. The Indian community is well-established and has been here for over 150 years. There are many mosques and Islamic schools. The Afro-Caribbean community of new converts is still very small and weak. The main organizations are : (Caribbean Islamic Organization of Guyana Islamic Trust respectively), the Guyana Muslim Mission , and the Guyana Islamic Institute. Trinidad is the most important island in the Caribbean, politically, economically and in terms of Islamic Dawah. Local Islamic work is well developed, and local organizations are handing it well. International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations (IIFSO) whose coordination is in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad earmarked some resources for Trinidad. Its work consists mainly of supporting education, managing revolving credit fund for new Muslims, and providing support to an Islamic book and video center. It employs three full-time Islamic workers in Trinidad. In the French-speaking Islands, such as Guadeloupe, Guyana Francaise, Haiti and Martinique, the Muslims community is mainly made up of African Muslims immigrants from West Africa, Senegal and Mali. The total population of these five countries is 7,178,572 out of which 2,600 are Muslims. The Muslim figures for Guyana Francaise and Haiti are not known.

In Martinique, there is a wealthy immigrant Palestinian community with an Islamic center and an imam paid by Dar al-Ifta, Saudi Arabia. Native converts are struggling to preserve their Islamic identify. IIFSO has been helping with Dawah Material. One native Muslim is studying in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Omar Hassan Kasule of IIFSO is thinking to employ him as soon as he returns to mobilize the native community.

In the Spanish-speaking island, such as Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, a fact finding mission was sent and contact was established with Muslim community. Total population of these countries are 20,573,000 out of which 3,500 are Muslims. The Muslims figure for Dominican Republic is not known though the total population of the country is around 7,000,000. It is expected that the Cuban intellectuals would listen to Islam sympathetically. The Communist era has weakened the Catholic Church.

In Dominican Republic, Pakistani brothers have well established Dawah efforts there. There is a 2,000-strong Palestinian community in Puerto Rico with two mosques. They are economically strong and able to pay for an Imam. Islamic books were sent and visited these islands. They were also put into contact with Islamic Palestinian groups in the US. With the expected fall of Communist regime IIFSO expects to do a lot of Dawah work.

In the Dutch-speaking countries , such as Curacao, St. Martin, Surinam and Nethfral, Antilles, the population figures for Curacao and St. Martin are not available. But we have the figure for the other two countries of the Dutch-speaking islands which are as follows:

CountriesTotal PopulationMuslim Population
Surinam 425,000 120,000
Netherlands Antilles 210,415 1,000

There are Arab and Indo-Pakistani immigrant communities. Arabs have a mosque and a resident Shaikh. Indians are less organized. They need a resident imam as well as books. They can self-finance many of their projects. In Surinam, there are a large number of Muslims where they constitute 28.23 percent of the total population of 425,000 of the country. Three distinct Muslim communities are living in Surirnam. The Javanese from the Indonesian Archipelago have been living in the island for more than 50 years; Indo-Pakistanis came as indentured labour for more than 100 years ago. Besides, there is a growing Afro-Surinamese community here.

There is a Caribbean Islamic Secretariat which was set up in 1988 with an Executive Director and a Board of Directors to carry out Dawah work, Islamic literature distribution, provision of Islamic education and catering to economic development.

Besides the above, there are six million French-speaking Canadians in the Quebec province of Canada and about two Million French-speaking Haitians in the state of Massachusetts, New York and Florida. The French-speaking Canadians are culturally insecure and always fear being absorbed into the predominate English culture. They are very perceptive to Islam and Muslims. They have few prejudices and prejudgments.

The Haitians have many social characteristics that make Islam attractive to them: they are very family-oriented, and are deeply religious. Almost all of them are Catholics. Most are folk Catholics, they are mix aspects of the ancient Indian religions with Catholicism and follow it more as a culture and not as a faith or doctrine and, therefore, have little attachment to it.Most of the Haitians are poor and belong to the lowest socioeconomic classes. There are some highly educated ones who are joining the American mainstream. They are now beginning to acquire political power at state and federal levels.

The French-speaking Africans living in New York and Philadelphia come to look for work. Many work at menial jobs and have poor education. Ignorance of English hampers their advance. They are fighting an uphill struggle to preserve their Islamic identity.

The importance of Dawah work both to the Muslims and the non-Muslims in the United States and the Caribbean region cannot be minimized and overlooked. The Dawah activities carried out by the IIFSO are appreciable and commendable. Its office produced books and pamphlets in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish for distribution among individuals and organizations in and outside the US on request. The Spanish materials were regularly supplied to IIFSO representatives in charge of Spanish Dawah in New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, Florida and Texas to support their work. There are 23 pamphlets and books languages which are required on and distributed on a regular basis by the IIFSO, Washington DC.

The Muslim World league Journal
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