Education Among Early Muslims In Trinidad
Dr. Nasser Mustapha is currently the Head of Behavioural Sciences Department, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Consulting Editor for the Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions, (a York University Project). Author of two widely used textbooks on Sociology for Caribbean Students. He has served as Member of the Subject Panel and as Chief Examiner for CAPE Sociology since its inception and has published several journal articles on drug abuse, education and stratification, and the sociology of health.View all articles by Nasser Mustapha
Efforts to Promote Formal Education
Muslims with resources were eager to establish institutions to cater for the educational needs of the community. Mohammed Ibrahim, a prominent entrepreneur, built a school and a mosque in 1924 in El Socorro. The Islamic Guardian Association also started an Arabic and Urdu school in Princes Town in 1925. Hajji Gokool another wealthy entrepreneur also built a mosque and a school in St James around 1927 in St James. Haji Ruknudeen also built a few small schools in different districts. This probably included the Lengua Islamic school which started in 1929 in Princes Town .
The idea of a Hindu-Muslim school surfaced around the 1920s. After much discussion, this school started in November 1931 with 150 students. It was located in Chaguanas, in the middle of the sugar producing region and therefore important to both Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus and Muslims in the surrounding areas withdrew their children from the CM school and gave their support to the Hindu-Muslim school. The school began in a large shed, which was also used for meetings and assemblies.
The Hindu-Muslim school of Chaguanas, was an obvious effort to check Indian conversion to the Presbyterian faith. According to Campbell one of the pioneers for the Hindu –Muslim was Nazar Hosein of Chaguanas. This school according to Carl Campbell was “probably the most controversial elementary school ever started in the colony”. Due to disturbances the attendance dropped to 92 in 1932. The Hindu-Muslim school though faced with many problems continued up to 1935.
According to Haleema Kassim, a high school was started in 1936 in Sangre Grande by a convert to Islam, Abu Bakr Beaumont-Benjamin, (Kassim, 2000). In addition to religious instruction, academic subjects were taught. This opening of institution is an indication of the maturity and resourcefulness of the community, to have started a secondary school, at such a challenging era in history with so very little resources.
Indians’ isolation and the non-acceptance by the rest of the society worked in their favour. The bonds of solidarity were intensified as they relied more on each other. It also meant that circumstances were more conducive to cultural persistence than among their African predecessors.
Religious gatherings provided opportunities for social interaction. Also, the close-knit Indian family system facilitated cultural transmission to the younger members of society. Under the new conditions these cultural traits were inevitably adapted and modified.
The early Indian Muslims were therefore able to maintain their religious identity amidst the pressures of a plural society, with several adaptations. Minor theological differences were brushed aside as survival was high on their agenda. They were largely united as they successfully resisted integration with the wider society. Robert Jack Smith (1963), on the basis of studies conducted among the Muslims of Trinidad concludes: “…to the present time, family organization and organized religion have engaged the forces of assimilation and acculturation and won…”
Several efforts were made to teach Indian-based languages. Hindi and Urdu classes were held at the Prince Albert Street Mosque Hall in 1945 and in Marabella in 1938. The class included Hindus, Muslims and Christians. A delegation was sent to the governor presenting the demand of the Indians. The delegation included Hajji Ruknudeen, Mohammed Hosein, Mohammed Ibrahim, Hajji Gokool, T.R. Mahabirsingh, J. Gosine, R. Maharaj, Mohammed Aziz and C. Mathura. The Marriot/Mayhew report indicated that the Indians who comprised 38.5% of the population (1932 census) should have had their own denominational schools.
There were also several efforts to establish private schools, but due to the absence of state aid, adequate resources were not available to provide viable alternatives to the Christian schools. The leaders of both Hindus and Muslims, including Nazir Ahmad Simab and Ameer Ali agitated for years to obtain state aid for a non-Christian school. And their efforts did bear fruit when the El Socorro Islamia School was established by the Takveeatul Islamic Association (TIA) in 1942. This institution operated as a private school for seven years before becoming the first non-Christian school to receive state assistance.
Discussions were held between Nazeer Ahmad Simab (Tabligh ul Islam) and Moulvi Ameer Ali (TIA). They used an already old building on TIA lands on Bissessar Street in El Socorro. Initially, the Director of Education was approached for aid, but he turned down their request. He nevertheless gave the green light to run the school privately for two years, starting from March 2, 1942. They had a staff of six teachers and an initial enrolment of over 44 pupils. It was still necessary for the premises to conform to government regulations, pertaining to sanitation, and space. It was not until 1949 that aid was granted.
In 1949, there were 250 Christian schools and 50 Government schools. By 1952, Hindu schools started to receive state aid and by 1962, there were 46 Hindu schools and 15 Muslim schools.
(Source: A Digest of Statistics on Education, 1962-1963).
Subsequently, the government considered both Hindus and Muslims capable of administering schools in the colony. Within a short time several Hindu and Muslim schools were established, through the assistance of Roy Joseph, the then Minister responsible for education.