Halima Kassim
By Halima Kassim
Published on 09/9/2011


The Muslim community in the post-indenture Caribbean witnessed several changes that affected the character of its practices.  As a way of institutionalizing the faith, the community had established masajid (mosques), schools and other organisations.  As these physical manifestations and legal entities were being inserted into the local space, foreign missionaries who visited imposed their brand of Islam on the local landscape. The tension which arose resulted in the splintering of the Muslim community. Each strain, Sunnism and Ahmaddiyaism, vied for supremacy – territoriality - by supporting missionary visits from India and later Pakistan, and embarking upon da’wah (invitation to...).  As these streams of Islam collided or solidified, organisations, either at the community or national levels, were established.

As part of forging the ummah (community) Muslim leaders established links with South American Islamic bodies, principally those of British Guiana and Suriname.  This development of Islamic consciousness and cooperation culminated with a regional conference in 1950 in Trinidad that involved Muslims from Trinidad, British Guiana, Suriname and Barbados. This conference was the highlight of Islamic consciousness in the Caribbean and preceded the departure of two eminent Islamic scholars, Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddiqui and Dr. Fazl-ur Rahaman Ansari.

This paper, therefore, takes a look at the above issues and rethinks them in the context of interconnected networks and sometimes, through the lens of the local-global nexus.  It views it as a noble attempt by the Muslims to assert the ummah beyond national boundaries and a forerunner to other efforts in the later twentieth century.   


Today, regionally and globally, there is the preoccupation with integration, migration and mobility of labour, cross-border workers and ways in which all of that and more can be facilitated while addressing issues of sovereignty and identity, participation and inclusion. Yet, during the 1920s to the 1950s there were clear examples of community groups forging ties across the waters and creating facilitative mechanisms for coming together for dialogue.   Today, we also value immersion or experiential learning and student/youth exchange programmes.  Yet, during this period there were clear examples of youth exchanges taking place among niche communities. 

Today, the concept of civil society is a popular notion. It is often seen as a “third sector”; sometimes it operate as a continuum from the state and the economy or it can function as an intermediary between the state and the economy. For political theorists, this notion of civil society reinforces the democratic nature of states.  Civil society movements are driven by moral, political and social issues. What provides impetus for these organisations are a shared interest or a shared cause – an organisation of self and interests. In this context, it is possible to see the emergence of civil society as a manifestation of social change within the colony and a claiming of space by the Muslims demanding recognition of presence in the colony and thus, increasing their bargaining power within society and with the colonial government. As we shall see, the urge to belong, to be part of something bigger, also propelled the Islamic movements of the 1920s and beyond. 

Introduction of Islam

Islam entered the Caribbean through two streams; the African slaves and the Asian immigrants, that is, Indian and Indonesian (Javanese).  This paper is predominantly concerned with the Indian stream.  Labourers from India began arriving into Trinidad, British Guiana and Jamaica in 1845 and Suriname from 1873, and continued until 1917 in the British and Dutch West Indies.    By 1917, some 419,349 indentured immigrants had arrived in British Guiana, Suriname and Trinidad.

Of the indentured immigrants imported an estimated eighty per cent of the migrants were Hindus, fifteen per cent were Muslims and the rest were tribal, Christians, Sikhs and others.[1]  Of the Muslims that arrived, the majority were Sunni Muslims believed to be of the Hanafi school of thought.  During the course of the nineteenth century the new immigrants began claiming their space through the establishment of villages which became the mecca for religious and cultural reconstitution including built symbols - masajid.   This suggests that the social capital which formed as a result of migration and settlement constituted a frame that generated cultural symbols and norms that supported social relations and bonds among various actors. 

They hankered after the “old” and used the certainties of the culture and religion as coping mechanisms to address their insecurities. As they began to see themselves more as settlers although still adrift and defining themselves they became open to contact, contact with the familiar aimed at recovery of identity, a way of not losing touch with their ancestors and homeland.  It is why the local community sought to invite individuals, missionaries, from outside to energise the faith.  This ambivalence - the creation of parallel or niche communities and institutions to encompass the totality of daily life, the incremental integration within the host society – predefined their level of absorption within the host society. 

Religion and culture, often takes on a nurturing and resistance resonance, especially for people who are reconstructing codes of behaviour.  The Indians of the diaspora provide an excellent example of how religion can act as a cohesive force in a struggle to carve a space in a hostile environment, where persuasion and/or inducements to convert to Christianity were common. Marxists locate religion in the sphere of ideology which is “the systemic distortion of social reality which legitimises the social order of the dominant classes”.  This leads to a perspective of religion as a “prototypical ideology which necessarily serves to mystify adherents as it contributes to the reproduction of the class structure”.[2]  

[1] Brij V. Lal, “The Odyssey of Indenture: Fragmentation and Reconstitution in the Indian Diaspora" Diaspora (Vol 5 No. 2) 1996.  167-188. This is also supported by Dale Bisnauth, The vast majority of the immigrants came from the Indo-Gangetic plain, Uttar Pardesh, and Bihar with a minority from Oudh and Bengal; predominantly Hindu areas.   These were predominantly Hindu areas.  In Uttar Pardesh and Punjab, where a significant number of the immigrants originated Sunni (orthodox) Islam dominated.  However, Shias (also spelt Shi’ites- another stream in Islam) and the Wahhabis (followers of strict fundamental Islamic teachings) were also to be found (Titus, 1960.31). 

[2] J. Hannon, cf. M. Marcoux, 1984.37.

Civil society

Karl Marx sees society as the economic sector though family (and tribe) were important building blocks. Thus, the state represented public interests while civil society was seen as private interests. Antonio Gramsci, Italian political theorist, on the other hand, believed that civil society is not simply a sphere of individual needs but of organisations.  In this vision, civil society becomes a space where class hegemony resides and thus, a social elite emerges.  Within this hegemony knowledge (secular and religious) became a prized commodity. Religious knowledge, in the initial stages, revolved around generally remembered fragments of a few men that led to knowledge replication and an epistemological justification rather than “how and why of what we know” or put another way, the inner workings of the faith. Consequently, what emerged was faith saturated religious organisations which were structurally dominated by learned men.  But to be realistic, there was no way of knowing.  The community lacked education, and the colonial education that some received focused on the cultural and technological accomplishments of the colonial powers. 

Civil society organisations played a critical role in structuring and defining social relations. Within the Indo-Muslim community, several institutions were established to address the multiple identities of the Muslim community over time.  So, for instance, there were religious, charitable, and “high” culture civil society organisations within the community. This, in part, suggests the availability of economic resources or better economic positioning of resources that could be mobilised for organisational movements around common goals.  It also suggests that threats to civil rights prompted or facilitated and enabled the formation or strengthening of organisational development.

Despite the diversity of civil society organisations that supported social life at the micro-level or fulfilled the distributional functions there were some that sought to give “voice” to the concerns of the communities and manoeuvred into a negotiating position with official bodies to amplify that voice and produce a public good.  During the opening years of the twentieth century, with a few exceptions, the focus was on consolidating their position through pressure groups and then challenging the state through lobbying the existing colonial government for a broadening of civil and economic rights.  Examples of these “demand side” organisations include the East Indian National Association (EINA), East Indian National Congress (EINC) of Trinidad; East Indian Association of British Guiana; Suriname Immigration Association known as Bharat Uday (Rising Hindustan); and East Indian Association of Jamaica (EIAJ) and East Indian National Union (EINU) of Jamaica. The challenge was that they were lobbying in a political economy defined by fear of difference and the attainment of equal status of a minority group.  The words of E.F.L. Wood, Parliamentary-Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies is instructive as it is insightful.  In his Report following his visit to the British West Indian Colonies in 1921- 1922 he noted that Trinidad was “the only community lacking ‘any homogeneous public opinion. Socially it is divided into all kinds of groups which have few relations with the other’[1].  So any attempt to organise the Muslim community into an island-wide community:     

Was feared… because the Muslims were a minority within a minority East Indian population that the colonial government would want… to become acculturalised just as the Negro ex-slave had, in order to get rid of the religious and cultural pluralism in the society, They wanted to create their own institutions which would prevent such from  happening.  At the same time this would enhance their position within the East Indian communities. If they gained laws which improved their social status in terms of marriage, divorce, education, then they would be able to maintain equal status with different racial and social sectors in the island.[2]

This suggests special interest groups would find the prospect of lobbying for a public good a high cost product. Trinidad society had yet to accept that the Indians had come to stay; so their early lobbying attempts were taking place in an essentially hostile atmosphere and so, it is not surprising that they were not successful. The demand for recognition of their presence through rights and entitlements that accompany settlement required the input of resources – knowledge and intuitive intelligence, time and sustained effort – for it to be successful.  Eventually, they would achieve the outcomes desired in the late 1940s at a time when Trinidad was experiencing optimism and hope – World War II was over and the austerity measures associated with the war was fading – and the country was moving down the road towards self-government.

Friendly Societies formed the launching pad of localised Islamic group nationalism in Trinidad.  This was illustrated by Islamic Guardian Association (IGA) in 1906 in Princes Town (south Trinidad).  They filled a distributive function within the society by providing financial assistance to members on occasion of unemployment, sickness, old age (over fifty), death and funeral expenses, widows, orphans and insurance against fire for tools of the trade. These associations demonstrate the forces of exploration within the community - the overture of compromise (emulation, validation and difference).  In fact, the immigrant community had taken the time and effort to learn the ways of their society despite the hesitancy of the receiving society in accepting the migrants.

The establishment of literary and debating associations by the Indian community was manifestation of them colonising their own space and creating parallel “high culture” organisations.  The clubs although “organised along western parliamentary lines” demonstrated “the Indians, aware of the increasing westernising influence among their community, and feeling their culture threatened sought to preserve their identity”.[3]  The words of T. M. Kelshall, member of the Legislative Council, are of particular interest in the assertion of the value of the Literary Clubs: 

 They assembled week by week to give speech to their thoughts. They had debates and essays, and they got together and endeavoured to learn how to speak and write correctly which was a very commendable undertaking.[4]

Social relations between different members of various members of civil society organisations existed. For instance, Syed Abdul Aziz was instrumental in the formation of the EINA as he was in the IGA and Tackveeyatul Islamic Association (TIA).  Similarly, too, were Abdul Ghany and Haji Ruknudeen; who were both involved in an ad hoc committee to bring to the colony a missionary and later founding members of the TIA and in the case of Ruknudeen also, Anjuman Sunnat-ul-Jamaat Association (ASJA). Such overlap in relations, membership and participation in organisations provide relevant insights into the emerging social elite within the Muslim community. In this regard, it is worth taking a cursory look at the resources held by some of the influential men in the Muslim community who defined the space and articulated it needs.  A fleeting examination of the names mentioned in the context organisational formation shows that there was an overlap between the economy and the society and the “third sector”, the civil society, in functioning. The men were holders and conveyors of sacred knowledge, professionals and proprietors.

Connections between the interests groups gave acute visibility to the issues affecting the community, but importantly, it demonstrated a consensus on concerns relevant to Muslims.  For example, the EINA, IGA and TIA under the leadership of Aziz lobbied for the recognition of Muslim marriages. Thus, the demonstration of real interests of the community was visible among the existing relations of the different social actors and organisations. Further, it revealed a focus on demands rather than causes.  The outgrowth of these service type organisations demonstrated the availability of resources and the ability to leverage those resources for achieving the end – colonising of space within their new society.

[1]  H. Craig, The Legislative Council of Trinidad and Tobago (London: Faber and Faber) 1951.31.                        

[2] Report by the Honourable E.F.L. Wood, M.P. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Colonies) On His Visit to the West Indies and British Guiana, Cmnd. 1679 (London: H.M.S.O., 1922).

[3]  E. R. Seesaran, 1994. 329.

[4]  “Literary Clubs In Council- A Forum for Literary Trinidad- Mr. T. M. Kelshall Welcomes Delegates to Southern City: Deputy Mayor Pleads Strongly for Liberal Schooling,” TG 3:06:1936.14.

Early presence manifested

The religious symbols which manifested itself through the construction of masajid provided a social dimension and function, that is, they expressed in a physical way the encoded language of the adherents of the faith.  They also strengthened the bonds of solidarity and reinforced differences. By the end of indenture, Guiana and Trinidad had a number of masajid.  In Guiana, the first masjid appeared in 1883, by 1903 there were twenty-nine and by 1917 there were 46.  In Trinidad, masajid in Tacarigua (1850), Iere Village (1866) and Prince of Wales Street, San Fernando (1894) were among some of the first known Mohamedan house of worship”. [1]  In Suriname, the established jamaat (congregation) system set the stage for small mosques to be built across the country.  There is some dispute about where the first masjid was built; some allege it was behind the Wolfenbuttel while others claim that it was at Plantation Marienburg. In 1931, the land on the Keizarstraat (Paramaribo) was purchased and the first mosque, a wooden rectangular building with minarets, mosque was built under the guidance of Baas Ibrahim.

The situation in Jamaica was quite different.  For almost a century, Muslim immigrants performed prayers individually and in congregations without a formal house of worship or a masjid according to Sultana Afroz, a Jamaican historian. The lack of appropriate opportunities to build masajid and the idea that the whole world is a mosque for prostration without exception may have been the reason for the absence of masjids during indenture.[2]  The first masjid, Masjid Ar-Rahman, was built in Spanish Town in 1957 by Muhammad Khan, a Muslim immigrant worker who had come to Jamaica from Uttar Pradesh in 1915 at the age of 15 while Westmoreland's Masjid Hussein was built by Muhammad Golaub, who immigrated with his father at the age of seven. The indentured Muslims laid the foundation of the eight other masajid established in Jamaica since the 1960s.

While these architectural religious symbols eventually came to represent the material technologies and the human and economic resources of a community, it more importantly represented cultural attitudes, values and motivations of a people. Abrahim Khan notes that "the social dimension of symbols is less on solidarity that they bring about and more on 'the kind of people they produce by the education they provide.”[3] The extent that this true is based upon the idea that Islam is a way of life informing thought and action, structures and behaviour of its adherents that resonates through the generations.

[1]  Sarah E. Morton, John Morton of Trinidad. (Toronto: Westminister and Company) 1916.  Maasjids were constructed In 1868 in Iere Village by Nazir Mohammed, an ex- indentured labourer, and in 1894 at by Rohomuth (Rahamut), an India-born son of a former indentured immigrant.

[2] Sultana Afroz, The Moghul Islamic Diaspora: The Institutionalization of Islam in Jamaica, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 20, No. 2, 2000.282.

[3]   Abrahim Khan, 2001.142-143.

?A step of faith? - Religious organisations

Religion through its organisations has been the one responsible for providing spiritual and to a great extent social welfare for its followers.  The Muslim community, particularly in Trinidad, established welfare/charitable, service and “high culture” organisations and they were eventually able to transition to forming faith saturated organisations.  Through jamaats and masajid and associations namely Friendly Societies, religious beliefs and religious practices added value at the micro-level that is, to individual’s well-being and functioning.  Religious organisations play an active role in shaping beliefs and many of them invest resources – time, effort - in advocating certain kinds of messages while censoring others.  This organisational and ideological conflict, created friction and fractures within established religious organisations.  When alternative ideas arise in organised religious institutions, there is often defection rather than compromise. Defection can be costly vis à vis resources (knowledge, human and financial), assets. This, in turn, may lead to the governance of religious organisations being costly.  With rise of the competing religious organisations there may also arise a "hierarchy" or denominations of religions within religions. 

In Trinidad, jamaats and masajid generally functioned at the micro level fulfilling a supply role while the religions groups alternate between micro and meso roles.  Religious organisations were first established through localised friendly societies and were generally endogenously formed bodies. As mentioned earlier, the IGA was the first known Islamic religious organisation to be established; registering its existence under the Friendly Societies Ordinance on November 5, 1913.  It continued to operate until circa 1938.[1]  In January 1925, a group of Muslims that included ex-indentured and descendants of such met at Crescent Hall, St. Joseph with the intention to organise the Muslim community into a group. This led to the formation of the TIA, a non-sectarian body. The importance of state recognition for providing organisations with credibility and legitimacy was particularly important as the Muslims were seeking to colonise their space.  The body was incorporated by Act No. 39 of 1931 and they sought generally to address the “supply side” of religious activities namely propagation of Islam, establishment of maktabs, mosque and school-building projects.  Despite that, there was also an attempt to address the “demand side” by agitating for the recognition of Muslim marriage and divorce, and ecclesiastical grants for school building.  This spoke to the continuity in the quest for social change and demands for civil rights through an umbrella Muslim body and a legally incorporated entity.  

Conversely, British Guiana’s development of religious organisations was driven by a mix of exogenous and endogenous forces.  Within the Muslim community the formation of civil society organisations were driven by a group of young and active Muslims such as Young Men’s Muslim Literary Society, Islamic Association, etc.[2] Conversely, the Sad’r Anjuman-i-Islam was established in 1936/1937 not by resident Muslims, but by a visiting missionary from Bombay, India - Sayed Shamshuddin Nizmuddin Al Hoseini Qaderi[3] who, also visited Trinidad in 1936 and who belonged to the Sunnat-wal-Jamaat school of thought (Hanafi). In Suriname, however, the earliest Islamic organisation was the Anjuman Hidayat Islam and was home-grown. 

As we shall see, the Muslim community and religious institutions would invariably have to respond to and come to terms with organsiational interests, ideological differences and external influences while simultaneously defining their role, nationally.  The extent to which this third sector is able to respond to structural, procedural and human interactions influenced by internal organisational attributes, cultural, social and political phenomenon contributes to defining the value, relevance and longevity of the organisation.

[1] The was the IGA in 1906 in Princes Town. This early religious organisation registered.  By 1917 they had 180 members, but by 1932 their membership declined to thirty-five which remained almost stable until 1937. The IGA, like its elder sibling EINA, lobbied for the legalisation of Muslim marriages under the leadership of Syed Abdul Aziz.  In common with other Friendly Societies the IGA had an executive. Despite declining membership the group continued to hold meetings in January 1935, April and August 1937. In August 1938, they organised a lecture to be delivered in Princes Town by Moulvi Ameer Ali. (TTBB, 1917, 1932, 1934, 1937 and TG, 1935,1937. Also “Indian News- Meetings Today”, SG 7:08:1938.26.)

[2] This started with the formation of the Young Men’s Muslim Literary Society in 1926. It was the first organisation that assumed a national status. Its members for the next thirty years played highly influential roles in the formation and functioning of the Jamiatul Ulama I Din (JUDG), Islamic Association, Anjuman Mofidul Islam, Sad’r Anjuman, Muslim League, and the Muslim Youth Organization of British Guiana (MYOG). The following organizations were formed in Guyana as from 1926 to 1950:  Young Men’s Muslim Literary Society (Queenstown, 1926), Anjuman Mofidul Islam of British Guiana (Queenstown 1927), Jamaat-ul-Ulamaa (Queenstown, 1934); Islamic Association (Queenstown, 1936); Sad’r Islamic Anjuman (Queenstown, 1937); Muslim League (Georgetown, 1945); Muslim Youth Organization of Guyana (Ruimveldt Masjid); United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman (Sad’r Orphanage, Kitty 1949); and  Anjuman Hifazatul Islam (Windsor Forest, 1950).

[3]  P. Ruhoman, 1988.287. Unlike Trinidad, there was demand by some sectors of the Muslim community in Guyana called for proof of qualifications and credentials of Moulana Qaderi.  It emerged that the Maulana was the 35th direct descendant of the Holy Prophet Muhammad through Hazrat Imam Zainul Abideen. 

Friction And Fractures

Trinidad Islam, which was open to influences from the Indian subcontinent, came to be affected by the new trends within Indian Islam.  Thus, with each entry of a missionary new ideas were introduced that had to be moderated within the socio-cultural and environmental context of the society. Alternatively, each missionary entrant may have reinforced existing ideological perspectives and fostered practices in line with that belief.  It this created within the community some level of friction as the community tried to repair being adrift with imposed religious definition and belonging.   At the same time the community openness to new ideas was a need for validation and quest for knowledge aimed at energising the community.   

Moulvi Haji Sufi Shah Mohammed Hassan Hanfi Qaderi or “Lal Darhi”, as he was known among the people, arrived in Trinidad in 1914.  As a follower of the puritanical school he emphasised a “back to original Islam” philosophy symbolised by outward manifestations of the faith. Despite these edicts and the unpragmatic nature of such Lal Darhi was tremendously popular among the local population.  Despite that, his presence caused friction within the Muslim community leading Syed Abdul Aziz to “explode the baseless dogmas [of Lal Darhi] while at a public meeting in Tunupuna under the Presidency of Subratee Meah, and a fatwa (formal legal judgment) of kufr (unbelief, infidelity) was pronounced on Pir Hassan.”[1] He departed from Trinidad in 1918 having realised that sections of the Muslim community had turned on him.

Soon thereafter, a committee comprising eminent persons such as Haji Ruknudeen Meah, Abdul Ghany and Rahamut among others was formed sometime between 1918 and 1920, for the purpose of finding a suitable Muslim missionary from India and inviting him to Trinidad.  To this end, the group contacted The Muslim League, Woking, England[2], a group representing the Ahmaddiya movement. A later report claimed that the committee contacted Al Haj Khawaja Kamal-ud-Din, Imam of the Shah Jehan Mosque, Woking, Surrey, England and Maulana Mohammed Ali of the Ahmaddiya Buildings, Lahore, India in late 1919.[3]  Either way, the thrust of local community was to foster links with external agencies for knowledge development and faith rejuvenation. The group sent Moulvi Fazal Karim Khan Durrani, a native of Punjab, India and a scholar of modern and Oriental (Arabic and Sanskrit) languages and an Ahmadi Muslim.[4]  He arrived in Trinidad in 1920 and began missionary work almost immediately. Despite the contact with Ahmadiyya based institutions, the local committee had expected a Sunni (Hanafi) schooled missionary and as such, Durrani, an Ahmadi, was a disappointment to them.[5]  Nevertheless, they honoured their promise and supported him financially.[6]  During the course of his visit, 1920-1922, he was able to influence a young man named Ameer Ali of Siparia and subsequently arrange for him to attend the Ahmaddiya institute - Anjuman Ishaat-i-Islam Institute - in Lahore, India (present day Pakistan) in 1923.  Following the departure of Durrani and the Ali, there was an attempt to assert the legitimacy of the Muslim community through consolidation that led to the establishment of TIA and then state recognition.

Coinciding with the government’s recognition of TIA as an incorporated body in 1931 was the return of Ameer Ali, a youth from south Trinidad who had received theological training at Anjuman Ishaat-i-Islam, Lahore, India (now Pakistan). He was now a certified Muslim and a haji, having performed the pilgrimage to Mecca. These credentials assured that he would be warmly welcomed on his return home.  He was shortly thereafter appointed Mufti of TIA.   The community had quickly forgotten his transgression in their quest to honour achievement. Knowledge – religious or secular – was a prized commodity and Ameer Ali held that commodity; it offered him status and mobility within a migrant and settlement community that was seeking to assert its confidence by colonising its space.

Having secured his position Ameer Ali involved himself in preaching Islam in conformity with new thought and scientific discoveries[7], thus introducing the modernism of Indian Islam to Trinidad.[8]  From Ali’s speeches delivered throughout the colony it was deduced that he was an Ahmadi and there were calls for him to declare his Islamic perspective. Ali iterated several times that he had not taken the pledge of the Anjuman Ishaat-i-Islam of Lahore, however his claims were ignored.[9]  For the Sunni Muslims there is only one path, the message purported by Ali was soon censored and there was defection from TIA by a group of Muslims who were strong advocates of the Hanafi Sunni tradition. This institutional parting was not without cost as the contestations of wills and jockeying for position was played out publicly. The extent to which this eroded confidence from within is unknown but one would imagine that it did and it forced the community into taking sides or standing at the side. Certainly, TIA actively campaigned against the incorporation of the new organisation, ASJA, claiming that there was no need for another organ, since they, TIA “represent the entire Muslims of this Colony” and that ASJA were “irresponsible mischief-makers...causing disunity and disruption in the Muslim community”.[10]  This set the stage for “great .... verbal and written skirmishes between the two opposing factions”.[11]  Despite the raging conflict, the battle for turf, the leaders of the two factions united on the “demand side” issues such as the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Ordinance, 1935 – productive efficiency. In the same year (1935), ASJA was incorporated by Ordinance No 24 of 1935.  Interestingly, listed in one of ASJA’s brochures from 1945 was Al Haj Maulana Shah Mohammed Hassan Hanafi Qaderi of Gaya City, India as a founder along with Haji Ruknudeen Sahib, Qazi (judge) of Trinidad and Tobago. This quashes the generally held view that ASJA was solely a home-grown organisation thereby altering the collective memory of adherents.  

Moulvi Nasir Ahmad, a missionary from Lahore, India (present day Pakistan) arrived in June 1935, on the invitation of ASJA who brought him to thwart the influence of Ameer Ali.  At a function to mark his arrival in Port-of-Spain (Trinidad), a few Muslims now alert to the sectarian differences within the faith, inquired about his religious leanings to which he replied that he was a Muslim.[12]  His contract was terminated in June 1937 and shortly thereafter he left for India.  He subsequently returned   to Trinidad in March 1939 and continued his missionary work. During this period he and others formed the Tabligh-ul-Islam that was eventually responsible for the establishment of a Muslim school in San Juan. Following Ahmad’s death in 1942 a leadership vacuum was created and this group eventually was subsumed under TIA. This incorporation resulted in discord to the extent that there were a series of litigations and injunctions. Once again, a contestation is played out on the public stage demonstrating the competing spheres of religious and civic authority.  Eventually, after almost three years, the two factions resolved to formally part company.  A new religious organisation, Trinidad Muslim League (TML) was formed in 1947 (the same day as the Partition of India and Pakistan) and incorporated in 1950.  The Muslim community now had three major religious associations - TIA, ASJA, and TML; the latter two arising out of broken links with TIA. 

Meantime in British Guiana as in Suriname there was also division, rivalry and organsiational politics at play.  In British Guiana, from 1937 to 1946, there was a constant change in the composition of the executive council of Sad’r Anjuman-E-Islam of British Guiana and The Islamic Association (TIA) as well as a split in the Queenstown Jama Masjid (QJM) that led to series of stalemates, legal consultations and finally, a parting of ways between QJM and Sad’r.   A change in leadership in Sad’r affected policies that were reflective of a more rational thinking as well as the recognition that more can be gained from unity and so, in 1949 Sad’r and TIA amalgamated to form the United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman of British Guiana.  In Suriname, the Muslim community became bitterly divided.  According to Chickrie between 1925 and 1935 the Muslims tended to compete rather than complement each other and were divided into Sunnis, Ahmadis, Hindustani and Indonesian.  The infiltration of the reformists onto the Suriname landscape effected divisions and regrouping, thereby altering the balance of power among the Hindustani Muslims in Suriname.

It is possible to hypothesize from the above that the fission and fracture within the Muslim community impacted upon organisational identity, institutional context and alignment as well as balance of power and strength.  It thus meant that there was contestation for membership and participation, positioning and placement, and unity. Further, the salience and resonance of the message - the ability to influence community public opinion – remained critical.  As such, as these organisations vied for legitimacy and influence they pursued their own particular interest and as well as the community’s interest by establishing schools which was pursued within the broader national interest in education.

[1] M. Rafeeq, TML 50th Anniversary  54

[2] East Indian Herald 1.12. (1920).10

[3] TG 21:02:1935.14). 

[4] East Indian Herald 1.12. (1920).10.

[5] M. Rafeeq, TML 50th Anniversary 54.

[6] M. Rafeeq, TML 50th Anniversary 54.

[7] M. Rafeeq, TML 50th Anniversary 54.

[8]  See H. S. Kassim.

[9]  M. Rafeeq, TML 50th Anniversary 55.

[10]  R. J. Smith, 1963.180.               

[11]  R.J. Smith, 180.  For further information on these “skirmishes” see H. S. Kassim.

[12] Z. Mohammed, “The Late Moulvi Nazir Ahamd and Muslim Identity in Trinidad and Tobago”,   Caribbean Studies Paper,  UWI, St. Augustine, 1989.30.

Spreading their wings - Creating Linkages
The attempts to create sectoral national and regional coherence within the Muslim community sought not only validate communities and strengthen ideological positions but also enhance networks.  As such, there was the movement of missionaries and groups from within the southern Caribbean and as we shall see later, by international missionaries from India, in particular.

The fluttering of wings; looking beyond national borders and demonstrating a confidence in self started as early as 1937.  Moulvi Mohammed Nasir of Vreed-en-Hoop, British Guiana, who was the founder of Islamic Association and was to later become the President of Sad’r-Anjuman-i-Islam, visited Trinidad in 1937 and delivered a lecture at Nur-e-Islam masjid, El Socorro Road, San Juan entitled Brotherhood.25  In 1941,  Moulvi Fateh Dad Khan of Demerara, British Guiana, and Assistant Secretary of the Sad’r-Anjuman-i-Islam, visited Trinidad at the invitation of Haji Mohammed Ibrahim, President-General of ASJA and Haji Juman Rahamudeen, the Imam of the Haji Gokool Masjid, St. James. S. M. Rahaman of British Guiana briefly visited Trinidad in 1938 and participated in the Meelad-un-Nabi at the Haji Gokool Masjid, St. James.26 Between 1937 and 1940 Moulvi Dad Khan and other members of the Young Men’s Muslim Literary Association of British Guiana participated in several youth exchange programmes in Trinidad.  Having established some level of cohesion at the community level, which gave them a level of confidence, there was now the tendency to look outwards- fluttering of the wings – and explore the development of  transnational links.  

Creating a network of interconnections but somewhat controversial between Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname was Moulvi Ameer Ali who visited British Guiana and Suriname from July to August 1934.

In Suriname, not unlike Trinidad, the Muslim leaders were anxious to establish outward links to reposition and revitalise the faith.  To that end, the Surinamese Islamitische Vereniging (SIV), founded in 1929, endogenously, wrote to Himayal Ill Islam in India for assistance. The organisation encouraged the SIV to approach Moulvi Ameer Ali of Trinidad for assistance who was subsequently invited by SIV to Suriname. During Moulvi Ameer Ali’s visit it is said that “his explanations of the doctrine and the principles of the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement divided the jamaat into two parties.”27   This body came to be Ahmaddiya oriented that led to a split as the Sunnis departed and formed several orthodox groups.  Almost two decades later, the Suriname Muslim Association (SMA), an overarching Hindustani Sunni Muslim organsiation, was founded in 1950 under the guidance of Maulana Mohammad Aleem Siddiqui of Pakistan, who denounced the Ahmadiyya Qadiani and urged the Sunnis to unite.28  

The Islamic nationalism of the 1930s and 1940s in the Caribbean culminated into an Inter-Colonial Muslim Conference in August 1950 with delegates from Barbados, British Guiana, Dutch Guiana (Suriname) and the host territory, Trinidad, meeting to consider the educational, social, economic, moral and religious problems of the Muslims in the Caribbean, with the aim of establishing a closer relationship and forging cooperation among the Muslim community of those territories through a regional Muslim organisation.29  Jamaican Muslims in the 1950s and 1960s sought to consolidate their position in the society through the building of mosques and the establishment of the Islamic Society of Jamaica.  Despite the presence of Muslims in Jamaica there was a notable absence of Jamaican Muslims at the Caribbean colonial wide Muslim conference.  

Despite the organisational fracture within the local Muslim community as a result of ideological outlooks some sections of the community came together to sponsor the event. It would be recalled that community had earlier rallied around the demands for civil rights – recognition of marriage and divorce under Islamic rites and the right to manage denominational schools.   On this occasion, ASJA, TIA and the Muslim Youth Organisation – all Sunni oriented bodies thereby asserting the territoriality of ideological positions – came together to convene this event.  The Local Organising Committee comprised Tajmool Hosien (Chairman), Tawfik-ur-Rahaman and Wahid Ali (Secretary) and Abdul Ghany (Treasurer).30 The Meeting was held at Jama Masjid, Queen Street, Port of Spain (Trinidad).  On the opening day, 4 August 1950, the meeting opened with 130 delegates from Trinidad, British Guiana, Suriname and Barbados.31 At its commencement, Maulana Siddiqui was elected President. Recitations from the Qur’an were by Ali Bin Khamis of Zanzibar and Jameel Bin Ahmed of Malay (now Malaysia), both students at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture at St. Augustine (now part of the University of West Indies). Siddiqui and Ansari would later visit Malaysia as part of their world tour.

Among the issues that arose out of the three-day conference were the need for educational facilities that would encourage young people to become acquainted with the principles of Islam, lobbying the local governments to introduce Islamic personal law, the introduction of endowment laws, establishment of a library and a weekly newspaper.32 The Conference urged Muslims of the Caribbean to unite to promote goodwill and strive for progress as without such assistance from could not be had.  Additionally, lessons learnt and best practices from other indentured settlement countries like Mauritius were lauded and Caribbean Muslims were encouraged to learn from those examples.

The Inter-Colonial Conference concluded with the formation of an Inter-Colonial Muslim Organisation and the installation of a central executive which Siddiqui declared had “laid the foundations of Muslim unity firmly in these parts.”33 The executive members of the Inter-Colonial Muslim Organisation (1950) were Mohammed Hosein Shah (Trinidad) - President; Moulvi Mohammed A. Nasir (British Guiana), Moulvi Yusuff Mohammed Sacha (Barbados), Islam Ramzan (Suriname) - Vice-Presidents; M. A. R. Ghany (Trinidad) - Treasurer; Wahid Ali (Trinidad) - Secretary;  Tawfiq Rahaman (Trinidad) - Assistant Secretary; and Kamruddin Ali (British Guiana), H. I. Hussain Ali (Suriname), Moulvi Hafiz A. Dawood (Barbados) - Regional Secretaries.34   Interestingly enough, the Muslim Conference took place at the time when the Sanathan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) concluded their first meeting since the merger between Sanatan Dharma Association and the Sanatan Dharma Board of Control.35

The concept of ummah was now extending beyond national boundaries, still informed and inspired by an exogenous force.  Siddiqui, perhaps recognising the need to motivate the local community wrote to ASJA President Haji Mohammed Ibrahim in September 1950 that “this unity has to be fostered not only among the Muslims of Trinidad, but also among the Muslims of neighbouring areas – Dutch Guiana, British Guiana and Barbados.”36  This, he believed could be achieved in Trinidad through island-wide campaigning for Islamic enlightenment expansion of Arabic classes in Port of Spain and building up publication company in Trinidad. In the same way, campaigning for Islamic enlightenment and expansion of Arabic classes could very well be established or enhanced in other Caribbean countries.

Following this exploratory conference where Muslims from across the region converged into one space there seemed to be little or no action taken to bring them together again. This action was   inspired and instigated by a visiting missionary.  With hindsight the issues arising out of the 1950 Conference may have been too costly to pursue or attain by the religious organisations on their own thereby requiring synergies between local and national issues.

The Muslim community in Trinidad, in particular, at mid-point of twentieth century seemed to be without the confidence to exert itself unless led by the outsider.  This could be attributed to the focus on self/inward looking in which there was the rebuilding of organisations, community cohesion, proliferation of Muslim schools, the continued dissemination of information on values and norms of Islam through da’wah and missionary visits. The organisations essentially focused on “supply side” activities. Later on, there would be increased expansion of international contacts with Islamic organisations. 

Between 1950 and 1969, the duo of His Eminence Maulana Shah Abdul Aleem Siddiqui and Dr. Muhammad Fazl-ur Rahman Ansari (son-in-law of Siddiqui) made several visits to the Region disseminating information on values and norms of Islam through lectures, in particular.  At the outset the work of the World Islamic Mission was introduced to Trinidad by this duo in which “one ummah one vision” was touted. Ansari, in particular, promoted organisational efficiency and encouraged the consolidation of organisations as in Suriname – SMA.  In Trinidad, Ansari and Siddiqui restructured the multiple youth groups by bringing them under the umbrella of the Central Muslim Youth Organisation (CMYO). Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani Siddiqui (son of Siddqui) also visited the region (Trinidad, Guiana and Suriname) between 1964 and 1967 and engaged the Muslim public, like his father before him, in lectures as well as public debates.   This was in effect the “territorialisation of Sunni Islam” pursued by the abovementioned trio with the support of ASJA.  Meantime, TML also attempted to assert its presence through establishing links with Mirza Ahmad Hassan Ispahani, Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, in 1948 who not only laid foundation stones at TML, St. Joseph but delivered lectures; Maulana Abdul Haque Vidyarthi Issa, Pakistani Ambassador to Brazil also visited and delivered lectures; Moulvi Saqui and (iv) Moulvi Bashir Ahmad Minto, a Pakistani living in San Francisco, came at the invitation of TML and stayed a week in Trinidad. 37

Muslims throughout the Caribbean are organised mainly via the formation of jamaats, Islamic associations registered as incorporated bodies, companies, charities, co-operatives and friendly societies together with unregistered ones, national umbrella groups and representatives of international Islamic institutions. The dynamism of 1960s and 1970s – movements (social, political, environmental) - also inspired religious – Islamic – revivalism.  As such, there have been attempts during this period to develop, if not forge, regional networks and cooperation.  Imtiyaz Ali has identified indigenous formal and informal attempts at establishing closer relations among Caribbean Muslims. These include Tablighi Jamaat, Islamic Missionaries Guild (IMG), Association of Islamic Communities of Caribbean and Latin America (AICCLA) and Caribbean Islamic Secretariat (CIS).  By and large, many of these have become defunct organisations.  These attempts were fuelled by actions of men from South Africa, India and Pakistan.  What is now required is Muslim regional organisation that is indigenous, reflective of the needs of the community and thus, relevant.

Observations/Concluding Remarks

  • Emergence of the new social elite as a result of the formation of organisations in which clear leaders emerged.  Many of these men were already operating within the commercial sphere. This demonstrated the robustness of civil society in that it provided further avenues of mobility for the descendants of indentured immigrants, who initially faced hostility, and led to the broadening of the middle class.
  • Period of emergence of Muslim organisations in Trinidad coincided with period of political organisation, protest and constitutional reform in the 1920s and the “turbulent thirties”. Thus, the ebbs and flows of the organisational development (ground and grow period), friction and fracture coincided with a period of restlessness, dissatisfaction and change.  
  • Vested community interests took precedence among organisations in which the parties tended to focus more on the micro level and supply driven activities rather than demand driven from the 1930s.
  • Regional cooperation and integration ad hoc – determined again by external influences. Development of the ummah beyond national boundaries, identifying and pursuing common interests and representing communities must involve the communities themselves – it must representative creation of will and agency in which a synergy is created between bottoms-up and top – down – a meeting place.
  • The fluttering of wings and exploration of an ummah beyond national boundaries through engagement of inter-colonial dialogue also coincided with constitutional change.
  • Role of “foreign” – outward looking for validation of self and community suggesting a lack of confidence but recognising the importance of invigorating the community.
  • There was limited experience in addressing organizational conflict resolution.  Conflict was therefore addressed through resolutions via courts not the panchayat (village assemblies convened to address conflict) or other indigenous means.
  • The indentured Muslim immigrants and their descendents have contributed to moving religion around the world – through settlement, missionary visits, youth exchanges, establishing of links with regional and/or international agencies.  To that end, they simultaneously des-embedded and embedded Islam – its practices, rituals and symbols – in their new social environment.
  • The relation between religion and social life was used for political and economic gain via creation of particular spaces and state recognition and concession (state patronage/validation)38.  The failure to understand this imperative was responsible for the non-integration and/or selective integration by the Indians.
  • The size of the community worked in their favour, they were numerically smaller than the Hindus, and may have benefited from the colonial authorities "divide and rule" policy. 
  • Two interesting elements in the discourse:  pronouncement of “fatwa in 1914 – to the author’s knowledge; the first and only one in the history of Islam in the country and the call for a visiting Maulana to declare his Sayyad (a descendant of the Prophet) in Guiana. 
  • Their conscious development of identity meant that the Muslims were not going to accept being second-class citizens; they wanted equality through recognition of their differences not equality based upon assimilation of Western-Christian norms.  They had by 1950 become "translated".39

Key Recommendation
Today, there is the celebration of 166 years since the arrival of the Fatel Rozack which brought the first batch of Indian indentured immigrants to Trinidad.  Since that time, there is has been there has been establishment of Muslim organisations which have been in existence for almost one-half or one-third of that period of Indian settlement in Trinidad. Muslim organisations should preserve their history through the establishment of a single archive and a document centre, so, that researchers can investigate the past struggles and triumphs of the community; the negotiations and collusions, internally and externally, which can in turn provide lessons for informing on the role and governance of civil society. 


Council Papers, Legislative Council Of Trinidad and Tobago, 1928.
Trinidad and Tobago Blue Books
Trinidad and Tobago Yearbook
Sarah E. Morton, John Morton of Trinidad. Toronto: Westminister and Company, 1916.
Colonial Reports -  Trinidad and Tobago Colonial Annual Reports, 1948.

Newspapers and Magazines
The Call
The Comforter
The East Indian Herald
The Indian.
Sunday Guardian.
Trinidad Guardian

Thesis and Unpublished Papers
Chickrie, Raymond.  “Surinamese Muslims in a Plural Society”

Kassim, Halima-Sa’adia. “Education, Community Organisations And Gender Among the Indo-Muslims of Trinidad, 1917-1962.”  Diss. The U. of the West Indies, St. Augustine, 1999.

Khanam, Bibi H. and Raymond Chickerie.“170th Anniversary of the Arrival of the First Hindustani Muslims from India to British Guiana”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 29:2, 2009.195 — 222.

Seesaran, Elizabeth Rosabelle. “Social Mobility in the Indo-Trinidadian Community, 1870-                   1917.” Diss. The U. of the West Indies, St. Augustine, 1994.

Smith, Robert Jack.   “Muslim East Indians in Trinidad: Retention of Ethnic Identity Under             Acculturative Conditions.”  Diss. U. of Pennsylvania, 1963. microfilm.

Asad, Talal. “Anthropological Conceptions of Religion” Man 18.2 (June 1983): 237-259.

Hannon, J.  “Religion As Ideology and Praxis” ed. M Marcoux.  Religion: The Cutting Edge: New England Sociologist. (1984): 37-57.

Samaroo, Brinsley. “The Indian Connection The Influence of Indian Thought and     Ideas on East      Indians in the Caribbean” eds. David Dabydeen and Brinsley Samaroo India in the Caribbean.  U. of Warwick;  London: Hansib, 1987. 43-59.“

Sultana, Afroz, “The Moghul Islamic Diaspora: The Institutionalization of Islam in Jamaica” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 20, No. 2, 2000.271-289.

Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association Inc. of T & T.  ASJA Eid ul Fitr Commemorative Brochure 60th Anniversary 1935-1995.  ed. Hamza Haniff Mohammed. Port of Spain:  Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association Inc. of Trinidad and Tobago, n.d.

Bisnauth, Dale.  History of Religions in the Caribbean.  Kingston:  Ian Randle Publishers Ltd., 1989.

Brereton, Bridget.  A History of Modern Trinidad, 1783-1962.  Kingston: Heinemann, 1981.

Craig, Hewan. The Legislative Council of Trinidad and Tobago London: Faber and Faber, 1952.

Hall, S. et al. Modernity An Introduction to Modern Societies Massachusetts. Oxford: Blackwell Publications Inc., 1996.

The Mosque Board  100 Years 1897-1997 The Mosque At Prince Albert Street San Fernando             Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. ed. Yvonne Teelucksingh. San Fernando: The Mosque Board Prince Albert Street, October 1997.Tackveeyatul Islamic Association Inc.

Tackveeyatul Islamic Association of Trinidad and Tobago Inc. Silver Anniversary Souvenir Brochure.  ed. Sham S. Mohammed.  Port of Spain: Tackveeyatul Islamic Association of     Trinidad and Tobago Inc., n.d.

Trinidad Muslim League Inc. Trinidad Muslim League Inc. 50th Anniversary 1947-1997 Souvenir Brochure.  ed. Rasheed Allahar et al.  St. Joseph: Trinidad Muslim League Inc.       League Centre, September 1997.

Lateef, Shahida.  Muslim Women in India:  political and private realities, 1890s - 1980.  London: Zed books Ltd., 1990.

Ruhoman, Peter.  Centenary History of the East Indians in British Guiana 1838-1938. Guyana:         Demerara Publishers Ltd., 1988.

Samaroo, B. and D. Dabydeen, eds. India in the Caribbean London: Hansib Publishing Limited, 1987.

Speckman, J. D.  Marriage and Kinship among the Indians in Suriname  Assen: Van Gorcum and  Comp., 1965.

Taylor, P. ed. Nation Dance, Religion, Identity, and Cultural Difference in the Caribbean  (Bloomington: Indiana University Press) 2001.