Introduction

The birth of Islam in Arabia and its later spread to South Asia and Africa had rippling effects not only on that region's social and political history, but international ramifications as it spread from there to other parts of the world, including Guyana. Islam travelled to the shores of Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad largely because of the institutions of slavery and indentureship.
Guyana is a multi-ethnic republic situated on the northern coast of South America (see Figure 1). The country is inhabited by nearly one million people who are heterogeneous in terms of ethnicity and religious affiliation. Amerindians are the indigenous people of Guyana. In the seventeenth century the country became populated by waves of immigrants brought in under colonialism which introduced plantation slavery and the indenture system. Thus the Dutch and later the British colonial mercantile interests shaped the socio-cultural environment of the country. Guyana remained a British colony until 1966 when it achieved independence, which marked the transfer of political power to the Afro-Christian population. However, the majority are of South Asian descent and form roughly 51% of the population (see Figure 2). Yet, they remained disenfranchised until the 1992 general elections.

South Asians, who are mostly Hindus and Muslims, have always had a cordial relationship among themselves. It would seem that these two groups had come to a mutual understanding of respecting each other's space while culturally and even linguistically identifying with each other. In fact, Hindus and Muslims share a history of indentured labour, both having been recruited to work in the sugar cane plantations. They came from rural districts of British India and arrived in the same ships. Furthermore, Muslims and Hindus in Guyana did not experience the bloody history of partition as did their brethren back in the subcontinent. Also, the lack of Hindu/Muslim friction in Guyana may be attributed to the Cold War and to their common foe--the Afro dominated government, which practised discrimination against them (for religious composition, see Figure 3).


MAP: Fig. 1. Guyana: administrative divisions, 1991.

According to the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana (CIOG), there are about 125 masjids scattered throughout Guyana. Muslims form about 12% of the total population. Today in Guyana there are several active Islamic groups which include the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana (CIOG), the Hujjatul Ulamaa, the Muslim Youth Organization (MYO), the Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT), the Guyana Muslim Mission Limited (GMML), the Guyana United Sad'r Islamic Anjuman (GUSIA), the Tabligh Jammat, the Rose Hall Town Islamic Center, and the Salafi Group, among others. Two Islamic holidays are nationally recognized in Guyana: Eid-ul-Azha or Bakra Eid and Youman Nabi or Eid-Milad-Nabi. In mid-1998 Guyana became the 56th permanent member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Guyana's neighbour to the east, Suriname, with a Muslim population of 25%, is also an OIC member state.