Dr. Sultana Afroz
Presents information on a study about the history of the Islamic Maroons in Jamaica. Factors which caused omission of Muslim background; Omissions in literature; Details on Andalusian mariners and Islamic science and technology; Islamic act of prostration.
The splendorous past of the Muslim ummah serves as a source of spiritual inspiration to maintain its Islamic identity in the multicultural and religiously diverse society of Jamaica. Currently, numbering about 4000, the Muslims in Jamaica form 0.15% of the estimated total population of 2,590,400 persons. Approximately 50% of the Muslim population of Jamaica resides in the Kingston Metropolitan Region, where some 43.3% of Jamaica's population lives. Islam made its first appearance in the home of the Tainos, Jamaica, with the undaunted Andalusian mariners who played the dominant role in navigating Columbus' discovery voyage through the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean Sea in 1494. The seed of Islam sown by the mu'minun from al-Andalus, West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and subsequently watered by those from Moghul India have the potential of germinating into a dominant faith by winning the ground inch by inch against all kinds of resistance and inertia. Through intellectual discourse and research work revealing the Islamic heritage of the invincible Maroons, the indomitable African slaves and the determined Muslims from the Subcontinent, the present day multi-ethnic society can once again manifest the Divine Unity of Allah, reminiscing the unity among people during the heydays of the Great Maroons.
Muslims in Jamaica. Picture by Lorelie
Focuses on the impact of indentured Muslims from India on the institutionalization of Islam in Jamaica. Influences of Moghul culture on culinary arts, fashion and lifestyle; Dominance of Hindu laborers in the indenture-ship system; Significance of Islamic culture on the enrichment of the multicultural heritage.
East Indians preparing rice, Jamaica [circa 1890]
(Image from the National Library of Jamaica)
Slavery had lost its importance by the 1830s. India and China were prominent in Britain's commerce ad trade, making enormous contributions to its industrialization and economy.
After losing the North American colonies, Britain sought to make India a classical-style colony. The British exchequer knew of the East's immense wealth, as the East India Company's trade in silk, muslin, cotton and piece goods had generated great wealth for Britain since the late seventeenth century.
India was the home of cloth manufacturing and the greatest and almost sole supplier of cotton goods, precious stones, drugs, and other valuable products. Evidence suggests that "all the gold and silver of the universe found a thousand and one channels for entering into India, but there was not a single outlet for the precious metals to go out of the country."
The empire's opulence and religious harmony gave way to violence and plunder as Britain, following its victory at the Battle of Plassey (1857), pursued a divide-and-rule policy. Evidence suggests that probably between Waterloo (1815) and Plassey a sum of £1 billion was transferred from India to British banks. Between 1833-47, another £315 million flowed into the British economy.
But Britain was not content. To meet its labour needs in the British West Indies, Britain exported about 500,000 East Indians to the Caribbean (1838-1917).
Out of 80,000 Muslims, about 6,000 came to Jamaica during the indentureship period. Their small numbers and challenges of plantation life (starvation, un-Islamic diet, deplorable living conditions in barracks shared by 25-50 adults of different origin, ages, sex, religion, kinship, and 9-hour work days) strengthened their spiritual struggle.
Many came from such predominantly Muslim cities as Lucknow, Allahabad, Ghazipur, Gorakpur, and Shahabad, all of which had witnessed the zenith of Islamic culture and social life. These Muslims ensured the preservation of Islamic identity through community solidarity, adherence to Islamic culture and values, and Islamic education.
This unity manifested itself in the establishment of 2 masjids, which institutionalized Islam in Jamaica.
Muhammad Khan, who came to Jamaica in 1915 at the age of 15, built Masjid Ar-Rahman in Spanish Town in 1957, while Westmoreland's Masjid Hussein was built by Muhammad Golaub, who immigrated with his father at the age of 7.
This masjid was named in honor of its first imam, Tofazzal Hussein. The two masjids became the community's spiritual centers, and united the Muslims by teaching them about Islam and its practices. They functioned like the Holy Mosque in Makkah in worship, and like the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah in terms of the community's spiritual, educational, social, and political life. The indentured Muslims laid the foundation of the 8 other masjids established in Jamaica since the 1960s, with the advent of an African Muslim community that now forms the largest Muslim ethnic group.
With the Indian indentured Muslims, and then with others from the Subcontinent, came the rich Moghul culture's culinary arts, fashion, lifestyle, and aesthetic arts. Gastronomy and exotic delicacies and entertainment dishes have been appreciated at state functions, special ceremonies, and restaurants bearing such Moghul names as The Taj Mahal and Akbar.
Since the 1960s, the variety of Moghlai dishes has increased by new immigrants from the Subcontinent. These Moghul-inspired delicacies are cherished in Jamaica, and more particularly in Trinidad and Guyana.
Justification of Research
The present paper attempts to study the Islamic heritage of the Maroons in Jamaica. This is part of the greater research on Islam in Jamaica since Columbus. The history of the Maroons constitutes an important aspect of the historical study of Jamaica particularly because of the British recognition of their societies as separate entities beyond the jurisdiction of the British colonial government through the conclusion of formal ‘victory’ treaties and their continuance into the present. However, there is much misinformation, misconception and misrepresentation regarding Jamaican Maroons who were the first to inflict a military defeat upon the British in the New World. Uniqueness in Maroon communities continues to draw the attention of numerous researchers but distortions continue to abound in Maroon history. Because of the lack of adequate knowledge in Islam and the absence of any written documents by the historical Maroons, the researchers fall prey to the corrupt and inaccurate primary sources in the form of official documents, biased eyewitnesses’ accounts or stories of planter historians, which were almost all biased and written from their ethnocentricity and coloured by their economic interests. Furthermore, with the passage of time and the penetration of Western culture into Maroon societies, oral history and testimonies offered by present day Maroons have little historical value pertaining to the authentic cultural heritage of the historical Maroons. The absence of literary archaeology and the lack of proper analyses of oral history due to the general dearth of scholarship in Maroon communities have also created room for distortions in Maroon history. The Islamic heritage of the Maroons has not been studied, despite all the indications that Blacks brought directly to the West Indies from Spain were of Moorish background and that the majority of the enslaved Africans brought to Jamaica, came from Muslim dominated West Africa. Without a properly reconstructed history of the Maroons in Jamaica, the history of Jamaica remains incomplete.
The presence of Islam in the form of existing historical institutions and vernacular culture in predominantly Black Christian Maroon communities in Jamaica is an eye opener to researchers with Islamic background to unearth the story of the Muslim Maroons of al-Andalusia Spain and West African heritage. The stories of the Moorish Muslim mariners and the enslaved Moors have been overshadowed by the fabricated myths of Columbus discovery of the Americas in Jamaican and West Indian history. While ethnicity of the enslaved Africans dominated the nature and scope of previous scholarship, Islam, which was the predominant religion of these people and, which overshadowed varied traditional cultures forms the basis of this research.