He like ", .......and most other Trinidadian Muslims, traces his ancestry to the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. "My great-grandparents came as indentured servants around 1845. They were among the first arrivals in Trinidad," the Port-of-Spain attorney told Aramco World . "To lure them into coming, these people were told that Trinidad offered the best prospects for owning land. Many of them died of frustration and grief."
The indenture system, used by Trinidad's British colonial masters shortly after slavery was abolished in 1834, was a form of unpaid servitude which usually required peasants, nearly all of them Hindus or Muslims, to work the sugar plantations for a term of years in order to pay off their debts or repay the often inflated cost of their passage. Inhumane living conditions were often accompanied by efforts to impose Christianity on the newcomers, regardless of their religious beliefs. "Because of the hardships these people faced in their early days and throughout their lives," Nizam Mohammed said, "they never left any historical information behind. Today, many of us have no idea of our heritage in India."
Mohammed, who is ........ London-educated, has no way of knowing whether his great-grandparents were among the 225 passengers aboard the Fatel Razeck, which brought the first indentured servants to Trinidad on May 31,1845. But he does know about his two grandfathers, Kallam Meah and Rajeem Meah. After serving their five-year terms of indenture - a status just one step above slavery - Kallam went into coffee and coconut farming, and Rajeem became a tailor. In later years, before the advent of the petroleum industry, Trinidad would owe much of its economic success to these early Muslim farmers and merchants."1
Praise Be to Allah - Laylat al-Qadr [the Night of Power]," proclaims the roadside banner. It bellies in the wind along the dusty, two-lane highway leading north from Guyana's Timehri International Airport.
A special religious program, "The Voice of Islam," is playing on the ancient taxi's radio, and at the nearby Ruimveldt Jamaat Madrasa, two dozen children have just settled down for their afternoon Arabic class. It is the 27th day of Ramadan in Guyana, and at first glance, the music, the mosques and the Muslims all seem strangely out of place in this densely forested, English-speaking nation on the northern shoulder of South America.
But, as local religious leader al-Hajj Naseer Ahmad Khan points out, Islam has long played a prominent role in Guyanese history. "Today, Muslims are integrated into every profession," he says. "I think we've got a good future here."
Khan, president of the Guyana-based Islamic Missionaries Guild International, is one of nearly 400,000 Muslims scattered across the nations of the Caribbean. Mostly East Indian in origin, they live in relative prosperity on at least a dozen Caribbean islands, including Barbados, Grenada, Dominica, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Jamaica.
The region's heaviest Muslim concentrations, however, are in Suriname, with an estimated 100,000 believers, in Trinidad and Tobago, also home to 100,000 Muslims, and in Guyana, with an estimated Muslim population of 120,000.