Halima Kassim

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This lecture, A Young Soldier of lslam: Haji Ruknudeen Sahib, examines the contributions made by this indentured immigrant who came to these shores some 120 years ago and spent 75 years in service to the Muslim community. A humble man, dedicated to the cause of lslam he joins the legions of other men such as Syed Abdul Aziz, Yacoob Ali Meer Hassan, Beekham Syne, Zahoor Khan, lshmile Khan, Hafiz Naziruddeen, Baboo Meah, Abdul Ghany (Gany), Yacoob Khan, Subrate Meah, Mohammed Ibrahim, John Mohammed, etc. who made sterling contributions to the consolidation and propagation of lslam in Trinidad and whose stories also need to be written and understood by my generation and younger generations. Like many of my generation, had it not been for the legacy I grew-up surrounded by, the trials, the tribulations and the triumphs of the Muslim community would have been largely ignored, for I benefited from the struggles of our fore parents and did not need to interrogate what existed. It is also a struggle that takes on new twists and turns in my generation and those after me.  How to be Muslim in a globalized world with its distinct myriad images of individuality and modernization, with attendant norms and values that runs counter to the very principles of Islam; submission to the will of Allah, humility, goodwill, community, cooperation and service? This challenge is made even more acute as we also live in an lslamophobic (as defined by Runnymede Trust, 1997) world. The struggle to constantly adapt, to live a life in service of lslam in a new world by Ruknudeen provides lessons for all of us even fifty years after his death.


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.   

The estate proved to be the first place for the reconstitution of organized religion. While men well-versed in Islamic knowledge generally did not leave India, there were a few who arrived and served a full or abbreviated indentureship: Syed Abdul Aziz of Iere Village came to Trinidad in 1883 from Afghanistan; Ruknudeen Meah, a Punjabi of Tunupuna, arrived in 1893; and Hafiz Nazruddeen of Tunupuna came to Trinidad in 1913. These were some of the indentured immigrants who assisted in the reconstitution of Islam. The unlettered immigrants depended upon these learned men to nurture their faith, either on the estate or in the villages. At some estates, for instance that of Waterloo, there were mosques, or  "bamboo sheds near to the barracks where Muslims met nightly to read their prayers and read the Qur'an" (Fazal Ali, interview with exindentured immigrant, 26/02/1998).

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