“Following Custom”? Representations of Community among Indian Immigrant Labour in the West Indies, 1880–1920 1
On 25 June 1887, a curious incident was reported in the San
of Trinidad in the British West Indies. At the end of the month of
Ramadan that year, on the great festival day of Eid ul-Fitr, the Indian
Muslims of Victoria village and of nearby estates congregated for the
mass prayer in the Little Masjid. A fracas began unexpectedly when
several Muslims objected to facing east in the direction of Mecca for
the prayer. They argued instead that they should face west as they were
wont to do in India. Theological debates soon gave way to a free
exchange of blows between the votaries of eastward and westward prayer.
Peace was restored after a considerable period, but with appeals to the
eminent lawyers, Messrs Wharton and Farfan, to mediate in the dispute.
Was the dispute simply due to ignorance as to the true direction of
Mecca? Or was it a case of “following custom”, the much maligned traits
that the Indian Muslims shared with their compatriots?