THE ISLAMIC faith in Jamaica dates back to the first slave who was imported from West Africa several hundreds years ago.
Today there are about 5,000 followers, called Muslims, scattered across the island. There are mosques in Kingston, Spanish Town, St. Catherine; Albany and Port Maria, St. Mary; Newell, St. Elizabeth; and Three Miles River, Westmoreland. The umbrella organisation, Islamic Council of Jamaica, is located on South Camp Road in Kingston.
The statistics for Islam in Jamaica estimate a total Muslim population of 5,000. There are several Islamic organizations and mosques in Jamaica, including the Islamic Council of Jamaica and the Islamic Education and Dawah Center, both located in Kingston and offering classes in Islamic studies and daily prayers in congregation. Outside of Kingston, organizations include Masjid Al Haq in Mandeville, Masjid Al-Ihsan in Negril, Masjid-e-Hikmah in Ocho Rios, and the Port Maria Islamic Center in Saint Mary.
The first Muslims in Jamaica were West African slaves, sold to traders, and brought to Jamaica on ships. Over time most of them lost their Islamic identity due to forced mixing of ethnic groups. Muslims of African descent belonging to the Islamic nations of Mandinka, Fula, Susu, Ashanti and Hausa ceaselessly tried to maintain their Islamic practices in secrecy, while working as slaves on the plantations in Jamaica.
By the time the slaves were liberated, much
of the Muslim faith of the past had faded, and the freed slaves picked
up the faith of their slave masters.
About 16 percent of the 37,000
indentured Indian immigrants who arrived to Jamaica between 1845 and 1917 were Muslims. Muhammad Khan, who came to Jamaica in 1915 at the age of 151, 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. The indentured Muslims laid the foundation of
the eight other masjids established in Jamaica since the 1960s, with the advent of an indigenous Jamaican Muslim community that now forms the majority of the Muslim populace on the island. [Source from Islamic Horizons Sept/Oct 2001]
1. Naim Khan son of Muhammad Khan reports that his dad was born in 1892 and arrived from India in 1912.
The Islamic Council of Jamaica
Propagating the true message of Islam
ISLAM IS one of the world's largest religions, with much of its converts living in the Eastern Hemisphere. Islam is also strong in some Western hemispheric countries.
And right here in Jamaica, regarded a Christian country, Islam has taken root. There are 12 places of worship, including the masjid (mosque) at the Islamic Council of Jamaica (ICOJ) headquarters, located at 24 Camp Road, Kingston 4.
Altogether there are 11 Muslim places of worship in Jamaica. Mr. Muhammad estimates there about 5,000 Muslims in Jamaica who practise the religion on a regular basis. But on the days when there are major festivals on the Islamic calendar, up to 10,000 Muslims living in Jamaica are known to converge at the offices of the Islamic Council of Jamaica, he said.
Muslims like other faith-groups in Jamaica are increasingly gaining official recognition. Muslim clergy can now perform weddings recognised by the State. Dovecot Memorial Park has reserved a section of that cemetery for the burial of Muslims.
In spite of the terrorist acts committed by religious extremists, the Islamic population of Jamaica tries to keep up a peaceful environment where Muslims can live out their beliefs without harassment. It was 2:00 pm on a humid and almost still day. The Imam sat in his chair, almost unmoving for about 2 hours by this time. One of the devout Muslim men decided to rest before the afternoon prayer that was coming up. The Islamic Council's atmosphere is very relaxing and it is hard to deny the spirituality one experiences when sitting around in the midst of these people.
Tijani has been married to her husband for 26 years. For her, marriage means family. She met her husband in Nigeria through her husband's cousins. He was ready to settle down, she was ready to settle down and, through planned meetings and common interests, they struck a love match and made their marriage work. She now has children and has achieved a respectable position in her family and in Islam.
"The mother is the most respected person in the family. She holds the highest position in the children's lives," Tijani said.
Islam encourages men and women to take their roles seriously. Both are considered equal in Allah's (God) eyes. As a woman, Tijani is in charge of her husband's property, including clothing, food, well-being and the home. And when children come into the picture, it is the woman's responsibility to look after them while the husband provides for them.
"He knows mummy is there for me."
Muslim women can have jobs and hire a helper to help with the household chores, as long as her duty to her family isn't sacrificed.
On arrival, the labourers were given one suit of clothing, agricultural tools and cooking utensils. Divided into groups of 20 and 40 they were then sent first by mule cart and later by overcrowded freight trains to plantations in Portland, St. Thomas, St. Mary, Clarendon and Westmoreland. Many were forced to walk to the plantation from the nearest railway station. Once on the plantation itself, they were forced to work five to six days a week for one shilling a day and lived in squalid conditions. Barracks of no more than 3 or 4 rooms were expected to accommodate several individuals and families in each room. Two shillings and six pence were deducted weekly for their rice, flour, dried fish or goat, peas and seasoning rations. Children received half rations and employers were warned to treat the children well. For example, they were supposed to receive quarterly medical check ups.
During the 70 years of Indian immigrant labour, little consideration was shown for their religious beliefs and cultural practices. For example, non-Christian unions went unrecognized until 1956 and many were therefore forced to accept Christianity. The terms of indenture could be as short as one year and as long as five, with two weeks annual leave. Labourers could be released from their indenture due to illness, physical disability or in the rare case, manumission or commutation, when the labourer paid the unexpired portion of the contract to their employer. They could only leave the plantation, however, if in possession of a permit. If caught without one or if they failed to work because of ill health or any other reason, they often faced fines and even imprisonment. Many suffered greatly from yaws, hookworm and other tropical diseases such as malaria. Although available, quinine, able to prevent malaria, was not often provided by the planters.