Muslims in Suriname: Facing Triumphs and Challenges in a Plural Society
Approximately 15% of the population of Suriname are Muslim Javanese. The Javanese Muslims from Indonesia began arriving in Suriname in the 1890s. The Suriname-Javanese community is kejawen, following the syncretic practices and beliefs of Java. In this community the keblat (qibla) expresses a unique diasporic experience and identity. From the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) villagers were recruited from Java as contract workers for the plantations in another Dutch colonial land, Suriname. Most of them were kejawen Muslims. Kejawen Islam, which was dominant in Javanese villages, is a syncretic Islam which incorporated old Javanese beliefs, including Hindu-Buddhist elements.
The Javanese arrived in Suriname without persons learned in religion. It was not until the beginning of the 1930s that partly through contacts with Hindustani Muslims some realized that the Kaaba was not located in the West, but to the northeast of Suriname. Subsequently, a number of Javanese Muslims started praying in that direction. This small group, led by Pak Samsi, encouraged people to change the direction of prayer from west to east. Since then, this small group has been called wong madhep ngetan (East-Keblat people). Later some became very critical of what was seen as the superstition and religious innovation (bidah) among the Javanese Muslims. The moderates do not openly criticize the practice of praying to the west as most of the Javanese Muslims continued to do; hence they are called wong madhep ngulon (West-Keblat people).
Javanese Muslims and Hindustani Muslims pray differently due to fundamental conflicts for interpreting their religion of Islam. The Muslim population of Suriname is predominantly made up of Hindustanis who belong to the Hanafi Madhab, while the Javanese belong to the Shafi theological school of Islam. A small group of Africans are Muslims and they were the first Muslims to set foot in Suriname.
They were at Onafhankelijksplein (Independence Square) at 20th of September 2009 for their holy pray at front of two historical colonial buildings of Suriname “Presidential Palace” (AKA White House locally) and “Clock Tower”.
Hindustani Muslims celebrate and pray Eid-Ul-Fitr at the end of holy month of Ramadan. The organization of the event was held by SMA (Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat-Hanafi). These Muslims are oriented towards Pakistan. SMA (now calling Suriname Muslim Association), founded in 1932, is still one of the largest Hindustani Sunni organizations in Suriname.
Hindustani Muslims and Javanese Muslims are celebrating and praying differently due to fundamental conflicts for commenting their religion of Islam. The Muslim population of Suriname is predominantly made up of Hindustanis who belong to the Hanafi Madhab, while the Javanese belong to the Shafi theological school of Islam.
A small group of Africans are Muslims and they were the first Muslims to set foot in Suriname.
The rebirth of Islam in Suriname started with the arrival of the Hindustanis in 1873. Islam was reintroduced in Suriname when the ship Lalla Rookh arrived with 45 Hindustani Muslims from Northern India.
These Hindu Muslims were from Urdu speaking but many of them also spoke their regional dialects like Avadhi, Brij, Bhopuri and Maithli. They migrated from the Indian States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, coming mostly from the districts: Bareilly, Gorakhpur, Mirzapur, Lucknow, Allahbad, Jaunpur, Azamgargh, Gaya, Faizabad, and Benares.
From 1890 to 1939, the Dutch began importing Javanese labourers to work on the sugar and cocoa plantations of Suriname like their Hindu counterparts. The Javanese arrived in Suriname without religious teachers.
It was not until the beginning of the 1930s, partly through contacts with Hindu Muslims, that some realized that the Kaaba was not located west, but to the northeast of Suriname. Subsequently, a number of Javanese Muslims started praying in that direction. This small group, led by Pak Samsi, encouraged people to change the direction of prayer from west to east. Since then, this small group has been called wong madhep ngetan (East-Keblat people).
Later some became very critical of what was seen as the superstition and religious innovation (bidah) among the Javanese Muslims. The moderates do not openly criticize the practice of praying to the west as most of the Javanese Muslims continued to do; hence they are called wong madhep ngulon (West-Keblat people).
The Surinam-Javanese community in the Netherlands is divided over the question of the prayer direction; some perform their prayers facing the East, but most turn to the West. The majority are k e j a w e n following the syncretic practices and beliefs of Java. In this community the keblat (qibla) expresses a unique diasporic experience and identity.
In this article the connections and disparities between Surinamese Hindostanis and India are centralised. We demonstrate that while identities among these Hindostanis emerged through territoriality, the process of linking with its history accompanied a conscious disassociation from contemporary developments in India. We illustrate the beginning and the end of this identification with the history of Indians in India and argue that during these somewhat contradictory processes the community emerged as an ethnic diaspora, rejecting communalist identities.
Muslim Marriage Act of 1940 was part of the Asian Marriage Act of 1940
and was a result of strong lobbying by the Asian community to be
recognised as part of the social and political fabric of Suriname.
all, it was a rejection of “Dutchification” and acceptance of
“Asianisation” by the Dutch themselves, since Muslims have been living
in Suriname since 1873 and up to 1940 their religious marriages were
not registered with the government, “which caused many problems
regarding law of succession and registration of children.”
was in this context that the Dutch were sympathetic towards the Asians
that they tried to resolve these problems by enacting the Asian
Marriage Decree during the Governorship of Professor Kielstra who came
from Indonesia; however, he was a Dutchman from the Netherlands.
bold step taken by the Dutch Governor of incorporating special
privileges to the Muslim and Hindu community and treating them as
equals was a goodwill gesture to the Asians that demonstrated that the
Dutch were not interested in “civilising” the Asians, unlike the
British policies in Guyana. The decree consisted of two parts -- the
Muslim Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act which legalised
marriages performed by Hindu and Muslim religious leaders.
Muslim Marriage Degree concerned marriages among Muslims only and has
drawn much coverage since the 1990s. Some attacked this dual law and
see it as a violation of Suriname’s constitution and very unfair to
women. Non-Muslims were always required to register their marriages
with the civil authorities.
a Muslim newsletter of Suriname, summarises the sentiments of the
Muslim community: “The Muslim Marriage Decree should apply only to
Muslims to prevent misuse by non Muslims for example bypassing the
marriageable age or parental consent.”
are sharp differences on the issue of divorce of Hindus and Christians
as compared to Muslims, and this has been the bone of contention.
Suriname’s Civil Code entitles every man and woman to a divorce.
Marriages of Hindus and Christians cannot be dissolved because they are
not regulated by their “religious books,” thus, a Hindu or a Christian
must apply for a divorce based on Suriname’s Civil Code.
the contrary, the Islamic marriages are regulated by the Quran (Sharia)
and “the legislator could insert a separate regulation regarding
divorce into the Muslim Marriage Decree.” Suriname’s Civil Code
contains four grounds for divorce which is in stark contrast to Quranic
Laws (Sharia) since there are no specific grounds for divorce (talak).
Suriname a Muslim man according to the Muslim Marriage Decree can
easily get a divorce; however the wife has only two options to divorce:
1. She can apply for a divorce based on Article 4 of the Muslim Marriage Decree;
2. She can apply for a divorce via a magistrate.
regards to the second case, the magistrate is held to the grounds for
divorce, as stated in the Civil Code, but he hears an expert of Islamic
Fiqh (Islamic Law/Sharia) who verifies whether or not the couple can
live peacefully, and determines if a divorce is necessary and that all
the steps in the process of a Muslim Talak have been followed according
the past decade the Muslim Marriage Decree has come under attack from
international human rights groups, women groups in Suriname calling for
the integration or standardisation of the country’s Civil Code which
they alleged is in violation of the country’s constitution.
organisations such as the SIV, MMA, and SMA presented a united case to
the President of Suriname. They supported the modification of the
Muslim Marriage Decree in 1973 which became know as the Adhin Law
(Marriage Law Revision Act 1973) which was ratified finally by the
Surinamese Parliament in 2003.
Muslim intelligentsia who were part of several commissions since 1973
revising the Asian Marriage Act did not see it as an infringement of
their religious rights. In fact, they see it as an improvement of their
country because the dual laws created cracks for abuse which were
abused by non-Muslims as well. Revision included the age of marriage
for both male and female to age 17 for male and 15 for female, grounds
for divorces, inheritance, guardianship or parental authority after
divorce, maintenance or allowance.
in essence came into uniformity with the Civil Code of Suriname.
Religious marriages of Muslims will now have to be registered with the
civil authorities and divorce by a secular court.
More or less, the Muslim Marriage Act of 1940 has been abrogated.
This was in response to Mr. Ahmad Jhawnie’s letter titled “Fake marriages” in the Guyana Chronicle of June 8, 2006.