Suriname



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    Sheikh Ali Mustafa Seinpaal

    Sheikh Ali Mustafa Seinpaal hails from Suriname, South America, a former Dutch Colony; from a Christian, religious family. Sheikh Mustafa embraced Islam in 1966. After meeting Maulana Dr. Fazlur-Rahman Ansari (r.a) in 1969 in Suriname, he went to study at the Aleemiyah Institute of Islamic Studies at Karachi. Sheikh Mustafa graduated from the Aleemiyah Institute in 1974, the same year Dr. Ansari passed away. He obtained the Alim Degree: AD-DARAJAT AL-IJAZAH AL-ALIYAH. Subsequently he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Arts at the University of Karachi majoring in Political Science, Natural Science, English and Arabic. Sheikh Mustafa is also Hafizul-Qur’an and has mastered the Arabic language, Urdu and English. His mother tongue is Dutch and he also studied Spanish and Germany. Sheikh Mustafa traveled around the world and served in Botswana (10-years), Suriname, the United States (New York, New Jersey), Europe (the Netherlands), Trinidad & Tobago and Pakistan. Recently he came from Durban after serving at the Assalaam Institute for 18-months.


    Although Suriname has a large minority Muslim population, Jewish-Islamic relations in the country have never been strained. In fact, the mosque of the Surinamese Islamic Society stands next to the Neve Shalom synagogue, striking testament to the cordiality that exists between the two religions.

    Muslims in Suriname: Facing Triumphs and Challenges in a Plural Society

    Abstract:  The paper reviews the arrival of Islam in Suriname in 1873 and subsequent Muslim participation in this plural society of many races and religions, Africans, Amerindians,Chinese Dutch, Indians, Indonesians, Hindus, Christians, and Jews.Muslims, who originated mainly from Hindustan (India) and from the Island of Java, Indonesia, have assimilated with ease in Suriname. This paper summarizes the social and political history of Surinamese Muslims in negotiating with the secular state to meet the needs of their community in their new homeland. The paper examines the intricate relationship of the Muslim community with the state and with other ethnic and religious groups, and highlights the triumphs and challenges they face in a plural society. An attempt is made to analyze Hindu/Muslim relations outside of the motherland, Hindustan (India), which has been characterized by mutual respect,and cooperation, but was sometimes antagonistic, mainly due to external factors such as the arrival of the Arya Samajis from North India who brought discriminatory practices. After a turbulent period, the relationship between the two communities today is cordial as the local Muslims and the state were keen to prevent communalism engulfing Suriname. Further, this paper exposes the schism that exists among the Islamic organizations in Suriname, and finally concludes that Islam has now become part of the social and political fabric of the country.

    June 10, 2010: In an effort to make Hajj cheaper and easier for Surinamese, Muslim organizations met on June 8th in Paramaribo.   President of the Foundation of the Islamic Communities in Suriname (SIS), Al Haj Ustadz Mohammad Rida opened the meeting with praises to the Prophet Mohammad (uwbp).  After years of failed effort this is milestone achievement. Those were the words of Al Haj Ustadz Mohammad Ridwa in Javanese.  The audience was mainly Surinamese Muslims of Indonesian background.

    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.


    No "holy cows" in Surinam:

    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.


    Suriname Asian Marriage Decree

    The 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.

    Above 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.”

    It 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.

    This 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.

    The 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.

    Dawn, 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.”

    There 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.

    On 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).

    In 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.

    With 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 to Sharia.

    In 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.

    Islamic 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.

    The 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.

    This 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.


    Surinamese Muslims in a Plural Society

    Abstract: The paper “Surinamese Muslims in a Plural Society” attests that in Suriname, Islam survived since its second arrival in 1873 and Muslims have excelled in this plural society of many races and religions: Hinduism, Christianity, Africans, Amerindians, Chinese, Hindustanis, Indonesians, Jews and Dutch.  Muslims who originated from the Island of Java, Indonesia and Hindustan (India) have assimilated with ease in Suriname. This paper summarizes the social and political history of Surinamese Muslims in negotiating with the secular state to meet the needs of their community since their arrival.  In doing so, it divulges into the intricate relationship of the Muslims with the state, with other ethnic and religious groups, and brings to light the triumphs and challenges they face in a plural society.  An attempt is made to analyze Hindu/Muslim relations outside of the motherland, Hindustani, (India) which has been characterized by mutual respect, and cooperation,  but was  sometimes antagonistic and mainly due to external factors such as the arrival of the Arya Samajis from North India bringing with them the practice of sudhi. After a turbulent period, the relationship today is cordial.  The paper asserts that the local Muslims and the state were very aware of the Muslim/Hindu conflict in the motherland and were keen to prevent communalism from engulfing Suriname. Further, this paper exposes the schism that exists among the Islamic organizations in Suriname.  It can accurately be concluded that the Islam has become part of the social and political fabric of Suriname


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