Trinidad and Tobago


Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 1,980 square miles, and its population is approximately 1.3 million.

There is no dominant faith among the multiethnic population, which is 40 percent African and 40 percent East Indian; the remainder are of European, Syrian, Lebanese, and Chinese descent. According to the latest official statistics (1990), about 29 percent of the population are practicing or nominally Roman Catholic; 24 percent are Hindu; 6 percent are Muslim; and 31 percent are Protestant (including 11 percent Anglican,

7 percent Pentecostal, 4 percent Seventh-Day Adventist, 3 percent Presbyterian/Congregational, and 3 percent Baptist). A small number of individuals follow Obeah and other traditional Caribbean religions with African roots; sometimes these are practiced together with other faiths.

Foreign missionaries present include members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Baptists, Mennonites, and Muslims. The Mormons maintain the maximum total allowed (30) of foreign missionaries per religious denomination in the country, while other denominations maintain between 5 and 10 foreign missionaries.

{Extracted from International Religious Freedom Report
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2001/5741.ht

Muslims in Trinidad and Tobago constitute only 8 percent of the population and are mostly of East Indian descent, but they play an important political, economic, and social role: numerous elected officials are Muslim, and many businesses are Muslim-owned. In 1990 Trinidad was briefly thrust into the world spotlight when an obscure Black Muslim group attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government by force. There are about eighty-five mosques on Trinidad but only one or two on Tobago. The government officially recognizes several Muslim holidays and sponsors an annual Id al-Fitr celebration. Islamic leaders have begun to join with Christians and Hindus in calling attention to growing problems with alcoholism, drug abuse, violent crime, and AIDS.


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    Ramadan 2009: With the holy month of Ramadhan at its climax, Muslims culminate their fast to celebrate the auspicious day of Eid-ul-Fitr. Eid-ul-Fitr will be celebrated tomorrow, with a public holiday declared on Monday. At the Macoon Street Mosque, Victoria Village in San Fernando, fasting Muslims have been frequenting the mosque throughout the day to pray, meditate and remember Almighty Allah. Since the start of the fast on August 22, many have been gathering at the mosque to break their fast with hot, mouth-watering meals prepared by a hard working group of women from the mosque, headed by chief cook, Hajjin Marilyn Mohammed.

    From as early as 8 am, these women arrive at the mosque and begin preparations for dishes like curried goat, channa and aloo, pumpkin, stewed chicken, rice, dhal, mango anchar, callaloo, red beans, macaroni pie, fried rice, vegetables, fish and shrimp. To complete their tasty meals, cake and ice cream are served for dessert or a hot cup of coffee. For each day in Ramadhan, meals were sponsored by members of the mosque and other generous Muslim families. Last Saturday, the breaking of the fast and dinner were sponsored by Haji Mubeen Rambally and his family. Coincidentally, it was Rambally’s 55th birthday.






    Hajjin Marilyn Mohammed, right, and several of the women take pleasure in dishing out food in the kitchen. Photos: Rishi Ragoonath


     

    “Following Custom”? Representations of Community among Indian Immigrant Labour in the West Indies, 1880–1920 1


    Prabhu P. Mohapatra 

     

    Abstract

    On 25 June 1887, a curious incident was reported in the San Fernando Gazette 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?


    On Friday August 5th 1932 Roderick Leofric Beaumont-Benjamin became Muslim adopting the name Abu Bakr.  He wrote his testimonial to the Islamic Review.  His letter was published in the Jan-Feb 1933 edition. It is extracted here for your easy reading.

    The Need for Education

    The Indian family served as both an economic unit and an agency for the transmission of knowledge, skills and values to the younger generation. Therefore, at this time, the community felt no great need for formal education, especially when this posed a real threat to the maintenance of their religious/cultural identity.  Religious education began at most of the mosques. Very often these maktabs were serviced by those with little formal training. Some of the first mosques were at Tacarigua (1850) and Iere Village (1866). From around the 1930s, the maktab system played a useful in imparting Islamic education mainly to the younger Muslims. These classes, taught by persons in the community with some knowledge of Urdu, Arabic and religious teachings. The classes imparted the basic principles and practices of Islam and were held in simple sheds adjoining the mosques and even at people’s homes.

    In addition, several other mechanisms for the transmission of religious knowledge existed. These include the Friday khutbah (sermon), an integral part of all Friday congregational prayers, religious and social functions such as Moulood and Quranic readings on occasions such as the Prophet’s birthday, and the Miraj (ascension) of the Prophet. Such efforts fulfilled the social and educational needs of the community for some time, but were eventually unable to counteract the new challenges posed by the existing Christian missionary efforts and the influence from the dynamic westernized values of the wider society.


    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).


    Until recently we didn’t pay much attention to Muslims living next door, in the Caribbean and Latin America--not even to one of the first ‘hejab’ incidents, which occurred in Trinidad in 1995. However some of the fastest growing Muslim communities (primarily through conversion and immigration) are located in this region. And, right away it’s the women (or some of them) that we recognize--from their elaborate African-inspired headdresses or their Indian-inspired shawls. In their religious practices, individual Muslim women in Trinidad, like women of other religious backgrounds, range from the more “secular” to the very devout, distinctions which are often signified by their head coverings. And, women tend to select styles of ‘hejab’ based on their perceived ancestral heritages.



    Religious diversity in the Indian-Trinidadian community

    Religion has always been central to Indian life. As D.N Vidyarthi put it (from '130 Years - Challenge and Transition'):"Whatever else our ancestors might have left behind them as they embarked on their great adventure, they did not neglect to transplant their religious customs and traditions. The crucible of immigration, however, was happily responsible for the removal of much that elsewhere made for the unnatural stratification of community life."

    The impact of transportation to the other side of the world and the conditions of estate life shared in common made for a situation where in the 1930s, just fifteen years short of the 100th anniversary of the commencement of Indian indentureship, L.F. Seukaran, politician and later elder statesman, could remark: "Here, fortunately for us, Hindu, Muslim and Christian Indians enjoy unfettered social intercourse. There is much tolerance of one anther's religious viewpoint and practices, and even among the various religious groupings, sectarian differences do not seem to cut deeply into social relationships."

    In the early days of indentureship, Hindus predominated in the ratio of nine to one. 100 years later, after the Second World War, that ratio had changed to roughly seven to three. With Hindus at 67%, Christians at about 16% and Muslims at 15%. In 1931, the Indian population stood at 138,667, made up as follows:

    Hindus
    Christians
    Mohammedans
    Buddhist
    Parsi
    Others
    94,125
    23,183
    20,747
    119
    278
    215

    By the turn of the century, the main Hindu groupings were the Sanatan Dharma, the Arya Samaj, the Kabir Panth and the Sewnarines. The Sanatan Dharma Association was established in 1881 and received legal recognition by an act of legislative in 1932. It president at the time of its incorporation was the Honourable Sarran Teelucksingh, trade unionist and elected member of the Legislative Council.

    From the earliest times of Indian immigration to Trinidad, Muslims arrived. For many years, their only contact with their Mohammedan brothers and sisters in India was through the steady stream of immigrants. There were progressive minds amongst the first to come, for within a short time, efforts were made to erect mosques to which were attached 'maktabs', schools for the teaching of Urdu and Arabic, where children could learn about Islam.

    Later, the Muslims in the various districts formed themselves into 'Jamaats', and by a gradual process leaders arose from their midst. One of the most outstanding of these was Syad Abdul Aziz. Educated and progressive in outlook, he was responsible for the formation of the Islamic Guardian Association, which during its career did very useful service among Muslims. Other remarkable leaders were Hadji Rukmudeen Meah, Abdul Ghany and Gokool Meah. Christian Indians by the 1930s represented about 16% of the total Indian population The 1931 figures are as follows:
    Presbyterian (Canadian Mission)
    Roman Catholic
    Church of England
    Wesleyan
    Seventh Day Adventists
    Baptists
    Moravian
    Others
    10,335
    8,469
    3,946
    160
    68
    61
    23
    121
    Under indentureship, Indians were influenced by Christianity. The estate owners were Christians, and so were the foremen, both black and white. The acceptance of the Christian faith was often accompanied by opportunities which inevitably led to education and improved social and economic status. Lionel Seukaran writes:

    "But the faith of their fathers was so well ingrained in them, that it was with the greatest difficulty that conversions could be made. When our people came, they found two well-established Christian denominations, the Roman Catholics, here since Spanish times, and the Anglicans since the conquest of the island in 1797. There were some Presbyterians from Scotland and the U.S.A. It would seem, however, none of these considered seriously the possibility of converting Indians in large numbers to their faith."
    (Source: Indian Centenary Review 1945 by M.J. Kirpalani, M.G. Sinanan, S.M. Fameshwar, L.F. Seukaran)


    The Canadian Mission

    "It was not until well over two decades after the first immigrants set foot on Trinidad soil that a Canadian clergyman, here on a health trip, conceived the idea that a mission could be established which could devote itself exclusively to the Indian community. The story of the coming of Dr. John Morton and, later, of Dr. Kenneth J. Grant, is well knwon. The Canadian Mission to the Indians of Trinidad was established in 1868, and from the very beginning the pioneer missionaries realised that in order to reach the minds of our people they would have to concentrate on education.

    The evangelical work of the Canadian Mission went side by side with the educational work, but at a much slower rate. Dr. Morton opened his Mission at Iere Village, near Princes Town, but he soon realised that San Fernando was a more important centre from which his Mission could spread in all directions. San Fernando became the headquarters, a position which has been maintained up to this day. Princes Town soon became the second centre. Later Couva was made the third centre, and as the Mission spread out all over the south of the island, Dr. Morton decided to go north and he spent the latter part of his life in the Tunapuna field.

    From this can be seen that this Mission has spread its arms to embrace almost the whole island and there is no part of rural Trinidad today which escapes its influence."

    © Paria Publishing Company Limited 2000


    ASJA commemorates Arrival Day

    Haji Kamal Hosein, PRO of the Anjuman Sunnat-ul-Jamaat Association (ASJA) said when Muslims first came to TT as indentured servants, they were not allowed to openly practise their faith.



    This paper (presented at the Caribbean Muslim Forum 2005) is based on the era of East Indianship Indentureship to Trinidad in 1845 to present day. It largely leaves out the period of African Slavery due to a lack of readily documented accounts of that time. Also the early account of the Indentureship period is not presented in detail as the focus is on institutions that exist today. Time availability did not permit for a detailed account of the present day Islamic Educational Institutions. Mere reference is made of some operations through a personal involvement in the field. It would be fitting if statistics on enrollment, number of teachers, percentage of Muslim students, examination results, graduates who have moved on to leadership positions etc. could be presented.

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