They have been a part of our landscape for more than a century; yet the Muslim community remain largely an unknown element in Barbados.
This week, members of that community share their history, experiences and aspirations with Barbados TODAY, giving some insight into their Islamic religion and their love for the island.
Their religious beliefs and practices apart, Muslims in Barbados say they are as Bajan as any other Barbadian.
And, they want to be treated no other way.
Actually, if you ask the secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association, Suleiman Bulbulia, he would tell you that over the years Muslims have lived on the island freely and fellow Barbadians have been very accommodating to them –– as to those of other faiths.
If this has been the case, is it the recent dreadful international reports of Muslim extremists across the world that may now have driven fear into some non-Muslim Barbadians, triggering recent public and vocal attack on the notion of a special housing project under the leadership and management of the local Muslim community?
Author Sabir Nakhuda of the book Bengal To Barbados in which he tells of East Indians’ journey from India to the island.
“We are not asking for anything outrageous. There is no ill motive on the Muslims’ part which I can speak about –– anything that would bring any bad reputation to the country,” Bulbulia sought to assure Barbadians in an interview with Barbados TODAY, in which he and seasoned Muslim Sabir Nakhuda spoke about the integration into local society of the group, specifically those members of Indian descent.
“And we have continued to show by our commitment, and our hard work and our sacrifice, that we are there for the development of Barbados,” association secretary Bulbulia added.
A history lesson from Nakhuda, author of Bengal To Barbados; A 100-Year History Of East Indians In Barbados, showed that before the abolishment of slavery on the island there were Muslims among the slaves; but they were never allowed to practise the faith.
Subsequently, the writer said, the integration of East Indian Muslims in Barbados began in 1910 with the arrival of Bashart Ali from West Bengal, who became the first Muslim Indian to marry an Afro-Barbadian woman. Following in Ali’s footsteps, most of the Bengali men married Barbadian women, retaining their Islamic faith but being also tolerant and respectful of their wives’ and children’s wishes to continue practising Christianity.
“The husband who was a Muslim never prevented his wife from practising her faith. So, right there it shows that they integrated socially,” Bulbulia said.
In the home, the Muslim husband, in keeping with his religious rules, did not eat pork, among other meats, or consume alcohol; and these foods were not prepared in his home. His wife would eat such at her family’s house.
“But we still eat cou-cou and flying fish, and we would still have fish cakes. We blend our cuisine along with the Barbadian cuisine. We probably would use Indian spices when we are doing a particular rice and stew.
“Samosas are a dish you probably need to have when you are having a party, and that is a culinary contribution from Indians to the Barbadian culture,” Nakhuda explained.