This event was organized by four of the nation’s leading Islamic organizations: the Central Islamic organization of Guyana (CIOG), the Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT), the Guyana United Sadr Islamic Anjuman and the Anjuman Hifazatul Islam. The masjid site dates back to the days of indentureship, when Muslims (brought to the Caribbean from India by the British after the abolition of slavery) performed ritual prayers in their homes. The dedication marked the site where the first masjid (on the South American continent) was built by Guyana’s indentured Muslims in the 1860’s.
At first, there was no building on the site, but the area was marked off in the traditional Islamic manner to signify a sacred place where Muslims met in the open to carry out ritual worship. Later, the indentured Muslims constructed the first masjid, which was a structure made of mud and palm leaves. According to Hakeem Khan, co-ordinator of the event, the historical significance of the site was known for some time, but because of conflicting claims from various quarters, a study was conducted by Dr. Pat Dial, senior lecturer of the University of Guyana, to corroborate facts surrounding the site.
President Jagdeo, who delivered the feature address, appealed to all Guyanese to “bring back faith in ourselves and country” and exhorted them “to plant a seed to begin the process of a far more lasting effort, and build a monument in our hearts to national unity.” The President sounded a call for a new beginning and a fresh start towards national unity. He stated: “We are indeed fortunate and blessed that the followers of various religions: Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others have lived in harmony in our country.”
To commemorate the occasion, a plaque was unveiled at the Philadelphia masjid site by President Jagdeo together with 99-year old Hogg Island resident, Hajji Sheikh Mohamed Bashir Farouk, who intimated that he used to worship at this historic masjid when he was nine years old. The program also included a few renditions of Qaseedas, and a short speech by former President Desmond Hoyte.
Wazir Mohamed, executive member of the West Demerara Muslim Youth Organization (MYO), gave the vote of thanks and expressed delight at the attendance of the many dignitaries honoring a seminal event in the history of Islam in the South American continent.