Muslims Arrival tied to indentured experience

"Coolies" arrived from India at Trinidad Depot

Kamal Hosein

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.

He revealed that one of the first Muslims arriving was Haji Ruknuddeen Sahib, who came on the SS Moy in November 1897.

“He started to preach Islam at secret locations, since the indentured servants were not allowed to use light or have public gatherings. He used to read the Koran by moonlight,” Hosein said.

“The followers would have to run for cover if they were caught and they were often persecuted for their religious beliefs.”

Sahib is credited with doing a lot of groundwork for the religion in this country, and eventually reached the level of Sheik-Ul-Islam (the highest attainment). Along with Sayad Abdul Aziz (born in Afghanistan in 1883) and Haji Yacoob Ali (born in TT in 1875), he formed ASJA in 1933.

Newly arrived (1897) Indians under indentured contracts

Hosein said there have been significant achievements from each of the three major Islamic organisations — ASJA, Trinidad Muslim League (TML) and Tackveeyatul Islamic Association (TIA), and there is a level of unity among them.

Muslim leaders have increased their focus on exposing youths to religion since, he said, “it has been proven that when young people are given academic education alongside religious teachings, they have a greater sense of moral awareness and are less likely to be caught up in the ills of society.”

He said it is very worthwhile to celebrate Indian Arrival Day, which should be more recognised as part of the history of the country.

“Though it was first seen to be a Hindu celebration, we Muslims realised we came too and we made a conscious decision to recognise our forefathers who were indentured servants. I believe now we have evolved as a society. We take part in the Hindi celebrations and they take part in ours.”

Hosein said there will be a grand annual celebration at the ASJA complex in Charlieville taking place on Sunday, which is usually attended by thousands of people, and is an all-day event open to the public. There will also be a spiritual celebration on Saturday at the same venue, but only for Imams and members of the executive, where the entire Koran will be read out, along with special prayers for the communities.

“For the public event, we always invite members of the IRO and they attend to bring greetings on behalf of their religion. It is a day for the family, to give thanks and praise God. But I also feel we need to look at the past and maybe adopt some of the old time traditions and customs. Maybe with this, there will be less disintegration of society,” he ended.

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