Review Of Guyana in the Islamic World, 1948-2008

Sunnism and Shism

Guyana has had a small group of Shia Muslims who were part of the great migration from Hindustan from 1838 to 1917, but most were neutralized among the Sunnis. Thus, Guyana never experience Shia/Sunni antagonism. Guyana did not experience any major juristic problems within the period 1838-1920s. At no time were there more than 750 Shia and by 1950 they seemed to have been absorbed into the Sunni Muslim group’. However, after the Iranian revolution of 1979 and with the coming to power of Imam Khomeini in Iran, there was a sudden upsurge of Shiism across the world. Soon thereafter following the arrival of a Shia missionary in Guyana, two groups were established, one in Linden, Demerara and another in Canje, Berbice. During Muharram in 1994 a Shia organization, the Bilal Muslim Mission of North America sent a couple of people to visit Guyana. Shia Muslims feel resented by the main Muslim body merely because of what they perceive as “Wahabis propaganda”.

Since then BMMA has been paying regular visits to Trinidad and Guyana. BMMA sent hundreds of copies of Quran translated by S.V. Mir Ahmad Ali and other literature. BMMA also supplied the small community in Trinidad and Guyana with TV, VCR, computer, printer and fax machines. BMMA also financially supports the running of Madrasah in Guyana and dispatches reading material and other literature on regular basis. However, the impact of Shiism in Guyana is yet to be determined.

For the first time in recent history an Islamic scholar, Dr. Mohammad Namazi from Iran visited Guyana during Ramadhan of 2002. The 32 years old scholar is a Quari and Hafiz ul- Quran who has been sent by the Organisation of Culture and Islamic Relations, an NGO in the Islamic Republic of Iran with branches in the United States, Canada, France, Norway, India and other countries. According to the local press, his visit was the result of an invitation from the Guyana Islamic Forum (GIF) for education, peace and religious solidarity, in association with the International College for Advanced Studies and the Muslim Youth League of Guyana. Namazi was born in Qum, Iran and studied for seventeen years at Qum theological seminaries, specializing in natural sciences and was awarded the PhD in Islamic studies. Guyana is now linked to Qum, Iran. Many inquires have been made by those who want to expand cultural relationship between the Muslims of Guyana and Qum.

During July of 2003, two graduate students from Qum established an education center in the capital Georgetown. This was building on the work that they have been carrying out in the region and Guyana for a number of years. Currently, there are a few Iranians in Guyana. According to the Iranians, the education centre will function as a resource center to be accessed by teachers and lectures alike. A large section of the center will be given over to the sciences and mathematics resources. The Iranian, Mohammad Hassan Ebrahimi, director of Guyana’s International Islamic College for Advanced Studies that was sent was kidnapped in 2004 and was founded dead a month later. His killers were never found and the motive of this murder remained an enigma.

The centre housed 12 computers and over 1000 books on various topics relating to Islam have been either bought or donated. An extensive audio visual collection has been put together with over 800 different titles, and the centre had hope to work closely with local schools and colleges allowing the youth of Georgetown to benefit from the center regardless of their faith. It is hoped that through actions rather than words the center will be able to set an example of Islamic behavior that can only bode well for the present and future generations of Guyanese Muslims according to Iranians.

According to the founders, the center is in desperate need of financial or other aid that can be given, by the “believers.” The running cost of the center is estimated at five hundred English pounds (500) a month, including payment of all utility bills. One of the centre’s main objectives is to establish links with other Shia communities in the region, such as in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Antigua, Aruba and Suriname.