history of Islaam and Muslim people in the Caribbean stretches back over one
thousand years, predating European
contact by over six centuries. New
researches are revealing evidence leading to the presence of Muslims in the
ancient Americas long before the voyages of Columbus in the fifteenth century.
were probably one of the most important contact people between the two worlds
with the exchange of knowledge, agricultural products, livestock and other
commercial items. A number of sculptures, oral traditions, eyewitness reports,
artifacts, and inscriptions have been sighted to confirm this.
report in “Before Columbus by Cyrus Gordan describes coins found in the
southern Caribbean region off the coast of Venezuela. Two of these coins are
Arabic of the eighth century AD. The author infers that a Moorish ship perhaps
from Spain or North Africa seems to have crossed the Atlantic around 800 AD. In
his book Mutirj, az-Zahab, in the year 956 AD, wrote about a young man of
Cordoba in Spain named Kashkash lbne Aswad who crossed the Atlantic Ocean and
returned in the year 889 AD.
narration by Aboo Bakr b’Umar al Qutiyya
relates the story of lbne Farrukh who landed in February 999 AD in Gando (Great
Canary), visited King Guanariga and continued his journey westwards till he
found islands he called Capraria and Phitana ash-Shareef al-Idreesi (1097-1155
AD) the famous Arab geographer reported in his extensive work “The geography
of al ldreesi”, in the twelfth century, on the journey of a group of North
African seaman who reached the Americas. al-ldreesi recorded that after
captivity for three days a translator came speaking the Arabic language and
translated for the King and questioned them about their mission. ‘This
astonishing historical report clearly confirms the fact that the contact between
the two worlds had been so involved that the native people could speak Arabic!
October 1929, a map in parchment was discovered in the library of Serallo in the
city of Istanbul made in Muharram 919 AH (March 1513 AD). This map represented
the western zone of the world. It comprised the Atlantic Ocean with America and
the western rim of the world. The other parts of the world, which undoubtedly
the map also included, have been lost.
the numerous voyages taken by the Muslims of Spain and North Africa, their
contact remained limited and fairly secretive. The most significant wave of
Muslim explorers and traders came from the West African Islamic Empire of Mali.
When Mansa Moosaa, the world-renowned ruler of Mali, was enroute to Makkah
during his famous pilgrimage in 1324 AD, he informed the scholars of Cairo
(Egypt) that his predecessor had undertaken two expeditions (the first with two
hundred ships and the second with two thousand ships) into the Atlantic Ocean in
order to discover its limits. This is reported by al’Umari in his “MasaalikulAbsaar
renowned American historian and linguist, Leo Weiner of Harvard University in
1920 wrote a controversial but well documented work entitled, “Africa and the
Discovery of America”. He proved in it that
Columbus was well aware of the Mandinka presence and that the West Indian
Muslims had not only spread throughout the Caribbean, Central South America, but
they reached Canada and were trading and intermarrying with the Iroquois and
Algonquin Indian nations!
cultural evidences of Mandinka presence has been established in Brazil, Peru,
Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Mississippi, and Arizona. In the Daily
Clarion of Belize on November 5, 1946, P. V. Ramos in an article entitled, “History
of the Caribs” wrote,
Christopher Columbus discovered the \Vest Indies around the year 1493 AD he
found there a race of white people (i.e. half breeds) with woolly hair whom he
called ‘Caribs’. They were seafaring hunters and tillers of soil, peaceful
and united. They hated aggression. Their religion was Mohammedanism (Islaam) and
their language Arabic.”
reveals another part of the preColumbian African hereditary legacy left with
the ‘Carib’ people from whose name we derive the word ‘Caribbean’.
second presence of Muslims were slaves kidnapped by or sold to European slave
traders and transported from West Africa to a ‘New World’ of oppression and
inhumanity. Over a 300-year period millions of slaves were transported in what
must be one of the most barbarous and atrocious episodes in human history. The
fact that many of these slaves were Muslims is usually ignored. Many of them
came from the predominantly Muslim African nations such as the Mandinka, the
FuIa, the Susu, and the Hausa and there we indications that some of them were
distinguished scholars of lslaam.
the inhuman system of slavery in the Americas and the forced separation from
Islamic lands and culture, there are scores of reports of Muslim slaves
maintaining a form of their faith, leading slave revolts and in some cases
regaining their freedom and returning to Africa. The leading force among the
Muslim African slaves were the Mandinka known in Americas as Mandingo. They were
found in considerable numbers in Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Vincent, Venezuela and
other Caribbean nations.
Haley in his book “Roots” recreates graphically the story of his Muslim
ancestor Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped, sold and transported to the Americas.
Besides exposing the atrocities and cultural genocide perpetrated by the “civilised”
European colonisers and the manner in which Christianity was used to subjugate
and pacify slaves in the interest of the plantation exploiters. Haley’s work
also shows the attempts made by the slaves to cling to their Islamic culture and
heritage and the impact of this legacy on the author himself.
Jamaica, special magistrate Robert R. Madden, one of six special magistrates
sent to the island in 1833 by the British government recorded not only the
presence of a considerable amount of Muslims in Jamaica, but also found them to
be generally literate, independent and rebellious. In his book, “A Twelve
Months Residence in the West Indies during transition from Slavery to
Apprenticeship”, Madden narrates the moving stories of Anna Moosaa and Aboo
Bakr Sadiqa who persisted in maintaining their Islamic Faith under adverse and
hostile conditions. Aboo Bark, Anna Moose and other such individuals had formed
a society and requested Madden to assist them in developing African schools for
African people in Kingston.
Trinidad, the African Muslims not only’ formed a “Mandingo society”’ but
also established schools in Port of Spain. ‘They were led by Jonas Mohammed
Bath. Others settled in south ‘Trinidad and in Monsamilla in the northeast.
‘They were given lands and developed plantations of their own. They made great
economic strides and petitioned the British government to repatriate them to
of the pet it ions
addressed to William Ii king of the Great Britain and Ireland. began, with the
phrase AlIahumma sailli alaa
Muhammad (0 Allah, bless Muhammad sallallahu alay hi wasallam). It
explained that the petitioners were the followers of Muhammad sallalIahu
alayhi wasallam, the Messenger of Allah, and
that they did not waste their wealth on intoxicants, as other slaves were
is ample evidence to indicate that African Muslims in the Caribbean were at the
foremost of the struggle to resist slavery. In Jamaica, R. Madden was also
informed about a paper (watheeqah) written in Africa in 1789 AD which exhorted
all the followers of Muhammad to be true and faithful if they wish to enter
A movement called the ‘Great Slave Rebellion” of 1834 broke out in Manchester. The documents had to be destroyed in the heat of the rebellion but the spirit of resistance continued to be rekindled in the hearts of slaves. In Haiti, from 1753 to 1757, Mackandal, a Muslim religious leader led numerous raids against the plantation owners. Mackandal’s campaign led directly to the Haitian Revolution in 1791 led by Toussaint L’Ouverture.
Brazil the slave uprisings and rebellion between 1807 and 1835 have been
substantiated as being a well-organised rebellion by Hausas who were resisting
“The enslavement of Allah’s Children by Christians.” The rebellions
hastened the process of abolishing slavery in Brazil.
“Bush Negro’s” in Surinam, led by Arabi and Zam Zam, defeated the Dutch on
many occasions and were finally given a treaty and their own territory (near
French Guyana) which they control until today. All these Muslim groups have been
submerged almost without trace.
1838 and 1924 a new element was introduced through the process of indentureship
into the Caribbean population. Nearly half a million “East Indians” as they
were called entered the region, mainly in Guvana, Trinidad and Surinam hut also
in Guadeloupe, Martinique Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada.
Nine-tenths of the indentured Indian immigrants were from the Ganges river basin
and embarked at Calcutta with the rest corning from Madras, southern India. The
Spanish brought in Chinese contract workers into Cuba and the Dutch introduced
workers from the Netherland Indies, principally Java. The latter who were mainly
Muslims were taken to Surinam.
clear conditions and a commission of enforcement the indentured labourers were
severely abused and exploited.
1865 the Indian Muslims of the Caribbean began making organised efforts to
resist the hostility and oppression around them. The first mosques were built in
Guyana either from mud and grass (tapia) or wood and covered with palm leaves.
To these mosques were added Maktabs’ to cater for the Islamic education of the
children. However, the ‘Maktabs’ were ill equipped lacking both material and
human resources and barely managed.
purpose of this short essay was to stimulate the minds of the readers in search
for the truth. Indeed Islamic history has played an important role in world
civilisation, and will only be understood if comprehensive research is
undertaken rather than accepting facts on face value.
Truth Is Out There”.
SHA’BAAN/RAMADHAAN 1421 •
MUSLIMS IN THE CARIBBEAN