MUSLIMS IN THE CARIBBEAN

The 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.

Muslims 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.

A 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.

A 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!

In 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.

Despite 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 Mamaalikul-Amsaar”.

The 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!

Numerous 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,

“When 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.”

This reveals another part of the pre­Columbian African hereditary legacy left with the ‘Carib’ people from whose name we derive the word ‘Caribbean’.

The 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.

Despite 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.

Alex 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.

In 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.

In 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 Africa.

One 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 accustomed to.

There 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 Paradise.

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.

In 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.

The “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.

Between 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.

 

 

Despite clear conditions and a commission of enforcement the indentured labourers were severely abused and exploited.

By 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.

The 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.

“The Truth Is Out There”.

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2000 SHA’BAAN/RAMADHAAN 1421

      MUSLIMS IN THE CARIBBEAN

 

 

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