A HISTORICAL REVIEW OF ASJA

Jama Masjid, Queen St, Port of Spain, ASJA's first headquarters

This item was sourced from ASJA’s 70th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine 1935 – 2005.

The picture on the inside front cover of this booklet was taken in the year 1936. The men featured in this photograph represent the pioneers or stalwarts of ASJA. It was not possible to identify all of these men but for the purpose of giving a lesson of Muslim History in our country to our youths, we will mention some of these original ASJA members.
(Standing From Left To Right ). Aziz Mohammed, Taheeb Ali, Meharwan Mohammed, Backreedee Meah, Abbass Hosein, Haji Rooknodeen Sahib, S.M. Hosein, Aziz Mohammed (Tunapuna), Mohammed Ibrahim, Hausildar Meah, Nawab Ali, Sheik Hashim Muzaffar.
(Sitting From Left To Right).
1. Not Identified 2. Not Identified 3. Not Identified 4. Belbagai 5. Ishmael Ali 6. Ghulam Hosein 7. Not Identified 8. Peru Meah 9. Hassan Khan 10. Not Identified 11. Hafiz Nazruddeen of Tunapuna 12. Badaloo Meah 13. Not Identified 14. Not Identified 15. S.M. Mustapha 16. Not Identified 17. Khairat Ali Meah

The day was October 31st, the year 1935 and the Legislative Council of Trinidad and Tobago had passed an ordinance to incorporate certain persons as Trustees of the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ASJA) with the four Incorporated Trustees being Syed Mohammed Hosein [First President], John Mohammed [First Vice President] with Buckredee Meah and Mustapha Khan as Trustees.  Today, seventy (70) years later ASJA continues to be the largest single Muslim organisation in Trinidad and Tobago providing the community with leadership, guidance, maturity and stability which has been responsible for recognition by the national community and successive Governments over the years since its humble, yet auspicious beginning in 1935.

Creed and Leadership

To have survived for so long a period of time and to have achieved, for its membership and the wider Muslim community, many milestones as an organisation, must redound to the credit of the founding fathers, whose vision, wisdom and religious persuasions have, till this day, ensured that our noble religion, Islam, would be presented and be available to the community in the purest doctrine of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaat. This initial action, therefore, being of pure and sincere intent on the part of the illustrious founders to form a body to truly represent Muslims, continues to enhance the successes of the ASJA, in the propagation and defence of Islam at all levels.

Ten (10) Presidents and several office holders have guided the destiny of the organisation over the years and others will continue to do so in the succeeding years, yet the structure of the ASJA remains intact, riveted to the creed of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaat as interpreted by the four Imams, in particular, Imam Abu Hanifa.

Mohammed Ibrahim

Two of the longest serving Presidents of the association have made their mark on either side of our country’s independence.Haji Mohammed Ibrahim, who engaged in Masjid building programmes, among other things, constructed the Jama Masjid in 1942, provided leadership and guidance in the formative and early years over a sustained period of time, while Haji Shafik Rahaman engaged in education and school building programmes and provided the stability and expansionist policies which characterise the ASJA today.It must be mentioned that these two stalwarts had distinctively similar qualities of vision and foresight and both were dynamic and aggressive leaders and shaped in the philanthropic mould.

Organisational Structure

The ASJA is structured along community lines, with the Association being responsible for eighty six (86) Jamaats in the country.  Each Masjid is headed by an Imam and an administrative executive that conducts the affairs of each Jamaat looking after spiritual, social and welfare needs.

Haji Shafik Rahaman

The Association, for the purposes of coordination, has divided these Jamaats along five geographic areas, known as Regions, each with a Chairman and an Executive elected by the Jamaats of each particular Region.

These are responsible to the National Executive, which in turn, is elected by delegates of each of the eighty-six (86) Jamaats.

Units of the Association, apart from the National Executive, include Regional Councils and Jamaats and the Imams’ Council, the Council of Ulemas, the Divorce Council and the General Council through which is enforced the Constitution and policy directives.

His Eminence Moulana Abdul Aleem Siddiqi Al Qaderi (RA)

The Youth Arm of the Association is the National ASJA Youth Association (NAYA) and the ASJA Ladies Association looks after the needs of the sisters at the National and Regional levels.  The National Executive is the supreme body in the organisation.

The Education Board of Management is directly responsible for all the Association’s schools, while the Imams’ Council determines the role and functions of Imams and attends to the spiritual needs of the Jamaats.

The National Executive, headed by the President General, is responsible for the day- to-day and overall management and coordination of the multifarious activities conducted by the Association and also maintains linkages at national, regional and international levels.

The Haji Ruknuddeen Institute of Islamic Studies, a semi autonomous body of the ASJA, looks after the religious educational needs of the community.

Spiritual Development

Qazi Haji Ruknudeen Sahib

At the spiritual level, the ASJA has been blessed over the years with guidance in Islamic affairs, with the office of Sheikh ul Islam headed by two renowned Alims in the saintly personality of the late Haji Ruknuddeen Sahib (RA) and the scholarly Maulana Fazlur Rahaman Ansari (RA) of Pakistan.

Maulana Siddiq Ahmad Nasir who held the title of Sheikh ul Islam did so for a short period in the 1990’s. Haji Ruknuddeen Sahib prior to serving as Sheikh ul Islam of ASJA was appointed Qazi in the year 1928 following the death of Syed Abdul Aziz; his predecessor. He also became the President of the Tackveeyatul Islamic Association but relinquished the post when Moulvi Ameer Ali was elected Mufti preaching the doctrine of Qadianism. Under his leadership Haji Ruknuddeen with full support of Sunnis of the Hanafi Madhab then founded the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat in 1933. This became an incorporated body in 1935. A1 Haj Maulana Shah Muhammad Hassan Al- Qaderi R.A, a Sufi with a spiritual following was also a founding member of the ASJA  Mention must also be made of Moulvi Nazir Ahmad Simab B.A who served the ASJA as a missionary from 1935 serving as lecturer and teacher until his return to India in August 1937.

Dr. Muhammad Fazlur Rahman Ansari (R.A)

Moulvi Ameer Ali

In 1941 the ASJA again engaged the missionary services of a Moulvi this time  Moulvi Fateh Dad Khan of Guyana who also became the Pesh Imam of the Haji Gokool Mosque in St. James.

The ASJA has also been favoured with missionaries over the years in the persons of the late Moulvi Fateh Dad Khan, Moulvi Ishmael Adam (India) and Moulvi Ahmad Saied (India) who have all rendered noble services to the community. In later years Maulanas Dr. Waffie Mohammed and Imran Hosein became ASJA’s graduates from the Aleemiyah Institute in Pakistan. Maulana Nagib Hosein, Maulana Siddiq Nasir of Guyana, Dr. Musa Mohammed of Sudan, Maulana Ayub Ali and Maulana Mustaq Sulaimani have all contributed, and most recently Sheikh Faisal Abdur Razak and Sheikh Feisal Baksh of Canada have made outstanding contributions.

Maulana Siddiq Nasir

The turning point of Islam and the transformation of the Muslim life in this country and the ASJA as an organisation came with the visit of that revered personality, His Eminence Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddiqui (RA) with Dr. Fazlur Rahaman Ansari (RA) as his secretary in 1950 who gave new dimension to the Islamic image and gave new meaning to religious obligation, values and cultural practices. The dress code for women, the performance of Salaat and education were high on the list of priority topics dealt with by His Eminence, who also encouraged and promoted the performance of Zikr as an exercise towards greater spirituality. One of his major successes was his address to a crowd of seven thousand (7000) at a Rally organised by the ASJA at the Queens Park Savannah Port of Spain bringing together Muslims from far and wide.

Three notable converts to Islam include Haji Yusuf Mitchell who was an Architectural draughtsman who later assisted in drawing the plans for some of our colleges and Masjids, Sister Muriel Fatima Donawa, a teacher who eventually became a Minister of Government and Brother Rafaee Scope.

Zikr groups established several Jamaats in this country and strengthened by Maulana Dr. Fazlur Rahaman Ansari in succeeding years after his appointment as Sheikh ul Islam in 1964 bear further testimony to the successful efforts of Maulana Siddiqui.

Haji Yusuf Francis (ra)

Later, Haji Mohammed Yusuf Francis, a local Sufi leader, established the ‘Halqa’ exercises training his devotees in spiritual development.

It must be noted that His Eminence Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddiqui (RA) was well known not only on the international scene, but in his native country, India, where he continued, until his departure from this world, to educate the Muslims there.  He produced a booklet entitled “Elementary Teachings of Islam” which is the standard text used by ASJA in our schools and Maktabs.  These books are distributed by the ASJA, free of charge.  He also authored the book ‘History of the Codification of Islamic Law’.

The need for Secular Education

At the primary education level, the ASJA established seven (7) primary schools at the following locations: – Carapichaima, Charlieville, San Fernando, Rio Claro, Princes Town, Point Fortin, Barrackpore, three of which were officially opened on 11th January 1953.  Not content with these successes, the Association soon entered the field of secondary school education with both the San Fernando ASJA Boys College and San Fernando ASJA Girls College being established as private institutions in 1960 and 1962 respectively.  In 1966, ASJA Boys became state-aided and in 1976 ASJA Girls was similarly granted state aid.

These colleges have had great successes over the years and when, in the year 1999, permission was granted, once more, for the construction of denominational schools at the secondary level, the ASJA grasped the opportunity and constructed four (4) colleges: – ASJA Boys, ASJA Girls both at Charlieville and ASJA Girls at Tunapuna and at Barrackpore all of which opened their doors in the year 2000.

These colleges have all had graduating students in 2005 despite the sometime trying conditions due to construction which both teachers and students endured and for which they must be commended.

The ASJA’s contingent of schools and colleges now stand at sixteen (16) with three (3) Pre-schools in progress.

The literacy level of our community could not have been so greatly enhanced had it not been for our entry into the field of secular education in which moral and religious values form an integral part of our schools curriculum.

National Representation

As the majority Islamic Body in the minority among other religious groupings in the country, it is our responsibility to ensure that Islamic values and laws are respected and that Muslims are treated with fairness at all levels especially at the national level.  With strong representation in the late 1960’s, the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act was proclaimed so that our sons and daughters could be registered at birth as legitimate and not illegitimate as we were previously classified.  Since then, Imams and other qualified persons have been appointed as Marriage and Divorce officers on an on-going basis.

Solomon Hochoy

With the attainment of Independence in 1962, the ASJA’s role in the community was boosted with the President General being placed on the Government’s protocol list as the Chief Representative of the Muslim religion in Trinidad and Tobago.

The ASJA gained further prominence by having Government declare Eid ul Fitr as a public holiday, for the first time, and, to demonstrate the gratitude of the Muslim community, the ASJA hosted a grand Eid dinner at the Trinidad Hilton in 1967 which the then Governor General, Sir Solomon Hochoy, officers and members of the ASJA, Heads of Government Departments, representatives of the Judiciary and the Diplomatic Corps attended. Regarding the Eid holiday, the policy of the ASJA remains the same as it is today in that whenever there is doubt of the sighting of the moon, on the 29th day Ramadan, the holiday will be given on the following day. The Muslim Coordinating Council maintains the situation today.

Muslim World League

Dr Eric Williams addressing the Rabita Conference

The then President General of ASJA, Haji Shafik Rahaman, who had, in 1976, been elevated to the prestigious position of being a member of Rabita’s committee on “The Conference on the role of the Mosque” convinced the Rabita office in Saudi Arabia to jointly hold a conference in Trinidad for the Caribbean and South American regions. This Conference was held in 1977 with all the pomp and ceremony befitting a world conference at which delegates from the Caribbean and South American countries attended along with representatives of all the local Muslim organizations.

The main address was delivered by the late Prime Minister, The Honourable Eric Williams. Dr. Williams gave a comprehensive speech on “The Resurgence of Islam as a Religious and World Economic System for Humanity”.

Maulana Waffie Mohammed

The Secretary General of Rabita also gave a speech at the opening session. Over Twelve hundred (1,200) people attended what was considered to be the largest Muslim conference ever held in this part of the world. At the end of proceedings, Haji Shafik Rahaman was elected Secretary General and Bro. Kamal Hosein, Treasurer of -“The Islamic Conference of South America and the Caribbean-ICSAC. The Rabita’s office was located in San Fernando and the relationship between ASJA and Rabita grew into intense coordination between the two organizations.  When the Secretary General fell ill and, after his demise, Maulana Dr: Waffie Mohammed, an Aleemiyah trained Maulana, was appointed Regional Director.

IDB Student Loans Programme

In 1988, the Association entered into a venture with the Islamic Development Bank, [IDB], in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, whereby deserving students would be provided with a loan for the full term of their studies at The University of The West Indies, [UWI]. Four (4) students were enrolled in the initial year and, today, the ASJA IDB Loan Programme, as it is known, continues to benefit members of our own country. To date, approximately 18 doctors and engineers have graduated from this programme.

Muslim Coordinating Council

The ASJA also entered into an alliance with the Tackveeyat ul Islamic Association [T.I.A] and the Trinidad Muslim League [T.M.L], two (2) other Muslim Organizations in Trinidad, under the umbrella of the Muslim Coordinating Council and has cooperated in meeting the needs of the community. With a new Constitution being adopted by ASJA in 1990, new horizons were opened up and the Executive took the initiative, in 1991, to host a consultation conference sought to bring about harmony, accord, rapport and understanding as means of cementing ties and cooperation in the community.

One major activity of this body was the hosting of Eid Celebrations at Skinner Park San Femando in which all organisations participated.  Due to financial constraints this activity was discontinued. The ASJA however continues to maintain this event annually.

The Social Relief Net

From as far back as the 1940’s the ASJA has been involved in assisting financially in the area of natural disasters whether at the local or international levels. Severe drought at that time in India was so overwhelming that it became a matter of international concern and the ASJA contributed significantly to the Indian Famine relief Fund.

The ASJA also contributed heavily to the earthquake victims in Pakistan in the late 1970’s and also later the earthquake of Iran both of which claimed thousands of lives and left thousands homeless. Within more recent times the ASJA Disaster Relief Fund has been able to bring relief to millions who have been displaced through the Tsunami Disaster in South East Asia and more so in Indonesia. Contributions have also been made to help in assisting victims of the Earthquake Disaster in Pakistan last year.

Welfare Services

Around the year 1955 the ASJA was responsible for successfully arranging legal representations for twenty four (24) seamen (Lascars) who were charged with mutiny aboard ship. A Pakistani seaman was also charged for murder. They were all repatriated after due process with the ASJA providing for their needs in the interim.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s the war between rival factions of the Madinga Tigers in Biche became unbearable for the Police Services, residents and families of victims of a family feud that could not be contained.

With the help of the ASJA the matter was eventually brought under control to everyone’s relief and peace restored to the village.

Zakaat, Poverty and Community Services

Mindful of its obligations at the community level the Zakaat programmes continue to benefit persons at the Jamaat level.

In the 1990’s the need to expand such services as well as to address the needs of Poor relief and related areas, Drug rehabilitation, Counselling services and Clinic facilities and a Home for the Aged came sharply into focus.

These facilities from humble beginnings at Montrose Mosque now to be found at the ASJA Islamic Community Services Home Aged in Longdenville.

Product certification has always been of concern to the ASJA because of the number of Muslims who patronize fast food outlets and those who purchase packaged meats and other products, including beverages. This is an ongoing process requiring constant vigilance.

Clinics- the ASJA was able to establish two (2) medical clinics at Arima and Charlieville Mosques on a biweekly basis.  Doctors continued to be sourced partly from the IDB student programme and other doctors who voluntarily gave their services.

Due to lack of voluntary help at the Jamaat levels both facilities fell into disuse and had to be discontinued.

Hospitals and Medical Services Complex- The ASJA has plans in place to embark upon the construction of Hospital and Medical Services Complex to meet the healthcare needs of all who require such services.

Religious, Cultural and Social Activities

Hajj And Umra

The ASJA has been richly endowed over the years with activities which cater for the needs of the entire community with a multitude of functions at Jamaat, regional and national levels. Forty (40) years ago the ASJA organised its first Hajj trip in 1966 and this year’s journey will reflect its milestone of service to the community as the only national organisation to do so. Figures have fluctuated over the years with the largest contingent being ninety-six (96) pilgrims which Insha Allah this year may be increased through heavy demands to well over one hundred (100).  An Umra trip had already been organized for 2006 was been cancelled due to the Israeli – Lebanese conflagration.

National Eid Dinner

From the inception in 1967 at the inaugural Eid dinner at the Trinidad Hilton, the hosting of this auspicious occasion has continued on an annual basis so that we are now in our 39th year of celebrating Eid ul Fitr at the national level.  Several Jamaats and Regional Councils have marked the occasion in a similar fashion as part of their religious and social interactions.

Festival of Eids

In 1994, the ASJA held its first Eid ul Fitr National Celebrations at Skinner Park, San Fernando with the name being changed, to accommodate both Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha, to the Festival of Eids, in 2004.

This occasion, which is juxtaposed between the two festivals, attracts a large cross section of the Muslin community as an all-day family event and, without doubt, the largest gathering of Muslims at any given point in time. Jamaats, Booth holders, Principals, teachers and students of our schools and members of the organisation and community interests all share in the day’s activities in which items are provided for the oldest amongst us and games and services for youths and toddlers. This year a new dimension will be added to the celebrations to entertain the thousands that assemble for the event.

International Qaseeda Singing Competition

Within the last four years, Qaseeda singing competition has been revived, at an international level, with Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname being the main participants in different categories with both male and female contestants vying with each other for supremacy in songs of praise to Allah and Salaams on His Prophet (saw). Attractive cash prizes as well as special awards are given to the winners and participants.

This year [2006], a large contingent of participants is expected to participate from other visiting countries with ASJA as the host organisation in what promises to be a very exciting weekend at the end of August, being held on the 26th and 27th of August. Over three hundred (300) foreign guests and participants are expected to be hosted by ASJA some of whom will be accommodated at the Complex.

Special dormitories are being constructed for this event, to house participants and guests alike, as well as to accommodate youth camps, which have been a regular annual feature of the Association’s community-oriented programmes.

Indian Arrival Day Celebrations

To mark the 160th anniversary of our ancestors who emigrated from India under the indenture ship programme, the ASJA for the first time last year, decided to commemorate the event with an awards ceremony and cultural and social activities and parade of schools.

This year, with added impetus of last year’s success, the second annual celebrations occupied two days with an eat-out dinner, singing of songs and fireworks on the 29th May, preceding the main celebrations on the 30th. This was an all-day event with participation from schools, colleges, Jamaats and stakeholders and members of the community.

The Eat out dinner was a welcome change with over two thousand persons in attendance in a garden setting with their families and friends.  The actual holiday was marked by a street procession of schools with speeches, Qaseedas and an awards ceremony forming part of the official programme followed by a cultural programme later in the afternoon. Children and even adults availed themselves of the opportunity to have some fun on the chair plane which was provided free of charge.

Our 70th Anniversary Celebrations

Having attained our 70th year in existence and several activities being prioritized to meet regular commitments, it was decided to celebrate our 70th anniversary at theend of August when our visitors to our Qaseeda competition will be present. A Khatam ul Quran service will precede the celebrations, Insha Allah, which will include an Awards ceremony and other formalities befitting the occasion

Conferences and Other Observances

Inter Religious Organisation In the year 1970, at a conference of religious organisations in the country, the Inter-Religious Organisation, [IRO], was formed with the ASJA’s representative, Dr. Wahid Ali, being elected as the first President of this body. As a founding member, the ASJA maintains linkages at this level participating in discussions and decisions-making processes working together for the betterment of the society.

The Organisation, ASJA, also held conferences at different levels, the last being Vision 2006 with a focus on future development. Conferences of Teachers have also been an on going event in the education system which has the potential for becoming an annual event on the educational landscape. In the same vein, the celebration of Meelad un Nabi continues to be a national event and was celebrated this year with a massive rally for school children where more than three thousand (3,000) students and staff members attended.

Educational Complex and Markaz al ASJA Islamic Centre

The Educational Complex at Charlieville continues to grow into a fantastically massive Conglomeration of buildings already accommodating two colleges, a primary school, a pre school and a Markaz, a centre being built to house the Institute of Islamic studies, a convention hall, an auditorium and a penthouse, with Masjid facilities on the ground level. There will also be an artefact room, a language laboratory and a library, and a restaurant to cater for all levels of our society in a relatively safe environment.

The complex will also house dormitory facilities for students and teachers of the Institute and a Cultural Centre for the teaching and practising of our cultural beliefs and practices.

Conclusion And Appreciation

As we close this chapter on seventy years in the life of our organisation, we must remember our Jamaats and our Imams who have laboured long and hard both in the formative stage and, in more recent times, to hold Jamaats and the community together.

These are the real stalwarts and when the question is asked, “How has the ASJA served”? The laurels must go to those hard working Imams and members of our Jamaats, firstly for their commitment to the teachings and practices of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaat, and secondly, for keeping the membership alert and informed through active participation.

Our missionaries must also be commended for their role in educating the community and providing guidance to our Regions and Jamaats.

May Allah bless and reward those who have guided the destiny of the Association and may He assist us in the continued development of Islam in these parts.

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