Muslim Political Participation and the Subcontinent Connection

Muslim missionaries from Pakistan and India have regularly visited the Islamic communities in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad, where they were often received with euphoria. Consistently they have tried to unite the different Islamic organizations, and have tried to mediate in order to bridge differences among the Muslims in these countries. They have also helped in providing Islamic literature, teachers and scholarships to the Caribbean Muslims. In 1937 Maulana Shamsuddeen visited Guyana. This was followed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman Ansari, Maulana M. Aleem Siddique in 1959 and Maulana Ahmad Shah Noorani Siddique in 1968.

Pakistani missionaries helped to revive Islamic communities in the Caribbean and were particularly successful in Suriname and Trinidad. Trinidad’s most popular mosque, the Jinnah Memorial, is testimony of this strong relationship between the Muslims of Trinidad and Pakistan’s Islamic community. When Maulana Noorani visited Suriname he was successful in bringing the Surinamese Muslims together. He was there when the foundations were laid to build the Caribbean’s largest mosque, the Djama Masjid, a grand piece of Islamic architecture with four towering minarets. The Djama Masjid school is named after Maulana Noorani. The Trinidad Muslim League was founded on Pakistan Day and when Pakistan’s first Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr Isfahani, visited Trinidad he received a warm welcome.

However, the tensions and rivalries between the various Guyanese Islamic organizations greatly damaged the general welfare of the Muslims and affected their relationship with the Muslim communities in the subcontinent. In 1934, the Jamiati Ulama was formed as an independent organization but this lasted only briefly.

The name was changed in 1941 to Khadaam-ud-din. However, after reaching a consensus among the Imams, the name was changed to Jamiatul Ulama-E-Deen of Guyana. By the 1950s the Jamiat along with the British Guyana Muslim Youth Organization and the Anjuman Hifazatul Islam became aligned with the United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman. Another Islamic organization, the Islamic Association of British Guyana (IABG), was established in 1936 in order to serve the needs of the Guyanese Muslims. In the same year, the IABG published the first Islamic journal, Nur-E-Islam.

At Queenstown Masjid on 20 June 1937 during the visit of Maulana Shamsuddeen to Guyana, the Sad’r-E-Anjuman was formed. The Maulana tried to unite the IABG and the Sad’r-E-Anjuman. These two organizations were rivals. They both claimed to represent the Muslims. This antagonistic relationship culminated in the Sad’r-E-Anjuman’s withdrawal of its members from the Queenstown Masjid in 1941. Sad’r-E-Anjuman moved to Kitty where it built its own mosque, the Sad’r Masjid, on Sandy Babb Street.

The United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman was established in 1949 after four years of discussions. The IABG and the Sad’r merged to form the United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman (USIA). Their two journals, Nur-E-Islam and Islam, were combined. The USIA was the representative of Muslims from 1950 to 1960. Its strong leadership greatly influenced society at all levels–governmental and non-governmental. Sadly, soon after independence the Anjuman succumbed to political intrigues and rivalries.

Maulana Noorani in Guyana

As Guyana was approaching independence, Muslims were taking positions based on ideologies and aligning themselves with political parties. Muslims were found in both the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNC), which were Guyana’s two main political parties. In 1964, Abdool Majeed, President of the Sad’r, accepted the chairmanship of the United Forces Party. His vacancy was filled by Yacoob Ally who was a PPP Parliamentarian. Naturally this led to division among the Muslim community. This division was obvious on several occasions. On one such occasion in 1967, when Maulana Noorani was coming to Guyana from Suriname the USIA, Hifaz and Ulama-E-Deen sent him a joint cable which read: `Your visit is most unwelcome. Should you come to Guyana there would be violent eruption’. The Sad’r later aligned itself closely with the ruling PNC government.

The next year when Maulana Fazlur Rahman Ansari from Pakistan visited Guyana, he failed to get any support from the USIA, Hifaz and Ulama-E-Deen when he stated publicly at the Town Hall the Islamic position with regard to socialism and communism. The division of the Muslim organizations along political lines eroded the strong relationship that Pakistan had always enjoyed with the Guyanese Muslims. On the other hand, Suriname and Trinidad were able to unite and take advantage of the generosity from Pakistani and Indian Muslims. After 1969 there has been no other high level Muslim visits from either Pakistan or India to Guyana.

Nevertheless, the Caribbean East Indian connection to the subcontinent is deep-rooted. Brinsley Samaroo observes: `There has been a marked closeness between the Muslims in this part of the world and India up to 1947, and with Pakistan since that time’.(n36) In Guyana up to the 1960s, the Muslim leadership came exclusively from Muslims of South Asian descent who had studied in either Pakistan or India. In Suriname the South Asian Muslims referred to themselves as Pakistanis. While referring to Trinidad, Samaroo writes that `indeed the Trinidad Muslim League (TML) was found precisely on Pakistan Day, that is 15th of August 1947, to underline this connection with the Subcontinent’.(n37) According to Samaroo, `From this time not only religious visits continue, but there was great rejoicing when civil or political personalities form Pakistan visited the Caribbean’.(n38)

Pakistan attended Guyana’s independence celebration in 1966 and presented an oriental rug to the new nation. A few years later the two countries established diplomatic ties and in the 1980s they exchanged honorary consuls in Georgetown and in Karachi.

The Pakistani High Commissioner to Canada, who is accredited to Guyana, frequently visits the Muslim Communities in Guyana. In January of 1994, Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner to Guyana, Mr Arif Kamal, visited the Secretariat of the CIOG. `Special attention was paid to the areas in which Muslims in Guyana can benefit from social, cultural and educational programmes of Pakistan’.(n39)

During his visit CIOG sent a letter to former Pakistan Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, requesting places at Pakistani universities for Guyanese Muslims to pursue higher education. In February of 1997 Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Guyana, Dr Farook Rana, met with the CIOG. According to CIOG’s official newsletter, Al-Bayan, Dr Rana promised to provide scholarships for secular studies, Pakistani teachers to work in Guyana, Islamic books, newspapers, etc. In 2001, General Musharraf appointed Mr. Tariq Altaf High commissioner to Guyana; Altaf travelled to Guyana and presented his credentials to the Guyana government. He also held a meeting with CIOG’s officials.

The Dawah Academy International University in Islamabad, Pakistan, now offers scholarships to Muslim Guyanese. The Director of the Dawah Academy in Islamabad, Dr Anis Ahmad, visited Guyana in 1995 and promised scholarships to the CIOG and the Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT). He indicated specifically the areas in which the Academy could be of assistance which included imams courses, seminars, teachers, training in Pakistan and the affiliation of the proposed Islamic Academy of CIOG with the Da’wah Academy of Pakistan.(n40) To this day Pakistan offers secular and religious scholarships to Guyana in numerous fields of study. However, today among the young people there is greater interest in studying in the Arabic-speaking world.

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