Islam and Muslims in Beautiful Caribbean
Two Islands, One Nation
Small, lush, tropical, tranquil, prosperous, free, laid back, vibrant and active Trinidad & Tobago is unlike most other places in the world. It is a set of two islands, one smaller than the other, that together constitute a country and a member nation of the United Nations.
Geographically, culturally, historically, economically and politically, Trinidad & Tobago is an integral part of the West and yet it is located at a respectable physical distance from both Europe and the United States with large green chunks of the mighty Atlantic separating one from the other.
Blessed with Allah’s bounties in the form of enormous wealth from oil and natural gas, Trinidad & Tobago is perhaps the most affluent nation of the Caribbean and the West Indies, but it is also a nation, like many other nations of the so-called Developing World, that is widely interspersed with pockets of grinding poverty.
It has a surfeit of cars on its roads but is plagued with a rate of air pollution and traffic accidents and fatalities that are alarming. Many of its beautiful beaches are washed over with oil slicks.
Alcohol flows through the veins of Trinidad & Tobago like water, and crime stalks the nation like a chronic nightmare.
Midway between the East and the West
The people of Trinidad & Tobago are a sensitive, proud, hard working, decent, accomplished and highly educated lot. Literacy is over 90 percent and education is free right through the university level.
The spirit of entrepreneurship and personal initiative and enterprise is as common as the national fever for partying, music, fete, frolic, “liming” – hanging out and having a good time – and the annual Christian-secular festival of Carnival that embodies many of these questionable practices.
In many ways perhaps Trinidad & Tobago is a midway point between the more fully developed nations of the West and what many people refer to as the “Third World.” It is a nation the origin of most of whose people is the “East” – mostly Asia and Africa – but whose present location, culture and orientation is mostly of the “West.”
And in more ways than one, Trinidad & Tobago is a checkered microcosm of the world and its multifarious peoples, cultures and traditions. It is in closest proximity to South America and yet in many marked ways it is not a Latin American nation.
Overall, Trinidad & Tobago is a society whose people, leaders and culture are uniquely and amazingly open and sensitive to more than one point of view, whether it is in politics, religion or something else.
Racial and Religious Harmony
Trinidad & Tobago is a land in which white, black and brown people of all faiths and philosophies commingle and coexist in peace and harmony with one another.
Today, religion is being used by narrow-minded bigots and self-serving zealots and charlatans everywhere to exploit society, divide people and the world into hostile camps and visit all kinds of the most unspeakable atrocities on fellow human beings. At a time like this, Trinidad & Tobago has every reason to proudly celebrate its spirit of broad-minded tolerance, peaceful coexistence and racial and religious harmony.
It is a land in which Christians, Hindus, Muslims and others live, work and go about their daily business practicing their “religion” with a spirit of mutual respect and accommodation that is reflective of the basic teachings of Islam in this regard. Historically, it is reminiscent of the racial and religious harmony that prevailed for centuries in Muslim Spain before the Inquisition.
With the two large African and Indian racial and ethnic groups having a comparable share and a complimentary role in the composition of the society, and with a small white and still smaller Chinese and native Caribbean presence playing the role of salt and yeast in the leavening of this wonderful mix, Trinidad & Tobago is the true melting pot of the world in modern times, even though other societies of the world may have from time to time laid claim to that title and delivered only marginally and meagerly on that claim.
In earlier times, it was Islam that taught the world how people of different religious and racial backgrounds must coexist and live in peace and harmony with each other. Islam created the first true racial, religious and cultural melting pot of the world.
In more ways than much of the world realizes, and without actually pressing that expression into service or making too much fuss about it, Trinidad & Tobago embodies what some parts of the world recently have come to call diversity – an oblique reference to mutual tolerance, accommodation, negotiation and respect between and amongst diverse population segments representing diverse racial and ethnic categories, cultural groupings and religious viewpoints.
An Enlightened Democracy
Trinidad & Tobago is also a resource-rich society with a great and vibrant present and an even greater and more vibrant future that is full of promise, potential and excitement. It has a higher literacy rate than most societies of the world and an economic base and infrastructure that are geared to propel it in the ranks of the developed societies of the world by the year 2020.
Above all, Trinidad & Tobago is a free, proud, self-respecting and enlightened democracy, where freedom strains and rings from every beach, valley and mountaintop. And where independence of spirit reigns in the heart of every individual no matter how high or low his or her education or economic or social status.
American Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, first prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago Eric Williams and others who so valiantly struggled for freedom, opportunity and dignity for their people, would have been happy to see their vision of freedom, equality and opportunity for the Western Hemisphere coming true on this island of a little over a million souls, a mere dot on the map, but a true giant among nations when it comes to commitment and respect for and adherence to the lofty notions of human rights, civil liberties, freedom, democracy and equality for its people.
A Solid Base of Informed Citizenry
It is true that economics, politics, good government, law and order, viable infrastructure, strong industrial and agricultural base and a rigorous educational system all play a part in ensuring for a society such as Trinidad & Tobago a great present and a greater-still future. But none of this could be sustained for long without a citizen base that is truly informed and enlightened on the one hand and that is also at the same time adequately skilled and trained in everyday living as well as in the dynamics of community building.
In many ways, the one thing that sets Trinidad & Tobago apart from the rest of the world is its people. Whether in business, politics, education, sports, art, religion or culture, rarely do such abundance, richness, depth and diversity of talent exist in other parts of the world on such a small parcel of land, among such a miniscule population, by comparative standards.
It is true that the executive, the legislative and the judiciary branches of the government play their respective roles in training and educating its people and in the running and building of the Trinidad & Tobago of today and tomorrow, as does the standard educational system in the form of schools and universities. But at the same time, the role of citizen initiative and enterprise in building a peaceful, prosperous, free, democratic, law-abiding, tolerant, egalitarian, enterprising and vibrant society for tomorrow can hardly be ignored or underestimated.
Totalitarian, Authoritarian vs. Truly Free Societies
In totalitarian and authoritarian societies, the citizenry is generally rendered dependent, ineffective and beholden to the paternalistic directives and favors of the government. Others in other societies and communities use all kinds of propaganda techniques and fraudulent devices to keep their people uninformed and misinformed about the realities of the day to better control and manipulate them to their own nefarious ends.
That is why in truly free and responsible democracies, especially in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, resource-rich, culturally vibrant, economically active and religiously diverse and tolerant modern democracy such as Trinidad & Tobago, government work and responsibility to inform and educate its citizens must be buttressed and augmented by independent and ongoing citizen initiative and enterprise at citizenry training and education.
That is the true spirit of Islam: Each one, teach one.
Or as Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, put it: Kullukum raa’in wa kullukum mas-oolun ‘an ra-‘iyyatihi.
Paraphrase: Every one of you is a leader and God Almighty will hold every one of you responsible for whatever is in your care.
The question then is how can ordinary citizens – as individuals and groups – pool their talents and skills to train their fellow-citizens in the requirements of such things as culture and communication that are vital for survival and success in today’s competitive world and tomorrow’s expanding economy and prepare them to assume their rightful role in a more fully developed society consonant with a 2020 development vision and goal?
A Leadership Role for Islam and Muslims
Islam and Muslims have been a part of Trinidad and Tobago for the past at least 150 years. That is was when the British brought Muslim contract workers – Indentured Labor – from the Indian Subcontinent to fill the role of slaves at sugar plantations when slavery was abolished.
A significant part of that contract labor force from India was Muslim, with an even larger part being Hindu.
Before that, Muslims may have been a part of Columbus’s crew in the 15th Century. Muslims most likely formed a significant slice of the slave populations that the European nations plucked out of Africa and transported to the Americas as part of the European slave trade in African men, women and children in subsequent centuries.
But regardless, it is the descendents of the contract workers from India that form the bulk of the Muslim presence in Trinidad & Tobago today. The other major component of Islamic presence on the islands is of African ancestry, mostly descendents of the slaves who over the past several decades have discovered Islam and embraced it.
Even though the percentage of Muslims in the population may not be more than 6 or 7 percent, Muslims have their role cut out for them: for Islam as well as for themselves as Muslims.
It is a role of leadership.
In Islam, Leadership Means Service
And if they are serious in fulfilling this role then the first thing Muslims of Trinidad & Tobago need to realize is that the truly Islamic model of leadership is one of service. That means those who aspire to be the leaders of their communities and societies must become their servants.
Here are some words attributed to Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, in this regard:
Sayyidul qaumi khaadimuhum.
Offhand, I cannot recall the reference for this statement, nor can I even vouch whether it is a Hadith or not or how reliable or strong it is as a Hadith. But regardless, these words make a lot of sense and here is how I would paraphrase them: “A leader of a people must really be their servant.”
So, the Muslims of Trinidad & Tobago – just like Muslims in any other part of the world – must realize that their true and proper role in the societies in which Allah has placed them is to serve and help that society and its members in every way they can.
That is the role of Islam and Muslims in this world.
Muslims: An Education People Par Excellence
One way Islam and Muslims can fulfill this historic leadership role in the world whether it is in Trinidad & Tobago or elsewhere is for Muslims to become an education people par excellence. That means Muslims must become the truly education people of the world that Islam meant them to be such that every time the world opens its mouth and mentions the word “Muslim,” it must automatically associate that word with the best and highest forms and levels of education and educational leadership in the world.
That means, wherever they are in the world in general and in Trinidad & Tobago in particular, Muslims must aim at building the finest educational institutions and setting and reaching the highest levels and standards of the finest and most well-rounded education for themselves, their families and for the societies in which they live.
They must inculcate in themselves and teach everyone else in society the noble and glorious Islamic concepts of freedom, equality, justice, fairness, integrity, truth, compassion, charity and basic human decency. They must steep themselves in the fear and love of God and become walking, talking, living Qur’an.
Sunnat Is Building a Better World for All
That means Muslims must become in our own time and in every place in the world a true reflection of the Sunnat – life, teachings and practical example – of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam.
And this must be not merely in the way he dressed or ate his food, and not just in how did his Wudu or performed his Salaah or Namaaz, but also how he spent his days and nights serving his family, community and society, and how he devoted his entire life to building a better society and better world for all of Allah’s creation, Muslim as well as non-Muslim, human as well as non-human.
That is the challenge facing the wonderful Muslims of Trinidad & Tobago today, just as it is also the challenge facing Muslims everywhere else in the rest of the world today, just as it was also the challenge facing Muslims everywhere in every period of Islam’s history on earth.
For, that was precisely the challenge to fulfill which Allah sent his prophets, Allah bless them all, and raised up Islam and Muslims in this world: to invite and bring everyone to Allah’s way and to make this world a better place for all of Allah’s slaves on earth.
© 2008 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.