The Muslim Population in Haiti

January 28, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

CNN

2010-01-27T190252Z_394306782_GM1E61S08FL01_RTRMADP_3_QUAKE-HAITI-CANADA

Pallbearers carry Royal Canadian Mounted Police Chief Superintendent Doug Coates in Ottawa January 27. Coates died in the Haiti earthquake.

REUTERS/Chris Wattie

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) — Tucked away on a corner of the Haitian capital’s dusty, congested Delmas Road, a modest white building bears a curious sign, painstakingly stenciled in green Western and Arabic script.

“Mosquee Al-Fatiha,” it reads. “Communaute Musulmane d’Haiti.”

An attendant splashing water on the ground greets a visitor who approaches the gate. “As-salaam aleikum [peace be upon you],” he says, breaking into a smile. “Welcome to the mosque.”

Haiti, the Caribbean nation closely associated with the African-derived faith of voodoo, is home to a small but growing community of Muslims. Two Islamic centers in the capital of Port-au-Prince are among nearly a dozen around the country started by those who have converted to the faith.

Officials with the major Islamic groups estimate there are between 4,000 and 5,000 Muslims in Haiti, a nation of about 8 million people.

In the lanes of the historic Carrefour-Feuilles quarter, a neighborhood that snakes up the mountains surrounding Port-au-Prince, a plangent, timeless sound echoes.

Among the market women haggling over prices while portable radios blare popular Haitian “compas” music, the muezzin’s call to prayer goes forth from a new Islamic masjeed, or prayer center.

“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, La ilaha ila Allah,” — “God is greater, God is greater, there is no god but God.”

Haiti is about 80 percent Catholic and 20 percent Protestant, according to State Department figures, while some 85 percent of its people regularly practice voodoo.

Muslims noticeable in cities

But followers of Islam have recently stepped into the public eye. Muslim men distinctive in their kufi headwear and finely groomed beards, and women in traditional scarves, are now seen on the streets of several cities.

Nawoon Marcellus, who comes from the northern city of San Raphael, recently became the first Muslim elected to the Chamber of Deputies, Haiti’s lower house of parliament.

“I returned to Haiti in 1985 just to preach Islam,” said Abdul Al-Ali, the Delmas mosque’s white-bearded, commanding imam, or spiritual leader. “I converted while I was in Canada and we bought the space for the mosque in 1993.”

“Haitians would like to have the truth and Islam will bring it to them. If we follow Allah, peace be upon him, I think things can change.”

In impoverished Haiti, beset by a faltering economy, malnutrition, political violence and a two-year-old electoral dispute that has led to a freeze on $500 million of international aid, some converts find the attention Islam devotes to charity and social justice particularly appealing.

“If you see someone who is in need, the ones who need help, whether it’s education, money or what have you, we Haitians as a whole tend to be very generous in helping with one another,” said Racin Ganga, the imam of the Carrefour Feuilles center, who attended college and was introduced to Islam in New York.

“Those who don’t have anything tend to help out. It is in some way inborn to us as Haitians, as well as Muslims, to help out. So that principle of responsibility, of helping those less fortunate, resonated very well.”

Yacine Khelladi, an Algerian economist who has conducted an informal survey of the religion in Haiti, said in its idealized form, Islam could address many of Haiti’s needs, including social justice, literacy and a sense of community.

“It even regulates business, land disputes, banking and other things — all of which could be perceived as attractive in Haiti as an alternative model,” Khelladi said.
Inspiring revisionist history.

The study of Islam has also resulted in some provocative new theories about Haitian history, including a revisionist view of Boukman, a rebel slave who inspired other slaves to rise up against their colonial masters.

“Boukman was never a voodoo priest, like they say; he was a Muslim,” said Samaki Foussoyni, a worshiper at the Delmas mosque.

“When they describe his name, Boukman, in English, as he was from Jamaica, they are really describing ‘book man,’ because of the book he was always reading, which the French here in Haiti always referred to as an “upside-down” book,” Foussoyni said.

“They described it as such because it was the Koran, which you read left to right. When they say they had a voodoo ceremony at Bois Cayman, where Boukman lived, it was in fact ‘Bwa Kay Imam,’ or ‘the woods of the house of the imam’ in Creole.”

Although the mosques are locally maintained and receive no assistance from Islamic charities abroad, the nascent faith got an international boost from the U.S.-led military force that entered Haiti in 1994 to restore exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

“The Pakistani and Bangladeshi soldiers came to our mosque to pray and enjoy our faith and they encouraged us with this belief,” Al-Ali said.

Conscious of their status as outsiders in overtly voodoo and Catholic Haiti, a nation that endured decades of dictatorship and brutal military repression, Muslims are quick to stress the peaceful nature of their faith and to distance themselves from the September 11 attacks on the United States.

“Allah says that if a man kills another man it is as if he has killed all humanity,” said Racin Ganga. “The people who did what they did in New York, they are not even human. Islamic people should use the weapon of their love, because violence, as we’ve seen here in Haiti, will not take us anywhere.”

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Islam in Haiti

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

haiti Haiti is a benighted country that your author knows well having made working journeys there, and serving on a Committee in my home State of California to support that nation in her struggles (the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) for over a decade now. 

The information your essayist is to relay was a surprise to me, too, although I had intended to write about a slave rebellion that a Muslim led during the early history of Creole Hispaniola for the Observer a year and a half ago, but I could not trace the references down even in the largest academic library in Western North America which is literarily down the street from me.  With the Internet, though, I have been able to trace the history and condition of the religion on the western half of that nation’s island.

Islam came at the earliest period of the then Colony by the importation of slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa.  As the current distressing rioting in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims demonstrates, there is a significant population of Muslims from West Africa.  From an historian’s point of view, the fact that the middle men in the slave trade were Arabs (Muslims) is most disturbing.

Much of the early accounts are confused by 200 years of oral tradition (many times relayed memory), legend and mythology.  There are two mangled accounts of rebellion, but they were in another French isle in the Caribbean, Martinique, that became associated with the Haitians.  One says that the leader still wanders around Saint-Dominique, as Haiti was called then.  This is no more than mythology.

Many Muslim slaves from West Africa were forcibly baptized, but there is a belief that the Maroons (any group of slaves descended from fugitive slaves from the Seventeenth through Eighteenth Centuries) mainly held onto their Islamic beliefs.  One such slave, Dutta Boukman, who was smuggled in from Jamaica, received his name because he could read, and his French masters reported he read upside down which indicated he most likely was reading Arabic and, at that, feasibly, the Koran.  This description is an unquestionable fact although legend claims he was a Voo-Doo priest, but “revisionist” Haitian scholarship suspects that he was a Muslim.  Nonetheless, his death by decapitation in a 1791 rebellion, which he commanded, raised the demand, again, that led for freedom and the finally successful Black Haitian Revolution for Independence in which the Muslims, who were instrumental in that War,  spoke Arabic to confuse their enemies!

Before Dutta, another Maroon leader, a Marabout warrior in the Islamic tradition, François Macandal, too, attempted a rebellion, but was burned ghastly at the stake in 1758.  The Mandingos, a distinct linguistic group, from West Africa, provided much of the leadership during the Haitian Revolution, and many of them were most definitely Muslims.              

Islam had a vital impact at the birth of the Republic, and now it is beginning to assert itself once again.  Various estimates are that the Muslim population in this Creole motherland is between 3500 and 7000.  Most of the adherents to the faith live in Port-au-Prince earlier this month, where the majority of the death and destruction befell and the Mosquee Al-Fatiha stands (stood?), and the Bilal Mosque and an Islamic Center in the second largest city in the country, Cap Haitian, on the north coast is situated. (Cap Haitian, fortunately, was not impacted as much.)  There are other places of worship locally maintained throughout the land mass although your writer has not been able to confirm the comprehensive condition of the community after the disaster on January 12th. 

In the 1920s an influx of Arab immigrants entered Haiti from the Middle East – especially from Morocco although ethnically the largest of the Haitian Muslim population today are indigenous to their Caribbean country.  Your researcher did trace down some individual North American Muslims, but not their demographics within the populace.  Being an impoverished mixed assemblage, they were not able to construct their first Mosque until 1985.  It was a built from a converted residence.  The first minaret was built in 2000.  Whether that minaret is standing has not been determined by your journalist, also.

Politically, the first Muslim to enter the Chamber of Deputies (i.e., their Congress) was Nawoon Marcellus on the Fanmi Lavalas ticket, the Left-leaning party led by President Aristide. 

Your writer, who has gotten encouraging press releases from Islamic charities benefiting the citizens irrespective of belief, it is important to know that your Zakat is, further giving succor to your Muslim brothers and sisters.  The figures (0.4of the population) and institutions your writer has mentioned may have drastically been decimated.  After the situation has been solidified, rebuilding this small but burgeoning religious society remains.

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