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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All-American

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–September 10th–The “Season” has begun and authors are trampling through Northern California – Muslims and non-Muslims, knowledgeable about the Ummah and its people – hawking their books.  Jonathan Curriel, author of Al’America:  Travels Through Arab and Islamic America visited my city the week after Labor Day.  Curiel is no scholar, but was trained as a journalist.  Although employed by the San Francisco Chronicle, he was partially educated in and reported from the Middle East.

The book under discussion was published by The New Press in November of 2008, and details the historic influence of Arab and Muslim culture on America — from the time of Columbus to 9/11 — with the ramifications of the latter event.  This is a book that concentrates on the historical and Pop Cultural aspects of Islamic influence upon America, but it does a great service by exposing the underpinning of Islam at the Grassroots of North American culture.  The author too often degenerates into uncomfortable insensitivity to your reviewers’ target audience. 

Reading the press release composed for his tour, I notice a “slickness” that makes your reporter feel ill at ease. His publishers are not presenting J. Curriel humbly forcing his readers to concentrate on his credentials rather than his work!  Still, that did not prevent the book from translation into Arabic by Arab Scientific Publishers, the Beirut print house that, also, has exposed several important European and American writers to an Arabic-speaking audience.

In 2005, his Newspaper was honored by Columbia University (the dominant) U.S. J-School (of Journalism) in New York City for Jonathan Curiel’s exceptional articles on race and ethnicity!  Your Observer commentator — does not know about bragging rights — but he should be proud of this!  This is something that he attempts to bring to this study, but he is honest enough to note where he fails.

For him – even after September 11th 2001 – denying Islamic civilization is not being part of the American fabric is wrong.  “Muslims not only belong…but are part of [the American] culture in so many ways!”

In fact, Christopher Columbus reached out to the Muslim “Moors.”  The Admiral of the Ocean Seas was substantially influenced by the Arabs to the point he could not have reached the New World in 1492 without his North African designed sails.  While Arab culture was waning in Southwestern Europe by the late 16th Century (CE), Columbus’ voyages notably brought subtle Arab influences to the Spanish colonies and later the Portuguese colony in the Americas – including those parts in the United States that Washington (D.C.) seized in the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American War plus the Louisiana Purchase!

Although Madrid prohibited Muslims from the Americas, the Alamo now in Texas is a classic example of Arabic Architecture!  New Orleans was a city shunted back and forth between the Iberians and the French.  Finally, President Thomas Jefferson bought it from the Emperor Napoleon.  When the Spanish possessed that famous city, they imported Islamic ironwork for which the Metropolis near mouth of the Mississippi — plus the renowned Muslim-styled courtyards within the Big Easy — migrated from the Middle East via the Iberian Peninsula.   

The date palm was brought to the Western Hemisphere — including the California of yours truly — from the Middle East, also, via Hispania. 

In the United States, a Muslim slave actually wrote a book in Arabic while being held in South Carolina.  Until the Twentieth Century most American Muslims came from West Africa (since they were victims of that ugly Slave Trade).  Jonathan Curriel, as well as a few eminent musicologists, believe that the American “Blues” musical sub-structure comes from Islam’s call to prayer.  

No less than the extremely important American thinker of the Nineteenth Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was profoundly influenced by Muslim culture.  Many important American intellectuals have been influenced by Islam, too, throughout the history of the American Republic (and even before –Thomas Jefferson, of course, comes to your reporter’s mind most quickly) up into the contemporary period.  There has been a long-standing cultural interaction between the Potomac and the Islamic nations according to Curriel. 

Of course, some of this interaction was not fully comprehensible to the Americans; and, thereby, can be considered in bad taste.  The Shriners and the Masons adopted pseudo-clothing accoutrement and symbols of the Muslims.  At its most forgiving was mere mimicry, but at its worst was insulting and in bad taste.  (Your scribe must point out that Jonathan Curriel did make these issues transparent, and did not cringe from describing it for what it was.)  Yet, since the immigration reforms under the late President Lyndon Johnson, highly prominent Muslim immigrants have been attracted to, and have joined the aforementioned organizations.  They have pressured these groups to give a form of Zakat and to make them even more service-oriented. 

The iconic Los Angeles rock(-n-roll) band of the 1960s, the Doors, were highly influenced by Arab music while the ultimate Rock star (of the 1950s), Elvis Presley, was a great admirer of Khalil Gibran, a Christian Lebanese immigrant to America.  His best known work was a sequence of inspirational essays, The Prophet.  They were pitifully greeted by the critics when they were published in 1923.  It definitely belongs to the opus of Arabic-language literature, but not Islamic literature.  Having read the book as a young man, when it was still a best-selling “underground” rage, your reviewer considered it to be  overly simplistic.  How much of it might be based on Mohammed (PUBH) is hard to say because of the elevated ambiguity of its poetic language.

Curriel maintained Presley somehow turned this book into his Bible.  Also, along religious lines, the Christian Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II had instructed that his casket placed on a Persian Carpet to demonstrate the unity of all religions.

Back to Pop Culture, the movie cycle and “cult” television series, Stars Wars borrowed motifs respectfully from the religion from Mecca.  Jonathan Curriel concluded, “Cultures go back and forth, and always borrow from each other,” continuing, “Muslims have contributed from the inception of the American nations,” and they are still highly visible and contributing members of our society.  Their contributions are no longer seen as insignificant within North American society.  

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