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Jamaica a haven for Muslims

Published:Friday | October 23, 2015 | 10:00 AMGary Spaulding
Members of the Islamic faith take part in an early afternoon prayer service at the Islamic Council of Jamaica.

Although it has always worn the label of being a deeply Christian society, the Islam faith is increasingly finding favour in Jamaica.

Notwithstanding its reputation of boasting the highest number of Christian churches per square mile in the world, President of the Islamic Council of Jamaica (ICOJ) Mustafa Muhammad said that the country is becoming a haven for Islamic worship.

Muhammad told The Gleaner that practitioners of the faith are drawn to Jamaica because of the extremely high level of religious tolerance of Jamaicans.

"It is easy to interface with the Jamaican people because we almost never faced threats of violence," he asserted.

Muhammad said that while evangelism as it's called in Christendom, is not practised in Islam, its outreach programme is just as effective.

"You will find the odd person, but we are highly respected, especially our women, by most Jamaicans - male and female," he said.

"I think we have underestimated the intelligence of the Jamaican people."

Apart from the Masjid Mosque on South Camp Road in Kingston, there are 12 places of worship that are managed by the ICOJ.

 

close to 6000

 

Muhammad told The Gleaner that an official count of regular worshippers in Jamaica, two years ago, revealed close to 6,000.

But for the head of the ICOJ, that number is much higher today, as an average of five to seven, Jamaicans monthly are added to the membership of the South Camp Road-based mosque alone.

He quipped that negative media reports have played a role in fuelling the curiosity of Jamaicans.

"Actually, you guys are doing a lot for us, in the reporting of alleged negative actions of some who call themselves Muslim," he said.

Muhammad said this has created opportunities to explain that violence has nothing to do with Muslim religion.

"This has aroused curiosity and people are inclined to approach to find out why we behave the way we do," he added.

"What you find are people querying and asking questions - 'why is this happening?'"

He said he tells Jamaicans that although there are bad policemen, it does not mean that all policemen are bad.

Muhammad argued that in a similar manner, some who are taught what is right by the teachings of the Christian faith veer off track.

"We ask people to read about the religion before coming to a conclusion," he said. "A lot of things that so-called Muslims are doing have nothing to do with the teaching of the religion."

He conceded that the unfortunate labelling of innocent individuals breeds resentment.

Another reason that Muhammad says people gravitate towards Islam is because they are turned off from the Christian faith.

"We have been taught to have respect for other religions and don't encourage people to cry down or be critical, so I would say 'have you ever sat with the pastor or people who are more knowledgeable in your faith?'" he said.

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com