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Stabroek News

The Muslim way in Jamaica
published: Saturday | April 23, 2005


Worshippers bow in prayers yesterday during a service at the mosque at 24 Camp Road in Kingston.

Mark Dawes, Staff Reporter

TELEVISION images sometimes portray the religion of Islam as a barbaric religion, which endorses suicide-bombings of innocent persons, and the amputation of limbs for even minor offences.

But, that is a false image of Islam, says Mustafa Muhammad, president of the Islamic Council of Jamaica.

The taking of one's life, he said, is contrary to the teachings of the Koran, the holy book of the Islamic faith. It is one of the offences against Allah for which there can be no forgiveness, Mr. Muhammad told The Gleaner in an interview.

Accordingly, he said, the practice of suicide-bombings against Israelis and against the American occupation of Iraq ­ have no foundation in orthodox Islamic doctrines.

Mr. Muhammad, who has been president of the Islamic Council of Jamaica for the past nine years said, "If Jamaica becomes an Islamic republic, I guarantee you, 90 per cent of the crime wave we are currently experiencing would disappear. Once I was in discussion with some police and I said, 'If Jamaica became an Islamic state, then a lot of you would have no work. There would be no need for so many policemen'."

Mr. Muhammad said Islamic states are more humane than they often seem to be. He stressed that though the penalty for theft is the severing of the hand, the State will not do so without ensuring that the one who is to lose a limb is able to secure a livelihood for himself and his dependants. The Islamic state, he said, must create the climate for a person to have a meaningful existence. If it does not do so, and this is what motivates the theft, then the state cannot apply the amputation sanction.

Furthermore, the cutting off of limbs, he said, is not applied for petty theft, but for more grievous forms of theft, such as a case where a man holds up a bank with a gun, robs and takes away the cash therein.

"Go to an Islamic country and see how many people you will be able to count with their hands amputated. It is not many. Perhaps you would see no more than 10. The punishment is there to prevent the crime. (Further-more) If a person is to be killed, it is done in the public ­ not so much for a spectacle, but it is for those who are looking on to say, 'Wow, man. If I go the route of this person, this will be my situation.' This drives fear in you," he said.

EASIER ON THE MEN

Though, his dream is for the nation to one day become an Islamic State, he acknowledged that it is not hard to be a Muslim living in Jamaica. "As long as you are convinced that this (Islam) is the truth and this is what you want to do, and you are not being forced to do it, then it is very easy (to be a Muslim living in Jamaica). It is much easier for the male compared to the female. As long as we males wear something that conforms to the code of dress (for males) ­ a cap, a shirt, a pants and these are not too tight, then that's all right."

"The woman has to cover almost her entire body, especially when she is out in the public. When she is at home with her family she has the choice to dress down. If one was not strongly convicted in the belief that one has, this would be very hard for the woman."

Indeed, in Christendom, it is now the norm for there to be far more women than men in church. But in Islam, the situation is different. Mr. Muhammad acknowledged that there is a preponderance of men attending the mosques of Islam. He said on a Friday, the main day of worship at the mosque located at 24 Camp Road in Kingston, there are about 100 persons present of which 90 would be men.

Mr. Muhammad explained the two faiths this way. "Christianity is more an emotional thing and women are more emotional than men. So you find that women would be more attracted to Christianity. While Islam is something that does not appeal to your emotions, it appeals to your intellect. It is something you reason out and then you come to your own conclusions.

"The Muslim women are somewhat less visible than the Christian women because of the contact with the male. There are restrictions in terms of the extent to which a woman can come in contact with a male person. This has nothing to do with notions of inferiority because in Islam, whatever goes for the man also goes for the woman. If she does the same things as the man, the reward is the same. If she violates the law - the punishment is the same. In Islam there are certain functions. We are taught that the man has a certain role to play and the woman has a certain role to play. And as long as both conforms to their respective roles - there can be no problems," Mr. Muhammad said.

TRAVELLING THE MIDDLE PASSAGE

The local Muslim leader traces the origins of the religion in Jamaica to the days of slavery. Slaves from Africa, he said, carried the Islamic religion with them when they were transported from their homeland to Jamaica.

Altogether there are 11 Muslim places of worship in Jamaica. Mr. Muhammad estimates there about 5,000 Muslims in Jamaica who practise the religion on a regular basis. But on the days when there are major festivals on the Islamic calendar, up to 10,000 Muslims living in Jamaica are known to converge at the offices of the Islamic Council of Jamaica, he said.

Muslims like other faith-groups in Jamaica are increasingly gaining official recognition. Muslim clergy can now perform weddings recognised by the State. Dovecot Memorial Park has reserved a section of that cemetery for the burial of Muslims.

Strict Muslims observe a dietary code which necessitates that certain meats be cut in a defined way. Mr. Muhammad explained through the council, certain butchers have agreed to cater to the Muslim community by ensuring that meat is cut to their specifications. Also, the council has an area where they store meat for persons who seek out their particular cut.

REACHING OUT

At present, much of the work of the council has been geared towards schools ­ primary and secondary. With the change in focus from Bible knowledge to religious studies, many schools have invited the council to explain Islam to their students. This council is happy to do so, Mr. Muhammad said. The council also, welcomes schools, which tour their facilities at their Camp Road offices in Kingston.

Islam is a proselytising religion and as such it engages in evangelism. Mr. Muhammad said that occasionally, members of the council do go to places where people congregate ­ such as a park, and hand out pamphlets about Islam and engage people in conversation to interest them in serving Allah. The trend, he said, is that some do indeed want to learn more about Islam.

Send feedback to mark.dawes@gleanerjm.com

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