The Caribbean chain of islands form a 2400 km archipelago, the Antilles, stretching from Cuba in the north to Trinidad in the south. The Antilles and neighboring Bahamas comprise the West Indies.
For some, Islam and Muslims are a recent phenomenon in this region. The reality however is that the presence of Muslims stretches far back, much further than many would imagine. Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick in his book “Deeper Roots” makes the point “…the history of Islam and Muslim peoples in the Caribbean stretches back over one thousand years, pre-dating European contact by over six centuries…Evidence leading to the presence of Muslims in the ancient Americas come from a number of sculptures, oral traditions eye-witness reports, artifacts, and inscriptions.”
Muslims have been part of the Caribbean for centuries. Before Columbus and definitely after. A significant number of African slaves brought across the Atlantic from Africa by European slave traders were Muslim. They were stripped of their faiths and identities. Some managed to escape the horrific practices of slavery and fought against its cruelty but by and large most of them lost their beliefs.
Muslims then arrived in large numbers as indentured servants or as economic migrants. Most coming from the Indian sub-continent and in the case of Suriname also from Indonesia.
Today, Muslims are found in almost every island of the 40+ islands that make up the Caribbean. There is an estimated population of a half a million Muslims in the region and some 400 to 500 mosques.
Suriname, a country in South America but linked historically, culturally, and linguistically to the Caribbean boasts the highest percentage of Muslims for a single country in the western hemisphere. Approximately 25% of its population is Muslim.
The beauty of this region is matched by the beauty and friendliness of its people. Islam has flourished in this part of the world and has been accepted by the wider society and its respective Governments as an integral part of the development of the Caribbean. Some events on some islands cast shadows but Muslims of the Caribbean are resilient and have overcome several challenges over the years.
For decades, people across the globe have dreamt of visiting this region. The beauty of the Caribbean is one of the wonders of God’s creation. Millions travel here as tourists either on Cruise ships or by air annually. Muslim tourism is also growing, as many Muslims from across North America, Europe, and the Middle East seek the splendor and the atmosphere of these wonderful islands. With Muslim communities establishing themselves in the region, access to halal foods and mosques will become much easier for the Muslim tourist. Spending Ramadan and Eid in the Caribbean can certainly be an option.
This article is written by Suleiman Bulbulia