RAYMOND S. CHICKRIE
This paper is an exploratory attempt to document the history and politics of
Islamic organizations in Guyana from the 1930s and in doing so, it exposes the
schism that exists among them. For a country with a small Muslim population,
Guyana has a plethora of Islamic organizations. These organizations have had
antagonistic relationships and it seems that competing for organizational
supremacy supersedes the interest of Islam. Conflicts between these
organizations stem from differences between “traditionalists” and
“reformists”, over so-called “ancestral practices” brought from the Indo-
Pakistani subcontinent where their ancestors originated and have become the
core issue of contention. Conflict exists over political allegiances, and as
demonstrated, this dates back to the 1950s over the volatile issue of whether
Muslims should support communism or not. While the divide between the
traditionalists and the reformists is closing, Islamic organizations are far from
uniting due to the egos of those in leadership, and they lay the blame on one
another for the stalemate. The weakness of the Muslim leadership in achieving
their organizations’ goals as well as their inability to effectively bargain with
the secular state of Guyana could be attributed to the differences that exist
The myth of El Dorado, the Kingdom of Gold, lured the British, Dutch, and French to the
Guianas. Disappointed at not finding gold, they began cultivating sugar using African slave
labor. However, after the abolition of slavery in 1834, a new source of labor was needed and
the British turned to India to fill that void. In addition, social, political and economic
circumstances in the motherland also impelled Indians to migrate mainly from the two Indian
states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between 1838 and 1916. Under this historic trajectory, Islam
made its way to Guyana and to South America (see Figure 1), and survived against European
efforts to Christianize the Indians, both Hindus and Muslims. Guyana today has a population
of about 850,000 and Muslims make up about 15 percent of its total population (see Figure 2).
It is home to a plethora of Islamic organizations and mosques, all purporting to represent the
Figure 1. Map of Guyana
Source: Guyana, Country Overview, available online at:
Figure 2. Religious Affiliation in Guyana, 2004
Source: U.S. State Department Post Report 2004, available online at:
After monitoring the rhetoric in the media, and conducting field research for the past ten years,
it is clearly apparent that enmity and ideological differences continue to divide Muslim
organizations in Guyana. Jamiat-ul Ulama-E-Deen was the first Islamic organization
established in Guyana. It was founded in 1934 by Maulvi Mohammad Ahmad Nasir. The
Islamic Association of British Guiana (IABG) was formed in 1936 to mobilize and preserve the
Muslim identity in an evangelical community. In 1936 the IABG published the first Islamic
journal in Guyana, which was called Nur-E-Islam. Jamiat and IABG were defunct by the late
1930s and the Sad’r Anjuman-E-Islam filled the void. Present day Guyana is home to a large
number of Islamic organizations. Some that are well known include: Guyana United Sad’r
Islamic Anjuman (GUSIA); Anjuman Hifazatul Islam (Hifaz); Central Islamic Organization of
Guyana (CIOG); Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT); Muslim Youth League (MYL); and Hujjatul
Tensions exist between the CIOG, GUSIA, MYL, GIF and the GIT. The oldest
surviving organizations are the GUSIA and Hifaz. The GUSIA and MYL have had a strong
relationship and have been cooperating on numerous programs. GIT sees the practice of Islam
by the traditionalists, who attached great importance to certain practices their Muslim ancestors
brought from South Asia, as being corrupted with innovations (bidah). The CIOG, the largest
Islamic organization in Guyana, claims that it represents the Muslims of Guyana and is at the
forefront of zakaat (charity) distribution and other social welfare programs. This organization
is also trying to accommodate South Asian Muslims of the Hanafi madhab (school of fiqh) who
attached great importance to some of these “traditional practices.” GIT, on the other hand,
brands these practices as unorthodox or bidah, having no place in Islam. The GIT is a dynamic
grassroots organization that has a robust dawah (outreach program) and Islamic education
program in the country. Recently the conflicts over these practices have abated and many
Islamic organizations have been speaking of tolerance and cooperation and are making efforts
Traditionalists vs. Reformists
The Guyanese ulema are divided into two factions, the reformist and the traditionalist. Both
follow the orthodox practice with a literalistic reading of the Quran and the Sunnah, and like
their ancestors, predominantly adhere to the Sunni Hanafi madhab. The traditionalists
continued the promotion and observance of certain “orthodox practices”, while the reformists
argued that there is no basis in the Quran and Sunnah for these practices. The salient point
about this is that the reformists follow the ulema from the Arab countries. They see certain
elements in Islam practiced by South Asian as bidah (innovation) that their ancestors were
emotionally attached to. Some of these bidahs include the observance of maulid or melad-
un-nabi (the Prophet’s birthday), the recitations of ta’zeem (sending salaam to the Prophet),
the recitation of qaseeda or naats (poetry in praise of the Prophet), and the use of the Urdu
language instead of Arabic. The majority of Guyanese Muslims are of South Asian descent.
The traditionalists prefer Urdu, which is their mother tongue, over Arabic and most of the
literature on Islam brought by their ancestors from the Indian subcontinent was in Urdu. The
reformists insist that practices such as ta’zeem and melad are bidah. Also, they are against the
recitation of qaseeda at religious gatherings. The traditionalists generally have the social
capital to back their point of view. The reformists are more educated. They have been to the
Middle East, and they can claim to know better than the traditionalists. So far the two co-
exist peacefully, if awkwardly. In some villages reformists and traditionalists attend different
In Guyana, as elsewhere in the world where you find Muslims, the debate persists
between the orthodox ulema, who insist that the religious text is final and irrevocable, and
modern scholars who insist that there can be multiple understandings of the text. Also, in
recent times, as in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad, the traditionalists have started to receive
the support of qualified ulema from India and Pakistan (where their ancestors came from).
As such, the social differences as well as the religious knowledge gap between these two
groups have lessened considerably. In fact, in many cases, the traditionalists have been seen
to become adamant in their pronouncements of their practices as being totally correct and in
line with Islam, and they challenge the views of the reformists with equal "proofs" from the
Quran and the Sunnah.
Clashes over Religious and Cultural Practices
Ideological differences over fiqh divide Islamic organizations in Guyana. They disagree over
the observance of melad, the recitations of ta’zeem and qaseeda, and the use of the Urdu
language instead of Arabic. Reformists see melad and ta’zeem as another form of iconoclasm
which is shirk. On the other side of the spectrum, Hifaz and MYL assert that, “If we believe in
the Hanafi madhab, melad and ta’zeem, the Islamic observances, the old values, then we must
be respected for that.”
Hifaz and GUSIA claim that they are traditionalists who practice the
Hanafi madhab. They have accused some organizations of trying to Arabize the local
In the past five years there has been a serious effort by the latter two organizations
to preserve melad-un-nabi, ta’zeem, ashura, muharram, shab-e-barrat, and the recitation of
qaseeda. Urdu language is another bone of contention among these organizations. These
organizations are at the forefront in observing these traditions to promote the Urdu language.
“Consistent efforts by some organizations over two decades to wipe milad off Muslim cultural
activities received the biggest blow - Guyanese Muslims want to have the milad programs.”
The Urdu language is also having a comeback due to its popularity among the locals.
Today the MYL, GUSIA and the CIOG continue to observe melad and ta’zeem, and
sponsor qaseeda gatherings, while other organizations such as the GIT have ceased to do so. In
the past ten years, disagreements among these organizations regarding these practices are
lessening. The MYL and GUSIA are at the forefront in promoting qaseeda competitions and
the teaching of the Urdu language. Most recently, the CIOG held a qaseeda competition as
well. An annual national Eid Milad-un-Nabi celebration takes place at Anna Catherina, the
headquarters of MYL.
In July 1998 the CIOG held its first qaseeda competition.
Preliminaries were held in different parts of Guyana and the finals were at the National Cultural
Center in the capital, Georgetown. There has been pressure to resurrect these practices and it is
now a yearly event in Guyana. It has resurfaced in the past five years, and efforts are underway
to fully revive the practice, and concerted efforts are being made to link the South Asian
Muslim communities in Suriname and Trinidad which have similar traditions. The arrival of
Maulana Noorul Hadi, a Pakistani, in 2003, was expected to boost Urdu in Guyana, and
according to the MYL, he was assigned to concentrate on teaching Urdu language. He has also
helped to coordinate the international qaseeda competition.
The rise of the Urdu language is an emotional issue these days, especially since the
majority of Guyanese Muslims are of Indo-Pakistani origin. Up until the 1950s, khutbahs
(sermons) and duas (supplications) were delivered in Urdu; in many mosques today, the duas
are still recited in Urdu but not the khutbahs since the Muslims have lost their mother tongue.
As early as 1941, when Urdu was threatened, during a special Muslim conference the Urdu
Secretary of the Islamic Association of British Guiana (IABG) passed a resolution in which the
organization criticized the Colonial Government for not funding “Indian Languages”, when it
had promised to do so. “Although several applications have been made in the past by
interested Muslims to get Government’s assistance to encourage Urdu and Arabic Education in
the madarsahs, the applications have not been entertained by Government, perhaps for some
obvious reasons, and no further effort has since been made.”
The Muslims alleged that
without government funding a high standard of education could not be maintained and that
Muslim religious education remained at a level of mediocrity.
Again in 1950 the Muslims
accused the Colonial Government of paying them lip service. A resolution adopted in 1950 by
the Sad’r Anjuman stated:
Whereas the question of Government’s subsidy for the teaching of the Urdu
Language has been pending for a considerable time. Be it resolved that conference
authorises the United Sad’r Anjuman-I-Islam and Islamic Association to press the
claims of the Muslim Community in this respect.
The sighting of the moon to determine the onset of the Islamic months is another major issue
that has caused great conflict among Guyanese Islamic organizations. Some have advocated
sighting locally, while others want to follow the Saudi Arabian calendar. Most of these
organizations met in 1998 to address this issue but no resolution came out of the meeting.
the 1998 caucus to settle the issue of moon sighting some blamed the CIOG for preventing the
meeting from arriving at a consensus. It was understood that the CIOG would have been the
coordinator of the project.
Finally, they all came together during the past few years in order
to make a united front to present a united position on moon sighting. The moon sighting
committee is still working and hopes to have a regional moonsighting with Suriname.
Cooperation was also evident when in 1999 the GUSIA, CIOG, GIT and Hifaz collaborated in
researching and locating the site of the first mosque in Philadelphia, Guyana, and they were all
present at the dedication ceremony.
Certification of organizations that have the authority to authenticate halaal
(Islamically permissible) products is another area of contention.
Initiated by the GIT in
1999, a meeting was held at the Diamond Islamic Complex, and was attended by
representatives of the CIOG, GIT, GUSIA, and Hifaz in an effort to form the National Halaal
Committee which would overlook the implementation of halaal standards. The CIOG is at
the forefront of monitoring the halaal program to ensure that the current procedures are
adhered to. The CIOG also has issued advisories to the Muslim community to be wary of
food and meat vendors claiming to sell halaal products. According to the CIOG, it is
working towards the legislation of the proper usage of the word "halaal".
In January of
2003 the CIOG discredited the Didco claims that the meat it was supplying was halaal. The
organization did not endorse the machine slaughtering of Didco’s birds, however another
Islamic organization the Guyana Islamic Forum, certified Didco as halaal.13
In a letter to the
press, a citizen wrote that as a practicing Muslim he wished to inform the public that the
majority of Muslims in Guyana support the CIOG and have confidence in the leadership of
the CIOG. He justified this by stating that the CIOG was formed with the approval of more
than eighty mosques and therefore has a mandate to pronounce what is halaal and that
Muslims should only accept halaal meat certified by the CIOG.
Who represents the Guyanese Muslims is another contentious issue that has led to many
verbal and even physical exchanges. In the 1930s to1950s it was the Sad’r Anjuman, and today
the CIOG claims that it represents the Muslims of Guyana. It seems that the government of
Guyana has accorded them that status. Prior to 1979, some claim that it was the GUSIA who
had the most clout and was the unofficial representative of Guyanese Muslims. Bitter
politicking since the 1960s was disastrous to Muslims and saw the decline of the GUSIA’s
Since its formation, the government of Guyana has invited the CIOG to sit on
various issues. The CIOG was invited to take part in the 1993 tour of the late President Cheddi
Jagan to the Middle East. All inquires regarding Guyana’s political, cultural and economic ties
with the Islamic world are sent to the CIOG’s secretariat by the government of Guyana. In the
past decade, all ambassadors from Islamic nations to Guyana have visited the CIOG’s
secretariat. Without a doubt, it is the government of Guyana and the Islamic world that
recognize the CIOG as the official representative of Guyanese Muslims and this has caused
serious rifts with other organizations. It would be unfair to say that the aims and objectives of
the other organizations are not the same, but the CIOG has been recognized by the government
of Guyana as the representative of the local Muslims. However, the president of the CIOG,
Fazeel M. Ferouz, was quoted as saying, “We need to find a solution to all of the differences
and work together. I told them we have to be tolerant and respect each other’s views. This has
to be inculcated at all levels or else we would always be competing, when the only way out is
for us to cooperate.”
It is the perception that due to the CIOG’s close relationship with the
Islamic world- politically, financially and diplomatically- others have envied it. The
government of Guyana’s unofficial recognition of the CIOG as the voice of Muslim Guyanese
has also caused enmity among these organizations.
The Guyana United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman (GUSIA)
The Sad’r Anjuman-E-Islam of British Guiana (now The Guyana United Sad'r Islamic
Anjuman - GUSIA) was founded on the 10th of June 1937 by Maulana Sayed Shamsuddin Al
Qaderi of Bombay, India.
The Maulana travelled to Guyana and persuaded the Muslims to
unite. Primarily members of the Queenstown Jama Masjid attended the inaugural meeting.
This was a milestone in the history of the Guyanese Muslims because it was the first time that
the local Muslim population of Guyana emerged on the national and international stage. It was
basically the Muslims from the Indo-Pakistani Subcontinent, during this early period and up to
the sixties, who made efforts to reach out to the Guyanese Muslim community in order to
preserve Islam in the region.
At the first meeting in 1937, a committee was formed which selected S.A. Sattaur as
President, M. Azeem Khan and Abdool Hack as Vice Presidents, Abdool Gafoor as Treasurer,
and Mr. J. M. Khan as Secretary. In addition, M. Ishmail, M Sheriff, M. Rohoman, Pach Korie,
A.H Mondol, R. Bacchus, K. B. Hoosein, A. R. Mondol, M. Mohamed, Abdool Rahman,
Madar Baksh, M. Hoosein, Gul Mohamed and A. A. Gafoor formed the governing committee
and were responsible for propagating Islamic works and controlling the twelve other Anjumans
also founded by Maulana Shamsuddin. During the first year of operation, fourteen meetings
were held and it became necessary to elect an Assistant Secretary. F. Dad Khan was chosen,
and a constitution was drawn up.
The constitution envisioned that the Muslims live peacefully and encourage coexistence
with other members of the community, and safeguard the interests of the Sunnat-wal-Jamaat
which represents the Hanafi or orthodox teachings of Islam. The founders pledged to work
diligently for the general welfare and rights of the Muslim community, and to guard the
education of Muslims. They also pledged to work towards community actions program such as
burial for the poor and charity for orphans and widows, and most importantly, to protect
destitute Muslims. Prior to this the destitute were buried without religious rights.
Anjuman opened one of the first homes for orphans, the Shaheed boys and girls orphanages.
Over the years the orphanages have saved many lives, and have offered abandoned children
new hope and rehabilitation. These children are raised in an Islamic atmosphere, and most
likely will accept Islam for life. The GUSIA also constructed the Muslim School in Brickdam.
Three months after the visit of Maulana Shamsuddin, members gave various lectures
and educated the locals in order to settle various disputes that existed. Soon a group of the
Anjuman was established at Tuschen for the purpose of educating adults and children. A
library was also attached to the Anjuman, and a school was established in Kitty, Georgetown.
More than fifty children were taught Urdu. A special class was started and members' friends
were also welcomed. As the years progressed, the administration of the Anjuman naturally
changed hands, but the basic and fundamental work of the organization has continued.
Later the GUSIA initiated several publications; among them was its official organ, the
Voice of Islam. This was an educational publication, which outlined the basic and important
teachings of Islam. Radio programs were also launched. Pamphlets and booklets on Islamic
topics were printed along with useful advice on Ramadhan and eid, which was published in
local newspapers when necessary. The GUSIA was founded at a difficult time for Muslims in
Guyana. Muslim religious leaders were fearful that eventually Islam would fade under pressure
from the British colonial rule, like the way in which the African slaves lost their religions.
Many Christian missionaries were in Guyana proselytizing and there was tremendous pressure
to convert. Hindu and Islamic marriages were not recognized, and to be a teacher or to hold a
decent job one had to be a Christian. Many Hindus had converted to Christianity, and there was
concern that Muslims would follow suit.
It was this situation that motivated Maulana Shamshuddin to establish the Sad'r Islamic
Anjuman. The Anjuman has given full credit to Maulana Shamshuddin for taking the initiative
to start this organization. “He visualized that such an organization would be responsible for the
maintenance, upholding and perpetuation of Islam. He felt that a single organization would be
heard more effectively than the voice of a single man.”
In 1961 the Anjuman gained
governmental recognition when it was incorporated under the laws of Guyana, thus
strengthening its position as representative of Muslim interests in Guyana.
From the 1940s to 1950, the Sad’r Anjuman was headed under the brilliant leadership
of Rahman Baksh Gajraj, President and Gool Mohamed Khan, Vice President. It was a
dramatic period in Muslim history when many Islamic nations waged nationalist struggles
against imperialism. Global events had ramifications on the local Muslim population in
Guyana and more precisely the call for a Muslim homeland in the Indian subcontinent received
a sympathetic ear in Guyana among the Muslims. Commenting on the creation of Pakistan, the
Voice of Islam, the official organ of the Anjuman wrote, “Pakistan is a creation of Man, but it
came with approbation of God and no matter what evil acts may be committed against it
Pakistan will live on, unconquered.”
Celebrations were held all over Guyana and at the Jama
Masjid in Queenstown, after the jumma namaz (Friday prayer), “the whole day was observed as
a holiday. Greetings and congratulations were cabled to Mr. Jinnah, Governor-General.”
mosques the flag of Pakistan was hoisted. In 1949 the IABG and the Sad’r merged which was
reflected in the editorial of its publication, Islam and Nur-E-Islam, which declared: “together
It was a rare moment of Muslim unity in the history of Guyana.
The cry for Pakistan was raised at every mosque in Guyana. The editorial of the
Anjuman’s journal of March 1948 welcomed with euphoria the birth of Pakistan and called for
a Pakistani representative in British Guyana.
Events in Jordan and Palestine and the
independence of Indonesia were well covered in the pages of Islam and Nur-E-Islam, the new
name for the publication of the united organization that gave prominence to news from
Pakistan. Journals from 1948 to 1950 filled their pages with news about Pakistan and in
particular Kashmir, and in fact, a section of the journal was titled Pakistan Affairs. Other pro-
Pakistan headlines appeared in the Islam and Nur-E-Islam in April 1950, “India’s Lust for
Conquest of Kashmir May lead to World War”,
and “Kashmir India is Obstructing Holding of
Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan’s speech, “The Truth about Kashmir,” was
carried by the journal.
Muslims throughout Guyana in 1948 contributed to the “Qaid –E-
Azam’s Refugee Relief Fund,” and the sum of about 936.62 British Guiana dollars was
collected and delivered in 1948 when R.B. Gajraj traveled to Pakistan and met with Prime
Minister Liaqat Ali Khan and his government.
Relationship was further consolidated in 1949
when Gajraj traveled to the UN and met Pakistan’s first Ambassador to the UN, M. A. H.
Ishpahani, and he referred to him as “our Ambassador.”
Ambassador Ishpahani also
reciprocated with a visit to the Muslims of British Guiana.
Muslims spoke in one voice in 1949 when they called for the abolition of the tazia (a
procession commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet
Muhammad, observed by shias on the 10th
of Muharram (first month of the Islamic calendar)
each year). On December 4, 1949, during the second All Guyana Muslim Conference, the
Sad’r Anjuman and IABG adopted a resolution that called on the Colonial Government of
British Guiana to outlaw the observance of tazia. This historical resolution read:
Whereas the observance of the martyrdom of Imam Hoosein and his family has
lost entirely its religious significance, and whereas in this colony persons of other
religions take an active part in promoting tazia, for the sole purpose of
entertainment, debauchery and personal gain, all of which are contrary to the
spirit and letter of Islamic Laws and regulations, and whereas such practices
constitute a gross insult to the revered memory of the grandson of the Holy
Prophet (OWBP), and are a flagrant distortion of these religious rites, be it
resolved by this second All Guiana Muslim Conference that Government be
requested to pass legislation prohibiting the construction of such symbols, both
actual and implied, and such other indulgences falsely associated with the
observance of tazia.
This marked the beginning of the end of the tazia observance and later Muslims were granted
the two eids as holidays. Tazia is no longer observed in Guyana.
The Struggle for Independence
With the intensification of the independence struggle, the Guyanese masses became totally
involved, and so too were the Muslim populace. Two of Guyana's young nationalists who
returned from abroad, Cheddi Jagan, an Indian, and Forbes Burnham, an African, were united
to achieve independence for British Guiana, but that alliance quickly crumbled as the colony
geared for independence from Britain in the 1960s. Hysteria over communism brought Guyana
under Washington’s radar. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations feared it would become
a communist nation under the leadership of Cheddi Jagan, a Marxist who was very popular
among the Indo-Guyanese majority.
The political split of the independence movement resulted in the division of the Muslim
citizenry. In the 1960s, even the GUSIA was divided along nationalist political lines. There
was one faction under Moneer A. Khan and Yakoob Ali, which supported the PPP government
of Dr. Cheddi Jagan, whilst the other, under Mohamed Nisar, supported the PNC. This
situation continued until the late 1970s. During this period there were bitter battles between
these two rival factions and Muslims once again lost their leadership and prestigious status in
the wider community. The President of the GUSIA, Abdool Majeed, accepted the
chairmanship of the United Force party and was replaced by PPP Parliamentarian Yakoob Ally.
This caused great tension since the PPP was known to be a communist party. Moneer Khan
held a secret meeting in September of 1963 to muster support for the Premier of British Guiana,
Dr. Cheddi Jagan. A member who was present at that “unconstitutional” meeting wrote in a
letter to the Daily Chronicle, “This meeting did not represent the Muslims because only the
PPP supporters were present. I was not allowed to speak... there were non-Muslims at the
meeting and I was offended when Maccie Hamid used the word comrade.”
The Anjuman sent
a cable to Governor Grey telling him that “communism and Islam do not go together."
1963 a meeting of the Anjuman was held at the Muslim College Trust. The
meeting was filled with tensions and arguments became fights. Anjuman’s President, Abdool
Majeed, was attacked and the police had to escort him home. “Sad’r’s executives were
manhandled and had to be helped by supporters and the police.”
It was alleged that the Jagan
supporters rigged the Sad’r’s election in favor of the Jagan faction which further fermented the
violence. This division over support for the PPP destroyed the unity of the Muslims.
This division was obvious on several occasions. Eminent Muslims from Pakistan who
called on Guyanese Muslims to not support a communist party were not welcomed in Guyana
by the pro-Jagan camp. “On one such occasion in 1967, when Maulana Noorani was coming to
Guyana from Suriname, the GUSIA, Hifaz and Ulama-E-Deen sent him a joint cable which
read: `Your visit is most unwelcome.”
When Maulana Fazlur Rahman Ansari visited Guyana
in 1968 he failed to get any support from the GUSIA, Hifaz and Ulama-E-Deen when he stated
publicly at the Town Hall the Islamic position with regard to socialism and communism. The
GUSIA, Hifaz and Ulama-E-Deen publicly supported the PNC. From this period in history the
popularity and prestige of the Sad’r Anjuman eroded and the organization has since kept a low
profile because of inactivity.
Former President of Guyana, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, who was also Premier of British Guiana
(Guyana), documented the division. In his book, The West on Trial, he assailed some Muslim
leaders for not supporting his fight for Guyana’s freedom.
However, he ignored noting that it
was his Marxist orientation that divided the Muslim support for him. He writes, ‘the organised
Hindu and Muslim groups…the United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman and the Muslim League- also
Dr. Jagan thought that naturally the Indians should have supported him one
hundred percent. He attacked Hossein Ghanie’s Guiana United Muslim Party (GUMP) as
“racist” and the “wealthy Indian merchant who was then president of the United Sad’r Islamic
Anjuman, Abdool Majeed” for the organization’s anti-communist rhetoric and especially the
GUMP for accepting money from the United States (CIA).
Under Dr. Jagan’s leadership in
1955, Guyana for the first time recognized Muslim marriages performed by a Muslim religious
leader. Yet he was attacked by Hindus and Muslims when he nationalized over 51 primary
schools in the early 1960s because he saw those schools as “mouthpiece of the Christian
who were seen as keen to Christianize the Hindus and Muslims. To Dr. Jagan,
the control of education in British Guiana by the Church appeared as a grave injustice to non-
Christians. Dr. Jagan asserted that Indians were “not accommodated within the social
hierarchy. They were regarded as outcasts… but they stuck to Hinduism and Islam despite
efforts of Christian missionaries to proselytize them.”
Unfortunately, communist hysteria
blinded many of his countrymen from seeing that he was not anti-religion, and that he was
especially sympathetic to Hindus and Muslims.
Anjuman Hifazatul Islam (Hifaz)
The Anjuman Hifazatul Islam was established in the 1950s. However, there has been some
confusion as to the actual year that Hifaz, as it is popularly known, was founded. Around that
same time its youth arm, the Muslim Youth League (MYL), was established in Georgetown. It
is believed to be between 1950- 1955, even though the actual date is an enigma, but most
certainly Hifaz is the second oldest Islamic organization in the history of Guyana. Hifaz was
founded in order to assist the mosques within the West Demerara /East Bank Essequibo region.
However, according to Hifaz, its activities have been broadened to include the rest of Guyana;
though the concentration is still in the Demerara / East Bank Essequibo region.
Hifaz is an affiliate of the GUSIA, and this is provided for in the constitution of the
GUSIA; however these two groups today are back together after a long period of division.
Hifaz is a Sunni organization that follows the Hanafi madhab. The organization has
maintained some aspects of “cultural Islam” that have been inherited from South Asia.
According to Hakeem Khan, this at times has caused friction because of the wahabis and
salafis who have been trying to penetrate the sunni hanafis of Guyana.
There is little
evidence to suggest that the wahabis/salafis have made any major inroads in Guyana.
From its formation up to the 1960s, Hifaz was very vibrant in realizing its aims and
objectives. In 1967, Maulana Noorani of Pakistan came to Guyana and laid the cornerstone for
the construction of the "Norrani College" at Meten-Meer-Zorg. “Br. Moneer Khan gave
materials for a dormitory.”
Mr. Hakim Khan said that the building was constructed on a six-
acre plot of land owned by Hifaz. However, the entire building disappeared with no account
It is the opinion of some that the material was used in the construction of some
mosques but this is mere speculation. Mr. Hamid Khan writes, “This project never really got
started and ended in disaster.”
Hifaz remained a service organization after that until 1997
when the entire scene of Muslims in Guyana was changed.
With the intention of reattaching importance to Islamic events, Hifaz started to organize
activities for all occasions which have had quite an impact. Hifaz and the West Demerara
Muslim Youth Organization have recently been in the forefront promoting melad-un-nabi,
meraj-un-nabi and muharram programs. The Muslim Journal (Islam Guyana), the voice of
Hifaz and the West Demerara Muslim Youth Organization (MYO), expressed concern that
concerted efforts have been made to eradicate melad-un-nabi observance in Guyana. “For over
twenty years, continuous efforts have been made to destroy milad program from our
community, and after all these efforts and years, two thousand persons have still turned out to
In 1999 Hifaz began focusing on the promotion of some Islamic and cultural activities
associated with Guyanese Muslims, and in conjunction with the MYL, GUSIA and the CIOG,
held a national qaseeda competition. County level competitions were held in Berbice,
Essequibo and Demerara. Some attacked this event as being un-Islamic, and in a reaction, in
its editorial, the Muslim Journal writes, “Then it was announced on television that qaseeda and
melad is an Indian something and therefore has nothing to do with Islam.”
thousand people attending the final qaseeda competition, the Journal continues in its editorial,
"The people have spoken, and no sheikh, maulana, qari, hafiz or self proclaimed Islamic
scholar can deny the voice of the people.”
The GUSIA, GIF and MYL hosted an
international jalsa (gathering) at the Anna Catherina Islamic Complex in March of 2004.
Muslim leaders from Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States met in
Guyana. The Anjuman Sunnatul Jamaat Association (ASJA) which was representing Trinidad
and Tobago, Khilafat Anjuman and Hedayatul Islam which were representing Suriname, and
Masjid Al Abdin of New York in the United States, met to plan and establish areas of
cooperation between the Muslims of these countries, to specifically plan other activities, and
decided to meet regularly henceforth.
In an effort to establish prominence in the country and to promote “traditional Islamic
traditions”, Hifaz and the MYL have been building the necessary physical infrastructure. In
2003, the Madrasa Naqshbandiyya, located at the Anna Catherina Islamic Complex, West
Coast Demerara opened, under the tutorship of Maulana Noorul Hadi Haleem, a Pakistani.
According to the President of the center, there will be lessons in hifzul Quran, tajweedul Quran,
Urdu language, basic Islamic foundation courses and imam training programs. The classes are
all based on the Ahle Sunnatwal Jamaat, Hanafi madhab, and are for both males and females
with limited live-in facilities for male students. Teachers from the Khilafat Anjuman in
Suriname and the Anjuman Sunnatul Jamaat Association of Trinidad will boost the Madrasa
from time to time. In January of 2000 the Anna Catherina Islamic Complex on the West Coast
Demerara (as headquarters of both Hifaz and the Muslim Youth League) was formally opened
after twelve years of construction. The multi-million-dollar building boasts a large lecture hall,
which will be used as a venue for indoor games for the MYL, and offices for Hifaz and the
MYL. Mr. Hakeem Khan declared, “this complex offers support to the government of this
country, to assist in the molding of healthy people especially our youths.” Khan continued,
“We do not expect the government to be the only one to provide facilities for our people, and
we have tried successfully to create our vision.”
Hifaz and the MYL merged in the 1990s until the year 2001 to promote these
“traditional practices”. Their official organ, the Muslim Journal, which features the activities
of the organization and their ideals, was established in the year 1997. The objective of the
Muslim Journal, which is now called Islam Guyana, is to propagate and validate traditional
practices such as melad, meraj, ta’zeem, the recitation of qaseeda and the reintroduction of
Urdu to Guyana. Hakeem Khan, who is an advocate of these practices, is editor of Islam
Guyana, and in an interview he related the history of the journal. The former secretary of Hifaz
initiated the journal and asked Hakeem to come on board Hifaz in order to do a newsletter to
distribute at a melad-un-nabi program. It was done on two pages for the 1999 issue. Then for
miraj, Hifaz planned a public program at the Cornelia Ida School. According to Khan, these
religious observances were in danger of becoming extinct; young Muslims knew nothing of
them and non-Muslims knew even less. The idea behind these programs was to reattach the
importance of these events and to encourage mosques to observe them. By then, very few
mosques were observing them, Mr. Khan revealed.
The first issue of the Muslim Journal was launched in 1997. It was a very humble
effort, and the journal was in black and white. It was then decided to be produced quarterly or
four times a year for eid-ul-fitr, eid-ul-adha, melad-un-nabi and meraj-un-nabi. Initially the
magazine featured news from Hifaz / MYL, but with the alliance with the GUSIA, they decided
to go national because of the fact that there was no other Islamic magazine in the country. The
journal then decided to include news and events from all other jamaats and mosques.
Muslim Journal reports news and events from across Guyana, and the magazine is being issued
regularly. The journal is very critical of the CIOG and some have accused Khan of launching
his vendetta against the CIOG via this journal. Hifaz claims that it reaches “every masjid and
organization in Guyana, every government and civil organization, Muslims and organizations
in over thirty eight countries. The Saudi based network, International Islamic News Agency,
beaming to over 120 countries worldwide, features it.”
The magazine is now a regular feature
in Guyana but its editor claims that they are those who are keen to destroy it.
That seems to
be the politics of the Muslim organizations of Guyana.
Division between the MYL and Hifaz became obvious in March of 2003 when the
Guyana Muslim Journal changed its name due to conflict with Hifaz. Tension grew because
Hifaz supported the CIOG move to take the Sad’r to court. The journal was very critical of two
members of Hifaz who supported the CIOG. The MYL alliance with Hifaz quickly eroded.
“Where is Hifaz in defence of the Sad’r when the CIOG was attempting to take it over?”
Members of Hifaz supported the CIOG, and the Sad’r, Hifaz and MYL alliance crumbled down
since 2001. There has been a call by the CIOG for a merger, but the fact is that there is rivalry
between these organizations and lack of cooperation, much less unity. The dispute became
obvious when Hifaz laid claims to the magazine. Mr. Hakim Khan claimed that the magazine
was always independent of Hifaz and the MYL. Mr. Khan has challenged Hifaz to produce a
magazine and he willingly changed the name of the joint MYL/Hifaz publication, the Muslim
Journal, to Islam Guyana.
Again, this demonstrates the many petty conflicts that exist among
these organizations and personalities.
The Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT)
The present murshid or advisor of the GIT is Mr. Wazir Baksh who is from Port Mourant,
Guyana. Wazir Baksh attended Corentyne High School, the New Amsterdam Technical
Institute, Guysuco Training School and the University of Guyana where he majored in history.
He is interested in social change and he is very busy preparing field workers “to help people to
help themselves and community development.”
Unlike the CIOG, where the rank and file is
from the elite society of Demerara, the GIT has attracted the ordinary Muslims from the
countryside. These Muslims, like Wazir Baksh, have broken the glass ceiling and are in
decision making positions. Since his coming to office, the organization has toned down its
criticism of traditionalist practices, as mentioned before. This may be attributed to the
traditionalists’ discourse that is very vibrant today among the Muslims. Murshid Baksh seems
to be a pragmatic leader with a focus on dawah, education, community building, relief, welfare
and youth development. The former Murshid was Haseeb Yusuf.
Murshid Baksh came from very humble means, yet he rose to become the CEO of GIT.
Strangely, all of the major Islamic organizations in Guyana are based in Georgetown, the
capital. Leadership and ranks in these organizations have traditionally been held by the elites of
Demerara, their friends and families. Hardly have Berbicans or Essequebians led these
organizations. This is where the GIT is very successful, in that it is a grassroots organization
among the poor that is doing dawah work, distributing zakaat, giving education and
undertaking other community programs throughout the country. The GIT has created smaller
administrative units or District Councils across seven out of ten regions of Guyana to achieve
its ideals. Muslims speak fondly about the GIT and many of its supporters wear a beard or a
topi (skull cap), and its female members are in hijab. Since its founding the GIT has been
changing the face of Islam in Guyana. Many informants hold this belief.
Today the GIT claims that they have put aside petty issues. Its leader says, “There are a
number of issues that we have to address, both from the GIT point of view and the broader
Muslim community.” They are also facing issues relating to fiqh in order to gain political
mileage. Murshid Baksh revealed that the Muslims have felt a sense of marginalization and
they are venting their pain, and he also confessed that there exist divisions among the Muslims
in Guyana. Indeed, he says, there is “too much of hate and animosity among Muslims here,
and national leaders are guilty of perpetuating this for their own narrow gains. For me, the
challenges facing the Muslim community here, from within and without, are tremendous.”
Baksh confessed that the challenges are multifarious and they must prioritize the most urgent
needs of the Muslims. Dawah and community building and education are some of their
priorities. Their dawah program has targeted indigenous Amerindians, Hindus and Christians.
They claim that in the year 2004 “200 or more reverted to Islam.” They have also established a
number of Islamic centers in Guyana’s hinterland.
GIT‘s objective is to disseminate the message of Islam to the people of Guyana and to
revive the practices of the Qur'an and sunnah in the lives of the Muslims, and to provide for
those who respond to the call of Islam. It hopes to provide sound intellectual, spiritual, moral,
and cultural training to those who want to cooperate and to individuals and groups locally and
abroad. GIT hopes to work towards promoting the “good and forbidding of evil in accordance
with Quran and Sunnah.”
This organization is committed to supporting the needy or
deserving students, scholars or those whose services are considered conducive to the attainment
of the objectives of the GIT. The face of Islam is changing rapidly in Guyana and much of this
must be attributed to the GIT’s role in transferring Islam from “an Indian thing” to a universal
religion. It is important to note that the Tablighi Jama’at and the Dar-ul-loom, its arm in
Guyana, have also been instrumental in this revolution. Islam is not a cultural expression of
Indians only as they have been preaching for decades. And they have spent much of their work
in the Amerindian and African communities in Guyana.
Ahmad Ehwaas, the Libyan
Prior to the arrival of Ahmad Ehwaas in Guyana in 1977, and the birth of the GIT in October of
1978, it is crucial to reflect on the life of Ahmad Ehwass and the state of affairs of Muslims in
Guyana briefly because it was this background that motivated the Libyan to make a concerted
effort to change the face of Islam in Guyana. Ahmad Ehwaas came to Guyana when he was in
his 30s from a very religious family. He was a revolutionary and was part of the coup that
seized power from the monarchy of King Idris in 1969. Libyan leader Muammar Qadaffi later
became afraid of Ehwass and removed him from Libya by sending him to East Germany and
then to Guyana as a Libyan diplomat. Ehwass worked fervently with Muslims wherever he
went, practicing the universal message of Islam and he did not see himself as an Arab or a
Libyan but as a Muslim with a vision of Pan-Islamism. He was part of the nationalist and
revolutionary fervor of the era; a product of his environment and a pan-Islamist.
From around the 1950s to the 1980s in Guyana, Islam and the welfare of the Muslims
had been abandoned. This could be attributed to a few factors. The majority of Muslims came
from India as contract workers beginning in 1838 and their lives rotated on the plantation at
least twelve hours a day. Families were neglected; especially children were left unattended
when parents left to toil the plantations. The Colonial Government alike did not take
responsibility for the education of the children of indentured laborers, rather they left it to the
proprietors of the plantations who then turn it over to European evangelists. Moreover, during
the early period of indentureship the maktab system was not yet established, and social welfare
institutions were not in place. Muslim women had to abandon the hijab to perform harsh labor.
It was not practical to be hijab and work in the scorching heat of the tropics. Also, the
dominant Christian Creole culture was very influential in the lives of Muslims because Muslim
and Hindu religious holidays and marriages were not recognized by the British Government
unlike in Suriname where the Dutch abandoned Europeanization and passed the Asian
Marriage Decree. The Dutch in Suriname were keen that the children of immigrants did not
lose their native language and religion and funded Muslim and Hindu schools, but the British
wanted to “civilize” the “docile coolies” by bringing Christianity to them.
Islam, despite the
conversion of a few, humiliation and subjugation survived in Guyana, and it is an ongoing
Later, Muslims were occupied with politics and divided in their support for the PPP and
PNC. Mosques were abandoned and Muslims did not pray five times a day, instead Islam was
reduced to symbols. Muslims still bore Islamic names and Islam was reduced to the
observance of ta’zeem, melad, recitation of qaseeda and attending the eid namaz (Eid prayer).
Another detriment to the Muslims was the loss of their mother language, Urdu. No longer
could they read or write in Urdu and most were illiterate in English because they kept their
children out of Evangelists controlled schools to save their faith. And with the loss of their
language, began the loss of Urdu/Arabic names because people were not aware of the meaning
of these names. The mosques were empty and there were hardly more than a dozen people in
the country who were versed in the Quran and the hadith. Women did not observe purdah
(segregation) and when they did attend the mosques, they did not wear the shalwar kameez, the
traditional dress of their decedents, and they were not modest in their dress. The Islamic
organizations that existed during this period were more like social clubs for the elite from the
When Guyana gained independence in 1966, many Islamic countries such as Egypt,
Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, and Malaysia opened embassies and consulates in Georgetown. The
presence of these missions in Guyana made Guyana unique among its Caribbean counterparts.
In 1977 Libyan Charge de affaire Mr. Ahmad Ibrahim Ehwaas arrived in Guyana, and in 1978
he was responsible for the formation of the Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT). Mr. Ehwass was a
practicing Muslim and he was disappointed at seeing the conditions of the Muslims in Guyana,
thus he introduced many activities to benefit the Muslim community, especially the youth. He
started to work among the youth by educating them on the fundamentals of Islam and
organized activities for them to work with their fellow youths. He did not neglect the elders of
the community either. He worked with leaders of various organizations to have a cohesive
approach to the development of the Muslim community and Islam in Guyana. However, his
work was not only confined to men; he also organized the female community. Soon they
offered various kinds of activities for the youth, as well as for men and women across Guyana.
Mr. Ehwass was assisted by Daud Abdul Haqq of Barbados, Nizam Ahmad Raouf Zaman of
Guyana and Yasin Khan of Trinidad. Zaman is a graduate of the Aleemiyyah Institute of
Islamic Studies (Karachi, 1975) and a graduate of Faculty of Usuluddin, Al-Azhar (Cairo,
The State of Muslims Before the GIT
The GIT began as a youth organization in order to reform the Muslims in Guyana morally and
socially through education, information and dawah. Many of the youths were disappointed by
the elders and attributed the sad state of Islam to many factors including Hindu culture and
This and subsequent information has been pulled off their official web page ever
since the new murshid, Wazir Baksh, took the helm of the organization. According to the GIT,
the Indian Muslims, while having good intentions, expressed their adherence to the Hanafi
madhab, but their practices reflected several innovations along with traces of shia and even
Hindu influences. This was due to the close geographical proximity of Hindus and Muslims on
the plantations of Guyana.
“The masjid was very insular - there was a closer relationship
among Muslims and Hindus on the same plantation than among Muslims from one plantation,
to the Muslims on the neighboring plantation.”
From the period 1940-1980, about half a century, the Islamic community of Guyana
began crumbling spiritually and morally. The GIT is correct in its assertion that due to the
collapse of the madrasah system, society became corrupted, especially the youths who were
alienated from Islam; and those who had any social consciousness were involved in the
communist movement. Years of neglect and disorganized work were a result of no leadership
and role models. The Muslim society was falling apart in their eyes. Wearing the hijab
became something of the past. No one knew the recitation of the Quran according to the rules
of tajweed. Most imams were not performing namaz five times a day, much less the other
Muslims. The cinema had become the main source of cultural transmission and the liberalism
that came with it exerted a damaging influence on young people. In this regard, the traditional
Hindu and Western films which were later joined by Chinese films only served to reinforce
each other, and with the Hindu and Western films progressively increasing in themes of
violence and sex, a corrupt and promiscuous society came into being. Some old stalwarts of
the GIT held the belief that Islam in Guyana was polluted with bidah or innovations that the
ancestors of the Indian Muslims brought to Guyana from the Indo-Pakistani region.
Information from their old website alleged that Islam was polluted with reminences of
Hinduism which the former Mughal ruler of Muslim India, Akbar, allowed to penetrate into the
religion. The following information was also removed from the website: “because of the
fraternisation of the Hindus and Muslims, and the numerical superiority of the Hindus, some
practices of the Muslims reflected an accommodation of certain culture forms.”
In the past the GIT brotherhood reviled the “un-Islamic” practice of not wearing a
beard, using Urdu instead of Arabic, making duas, and the practices of ta’zeem and celebrating
melad-un-nabi and reciting qaseeda. They see no reason why there should be any effort to
resurrect a language now dead in Guyana, Urdu. They assert that it will only alienate the non-
Indian Muslims. This has placed the GIT in confrontation with other Islamic organizations and
some have accused the GIT of exerting a “heavy wahabism” influence; but where is the wahabi
influence that GIT has emphasized?
It’s important to note that many Islamic groups in
Guyana use the term, Wahabism loosely to demonize their opponents. The GIT emphasize that
they belong to no single madhab and most of the Islamic materials they use in their schools are
Sunni Hanafi. These allegations have been refuted by Baksh who says that they are not
opposed to duas and they do not support extremism; they just want to bring the Muslims
towards living their lives in accordance with the Quran and the sunnah. The GIT is ambitious
to bring all the Muslims under its control in order to teach them the sunnah and the Quran
without innovations. It is their belief that they are leading the Muslims on the straight path but
that the CIOG, Hifaz and the GUSIA have overlooked innovations that have penetrated Islam
in Guyana. Those who observe and make duas and follow the path of the sufis are “destined to
hell,” because it is against the sunnah and the Quran, claims the GIT.
however, is also no longer available on their website. Recently the GIT has toned down its
rhetoric about bidah for the benefit of unity, and it asserts that it is tolerant of other Muslims
who might not share its religious ideology. Baksh admits that “changes cause a lot of friction
with the old order”, and blames some of these frictions on the “youthful enthusiasm and
immaturity and the fervor of the youths.” Eventually these youths were counseled by visiting
scholars on how to approach their work, and by the 1980s they approached their work “in a
more pragmatic way.”
While the GIT may still have reservations about these practices, it will
not condemn others who practice them as non-Muslims because Muslim unity is paramount. He
expressed these sentiments: “The GIT look at Muslim unity very seriously, and it is prepared to
tolerate certain practices that it might not agree with in order for cohesiveness of the
In 1978, Mr. Ehwaas was invited to speak at a Muslim youth forum at the Indian Islamic Trust
College, Georgetown, and when he took the podium, he more or less told the youth that the
community depends on them for a bright future. Soon thereafter, he began teaching the
student’s salat, adaab (manners) and other fundamentals of Islam. This began expanding
throughout the outlaying areas of Guyana. This youth group began establishing a network of
other youth groups in East Bank Demerara, Camp Kakuka, Berbice, and Essequibo. They
began inviting their friends and relatives to day and weekend camps where they learned the
fundamentals of Islam, and by August of 1979 two groups were established in Leonora and
Anna Regina. By 1979 they were a national brotherhood and they had no sophisticated nor
office hierarchy in command. They appointed an emir (leader) based on the criteria of Islamic
norms. Ehwaas met Daud Haqq of Barbados and invited him to Guyana. The collaboration of
a Black nationalist turned Muslim, Daud Haqq, and the revolutionary Islamist from Libya,
Ehwass, would change the course of Islam in Guyana. Ehwass even convinced Zaman, a
Guyanese who had just returned from Egypt, to remain in Guyana to work with the youth.
After the 1978 basic course, Berbicans also developed a group and two other groups were
established in East Demerara and Essequibo. Word spread quickly as the network developed
and overzealous young men began showing off what they had learned. They motivated each
other and by 1979 they were yearning for more advanced Islamic lessons. During Ramadan of
1979, which was during the summer, the young people were out of school and they had
sufficient time for the three weeks’ orientation class, where they learnt the Quran and hadith.
By this time they were performing twenty rakats hifz before fajr and were showcasing their
Knowing that women are the foundation of society, and that they will need wives to
mother the future generations of Muslims in Guyana, they turned their attention to the females
of the community and in 1981 at the MYO office held a women’s course. The wives of Daud
Haqq and Ahmad Ihwaas were instrumental in the development of programs for these women.
They taught female classes and nurtured the female community. All these women wore the
hijab and suddenly the trend picked up pace across the country wherever the brotherhood went.
By the 1980s the Muslim community was transformed. The hijab became a norm and women
were back at the mosques.
GIT was keen to develop leaders in the community and saw it fit to organize leadership
courses in order for these prospective leaders to lead the Muslims in accordance with the Ahle
Sunna. From 1980 to 1982 two special Islamic courses were offered (SIC). Students came
from other parts of the Caribbean to attend these classes, whose objective was to develop a core
group to help give the work of the GIT an impetus of rapid growth, and thus lead to the social
transformation of the Muslim community of Guyana. These classes attracted students from the
University of Guyana and the University of the West Indies and an Islamic group was
established at the University of Guyana during this period. Muslim activists were now visible
at the universities. Raouf Zaman and Daud Haqq were blazing across Guyana educating and
training Muslims to be leaders in the community. The network of fraternity was developing
momentum throughout Guyana and more advanced Islamic courses were taught by these three
activists. Weekend camps were held at Berbice and other parts of Guyana to introduce a
twenty-four hour Islamic environment to the youth.
By 1980 many people fled the hard economic life and dictatorship of Guyana, and many
of the learned Muslims were part of this exodus. Ahmad Ehwaas left Guyana in 1981 for
Libya, Yasin Khan left in early 1982 and Duad Abdul Haqq left in late 1982. The graduates of
these one and two year courses became guides, thinkers and leaders of the GIT. Some young
leaders such as Fazeel Ferouz, Moeen ul-Hack and Imam Ahmad Hamid are today some of the
leaders of the community who were influenced by the GIT; Fazeel is today the CEO of the
CIOG, and some others such as Imam Ahmad Hamid left Guyana. The migration outflow of
the 1980s created a void in the country. This exodus of learned Muslims has affected all the
major Islamic groups addressed in this paper. However, the Tablighi Jama’at and the salafi
groups were busy in the trenches working with the most vulnerable in the society.
One of the GIT’s goals, to empower the local Muslims and to seek political
representation, is yet to materialize.
The GIT’s effort to educate and train local Muslims to
become imams by establishing educational institutions for adults and children has been
successful. Generally speaking, the GIT hopes to educate Muslims and non-Muslims about
Islam and to bring the message of Islam to non-Muslims. The GIT also undertake welfare
relief and humanitarian work, and they have established Islamic schools throughout Guyana. It
is their mission to educate the youth and younger children before they fall through the cracks of
society. As well, they have established a women’s coalition in their organization and are keen
to promote women’s development. They hope that all these activities will help to rebuild the
Muslim community in Guyana.
Islamic Schools Nationwide
The increase in Islamic education and the proliferation of Islamic Schools must be attributed to
the GIT. Recently the GIT has focused its energy on the building of Islamic schools in
Guyana. Its first school was built in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. The school is named
after one of Islam’s most influential 11th
century scholars, Ibn Sina. The Ibn Sina Academy is
spearheaded by the Council for Islamic Academic Education, which is a subsidiary of the GIT.
The building for the school cost fifty millions dollars and is housing about 400 students. It
provides education from kindergarten to the secondary levels in “an environment that resonates
Islamic decorum and moral values.”
The school follows the regular state mandated
curriculum as established by the Guyana Ministry of Education; however the Arabic language
at the G.C.E/O levels and a certificate in Islamic studies is offered. This successful undertaking
has led to the establishment of two other Islamic schools in Rosehall, and Skeldon, Berbice.
These schools will serve kindergarten to secondary school students. The Muslims in this
region are much excited about this development and are anxiously waiting for the opening of
these schools. Today most Muslim families prefer to send their children to such schools since
government run schools have failed to provide quality education.
Mr. Haseeb Yusuf stressed that “we are not only giving knowledge or education but
also making them … responsible members of society.”
He explained that Islam does not
differentiate between religious and secular education. “Islam has always had a history of
seeking knowledge, be it chemistry, astronomy, biology or physics”.
The school in general
will reflect an Islamic environment. The design of the building incorporates elements of
Islamic architecture, comprising of three stories including sixteen classrooms, a gymnasium, an
auditorium, and namaaz and wuzu areas. The GIT now calls the school ISA Academy after
learning that Ibn Sina was a famous Sufi. Some have privately questioned the GIT’s “brand of
Islam”. “The GIT Schools are teaching their children that Duas are wrong, and that the
observation of the Prophet’s birthday celebration is haraam.”
This charge has been denied by
the GIT, however these are the issues that continue to divide the Muslims in Guyana. Besides
providing Quranic education and teaching adaab, the ISA Academy has been very successful in
terms of academic performance. “The ISA Islamic School broke its own records, producing
two of Guyana’s best Common Entrance students and a pleasing 75%-100% passes at the
Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examinations.”82
The Central Islamic Organization of Guyana (CIOG)
On the 1st of July 1979, at the Bishops High School in Georgetown, Muslims from all parts
of Guyana assembled, and elected the first executives of the CIOG. This marked the birth of
the CIOG in hope of reorganizing the local Muslim population. The CIOG’s slogan was
unity and mobilization. The organization wanted to depoliticize Islam and to regain the
dignity of the local Muslim community after a decade of politicking. Its first director was
Mr. Nasir and its current CEO is Al Haj Fazeel M. Ferouz. The CIOG, like the Anjuman, is
mostly controlled by the Demerara elites, many of whom are related to each other.
establishment in 1979, the CIOG has worked vigilantly on the domestic and international
scenes for the welfare of local Muslims, non-Muslims, and the ummah at large. They have
worked to strengthen Muslim education and social welfare through various programs while
propagating Islam. One of their strengths has been their shrewd political acumen to relate
themselves to the wider polity and to the society at large. They have long responded to the
challenge by insisting that Muslims must seek a dialogue with people of other faiths and
work along with them for common goals, such as democracy, secularism, social justice and
inter-communal harmony. The CIOG have also sat on the Election Reform Committee and
the Sodomy Committee. The fact that the CEO of the CIOG was part of the PPP presidential
visits to India and the Middle East in the last decade has aroused envy among other Islamic
The CIOG came into being during the turbulent period of 1962 – 1978 when the
Guyana United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman was marred with political problems. Later, internal
division of the Sad’r Anjuman led to its division into two factions. According to the CIOG,
this situation convinced a group of concerned Muslims to unite following their consultation
with other existing organizations in the country.
A “concerned” group of Muslims, such as
Mohammad Ayube McDoom, Mohammad Moen McDoom, Azam Ally, Sultan H. Rahaman,
Mooner Ahmad Khan, Fazeel Ferouz and Al-Hajj S. M. Shakoor, were joined by other active
Muslims across Guyana in their effort to solicit support to form a new organization. Mr. S. H.
Rahaman, who was part of that “concerned group”, writes, “We met with 112 Jamaats to
discuss and deliberate, of which 86 gave their signed resolutions, and pledges. Twenty six
withheld their signed resolutions; however most of the twenty six gave verbal support to the
After a period of almost one year, that is from June 1978 to June 1979,
consensus was reached to forge a new Islamic organization. The concerned group of Muslims
had received the mandate of the people to establish a new organization to represent the
Muslims of the country. The CIOG claims that there is no other Islamic organization in
Guyana that can make this claim. According to the CIOG, when it makes a statement it speaks
for the Muslims of Guyana, and it claims that there are 134 mosques in Guyana and the imam
and president of each mosque is a member of the General Council of the CIOG.
In the area of education, the CIOG conducts training programs of various lengths of
time for imams, Islamic teachers, women and youths. Training courses for children, youths and
women are held in various parts of Guyana. A special committee called the National
Committee of Sisters’ Affairs (NACOSA) was founded in July of 1992 by twenty-three
Muslim women who voluntarily engaged in the activities and projects undertaken, either
directly or through the CIOG. Also the CIOG organizes activities to bring Muslims together.
Such occasions having provided excellent opportunities for creating social awareness in the
Islamic community. In addition to counseling classes for married people experiencing
difficulties and parents/children encountering problems, NACOSA also conducts literacy
programs for women and children, which focus on educational and religious topics.
Secular subjects are also covered in the CIOG’s education plan such as leadership
training, civil responsibility, computer training, vocational skills, English, math and science.
In the future the (CIOG) envisage more computer schools and the establishing of four
vocational schools. Three schools have been completed and are awaiting furniture. The
executives of the CIOG are also exploring the possibility of distance education via the
internet and computers or by setting up a television station that will focus on education and
community development. In 1997 the CIOG received a commitment from the Islamic
Development Bank (IDB) in Jeddah to build four vocational schools.
The money from the
IDB is given to the contractors as they complete phases of the project. Three buildings have
been completed at a cost of 150,000 USD from the allocated funds. Additional costs for
completing each building would be 75,000 USD including furniture. In 2005 the CIOG
constructed a school in New Amsterdam, Berbice and applied for more funds to furnish the
existing schools. Representatives of the IDB were in Guyana in August of 2005 and they
visited the project and met with President Jagdeo and members of the CIOG, however there
seems to be some hiccups in further funding because the IDB is requiring “qualified” teachers
to work in these schools and Guyana has a brain drain.
Since 1999 the CIOG, in collaboration with the IDB, has been providing interest-free
loans for Muslim students pursuing studies at the University of Guyana. Over the years many
students have benefited from this program at the University and some have graduated in civil
engineering and computer science. Most recently, the CIOG and IDB have been in the
process of establishing a trust fund to benefit other students from the repayment of funds by
students who have already graduated. Besides secular subjects, scholarships are also given to
young Muslims for Islamic studies at universities in Egypt, Pakistan, Malaysia and Syria.
Social Welfare Activities of the CIOG
The CIOG administers an excellent social welfare program that ameliorates the economic
burden that orphans, widows, abused women, runaways, prisoners and the elder face in this
poor country. Its excellent zakaat programs are outstanding, to which even its critics would
agree. Through some dynamic programs in conjunction with the business community, the legal
and the medical Muslim community, the CIOG has been able to provide help to the most needy
in society and to also safeguard those at risk. For example, in one year the CIOG collected 2.3
million Guyana dollars from Muslims on a monthly basis and distributed it to approximately
937 poor Muslims in 100 mosques throughout Guyana. In one year when funds received
amounted to about thirty-two million Guyana dollars, it disbursed twenty-seven million Guyana
dollars in zakaat.
The team arranging this comprised of the CIOG's executive and regional
representatives who spearhead the collection drive.
On a yearly basis, the CIOG, in collaboration with the Zakaat House of Kuwait and
with other local Muslims, sponsors an event called Orphan Day. The goal of this event is to
highlight the need for more protection of children. President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo
frequently expresses his admiration for the commitment of Muslims to charitable work in
communities across Guyana. While attending “Orphan Day”, the president called for new
laws backing protection of the child that can be passed in Guyana. There have been recent
cases of child abuse, which have triggered concern in the society. The Zakaat House
currently sponsors 890 orphans. Under the CIOG's Orphan and Destitute Program, it
generously provides for some 360 orphans from Skeldon; West Berbice; East and West Coast
Demerara; East and West Bank Demerara; Essequibo Coast and the islands of Georgetown
and Bartica. All orphans receive assistance in the areas of education, social, medical and
finance, the CIOG said. According to the CIOG, this program started seven years ago with
twenty-three children and grew to 360 children. The CIOG spends more than $800,000 per
month on this program. These Muslim orphans receive a total of G$535,000 monthly.
They are also provided school uniforms, clothing, schoolbooks, shoes and access to medical
The CIOG has a medical committee that conducts an outreach program in the poor areas
of the country. The medical committee also assists in helping people who have to go overseas
for medical attention, regardless of race or religious background.
Many Muslim doctors of
Guyana volunteer in this activity. The Medical Committee of the CIOG recently donated a
Caesium unit and neurosurgery equipment to the Georgetown Public Hospital.
was received through the CIOG’s strong relationship with Muslim organizations in Kuwait. “It
is unfortunate that the Ministry of Health has not been able to get this unit operational as yet
because we were hoping to ask the same organization for a donation of a kidney dialysis
Guyana does not have a dialysis machine for patients suffering from kidney
problems. The CIOG will soon open a dialysis centre in Guyana and it will charge patients half
the price of what private institutions charge.
The CIOG operates a transportation service for the burial of Muslims and expects to
expand this service to a fully operational funeral home that will cater for both Muslims and
Non-Muslims. .They have been working aggressively to ensure that poor Muslims who die at
the Palms or at Georgetown Hospital are buried for free. Their burial and hearse committee
continues to take care of many Muslims and provide an excellent service that is more
economical than all the existing funeral homes. The CIOG provides the transportation, the
burial cloth, the coffins, and performs the ghusl (washing the body) for the poor. It is free for
the poor, and for those who can afford to pay, it is half the price that they would pay at the
funeral homes in Guyana. The CIOG also works with the most at risk in the community. It
conducts two programs per week in the prison. It also has a prison committee petition for the
parole of prisoners, and aims to provide skills and training opportunities for those who are in
prison. This will make it easier for many of these persons to find employment when they are
released from prison. One is the Jumma (Friday) prayer program and the other is a program
to assist prisoners to help improve their secular education. The CIOG has also helped
prisoners to pay for the fees to enable them to take their Caribbean Examinations Council
(CXC) exams and complete their secondary education.
During the month of Ramadhan the CIOG feature articles and news relating to this time
in Al Bayan, its official publication, and in daily newspapers. Like other Islamic organizations
in Guyana, it also sponsors radio and television programs during this important month of the
Islamic calendar. Funds are collected from Guyanese Muslims in Canada and the United
States, and then zakaat, and sadqatul fitr are distributed to about seventy-four mosques and
Muslim prisoners during the month of Ramadhan. In one year, for example, the CIOG claims
that a total of 3770 persons benefited, thirty-seven of whom were orphans, and approximately
fifty-two mosques were visited.
In addition, for eid-ul-adha, the CIOG has special TV and
radio programs and sponsors ads in newspapers, and qurbani (sacrificial) meat is distributed
throughout the country. Every Muslim household rich and poor receives qurbani meat;
however many mosques are independent of the CIOG and they make their own arrangements to
distribute qurbani meat.
The CIOG has numerous programs to help Muslims and non-Muslims. Their feeding
program is at the Bourda Market daily. Their medical program, headed by Dr. Bacchus,
provides medical aid to poor Muslims who can’t afford the fees of private doctors. In one year
(1998), 700 patients were provided with free medication, consultation and treated for many
different problems. The Medical Committee handled twenty-six circumcisions for poor
Muslims. The legal committee of the CIOG provides legal assistance to Muslims.
Ombudsman S.Y Mohammed heads it. Muslims are provided with free legal advice and given
assistance in the preparation of legal documents. The CIOG also runs a cemetery operation,
which is geared to the cleaning up of the Muslim section of the Le-Repentir Cemetery in the
capital Georgetown. This venture included the cleaning of drains, weeding of grass, cleaning
of bushes and the construction of three bridges. According to the CIOG, the project is the
beginning of a series of works to beautify the surrounding and simultaneously fulfill the
Muslims’ “moral duties towards our deceased relatives.”
More recently in 2006, the CIOG
has been sponsoring young people to have heart surgery abroad, regardless of religious
affiliation. The CIOG is seen as Guyana’s most respected and dynamic NGO among Muslims
Relationship with the Islamic World and Pan-Islamism
Since independence in 1966, the local Muslims have been exposed to the wider ummah. The
influence of the Middle East on the local Muslim population has been an interesting
phenomenon. Local Muslims identify with the ummah more than before and increased contacts
with the Muslim world have led to a sense of Pan-Islamism which is far more important today
than any time in the past. The Muslim organizations of Guyana have maintained these strong
links and access to the print and electronic media has also attributed to this phenomenon.
Strengthening this relationship are the frequent visits of Muslims from the Islamic World.
Guyana is no longer at the Islamic periphery. Sympathy for Islamic causes and for the state of
Muslims globally has become evident. All major Islamic organizations in Guyana have been at
the forefront, condemning atrocities taking place against Muslims in places from Bosnia to
Kosova, from Chechnya to Kashmir and from Palestine to the Philippines. They have brought
many Islamic scholars from across the world to Guyana, and they have also raised issues
relating to Muslims at home and abroad. This has enabled local Muslims to identify with the
global ummah. As well, they have influenced local politics. The government of Guyana issued
statements on hot issues such as Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosova and Bosnia.
The publications of these Muslim groups have constantly strived to educate the locals
about the ummah across the world. Consistently, pages in their publications have dealt with the
history and current news of Muslims in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Since 1936
the Sad’r Anjuman has used the pages of its journal, Voice of Islam, to educate the locals about
the ummah, and after World War II when the struggle for freedom engulfed the Muslim World,
the pages of the Voice of Islam were proliferated with news from Algeria, Palestine, Indonesia,
Egypt, Transjordan and Pakistan. The Anjuman also sought scholarships for local Muslims to
study abroad. Pakistan was one of the first Muslim countries to offer aid to Guyanese Muslims
since its creation in 1947. Local Muslims, under the Sad’r Anjuman, raised funds for Muslim
causes as early as in 1947 (when Pakistan was created), and more recently they brought
scholars to enlighten the local Muslims of the plight of the Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Kosova, Bosnia, Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya. They have sent charitable donations to
Muslims in Kosova and Bosnia, and to non Muslims in places such as Grenada which was
affected by a hurricane.
In the past decade, the Anjuman, the MYL and the CIOG have broadened their
friendship with neighboring countries like Suriname, Trinidad and French Guiana. There was
always a vibrant relationship with Pakistan and India, and in the past two decades these Muslim
bodies of Guyana have been very active in forging strong ties with the Guyanese Muslims in
England, the Netherlands, the United States and Canada, because they contribute generously to
the social-welfare of their local brethrens. The CIOG, MYL and GIT all maintain friendly ties
with the embassies of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Pakistan and India, the
representatives of which are always invited to various Islamic functions held by these religious
bodies. There have been many exchanges of visits between Guyana and Suriname. This
growing tie has been encouraged by Fazeel Ferouz (President of the CIOG), the MYL, Hifaz
and the Sad’r Anjuman. People to people relationships are forging together ties between the
two Muslim communities. The Guyanese organizations have hosted visits from Khilafat
Anjuman and Hidayatul Islam, two Islamic organization of Suriname, and in the past five years
they have been holding qaseeda competitions in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad.
Suriname and Guyana have much in common because the majority of Muslims in these
two countries are South Asians. They are also from the sunni hanafi madhab, and sometime in
the past, shared the Urdu language. Urdu is the language of the Surinamese Hindustani
Muslims who have resisted Arabic, while in Guyana, Urdu is hardly used. Strong ties with
Suriname will be beneficial to Guyanese Muslims since most Guyanese youths who travel to
Arabia, Pakistan or Egypt for Islamic education never return to Guyana to serve the
community. Now there is an effort to train married and older Muslims in Suriname or places
such as Syria and Egypt. Suriname is capable of training imams and providing Islamic teachers
to Guyana, and Hifaz and the MYL wants to exploit this good will. They see no reason why
the youths should be sent to Arabic speaking countries for training, from where they do not
return to Guyana, they assert. These new alims, who are funded by local Islamic organizations
or by Muslim nations, end up in the USA, Canada and other parts of the Caribbean. According
to Hifaz/MYL and the SADR, their efforts to promote “orthodox Islam” will greatly be boosted
when a promise made by the Khilafat Anjuman of Suriname to provide a maulana to live in
Guyana is realized.
The Role of the CIOG
The CIOG currently is the most active and dynamic Islamic organization in Guyana; and it is
able to be such because it has the capital, and has the recognition from the Government as the
so-called representative of the Muslims of Guyana. The president of the CIOG often travels to
the Islamic World and visiting Muslim dignitaries frequent the CIOG’s secretariat. The CIOG
hopes to use its contacts in Islamic countries in the Middle East, Far East and Africa to promote
trade and investment opportunities and to get markets for Guyanese products in these countries.
The CIOG is to carry out many projects in Guyana on behalf of the International Islamic
Charitable Organization (IICO), Kuwait; Islamic Development Bank (IDB), Saudi Arabia;
World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), Saudi Arabia; Muslim World League, Saudi
Arabia; Saudi Embassy, Washington D.C.; and Al-Azhar University, Egypt. Discussions were
also held with Waleed Ad-Dyel, a member of the Chamber of Commerce of Riyadh in Saudi
Arabia, to bring a team of Saudi Arabian businessmen to Guyana.
The CIOG has maintained an active role in the politics at home and abroad. It has
been a champion of Islamic causes throughout the world. It has brought to the attention of
many the plight of Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya, Kosova, Bosnia, and Kashmir. On many
occasions the Organization has called for Guyana to sever ties with Israel because of its
occupations of Arab land and gross human rights violations against Palestinians.
CIOG, following the advice of Dr. Ali Kettani, a specialist in Muslim minority affairs,
lobbied the government of former President Hoyte of Guyana to join the Organization of
Islamic Conference (OIC). President Hoyte was committed to join the OIC in 1992 but in
that year he was defeated at the polls by the PPP. However, this was not a setback because
the CIOG pushed the idea to the new Prime Minister of Guyana, Mr. Sam Hinds, who had
reservations about joining the OIC. He felt that it would have offset the balance of Guyana’s
close ties with India. But after learning about the nature of the OIC and India’s own quest to
join that body, the Prime Minister took the idea to President Cheddi Jagan. Under the former
President of Guyana, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Guyana became a permanent observer of the OIC in
1996 and in 1998 became the 56th
member of the OIC.
The CIOG vehemently denies that it has been pocketed by the ruling government.
According to its CEO, Al Haji Fazeel Ferouz, its relationship with the government is based
on mutual respect. “We have meetings with the President and many Ministers to discuss
different problems that come up from time to time and need to be addressed.”
that his organization lobbies for the Muslim community, and the government of Guyana has
reacted favorably. He highlighted some of these achievements: “land for masjids, land for
the poor, money to assist people to go abroad, duty free for items for mosques, we look into
claims of wrongful dismissals, or a Muslim being discriminated against.”
about future plans of the CIOG, Ferouz revealed that it is actively looking to open a library at
their new secretariat, a bookstore in each county of Guyana, a T.V and radio recording studio
and eventually a T.V and radio station, an Islamic University that will cover both secular and
Islamic subjects, a Muslim Credit Union -which will be the forerunner to the IDB- and some
economic projects to assist in funding its activities.
The CIOG’s Haji Ferouz was part of the late President Dr. Cheddi Jagan’s delegation
during his 1996 tour of the Middle East. In fact, he worked behind the scenes to execute this
successful tour. Haji Ferouz and Dr.Jagan had a meeting with an official of the IDB of Saudi
Arabia. This meeting took place in Bahrain.
As part of the presidential delegation, Ferouz
visited Bahrain, Syria, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In Kuwait, the Guyanese
leader held talks with Kuwaiti leader, Sheikh Al-Ahwad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. Those countries
agreed to send trade and investment missions to Guyana. Kuwait has lived up to its promise.
In 2004 the CIOG facilitated a meeting between President Bharrat Jagdeo and the Under-
Secretary of State at the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Kuwait, Bader-Al Mutairi. The two
discussed key areas of cooperation in which their respective governments can be engaged and
discussed the fostering of amicable relations between the two countries. Fazeel Ferouz and the
CEO of the CIOG, Moen ul-Hack, accompanied Al Mutairi to meet President Jagdeo. Ferouz
stated that the Under-Secretary’s visit was made in return for the many visits he has made to
The CIOG is affiliated with the IDB. Now that Guyana is a member of the OIC, full
membership of the IDB is possible at the national level, which will benefit the entire nation.
The CIOG has been in the forefront in this endeavor to forge strong ties with the IDB. It is its
opinion that Guyana and its people will benefit if Islamic banks and Islamic insurance
companies invest in Guyana. The CIOG has already drawn funds from the IDB for projects in
Guyana. The late President of Guyana, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, had asked the CIOG to request the
IDB to send a team to Guyana to have discussions with the government and the private sector
on Islamic banking and insurance. However, the death of Dr. Jagan and the unstable political
situation in Guyana since 1997 delayed these negotiations. The CIOG later held discussions
with former American-Jewish born Guyanese President, Mrs. Janet Jagan, to follow up these
discussions with the IDB and to arrange for officials to come visit Guyana. The CIOG has
been in communication with the IDB in Jeddah and a team from the CIOG and the private
sector commission was planning to visit Jeddah to hold discussions with the IDB.
to date the Muslims have been paid lip service by the government of President Bharrat Jagdeo
who steered his government away from the OIC by not attending several key OIC summits and
meetings in the past five years. More recently, the Muslims were again promised that Guyana
will appoint an ambassador to the OIC and join the IDB after the general elections of 2006.
More recently, President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana promised to make a state visit to the Middle
East. Since becoming the president in 1999, he has visited India three times The Muslims
have been urging him to tour the Middle East.
The CIOG is very keen to have Guyana join the IDB. The CIOG views contact with the
IDB as very crucial as it will enable it to get the necessary expertise to venture in many areas
using the systems of financing that are permitted under Islamic law.
cannot participate in programs that charge interest, for it is forbidden in Islam. “We are also of
the opinion that the interest rate being charged by most of the financial institutions to small
business and in the micro-credit programs are far too excessive.”
In the interest of the
nation the CIOG says, “These rates range from 20% to 40%. We call on the government to
intervene and reduce this high rate of interest if we are to stimulate the economy of our country.
These high interest rates are stifling the poor especially women's group, the youth and the
The CIOG has been urging organizations like Canadian International
Development Agency (CIDA) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to make
available loans to Muslims using the systems permitted by Islamic law. “These development
organizations can get knowledge of these systems through their international networks, very
easily from the Muslim countries in Africa, Middle East or the Far East.”
The CIOG plans
to hold discussions with C.I.D.A. and U.N.D.P. on these issues; the outcome of such initiations
is yet to be determined. Due to the fact that micro-credit has a component of interest, the CIOG
has been forced to curtail its activities in the areas of micro-credit and extending loans to poor
Muslims to build their homes.
There is lack of cooperation among Islamic organizations in Guyana because they tend to
compete instead of complementing each other; however each organization has served a
specific purpose. Hifaz, the MYL, the GIT and the GUSIA have engaged their opponents in
a scholarly discourse and the conflicts over the traditional practices have subsided. They
have also led the way in forging ties with the Islamic communities of Suriname, the
Netherlands, Pakistan and Trinidad and Tobago. The GIT has been aggressive in its dawah
and education drive and has opened many institutions to teach Islam to Muslims and non-
Muslims alike. Many of its schools offer Islamic and secular education to Muslim students
and today, in Guyana, Muslim parents have the option of sending their children to Islamic
schools. As well, the GIT has opened the frontier of Guyana to Islam by extending its dawah
drive to indigenous communities. The CIOG, on the other hand, through its dynamic zakaat
program, has supported the orphans, widows and elders of society who are most at risk, and
at the same time it has lobbied the government for providing social and economic benefits to
local Muslims. It is recognized unofficially as the voice of the Muslims in Guyana and has
negotiated internationally on behalf of the local Muslims. The CIOG’s commitment to
charitable work in communities across Guyana has earned it great admiration.
However, rivalry among the CIOG, GIT, Hifaz and GUSIA, the leading
organizations; theological differences in fiqh; the exodus of learned Muslims; lack of human
resources; economic hardship and the dictatorship from 1966 to 1992 are some of the many
factors that have stymied the full development of this community socially, economically and
politically. These organizations seem preoccupied with competing and condemning each
other, and at the center of the debate are questions surrounding practices such as ta’zeem,
melad, recitation of qaseeda and the use of Urdu language and traditions, which came from
the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent with the early Muslims in the period from 1838 to 1916 and
are now branded as bidahs. The CIOG’s President Fazeel Ferouz warns that “there is
division and disorder that affects the public image of Muslims and Islam in Guyana and also
the correctness and validity of worship and cohesion based on time-honoured devotional
These divisions have had a lasting effect on Guyana’s two main ethnically-
based political parties, the PPP and the PNC, and expose the weaknesses of the Muslim
community in Guyana.
“Unity Across the Border,” Guyana Muslim Journal, Vol. 3, No. 10, December 2000/January 2001, p. 15.
“Islam Our Religion… Our Culture,” Guyana Muslim Journal, Vol. 5, No. 17, September/October 2002, p. 1.
“Eid-Milad-un-Nabi Program at the Anna Catherina Islamic Complex,” Guyana Muslim Journal, Vol. 4, No.
13, October/November 2001, p. 4.
“Sunni Muslim Schools Open in Guyana,” The Guyana Muslim Journal, Vol. 6, No. 19, November/December
2003, p. 10.
“Urdu Secretary,” Islam and Nur-E-Islam, Georgetown, British Guiana, 1941, p. 27.
"Second All-Guiana Muslim Conference, Resolution # 7 on the "Urdu Language,” Islam and Nur-E-Islam,
Georgetown, British Guiana, January 1950, p. 16.
Sighting Committee Formed,” Guyana Muslim Journal, Vol. 3, No. 10, December 2000/ January 2001, p. 16.
H. Khan , “National Halaal Committee of Guyana,” Guyana Muslim Journal, October/November 1999, p. 11.
Fazeel Ferouz, e-mail message to author, 18 November 2004, 14 March 2004, 14 March 2005 and 25 March
“Halaal Meat,” Letter to Editor, Guyana Chronicle, 7 January 2003.
R. Chickrie, “Muslim in Guyana: History, Traditions, Conflict and Change”, Journal of Muslim Minority
Affairs, Vol. 19, No. 2, October 1999, pp. 181- 191.
Fazeel Ferouz, e-mail message to author, 18 November 2004, 20 November 2004, 14 March 2004, 14 March
2005 and 25 March 2005.
“Guyana United Sad’r Islamic Anjuman (GUSIA), available on line at: http://www.gusia.com (accessed
January 10, 2003).
“Will Pakistan be represented in British Guiana,”, Voice of Islam, Georgetown, British Guiana, March 1948,
“Together we stand,”, Islam and Nur-E-Islam, Georgetown, British Guiana, March-April 1949, p. 6.
“Will Pakistan be represented in British Guiana,” Islam, Georgetown, British Guiana, March 1948, p. 6.
“India’s lust for conquest may lead to war”, Islam and Nur-E-Islam, Georgetown British Guiana, April 1950,
“Kashmir India is Obstructing Holding of Plebiscite, “ Islam and Nur-E-Islam, Georgetown, British Guiana,
April 1950, p. 47.
“The Truth about Kashmir,” Voice of Islam, Georgetown, British Guiana, April 1948, p. 53.
“Pakistan, the new Muslim State,” Voice of Islam, Georgetown, British Guiana, April 1948, p. 71 and “Will
Pakistan be represented in British Guiana?”, Voice of Islam, Georgetown, British Guiana, March 1948, p. 27.
“President Rahaman B. Gajraj, Guest at United Nations Assembly,” Islam and Nur-E-Islam, Georgetown,
British Guiana, March-April 1949, p. 31.
“"Second All-Guiana Muslim Conference 1949, Resolution # 6 is on the "TAZIA,” Islam and Nur-E-Islam,
Georgetown, British Guiana, January 1950, p. 16.
“Non-Muslims at Meeting,” Letter to the Editor, Daily Chronicle, Georgetown, British Guiana, 5 September
1963, p. 4.
“PPP break up Muslim Meeting,” Daily Chronicle, Georgetown, British Guiana, 21 October 1963, p. 1.
R. Chickrie, “Muslim in Guyana”, op. cit., pp. 181-191.
Cheddi Jagan, The West on Trial, Berlin: Seven Seas Publishers, 1975, p. 114.
Ibid., p. 114.
Ibid., pp. 304 & 323.
Ibid., p. 200.
Ibid., pp. 200 & 292.
Hakeem Khan of Hifaz/MYL interview by author, Guyana, 1 June 2002.
“Voice of the People, Voice of Allah,” Guyana Muslim Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2, October/November 1999, p. 2.
Hakeem Khan interview, op. cit.
“Where is the Anjuman Hifazatul Islam in Defense of the Sad’r Anjuman,” Islam Guyana,
November/December 2003, Vol. 6, No. 19, p. 9.
“New Name for Magazine”, Islam Guyana, Vol. 5, No. 18, February/March 2003, p. 2.
Wazir Baksh, Murshid (advisor) of GIT interview by author, New York, USA, 18 October 2005.
Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT), 2002, available online at: http://www.gitgy.com (accessed 2 March 2003)
Rev. E. Solomon, “The Coolie Mission in British Guiana”, West Indian Quarterly, 1885, pp, 235-40. and
available online at: http://www.guyanaca.com/features/indianim_toguyana.html (accessed 20 May 2002)
Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT), available online at: http://www.gitgy.com (accessed 10 March 2002)
Interview with Murshid of GIT, Wazir Baksh, New York, USA, 18 October 2005.
Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT), available online at: http://www.gitgy.com (accessed 10 March 2002)
Interview with Murshid of GIT, op. cit.
“Islamic Academy Launching Today,” The Guyana Chronicle, available online at:
http://www.guyanachronicle.com/ARCHIVES/archive%2011-01-01.html (accessed 11 January 2001)
Shaikh Moeenul Hack, “CIOG’s 1998 Auditor’s Report,” CIOG, Georgetown, Guyana.
Shaikh Moeenul Hack, “CIOG’s 1998,”op. cit. and “CIOG/NGO donate US$60,000 for heart patients' travel,”
Stabroek News, Guyana, 1 May 2006, available online at:
http://www.stabroeknews.com/index.pl/article_general_news?id=53808635 (accessed 2 May 2006)
“Caesium Units Fiasco,” Editorial, Stabroek News, Guyana, 27 October 2003.
“Neurosurgery tools to boost treatment at Georgetown Hospital”, Stabroek News, 28 July 2004, available
online: http://www.stabroeknews.com/index.pl/article_local_news?id=8660875 (accessed 30 July 2004)
Shaikh Moeenul Hack, “CIOG’s 1998,” op. cit.
Fazeel Ferouz, e-mail message to author, op. cit.
“Kuwait official on Guyana visit,” Guyana Chronicle, 9 January 2003, available online at:
http://www.guyanachronicle.com/ARCHIVES/archive%2009-01-03.html (accessed 15 January 2003)
Fazeel Ferouz, e-mail message to author, op. cit.
Shaikh Moeenul Hack, “CIOG’s 1998”, op. cit.
“CIOG head warns against Islamic division,” Stabroek News, 3 August 2004, available online at:
http://www.stabroeknews.com/index.pl/article?id=8661146 (accessed 4 August 2004)
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