Emancipation and the African Muslims of Trinidad


The question of the meaning and significance of the commemoration of emancipation on August 1st of every year to Muslims of African descent, and indeed Muslims in general, in Trinidad is an interesting one. Without even the slightest room for doubt, the occasion of the 1st August 1834 – the date which marked the official abolition of slavery in British colonies, is a watershed moment, not only in the history of those places where slavery was practiced, but in the history of the world at large. For African chattel slavery, it is argued, was undoubtedly one of the most brutal forced-migration of a people en masse in the recorded history of humanity.

But the question of the meaning of emancipation being referred to here has nothing to do with a suspicion about the significance of the day itself as an important commemoration of the end of almost 300 years of infernal displacement and subjugation; neither is it about anything to do with the legitimacy of participation in the events surrounding the day from the perspective of Islamic law. Rather, the question is one which emerges simply from a reflection on the historical experience of African Muslims in this part of the world and what emancipation meant to them.

The historical record of African Muslims i.e. Muslims born in Africa, arriving in this part of the world, and in Trinidad in particular, is well documented. As with much of the episodes in the history of this island, the story of its people only really develops into a sustained plot from after the cedula of population of 1783. It was this document which facilitated the importation of large numbers of African slaves into the island. Prior to this time, however, the slave population in the country was very small (the population of the entire island in 1782 was only 2,813!). It is recorded that approximately 19% of the slaves imported into the island directly from Africa came from the regions of the Gold Coast, Senegambia, Sierra Leone, and the Bight of Benin – areas which would have supplied sizeable numbers of Muslims.

There are also records of African Muslim settlements on the island. In this regard, three communities in particular stand out – the ones at Valencia, Manzanilla and Port-of-Spain. The communities of Valencia and Manzanilla were established by the British for the settlement of demobilized African troops who fought in the Third and Sixth West India Regiment in wars against the French further up the Caribbean chain of islands. These communities were characterized by their isolation from the remainder of the African population on the island – after all, it would have been a very bad idea to have Africans with military experience in close proximity to their fellow Africans on the plantations, wouldn’t it?

Nonetheless, this plan to keep them isolated and out of contact with other Africans worked to the advantage of the development of a distinct Muslim presence and practice of Islam in these villages. This is evidenced from the testimony, in 1841, of the Reverend J. H. Hamilton, rector of the Church of England over Tacarigua, Arouca, and Arima who lamented that:

From the entire want, for long years, of clerical instruction, even the outward form of Christianity has almost disappeared amongst them; indeed, melancholy to relate, many of them have relapsed into the errors of Mahometanism [i.e. Islam], under the guidance of three Mandingo priests established amongst them. One of their number can write, and has copied portions of the Koran, which he reads to his assembled followers, and to whom they seem to look up with the greatest reverence.

Hamilton identified this leader as Seyimah Brock, who “appears to possess an extraordinary influence over the settlers of that faith.” Prof. Michael Gomez writes that “by 1841…Quare (i.e. Valencia) and Manzanilla were predominantly Muslim.” Dr. Sylvianne Diouf mentioned about the settlers of these communities that in the early 1820s they built “what seems to be the first documented consecrated mosque” in the Americas. The ranks of these Muslims were strengthened by the arrival of Muhammad Sisse, who is recorded to have been a school-teacher in his native Gambia before being captured and eventually arriving in Trinidad. He is said to have helped strengthen those already in the faith while working to convert others, such that “a complete regiment was converted to Islam in Trinidad.” Sisse eventually moved to Port-of-Spain where he joined up with the Muslim community headed by Yunus Muhammad Bath.

Of all the African Muslim communities in Trinidad, both in the pre- and post-emancipation period, the Mandingo Society of Port-of-Spain, as it was called, is the most well-known and documented. This community of Muslims “formed a distinct society of themselves strictly bound together by their Mohammedan faith.” The community actually functioned as a cooperative with the objective of “the manumission of its members.” So that by the declaration of emancipation in 1834, the Muslims boasted in a petition to the King of England that “on the memorable first day of August one thousand, eight hundred and thirty-four [i.e. 1st August 1834]…Your Memorialists can safely, and with truth, assert, very few, if any of their tribe in the island of Trinidad remained in slavery…Your Memorialists had long before unfettered themselves, their tribe and their families, by the fruits of their joint and industrious efforts.” It is estimated that around 150 Muslims were manumitted by the society before emancipation in 1834.

It is for the reasons discussed above, and others not mentioned, that Prof. Gomez states that “[w]hile the Islam introduced by Africans would eventually go into eclipse in Trinidad, the fact remains that the African Muslim presence there constitutes one of the largest, most organized, most vibrant, most enduring, and most influential African Muslim communities in all of the Americas prior to the twentieth century, perhaps rivalled only by their coreligionists in Brazil.”

Now, (after that brief sojourn into the past) back to the question about the meaning of emancipation to Muslims in Trinidad (and Tobago). For us, the occasion certainly cannot be about evoking misplaced sentiments of pride in such matters as “blackness” or “African-ness” as we see with other groups, for the Qur’an and the hadeeth explicitly denounce deriving any special merit or social standing from such superficial qualities; and indeed, as was discussed above, the early African Muslims derived their distinction and sought communal associations with others on the basis of their common faith, rather than the simple matter of them all coming from the same continent. Perhaps it is this identification with their faith over and above the colour of their skin which led one of them to gift a copy of the Quran to one of his Indian brethren in a gesture of goodwill and, one might confidently assert, solidarity.[1]

Come the 1st of August, it is this spirit of resoluteness and determination of the African Muslims to overcome all adversity in order to adhere to Islam and fashion their lives according to its teachings, even in hostile environment, which we should be commemorating and celebrating.

Abu Maryam

YSWS Team

[1] Taken from Prof. Michael A. Gomez’s “Black Cresent: the experience and legacy of African Muslims in the Americas,” pg. 80: “Their presence and contributions were recognized by East Indian Muslims arriving in Trinidad after 1845, such that in 1946 the esteemed Indian elder Syad Mohammed Hosein recalled that, during his childhood, he had been shown an Arabic Qur’an by a person whose father had received it as a gift from a “Mandingo.””

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‘Cakes for the Chronicle’ Cake Sale – Friday May 31st, Highway Masjid Charlieville

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Come and have some delish delicacies after Jumu’ah, sweet and savory; Help us to raise funds as a form of sadaqah, you surely won’t be sorry; You know that after the Salaah, you’ll be thirsty and most hungry; So come … Continue reading

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God and the Constitution: The implications of an atheistic worldview for the idea of equal rights

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It should be clear at this point that the issue at hand runs much deeper than the (seemingly) simple removal of references to God. For if we do so, assuming that we still wish to speak of equal and inalienable rights at all, the following questions arise: wherefrom do these rights come from? And are they even real? This is the problem that Mr. Baldeosingh and his supporters need to address in substantiating their position as being truly “rational”. Continue reading

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We’re Almost There!

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Interested in getting on board? Want to seriously lend a helping hand? Then you can lend some of your time and effort in the way of Allah by contacting us at muslimchroniclett@gmail.com or call us at 465-8211. Looking forward to … Continue reading

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Islamic Newspaper Coming Soon!


Islamic Mini-Newspaper Coming Soon!

The Caribbean Muslim Press [with the co-operation of YouSpeakWeSpeak] presents the first local Muslim newspaper of the 21st Century: The Muslim Chronicle!

This publication  was borne out of a desire to provide for all local Muslims a source of news relevant to Muslims in Trinidad and insights and analyses based on a sound Islamic foundation.

Want to know the inner aspects and challenges of being an Imam? How about getting a glimpse into the life of sports journalist Fazeer Mohammed as he travels from country to country? What about all this legalising gay marriage talk- do you know the Muslim perspective? Keep an eye out and  grab a copy in a Masjid near to you soon inshaAllaah!

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Letter to Editor: How Should Muslims React To An Insulting Video?

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Concerning Mr. Umar ‘Abdullah’s declaration that the US embassy (TT) should be considered under threat, the writer says: “I wish to state that Mr. Abdullah does not speak on behalf of the Muslim community in Trinidad and Tobago, nor do we share his view….The contents of the video misrepresent Islam and our beloved Prophet p.b.u.h.. Reacting with hate and violence also misrepresents Islam and our beloved Prophet p.b.u.h.” Continue reading

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Voices from the ghetto

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If our minds have been able to escape – if only momentarily – the bombardment of emotional ensnarement thrown at us by the international news media about events in other corners of the planet; and if during our brief period of escape we have sought refuge on our local frontier, our attentions should have been captivated by a very unfortunate incident in the last week which highlights a silent tragedy which continues to cry out for our attention, but is sadly left ignored and forgotten. Continue reading

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Ramadhan Mubaarak from YSWS!

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The managers of the blog https://youspeakwespeak.wordpress.com/ would like to take this opportunity to extend warm greetings of this blessed month to all of our readers; a month in which Allah revealed the Qur’an as guidance to all mankind. Continue reading

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Refusing to ride the pro-homo tiger

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“So, Emperor Obama has spoken. And every homo in every nook and cranny of the far reaches of his empire is ecstatic; even on a little, forgettable rock in the Atlantic known as Trinidad (and Tobago). And why shouldn’t they be? After all, the Emperor himself has publicly endorsed their lifestyle, and more so, their right to the same civil rights as the rest of us self-righteous heterosexuals…” Continue reading

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Will the Real Mothers Please Stand up?

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It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is most certainly true in the case of this particular photograph that I speak of. The photo was of a mother kissing the cheek of her daughter with all the splendid affection of motherly love that touches human hearts. The only thing wrong here, however, is that this wasn’t your regular mother-daughter pair. This was the grandmother and mother of Aaliyah Johnson – the two year old baby that was brutalized to such an extent that her internal organs were lacerated, resulting in massive internal bleeding and her eventual death. Her mother, Candice Johnson, is now on trial for her daughter’s murder. I wonder if baby Aaliyah was ever favoured with such tender kindness by her mother? Continue reading

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The Nation of Islam and victimhood: On Mr. Louis Farrakhan’s recent visit to Trinidad & Tobago

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So what is the essence of this magnetic attraction to Mr. Farrakhan and his teachings? What makes people feel “uplifted” as opposed to thoroughly disgusted after listening to an entire discourse in which every other line contains the phrase “the black man”? Continue reading

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Carnival: National Pride or National Shame?

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Here we go again….close your eyes, hold your breath…we’re about to be thrown head-first into Carnival atmosphere! But is it something we should be proud of….or something we should, in reality, despise? Our author discusses the issue: “Oh how many of us have heard the older generation accuse the younger one for bringing Carnival to the absurdity it is today! But as the saying goes: show me what a people make as culture today and I will show you what their children will make as headlines tomorrow.” Continue reading

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Standardization Through Cultural Imperialism – Seeking to outlaw teen marriages in T&T

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Our first article for the year addresses the issue of the legality of teen marriage in Trinidad and Tobago and the views of Minister Verna St.Rose-Greaves who believes that religious laws concerning the issue are not sufficient to override the coming amendment.
“The government must be wary however that their decision to tamper with religious legislation surrounding a sacred institution which currently preserves our society’s morality and security may perpetuate further social ills, pulling the independent and liberal-thinking rug from under our own feet…”
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2011 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog. Here’s an excerpt: A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway … Continue reading

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‘Tis the season to be wary

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From company Christmas dinners, to staff gift-exchanges, to the schoolchildren’s Christmas treat, the abiding Muslim faithful finds himself/herself in a spot of bother around this time – year in, year out. The dilemma: How to decline participation without causing needless offence? How to function normally amidst the jubilation without serious compromise of principles?

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PM Assassination Plot: Does Islam allow such things?

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To insinuate that those who travel and stay in Saudi are likely to come back as “terrorists” is akin to saying that those who travel and stay in the US are likely to come back as abortion-clinic-bombers or secret Klu Klux Klan members. Yes, there are black sheep in Saudi Arabia, like every other place on the planet, but we have enough here in T&T to keep us busy (and the majority aren’t Muslim, by the way).
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Unpublished Letter: “Verily the Most Honored of You is the Most Righteous” -TML

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The following letter was sent by the Trinidad Muslim League (TML) to the Trinidad Guardian concerning Mr.Iqbal Hydal’s interview last Sunday 4th December, 2011 in which he misrepresented Islam in many issues generally, and made controversial statements regarding Afro-Trinidadian Muslims. However, the letter wasn’t published. Continue reading

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Afro-Trini + Muslim = Zealot

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It isn’t an easy thing being an Afro-Trinidadian these days. It seems like you’re either likely to be hauled before the courts charged with being a gangster under a wishy-washy anti-gang law, be turned away from certain primary schools because of your ‘lowly caste’, or even be stamped as a zealot if you just so happen to be a Muslim. Is it really such an unfortunate thing to bear the features of your parents whom you didn’t volunteer to have?

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PM Assassination Plot: Poof! It’s over…or is it?

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So it’s all over in a poof… nothing, nothing to see here, nothing to worry about. …But you know what, it is not nothing. People’s freedom was taken away for no reason and their families put through emotional distress that … Continue reading

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T&T PM Assassination Plot: Muslims, Please Keep in Mind

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We don’t know the facts concerning these accusations yet, but in the meantime, it’s important for Muslims not to be cowered into taking the guilty-until-proven-innocent approach that many take towards accused Muslims in recent times. The impermissibility of the plot itself should be clarified based on sound Islamic evidences and scholarship, but this does not necessitate defamation of the individuals without substantiated evidence Continue reading

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Muslims’ Plot Against Sweet Trinidad and Tobago’s PM?! For Real?

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Is this a political attempt by the government (and their comrades in the media) to create a bogeyman out of a religious minority in the country? Is it that this subset of society is the easy target because they are a minority? Or is it because of the fear drummed up by xenophobes in the international media creates an easy target? And all this in sweet T&T where “every creed and race finds an equal place”??
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A State of Emergency or a State of Oblivion?

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However, one question that needs to be asked here is whether or not the SOE will achieve its intended purpose (assuming that to be the purpose in the first place) i.e. social change for the better. Some of the more informed commentators have elected to adopt a ‘wait and see’ position on this question, but for a conscious Muslim the answer is pretty much a foregone conclusion: THE SOE BY ITSELF WILL NOT ACHIEVE THE GOAL OF SOCIAL CHANGE!

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Link: President Says – Guard Religious Freedom (Express Article)

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Take note of some very interesting and encouraging words from ‘MAX’, President of T&T: “”This freedom to pursue our daily lives without prejudice because of our religion or particular sects thereof, should inspire us to be ever more resolute in defending our country against those who would seek to introduce, subtly or otherwise, elements that would take us down a path of erosion of these very rights. Let no one change or impede our pursuit of peace.” Continue reading

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Eid Mubaarak From YouSpeakWeSpeak

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We say to each and every one, have a happy and blessed Eid with your family and friends and during this time of merriment, let us remember our lord and give Him thanks and praises for we do not know if this could be our last Ramadhaan and last ‘Eid. We hope that you enjoy your ‘Eid and that you make it home before the curfew!

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Aftermath of Ramadhaan Dawrah (Workshop) 2011!!!

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As promised (although 2 weeks ago, excuse us for our technical difficulties!), we finally present you with the AFTERMATH of the Ramadhaan Dawrah, 2011 @UWI. ENJOY!!!!!!

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Video: What this YouSpeakWeSpeak thing really about?!

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What’s better than someone explaining it ‘in person’?! At the recent Ramadhan Dawrah(Workshop) along with the UWIIS and MHIS @the University of the West Indies , there was an important presentation and further elucidation on what this blog (youspeakwespeak.wordpress.com) is about and what it represents. Be sure to tune in and spread to others. Continue reading

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Short Notice Announcement: Ramadhaan Dawrah This Weekend (23rd and 24th of July,2011)

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Ramadan Workshop July 23 & 24 2011 (click here for workshop schedule!) As Salaamu ‘Alaikum One and All, Youspeakwespeak will be presenting in part (along with  UWIIS and MHIS) a two-day workshop on the month of Ramadhaan which is just over … Continue reading

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Hang ’em or Leave ’em?- The Shari’ah’s Answer

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Last February, Trinbagonians tuned in anxiously as the Hanging Bill was defeated in Parliament. The outcome? The Opposition failed to give the necessary support for the Bill to be passed. In a study carried out by the Faculty of Law[1] at the University of the West Indies, while 26% of 1,000 Trinidadians favoured a mandatory death penalty, 64% favoured a discretionary death penalty. Our system of government failed to find a solution, but could it be that Islam is just what the doctor ordered? Sometimes the solution that you’re looking for is right under your nose! Continue reading

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Islam Arrival Day?

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Indian Arrival celebrations are in the air, and many Muslims of Indian descent, heady with pride in their Indian heritage, are enumerating the many contributions of Indian Muslims to T&T’s culture, economy and heritage. Undoubtedly, Indian Muslims have a lot to be proud of, as they’ve worked hand in hand with the rest of our country’s citizens to build T&T into what it is today. However, before we get too far ahead of ourselves we should ask, “Did Islam arrive on the Fatel Razack?” Continue reading

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Harold Camping: Oops! End of the World is Now October 21st, 2011…Sorry – An Islamic Perspective

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Where were you at 6:00 PM on May 21st, 2011, the time and date that Mr. Harold Camping predicted that judgement day would be upon us? Where were you on May 21st, 1988, and September 7th 1994? And where will you be on October 21st 2011 when he predicts the world will finally end…again?

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Really? Not so!…Putting Perspective to Muhammad’s Marriage to ‘Aaisha

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As for his reference to Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to ‘Aaisha, the author is, quite distastefully, attempting to smear the character of the most revered person to one fifth of the world’s population. This, just by appealing to a modern western reader’s current cultural norms and arbitrary conventions. Demagoguery at it’s best!… Continue reading

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Welcome Visitors, to YouSpeakWeSpeak T&T!

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Thanks for visiting us, please take the time to subscribe (see form on right side of page) so that you can be informed whenever a new article has been posted. Then, have a look at the “Contribute!” section. We want your voice to be heard! Lastly, don’t forget to bookmark us and leave a comment before you leave. Tell your friends, let’s get the word out! Continue reading

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Really? Not so! Clarifying Fractions and Inheritance in the Qur’aan

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Many of you may have come across a distasteful article in which the value of religions was derided, and misinformation (plain lies in some cases) was propagated to the Trinbagonian masses. It seems quite obvious that the author’s main intention … Continue reading

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Let’s ‘Race’ Past This Issue…

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…And so, when racism rears its ugly head in our melting-pot society our response should be as the Prophet of Islam has taught us. Our cry should not be for a superficial guise of equality based on numbers and statistics, but for justice based on merit. Even if it’s not in our favour. According to Islamic teachings, employees (or anyone else for that matter) are rewarded based on performance and merit only; no other criteria. Continue reading

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An Ever-Pertinent Topic…

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Some time ago many of you may have received an email titled: “Allah or Jesus”, containing an account of a ‘debate’ involving a Christian minister named Rick Mathes and an unnamed ‘Islamic imam’. The email is old news, but the same fallacies, untruths and outright concoctions found in that e-mail are still being circulated. So here’s our response (written a number of years ago) to Mr. Mathes chain e-mail. Enjoy! Continue reading

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Local Muslims Could Have Prevented the Coup?

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(Download PDF version of article here) In today’s Express (25/03/2011) an article was published under the title: “LOCAL MUSLIMS COULD HAVE PREVENTED THE COUP”. After first feeling aghast at the insinuations and wondering if this was another case of tabloid … Continue reading

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Shame on Us – Unpublished Letter

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Quite frankly, these days I read the newspapers, namely the more reputable ones, and on some pages I think I’m reading (or looking at) the Sunday Punch (which I don’t read by the way). I ask, why is there a pressing need to showcase and highlight what should, in reality, be scorned in a moral society? Continue reading

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On Women, Equality and Leadership.

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(Download PDF version of article here) This article actually dates to back November of last year (2010) when the issue of the firing (replacement…whatever you want to call it) of Fazeer Mohammed  (from CNMG) was at the forefront of the media. However, due to the highly … Continue reading

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Responding to ‘A Harangue on Homos’

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Oftentimes readers, articles such as this (‘A Harangue on Homos’) are published in newspapers without the general public being exposed to an appropriate response. The Express allows comments on all articles but we find them unfortunately removing valid and justified comments throughout … Continue reading

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