Islam in Fiji

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The Muslims of Fiji comprise approximately 7% of the population (62,534). The Muslim community is made up of people of Indian origin, descendents of Indentured Labourers who were brought to the islands in the late 19th century by the British colonialist rulers of the time. The majority of the Indo-Fijian community is Hindu and an estimated 16% is Muslim. There are also thought to be a few hundred indigenous Fijian Muslims, such as the well-known politician Apisai Tora, but no accurate statistical data exists in this regard.

Muslims are mostly Sunni followers Imam Abu Hanifa (59.7 percent) or unspecified (36.7 percent), with an Ahmadiyya minority (3.6 percent). The Ahmadis run the Fazl-e-Umar Mosque in Samabula, which is the largest in the South Pacific. In the 1966 elections a Suva-based Muslim communal party, the Muslim Political Front, took part.

History[edit]

By the end of the 19th century, Islam was firmly established in Fiji. Muslim migrants preserved Islam within their families for generations after the first ship brought Indian indentured labourers to Fiji in 1879. The first Indentured Labourer ship, the Leonidas, had quite a high proportion (22%) of Muslims. Between 1879 and 1916, a total of 60,553 labourers were brought to Fiji from India under the Indentured Labourer system. Of those who came from Calcutta, 6557 were Muslims. 1091 Muslims came from Madras and 1450 from North- West Frontier, Baluchistan-Afghanistan and the Punjab region.

Life during Indenture[edit]

While, with the loss of the caste system, Hindus did not have any institution binding them together, the Muslim faith was affected little by travel to a far off land, although the community initially suffered from a lack of mosques and religious scholars. The Muslim community was able to preserve their religious rites, practices and festivals, but under the harsh reality of the indenture system, it was difficult to pray five times a day and observe the full fast of Ramadan due to the slavish labour conditions imposed upon them. C.F. Andrews, in his report after his first visit to Fiji, noted that religious decline had not been as rapid amongst Muslims compared to that of the Hindus, and on his second visit wrote that Muslims had retained their social system and religious life was showing signs of revival.

Muslims played a significant part in protests against the Indentured Labour system. In 1907, a group of Indo-Fijians went on strike in Labasa after being forced to work on the cane plantations, whereas on recruitment they had been promised jobs as policemen. Most of the protestors were Afghan-Indo Pashtuns and Punjabis were Muslims.

Hindu-Muslim relationship during Indenture[edit]

Although Muslims lived as a separate community in India, the early indentured labourers spoke the same language as their Hindu counterparts and the two communities lived together amicably. There was also a high proportion of inter-marriage between Hindus and Muslims. The South Indian Muslims were easily absorbed into the larger Northern Muslim community and did not suffer as much prejudice as their Hindu counterparts. There was cooperation between groups of Hindus and Muslims in the celebration of various festivals, the best example of which was Mohurram, a Shia celebration, when Hindus and Muslims worked together to build a decorated edifice, called the Tazia, which was carried to the sea in a procession where it was abandoned.

Free Indo-Fijian Muslims[edit]

From 1884 onwards, as labourers completed their five-year indenture contracts, Muslim communities began forming in various parts of Fiji. They tended to be small, often isolated, but recognising the need for contact and cooperation among themselves for social and religious enhancement, they congregated. There were amongst the first generation of Indian labourers, Muslims who were literate and sufficiently versed in Islamic teachings to assume leadership roles and to lead prayers. Prayer meetings, initially in homes, helped foster an Islamic identity and inculcated a sense of unity. The arrival of Mulla Mirza Khan, as a free-immigrant in 1898, was a boost to Islam in Fiji, as he contributed a lot to the educational and religious needs of the Muslims. In 1900 a mosque was built in Navua on land provided by the Fiji Sugar Company, a small mosque and school was built in Nausori on land provided by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and another mosque was built in Labasa in 1902. In 1909, Muslims made submissions to the Education Commission for Urdu to be taught in the Persian script to their children. In 1915, the Anjuman Hidayat ul-Islam petitioned the government for the solemnization of Muslim marriages by a kazi and recommended its secretary's appointment for the Suva area. In Lautoka, the Isha Ithul Islam emerged, and in 1916 and was directing its efforts towards building a mosque there.

Establishment of Fiji Muslim League[edit]

By 1908, there were about 4000 Muslims in Fiji - a third of them still indentured. In 1915, the Anjuman Hidayat-e-Islam was established in Nausori, and in the following year, the Anjuman Ishait El Islam was established in Lautoka. There were only about 70 Muslims in the Suva area, which then did not have a Muslim school or a mosque. But in 1919, as the number of Muslims in the capital city steadily grew, Anjuman-e-Islam was formed to serve the spiritual needs of Suva's Muslim community. The Fiji Muslim League was formed on 31 October 1926, at a meeting at the Jame Mosque in Toorak.

Maunatul Islam Association of Fiji[edit]

Maunatul Islam Association of Fiji (MIAF) represents approximately 30% of the Sunni Muslims in Fiji who are mostly followers of Imam Shafi. Muslims of the Shafi school of Islamic jurisprudence are the descendants of Muslims of Malayalam origin who came to Fiji under the indenture system from Kerala in South India between 1903 and 1916. The main Sunni Muslim organisation in Fiji, the Fiji Muslim League, represents Sunni Muslims in Fiji who are mostly followers of Hanafi jurisprudence. The organisation originally operated under the name "The India Maunatul Islam Association of Fiji," since it was officially formed in 1942. This organisation owns mosques in Lautoka, Ba and Tavua.

Role of Fiji Muslim League in education and welfare[edit]

The Fiji Muslim League has been involved in education in Fiji. Their first school, the Islamic Girls School, already existed in 1926 and is now known as Suva Muslim Primary School. Today, the Fiji Muslim League owns and operates 17 primary and 5 secondary schools, plus a tertiary institution known as the Islamic Institute of the South Pacific. The Fiji Muslim League accepts students and staff members of all ethnic and religious groups, not just Muslims. In 2000, there were 4464 secondary school student (3015 Muslims, 994 Fijians/Christians, and 455 others, including Hindus and Sikhs) and 5243 primary school students.

The Fiji Muslim League provides help for tertiary studies for needy Muslims through loans from its Education Trust and the Islamic Development Bank. Of the two IDB loan/awards for tertiary studies, one is granted locally for information technology and the other for the study of medicine in Pakistan. Most of the latter in recent times have been allocated for training Muslim female doctors; some have qualified and are working in Fiji.

Besides education, the Fiji Muslim League from its outset has attempted to assist in satisfying all the social needs of the Muslim community. Its involvement in social welfare is both at national and branch levels. In times of natural disasters or turmoil the Fiji Muslim League directly helps Muslims and non-Muslims alike whose homes and lives have been disrupted. Its charity work ensures many families are fed, clothed, housed, and children sent to school.

Muslims and politics[edit]

Since 1929, the Fiji Muslim League has sought to obtain separate representation for Muslims in the Legislative Council, and in Parliament (both the House of Representatives and the Senate) since 1970. Except for the period between 1932 and 1937, Muslims have been represented well in Fiji's Parliament. From 1937 to 1963, at least one Muslim was always nominated into the Legislative Council out of a total of five Indo-Fijian representatives. Thus Muslims were represented by 20% of the Indo-Fijian members in the Legislative Council when they formed approximately 15% of the Indo-Fijian population. In the expanded Legislative Council of 1963, a Muslim, Mohammad Sidiq Koya was elected for the first time, and Muslims held 2 of the 6 (33%) seats reserved for Indo-Fijians. (The other Muslim was nominated member, C.A. Shah). In the 1966 election, 4 of the 12 (33%) Indo-Fijian members were Muslims. These were Sidiq Koya, C.A. Shah, and Mohammed Towahir Khan for the Federation Party and Abdul Lateef for the Alliance Party. The Muslim Political Front was formed to advance Muslim political rights, and in 1966, it joined the newly formed Alliance Party. Voting trends have shown that most Muslims have always voted for the party best representing Indo-Fijian community, showing that their political aspirations are not different from the other 84% of the Indo-Fijian community.

Muslim sports[edit]

In 1944 the first Muslim soccer inter-district tournament was organised in Sigatoka by the Fiji Muslim Sports Association. It has since been an annual event and in 2006, three teams from overseas featured in the inaugural Fiji Muslim Football Association International Muslim Club Championship. The Fiji Muslim sports association in association with Fiji Muslim FANCA Sports Federation is hosting its inaugural club championship during Easter Weekend 2007 in Lautoka. 4 teams from Australia,5 teams from New Zealand and 1 team from USA and all district team from Fiji will participate. This will be annual event to get the Muslim sports if Fiji amongst the best.

Muslim youth[edit]

There is also a very active youth movement tracing its origins to the 1960s, whose executives meet regularly and organise camps and other gatherings for young Muslims. It has a national outreach, with members from high schools as well as tertiary institutions and university graduates, as well as professionals in the workforce. Recently it also organized a wing to facilitate the interests of young Muslim women.

2002 American Samoa restrictions[edit]

In 2002, Fiji was one of 25 nations whose citizens were restricted in entering American Samoa due to the latter's new policy of restricting the entry of Muslims to the territory. The Fijian government protested, and Fiji was removed from the restricted list in 2003.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Moon Handbooks South Pacific - David Stanley - Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-07-24. 
  • A. Ali, Girmit: Indian Indentured Experience in Fiji, Fiji Museum, Suva, 2004
  • A. Ali, Plantation to Politics: Studies on Fiji Indians, University of South Pacific, 1980
  • C.F. Andrews & W.W. Pearson, Indian Indentured Labour in Fiji, Perth, 1918
  • K.L. Gillion, Fiji's Indian Migrants: A History to the end of Indenture in 1920, Oxford University Press, Melboiurne, 1973
  • K.L. Gillion, The Fiji Indians: Challenge to European Dominance 1920-1946, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1977
  • R. Norton, Race and Politics in Fiji, University of Queensland Press, Australia, 1990

Further reading[edit]