ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN BAHAMAS
Commonwealth of the Bahamas
Sovereign : Queen Elizabeth II (1952)
Land area : 3,888 sq mi (10,070 sq km); total area: 5,382 sq mi 13,940 sq km)
Population (2008 est.) : 307,451
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Nassau, 222,200
Monetary unit : Bahamian dollar
Languages : English (official), Creole (among Haitian immigrants)
Ethnicity/race : black 85%, white 12%, Asian and Hispanic 3%
Religions : Baptist 35%, Anglican 15%, Roman Catholic 14%, Pentecostal 8%, Church of God 5%, Methodist 4%, other Christian 15% (2000)
National Holiday : Independence Day, July 10
Literacy rate : 98.2% (1995 est.)
Economic summary : GDP/PPP (2005 est.): $5.696 billion; per capita $18,900. Real growth rate: 3%. Inflation: 1.2%.
The Bahamas are an archipelago of about 700 islands and 2,400 uninhabited islets and cays lying 50 mi off the east coast of Florida. They extend for about 760 mi (1,223 km). Only about 30 of the islands are inhabited; the most important is New Providence (80 sq mi; 207 sq km), on which the capital, Nassau, is situated. Other islands include Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, Andros, Cat Island, and San Salvador (or Watling's Island).
The Arawak Indians were the first inhabitants of the Bahamas. Columbus's first encounter with the New World was on Oct. 12, 1492, when he landed on the Bahamian island of San Salvador. The British first built settlements on the islands in the 17th century. In the early 18th century, the Bahamas were a favorite pirate haunt.
The Bahamas were a Crown colony from 1717 until they were granted internal self-government in 1964. The islands moved toward greater autonomy in 1968 after the overwhelming victory in general elections of the Progressive Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling, over the predominantly white United Bahamians Party. With its new mandate from the black population (85% of Bahamians), Pindling's government negotiated a new constitution with Britain under which the colony became the Commonwealth of the Bahama Islands in 1969. On July 10, 1973, the Bahamas became an independent nation.
Islamic History and Muslims
Muslims cry foul
By MINDELL SMALL, Guardian Senior Reporter
Two Muslim fathers, who say they are fed up with discrimination against children of Islam in The Bahamas, are calling on the government to honor the constitution, which guarantees all Bahamians the right to religious freedom.
Latif Johnson, one of the teachers at the Islamic Centre on Carmichael Road and Khalil Mustafa Khalfani, lecturer at The Bahamas Technical & Vocational Institute (BTVI) brought their concerns to The Guardian.
Both men said they had their share of 'challenges' with church-run private schools that require students to participate in "Christian ceremonies" at morning assemblies and take religious studies classes. They said these classes would be more aptly named, "Christian studies," as only the Bible is taught.
However, the men said they were not really surprised by the rigid rules imposed by the private Anglican and Catholic-run schools, but argued that they were not expecting public schools to "force" students to take religious studies and attend Christian-based events. "You're forcing that on them," said Johnson on Monday. "You're not even giving them a chance to learn about anything else. They are children, and you are denying them the right to practice their religion."
Johnson was introduced to Islam 20 years ago while taking a world religion class at a US-based University. He estimates that there are now just under 1,000 Muslims living in The Bahamas, the majority of whom were born here. The Muslim teacher appeared to be well versed on The Bahamas Constitution and pointed out that the Supreme law states that parents are empowered to instill their religious values in their children, not schools.
According to the constitution (under protection of freedom of conscience), every person in The Bahamas is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual and no person can be hindered in the enjoyment of his/her freedom of conscience, which includes freedom of thought and religion, as well as the freedom to change one's religion or belief.
Khalil Khalfani, who is also the founder and proprietor of Ashanti Oils and Ashanti Bazaar and Beauty Centre at Ross Corner, said it appeared to him that certain schools were ignoring the constitution. He pointed out the section which states, "Except with his consent (or, if he is a person who has not attained the age of 18 years, the consent of his guardian) no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in, or attend any religious ceremony or observance [if] that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his own."
With this in mind, Khalfani expressed outrage and said, "Muslim students are not allowed to practice their religion, or allowed to refrain from participating in Christian ceremonies. That is an issue because it is forced on them. When I was teaching at H.O. Nash 10 years ago, the students didn't have to worship at assembly and they didn't have to take Religious Knowledge. But now they are forced to participate in all these activities."
When asked why more Muslims were not speaking out against this apparent breach in the constitution, Khalfani said, "I think because the parents are being totally intimidated and so they try to work with the system instead," adding that because of the religious "indoctrination," he decided to home-school his four-year-old son.
"In fact, there are several Muslim families who are now home-schooling their kids because of this, and some families are moving out [of the country] to avoid having to deal with the system," he said.
Johnson also home-schools his children for essentially the same reason. He recalled an incident at [a private school] several years ago that received national attention. He said a female student at that school was told she could not wear a hijab or veil. The school argued that the veil was not a part of its dress code and that all students were required to comply with the code if they wanted to attend classes.
"She was made to take her covering off in the school in front of the whole class and she was embarrassed," said Johnson. "In fact the teacher, not only told her to take it off, but he also put her out the class. I really felt the way it was handled was inappropriate."
Calls to the school's principal were not returned up to press time yesterday. Meantime, Khalfani pointed out that the private schools were not completely "private" as they receive grants from the government, which are monies from all tax-paying Bahamians.
He said the followers of Islam should not have to build their own school, as they are slowly doing now, in order to be treated with respect.
In defense of the public schools, new acting Director of Education, Lionel Sands said as far as he is aware, the religious studies classes are designed to teach students about all world religions, and not to indoctrinate anyone into any particular religion.
"Because if you study our program on religious studies, particularly the one leading up the BGCSE (Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education) examinations, it deals specifically with religious studies and not religious knowledge," stressed Sands. "There certainly is an emphasis on Christian perspective but religious studies includes all religions. We don't discriminate." Sands added that the ministry would investigate any incident where students feel a religion other than their own is being forced on them.
However, a 2003 government school graduate told The Guardian yesterday that the Muslim fathers were correct. He said there was no true "all-religion' experience in public schools, and that world religions were only mentioned in religious studies classes — not expanded on. "Because 95 percent of it is focussed on the religion that is most predominant here in The Bahamas which is Christianity," said the former student who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Also, if they do expand on other religions, it's pretty much just to make you aware that other religions exist. But the classes are basically on understanding Christianity."
Khalfani took it a step further and said religious discrimination was not only apparent in the schools but also in the media. He was referring to the treatment he received on a show he appears on every Tuesday. He said he used the show not only to promote his business, but also, on occasion, to explain the principles of Islam. However, prior to the May general election, the station restricted the Muslim lecturer from speaking — not about politics — but rather about his religion. He said a few weeks prior to the election, the station issued a memo citing a contract (oral) that he was not to speak about his religious views, only his business.
"I had no written contract," stressed Khalfani. "I was brought on under a verbal contract. And after about four months of talking about my religion, they sent that memo down."
When The Guardian contacted Saran Gibson-Scott, one of the personalities hosting the show, she said it appeared to her that the radio station was trying to frustrate Khalfani to leave the show.
"The memo said that he was not allowed to proselytize at a government station, because we were a Christian nation. They were basically trying to get rid of him on our show for a long time. They sent the memo saying that if he were to say anything else [on Islam] they would not accept his money anymore," said Gibson-Scott "
The Guardian attempted to contact the station's general manager, for comment on the matter, but he was unavailable.
Khalfani said he was not too concerned about the radio station incident as he was more focused on transferring his business headquarters from Nassau to Senegal, a predominantly Muslim country in West Africa. He said he was hoping to be out of The Bahamas for good in the next two years and stressed that he was leaving because he and his family could not live a "full life" here as Muslims.
Islamic Centers and Organizations
Muslim Owned Business