Local Muslims say Islam is not about violence
However, with the number of followers of the faith increasing over the years in St Vincent and the Grenadines â the 2012 Census figures show there are 111 followers here â local Muslims are keen to dispel the notion that Islam represents violence.
SEARCHLIGHT met with a group of Muslims at their Kingstown mosque on Tuesday, February 3, and they were eager to get across the message that Islam actually promotes peace.
Ahmed Yurusa, who has been living in SVG for the past two years, said that with there being approximately 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, it is unfair to judge and stereotype them all, based on the actions of extremist groups â who are in the minority.
“Islam, the Arabic word, means religion of peace,â explained Yurusa. “So many people want to do all they can to make it seem like itâs not…â
He added: “Islam says if somebody offends you, the best thing to do is to forgive.â
Yurusa, who is originally from Nigeria and a medical student at All Saints University, said that throughout his life, he has had to fight stereotypes and misconceptions that others have made about him, based solely on his religion.
Khadim Dioum, a Senegalese married to a Vincentian woman, said that he shares that experience, but urges non-Muslims to research Islam properly before they believe the misconceptions that are regularly repeated.
“It is important to put things in context,â he stressed, referring to parts of the Qurâan that are misinterpreted.
“The misconception of one would bring the ignorance of the other one, and that is no good for anybody… What you say, I might not agree with it, but I donât have to react [negatively] to it. We have to agree to disagree!â
The group also discussed other misconceptions surrounding the religion, including the marriage of the Prophet Mohammed to Aisha (one of his wives) when she was a young girl, and the perception that the religion is overly controlling.
Yurusa explained that, contrary to what many think, Aishaâs marriage to the Prophet at age nine was not sexual abuse, as that was the norm in those times, and girls matured (mentally) faster in those times than they do today. He further noted that in religious accounts, Aisha is attributed as being the Prophetâs favourite wife, and was so devoted to him that although he died when she was 18 years old, she never re-married â even though she could have.
Mustafa Abdullah Ali, a Vincentian national, said that with regard to there being many rules outlined in the Qurâan, the rules are there to ensure that Muslims live their lives the way Allah intended â with respect for self and for others.
âSleeper cellâ in SVG?
When questioned about their being part of a sleeper cell (a group of people who live inconspicuously within a community until activated by prearranged signal to perform acts of espionage/sabotage/terrorism) for extremist groups abroad, the group firmly denied this.
In particular, Dioum admitted that he is often confronted by persons insinuating that he married a Vincentian woman to gain citizenship, so that he can travel to the United States without hassle from the authorities â something he also denies.
“I get that all the time!â he lamented, pointing out that even before he got married, he resided in the US for a few years.
The Senegalese national said, however, that instead of taking offence to such falsehoods, he sees it as an opportunity to promote the truth about Islam and fight the ignorance perpetuated by many.
ISIS and Boko Haram
“Terrorism should not exist because that is a cowardly way to go out.â
This was the assertion of Dioum, who along with the rest of the group condemned the actions of extremist Muslim groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram.
“As we say in the Qurâan, every life you take, when you go in front of God, you have to have good justification… How can you say you are fighting for Islam when you take life in the most cowardly way?â he emphasised.
Esan Abdullah, another Vincentian national, said that judgment and punishment for wrong deeds is the sole domain of Allah/God, and should not be carried out by man.
“Leave them to God â he will deal with them!â he insisted.
Nigerian national Yurusa asserted that groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram are political groups operating under the guise of being Islamic.
Referring to Boko Haram, which has its origins in the north-eastern region of Nigeria, he said: “They even bomb mosques… kill Muslims. If you are fighting for Muslims, why kill Muslims? Except you are not really Muslim!
“The head of the Muslim Association in Nigeria has condemned it; every single Muslim is condemning that.â
Dioum also spoke of the recent massacre of several staff members of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, at its offices in Paris.
“What happened at Charlie Hebdo is just the height of ignorance… Nobody has the right to do that.â
Muslim women in leadership
On discussing the role of women within Islam, the majority of the group were of the belief that women are not suited for leadership roles (within the religion and wider society) â as stated by the Qurâan.
“In Islam, women canât lead prayer… canât be leaders of the community,â said Mustafa Ali. “She is responsible for the household, the husbandâs property, and protecting her husbandâs honour.â
Yurusa also agreed with standpoint, saying that in the wider society, modern women are attempting to make themselves “equal to menâ, and this is not a path that Muslim women should adopt.
“The man has always been the one on top… In a place where there are able men, I donât see a reason why a woman should come and lead â except if the men are not able.â
Kai Sylvester, owner of popular restaurant Kaiâs Vegetarian Cuisine, said that he doesnât believe that women are suited to hold positions such as judges and magistrates, because of the fluctuations in hormone levels that women experience during menstruation and pregnancy.
He asserted that these fluctuations affect a womanâs ability to think fairly and make sound decisions.
Yurusa said: “All those changes in her body affect her emotionally.â
In contrast, Dioum thinks differently â insisting that he personally would like to see more women in leadership roles.
“If there were more women leaders, the world would be a better place… Women have more mercy; they have bigger hearts.â
The way forward
Throughout the interview with the small, yet knowledgeable group, one thing was abundantly clear â those of the Islamic faith are not here to force their religion on Vincentians. Rather, they wish to share their faith with the masses, in the hope that people will join one of at least three of the local mosques of their own volition.
In addition to that, they strive to show the peaceful side of their religion in the hopes of dispelling the stereotypes and misconceptions that many (including the media) propagate. And, of course, they rather not be judged based on their religion.
As Dioum pointed out: “People tend to forget that even before you are Muslim, you are human.â