I was watching the TV news a few days ago and observed that the Minister of Social Cohesion had a meeting with representatives of Muslims in Guyana. Quite noticeably to me was the absence of any representative from the Shia community. Perhaps the Minister is unaware of the presence of Shia in Guyana. As the name of the Ministry suggests, she needs to be aware of the various communities that exist in Guyana. For this reason Mr. Editor, I would greatly appreciate the publishing of this letter in your letters column.
There are 3 established and expanding Shia Communities in Guyana, in Georgetown, Berbice and Linden. They all have centres in which there are prayers, classes and special commemorative events being observed. A mosque has also been established in Berbice. The presence of Shia in the world has been very much highlighted within recent times in the international news as events are focused on Iran and the surrounding States. Also making the international news quite often is the suicide attacks on Shias by extremists. Your print media has reported recently of 2 events that created quite a stir internationally – the execution of the leading Shia Cleric Sayyid Nimr by the Saudi Authority and the other the abduction and torture of Shia Leader Imam Zakzaki in Nigeria.
Shias are those Muslims who follow Islam handed down to them through the medium of the Progeny (direct descendants) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and they include the bulk of the direct Descendants of the Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet himself addressed the noble personalities who were always in the company of Ali, his cousin and son-in-law as ‘Shia-te-Ali’ or associates of Ali. Some Muslims continue in their close association with Ali and the other members of the Ahlul Bayt (The Family of the Holy Prophet – Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan, Hussain) after the death of the Holy Prophet. They were called the Shia-te-Ali, Shiite or Shia. Today there are approximately 350 million Shiite Muslims in the world. Of the total Muslim population of 1.6 billion about 20% are Shia Muslims. Most Shias (between 68% and 80%) live in just four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq. Sizable amounts are found in the neighbouring countries of Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and in Azerbaijan and the Surrounding Arab States of Bahrain and Yemen and with growing minorities spread worldwide. Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Surrounding Arab States of Bahrain and Yemen are referred to as the Shia Crescent, a term used to describe an emerging alliance and power. Arabia itself has 20% Shia.
Shias, through oppressed, have contributed significantly to the progress in all spheres in human life throughout Islamic History. They were often employed as administrators in the Arab caliphate. Imam Ali’s system of government has been recognized by the United Nations as a model for the world. Details of Shia contributions presently and in the past can be easily obtained via the Internet.
Among the Muslim indentured labourers that came from India to British Guyana, about 700 hundred were Shia (ref. the national Archives) and the Shia festival of Tadja commemorating the Tragedy of Kerbala in which the grandson of the Holy Prophet, Imam Hussian and 72 close relations and friends were martyred by the ruling Omayyad Caliphate, became the most important festival of the indentured labourers. The festival gained popularity and vibrancy to the extent that it was banned by the British out of fear that it will spark a revolution. However some communities in the Corentyne continued the festival until the early 70’s. This festival we hope, God willing, to revive as a cultural heritage. As a matter of fact, the Muslims that came to Guyana were more of a Shia nature as Persian influence was dominant in the 800 years of Muslim rule of India. Evidence of this is seen from the names that were given to Muslim children and a look at commemorations that were observed and various forms and words of poetry (Qaseedas) that are still sung on occasions. Muslims were either given names of Ali along with epithets of Ali, e.g. Chirag Ali (Light of Ali) or names of the Family of the Holy Prophet, which was unusual in the Sunni Arab world. Guyanese Muslims have more affinity to the Islam practiced in the Persian Peninsular than to that in Arabia. It was quite recently with the influence from Scholars from Saudi Arabia that the younger generation is indoctrinated into the Arab style of wahabiism and salafiism.
Some notable Shia persons over the years have been coming to Guyana and contribute beneficially to the society. This includes India High Commission Cultural Attachee, Hyder; UNICEF Doctor, Dr. Grace Begum and Iraqi Medical Student, Muhammad Al Maliki. An Iranian Shia Scholar, Hassan Ibraheemi who spent a few years in Guyana, was kidnapped and killed, sparking an Interpol investigation and the visit of Iranian Police and Ambassadors to Guyana. Many Shia scholars and high ranking officials have visited Guyana and were guests of Shia communities. Shia scholars in their mission to reach out to the Guyanese society have been well featured on various television channels and in interactions with the society in both Islamic and non-Islamic forums. With these facts presented, Mr. Editor, it is my hope that the Minister of Social Cohesion becomes aware of the Shia presence.
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