As Guyanese Muslims are getting ready to observe the celebrations of Eid Ul Azha, better known as ‘Bacra’ Eid or Qurbani, we take you back to the year 1896, a historical occasion for our brothers and sisters in Islam in Guyana today. It is an opportune time for us to reflect on the many sacrifices (Qurbani) that our ancestors made in their adopted homeland while instilling their religious practices in the future generations, and which today has survived vibrantly in Guyana. In 1896 a group of “Mahomedans” merchants from Georgetown led by Gool Mohumad Khan, Goolam Ally, Goolam Aidin, K H Dharsee, Kareem Baccus, and a few others of the Mussulman faith sent a petition to the Combined Court of British Government in which they requested a grant of money for the purpose of constructing a mosque and a school in Queenstown Ward (where today sits the Queenstown Jamma masjid) and where the children of the “immigrants” would attend the school attached to the mosque. The petition was signed by Muslims from across Guyana led by the Gool Mohumad Khan, who was born in 1853 and was a Yusufzai Pathan from Swat, Afghanistan. Khan arrived in British Guiana on 11th May, 1877 on board the ship King Arthur. In 1906 he returned to India with his family, leaving two of his 11 children (which can be considered a sacrifice) with his wife’s sister (who was childless) in British Guiana as well as a rich legacy of his contributions to the Muslims. In said petition the petitioners drew attention to the fact that there was no proper place of worship or schools where they could congregate especially for Friday prayers, or where their children may be educated without losing their religious background. The petitioners felt that the benefits to the colony “must be apparent to the British government to have the East Indian immigrants and their children educated in a proper manner and in their mother tongue (Urdu) as well as in the English language, by teachers from one of the colleges of India.” The petitioners argued that since a great portion of the immigrants leave the colony for India, the building of a school and mosque would serve as an incentive for many to stay on in British Guiana.
The petitioners further went on to urge the Court to take into consideration “the growing number of East Indian Immigrants in the colony, the sad want of education in the faith of their forebears and their want of an education in their mother tongue.” They also brought attention to the religious discrimination against
non-Christians, and urged the government to grant the Muslims financial help, which would benefit the colony as much as the parents and children whereby the East Indian children would be better educated. This sort of pleading with the British governors continued up until the 1950s by subsequent Muslim organizations, but the British denied the Muslims any help. While the Christian schools continued to receive funding from the British government but neither the Muslims nor the Hindus did.
At the time (1896) of signing the petition, according to the petitioners, there were about 105,463 “Hindustanis” in British Guiana and among those 32,432 had been born in the colony and about 20,000 were Muslims. Throughout the period of indentureship and up until independence East Indians on the whole were denied education and employment in the public sector, unless they converted to Christianity. This was yet another sacrifice they were forced to endure in order to further their socio-economic standing in the “eyes of the British.”
A special thanks to Professor Wazir Mohamed, of the University of Indiana and the Anna Catherina Sunnatal Jamaat who shared this historical document with us.