During the recent International Symposium on the “History and Legacy of Muslims in the Caribbean” held on the 6 September 2023 at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Shabnam Alli and Raymond Chickrie were honoured that president Irfaan Ali in his address to the attendees mentioned our research in documenting the history of Muslims in Guyana, in particular referencing the African Muslims.
This is more impetus to complete our upcoming book, Tentatively titled: “From Slavery to Present: Muslims in Guyana, Resistance and Triumph.”
Besides his Hindu ancestors, Raymond Chickrie, from Maida Plantation, Corentyne, traces his earliest Muslim ancestors going back to Sherally Khan who was indentured to Skeldon in 1861, Jahangeer Khan indentured to Maryville, Leguan in 1875, and Goolmani Khatoon indentured to Skeldon in 1878. His interest in the subject of indentureship and Muslims in Guyana goes back three decades. He published his first essay, “Muslims in Guyana: history, traditions, conflict and change” which was published in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, UK publication in 1999. Several other publications followed.
Bibi Halima Khanam (pseudonym Shabnam Alli) hails from Leonora, and has a long Muslim heritage, and she is in the process of tracing her paternal great-grandmother’s roots in Madras. At least three of her ancestors were Imams going back to 1898 when many of her ancestors decided to board the ships at Garden Reach, Calcutta. The three brothers Peer Alli (age 22), Shear Alli (age 18) and Meer Alli (age 14) all indentured to Leonora came on the Jura from Aurangabad.
Then there were their cousins Ansar Alli (from West Bengal) also came on the Jura in 1898 indentured to Maryville, Leguan; Habibullah from Lucknow came on the SS Ganges in 1909 indentured to Versailles and last but not least there was Bepat (Jaan Rasool) who left Basti India on the SS Ganges in 1916 and was bound to Rosehall Plantation. He later relocated to Leonora at the end of his indentureship sometime in late 1921 or early 1922. For a while, her father kept in touch with family in India writing in our language of poetry, Urdu.
We co-authored the “170th Anniversary of the Arrival of the First Hindustani Muslims from India to British Guiana ” which documented the arrival of Muslims on the first two ships, especially since some falsely claimed that no Muslims arrived on the first two ships to Guyana. It was published in the UK Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs in 2009. This project took us to the National Archives in the United Kingdom. We spearheaded the efforts to give voices to the forgotten and to acknowledge the presence of more than 90 (which represented about 20 percent among the first Hindustani immigrants) Hindustani Muslims on the Whitby and Hesperus who re-introduced Islam in Guyana. And now they uphold their rightful place in our shared history, given the many marginalized narratives on Indentureship which excluded the Muslim presence in Guyana since 1838.
Our work has also helped to usher in a reawakening and now many more people are writing on this subject. We also did an expanded version for a symposium in June 2013 held in Suriname which is included in the published book, “Indentured Muslims in the Diaspora.”
Another one of our iconic pieces was “The presence of Muslims among the enslaved Africans in Guyana” which was published globally and in many languages.
Now we are in the process of co-authoring a comprehensive volume of about 10 chapters, which include:
- The African Muslims
- Women during Slavery and Indentureship
- Hindustani Muslim, the rebirth of Islam
- The Afghan Muslims
- The Demise of Urdu
- The Institution of Islam
- Guyana the OIC, IsDB, and the Umma
- Guyana and Pakistan
- Nation Builders
- Resistance, Triumph, the Future
It was not an easy journey for our ancestors, however, they left us a diverse and rich culture, and throughout the many adversities they faced, they were triumphant in their struggles. Our ancestors in what they term Izzat (honour), Zindagi (Life) aur Maal (Property) spanning from Africa, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Iran, have had a profound influence in this epic chronicling of the history of Muslim Guyana.
This book is to pay tribute to our heroic ancestors and the beautiful Heritage of Islam they left us. May Allah SWT bless their souls and let them enjoy his garden of Jannah.
Khuda Hafiz, Raymond Chickrie and Bibi Halima Khanam