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13 Island Currents, Global Aesthetics Islamic Iconography in Trinidad Patricia Mohammed The history of Islam in the Caribbean has not been rigorously traced (Khan 2004: 190).1 No pure story of traditions that arrive and are transformed over time by individuals or groups emerges. As with all cultural phenomena, growth and expansion are influenced by factors of migration, global currents in religious thinking, and material culture. In this essay I focus on what surfaces as a recognizable Islamic iconography in Trinidad over the history of its British colonial settlement from the nineteenth century to the present.2 In order to locate elements of an iconography, I have drawn on several sourcesofdata,includingvignettesbyhistorianswhohavecommentedonthe Islamic presence; observations from anthropologists, especially in relation to practices and material culture in the twentieth century; online sources that recount histories of jamaats (Islamic assemblies); and architecture, festivals, and clothing, and my own experience. I interpret the practices of Islam not as a distant observer but as an eyewitness exposed to aspects of this religion for more than half a century. Some references to other religious practices in Trinidadandtothe pastdevelopmentofIslaminAfricaandIndiaandinother Caribbean territories are also useful in establishing those Islamic elements that have become iconic of this society. In its beginnings in Trinidad as a religion, Islam had a more indiscernible and muted presence. From the early twentieth century onward, the constructionofmosquesandMuslimschoolspredominantlybytheIndo -Islamiccommunity , along with the annual festival of Hosay, made for greater visibility of thisreligion.Islamicaestheticshasconventionallydevelopedalonggeometric rather than figurative lines, characterized by minimalism rather than the more sensual ritualism found in the religious practices of Hinduism or Catholicism.· 295 · 296 · Patricia Mohammed This is paralleled in the emergence and growth of the Islamic presence on this landscape,whichismostevidentinthearchitectureandarchitecturalsymbols of its places of worship and in the style of dress expected of its adherents, rather than in objects, utensils, or elaborate rituals of its altars or festivals, again with the exception of Hosay, a funerary rite presented as the public “passion play” (Thaiss 199: 38) of this religion. While there are differences in the development of the Afro-Islamic and Indo-Islamic traditions in Trinidad, common to both is the importance of the Quran as the single holy text to whichallbelieverssubscribe.Religiousleadersarelargelymen,whoingeneral must have the capacity to read or recite the Quran in Arabic. Women, though important as followers, are to be controlled in dress and public behavior to preserve the honor and authority of men. The essay is divided into three sections, the first examining evidence from the work of early historians and writers for their insight into the iconic. It establishes the symbols that differentiate Islam from the other religions. The second section looks at the most recognizable visual elements in the society that have come to be associated with Islamic iconography and Islamic art, drawingontheHosaycelebrationsasitspublicperformanceofart,music,and strong ties to Arabic origins. Section three explores the dress and covering of the male and female body in Islam, especially in the public sphere, and the significance of this for meanings of piety and control over women in the religion in this society. I conclude with a summary of the main iconic elements that have surfaced in this review of available evidence. Tracing Early Iconic Elements in the Growth of Islam in Trinidad Islamic culture and practice in the Caribbean cross ethnic divides, drawing theircongregationfromawidemixofpeoples.AfricanIslamicpopulationsintroduced during and after slavery predate the arrival of the Islamic adherents who were brought from India as indentured workers. Although the Islamic presence was always recognized in Trinidad, demographically its followers make up a relatively small percentage of the population. The 2011 population census of Trinidad and Tobago indicates that 5 percent of a population of more that 1.3 million now belong to the Islamic faith, indicating a decline in adherents from 2000. The first known Muslims were from West Africa. It is thought that up to the early nineteenth century, there was a Muslim community in Port of Spain led by Yunus (Jonas) Muhammad Bath. Historians Carl Campbell (1974) and Brinsley Samaroo (1996) both confirm that the earliest introduction of Island Currents, Global Aesthetics: Islamic Iconography in Trinidad · 297 Muslims to the Caribbean region was by the Spaniards, who brought African Muslim slaves with them. This continued in the international slave trade, which flourished from the seventeenth century onward. “By the eighteenth century,” writes Samaroo, “there were black Muslims throughout the region holding their rites, teachings and ceremonies openly under the eyes of the Christians, undergoing intense persecution but steadfastly persisting in their faith” (Samaroo 1996: 203). Campbell...


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