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24 I SPECIAL FEATURE Passion Islam I July 2009
Islam in Fiji
The Muslims of Fiji comprise around Muslim faith was affected little by travel together to build a decorated edifice,
7% of the population (62 534). The to a far off land, although initially there called the Tazia, which was carried to
Islamic community is made up of was a lack of mosques and learned the sea in a procession where it was
people of Indian origin, who were leaders. Most of the religious duties abandoned.
brought to the islands in the late and festivals were maintained, but
19th century by the British colonial under the harsh reality of the indenture Fiji Indian Muslims
power. The majority of the Indian system, it was difficult to pray five From 1884 onwards, as labourers
community is however, Hindu. Around times a day and observe the full fast completed their five years of indenture,
16% of the Fiji’s Indian community is of Ramadan. C.F. Andrews, in his Muslim communities began springing
Muslim. There are also a few hundred report after his first visit to Fiji, noted up in different parts of Fiji. They
indigenous Fijians, including the well- that religious decline had not been as tended to be small, often isolated,
known politician Apisai Tora, who rapid amongst Muslims compared to but recognising the need for contact
have converted to Islam. the Hindus, and on his second visit and cooperation among themselves
Muslims are mostly Sunni followers wrote that Muslims had retained their for social and religious enhancement.
Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Shafi social system and religious life was There were, amongst the first Indian
(59.7 percent) or unspecified (36.7 showing signs of revival. labourers, Muslims who were literate
percent), with an Ahmadiyya minority Muslims played their part in protest and sufficiently versed in Islam to
(3.6 percent) regarded as heretical against indenture. In 1907, a group of assume leadership roles and to lead
by more orthodox Muslims. In the indentured labourers went on strike prayers. Prayer meetings, initially
1966 elections a Suva-based Muslim in Labasa, because they were being in homes, helped foster an Islamic
communal party, the Muslim Political asked to work on the cane plantations, identity and inculcated a sense of
Front, took part. whereas on recruitment they had been unity. The arrival of Mulla Mirza Khan,
promised jobs as policemen. Most of as a free-immigrant in 1898, was a
History these were Afghan-Indo Pashtuns boost to Islam in Fiji as he contributed
By the end of the 19th century, and Punjabis were Muslims. a lot to the educational and religious
Islam was firmly established in Muslim needs of the Muslims. In 1900 a
India. Muslim migrants had had Islam Hindu-Muslim Relationship during mosque was built in Navua on land
in their families for generations when Indenture provided by the Fiji Sugar Company,
the first ship brought Indian indentured Although Muslims lived as a a small mosque and school was built
labourers to Fiji in 1879. The first separate community in India, the early in Nausori on land provided by the
indentured labour ship, Leonidas, had indentured labourers spoke the same Colonial Sugar Refining Company
an unusually high proportion (22%) of language as their Hindu brethren and and another mosque was built in
Muslims. Between 1879 and 1916, a the two communities lived together Labasa in 1902. In 1909, Muslims
total of 60,553 labourers were brought amicably. There was also a high made submissions to the Education
to Fiji from India under the Indenture proportion of inter-marriage between Commission, for Urdu to be taught in
system. Of those who came from Hindus and Muslims. The South Indian the Persian script to their children. In
Calcutta, 6557 were Muslims, while Muslims were easily absorbed into the 1915, the Anjuman Hidayat ul-Islam
1091 Muslims came from Madras, larger North Indian Muslim community petitioned the government for the
1450 from North- West Frontier, and did not suffer as much prejudice solemnization of Muslim marriages
Baluchistan-Afghanistan and Punjab. as their Hindu counterparts. There by a kazi and recommended its
was cooperation between Hindus and secretary’s appointment as one for the
Life during Indenture Muslims in the celebration of various Suva area. In Lautoka, the Isha Ithul
While, with the loss of the caste festivals, the best example of which Islam emerged and in 1916 and was
system, Hindus did not have any was Mohurram, a Shia celebration, directing its efforts towards building a
institution binding them together, the when Hindus and Muslims worked mosque there.
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