BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, September 24, 2014 (AMG) —Tensions are running high in some sections of Barbados, following inaccurate media reports that Muslims there have acquired planning permission to build an “exclusive” residential community.
The new community, according to project developers in the An-Noor Muslim Association, will be sited on five-acres of residential land in the up-scale West Coast neighbourhood of Clermont in St. James, and will include a mosque and community centre among its thirty-seven housing units.
While media reports indicate that planning authorities have denied An-Noor’s request to perform the adhān – the five-time-daily Islamic call to worship – wider criticisms have chided government authorities for allowing the community to be built at all.
Islamophobic reactions have been intense. Tony Waterman, a commenter on the Barbados Nation website questioned the move, asking “what’s next, Sharia law?”, despite that the island currently hosts five mosques – some which pre-date Barbados’ independence in 1966.
Hundreds more have supported a missive by Barbados Free Press (BFP) – a citizen blog – which concluded that “there can be no debate that these Islamic values and teachings are anti-Bajan, and destructive to our national character.”
Even more intense have been pleas from BFP readers to force the “assimilation” of Muslims into general Barbados society:
“Deny them freedom to dress differently. Deny them the facility of hiding their faces. Deny special schools. They assimilate and if they want to apply for a Barbados passport, they must meet the requirements of being a Barbadian”
While by no means a representative sample, expressions of Islamophobia – and the viral nature of the anti-Islamic sentiment towards the proposed community – are problematic.
The response from the Muslim community has understandably been one of disappointment. Suleiman Bulbulia of the Barbados Muslim Association has been quick to dismiss reports that the community was intended to be exclusive, noting that Barbadians of any faith were welcomed to purchase lots within the community. He adds:
“I am deeply saddened when in wonderful Barbados we have to hear such negative comments based on false and misleading information that so tarnish our tradition of harmony and peaceful coexistence”Suleiman Bulbulia
According to the latest census data, around 1,600 – or 0.7% – of Barbadians identify as Islamic, although the origins of the Muslim community within the island date back as far as 1913, when Indians were brought to the Caribbean as indentured servants following labour shortages after the abolition of slavery.
A majority of Muslims in Barbados are already concentrated in the city environs of Bridgetown, but they remain a fixture within several Barbadian communities through itinerant trading, where travelling Muslim traders provide critical credit facilities for the purchase of goods by poorer Barbadians.
Follow-up: We interviewed Suliemann Bulbulia for a response to this story, and more on the Muslim community in Barbados. Read it here