Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Jamaica's Muslim Past: Misrepresentations

Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Jamaica's Muslim Past: Misrepresentations

Article excerpt

This article sets out to refute the body of claims put forward by Sultana Afroz in her rewriting of Jamaican history. As is made patent in the conclusion to Afroz' "The Unsung Slaves"1 and in her series of articles, "The Invincibility of Islam in Jamaica",2 one impetus for her challenge to Caribbean historiography is the promotion of Islam. I have no intention of addressing the legitimacy of this motive (since we each harbour partialities), or of discussing the parameters within which religious conviction is an appropriate tool of historical interpretation. However, what I propose to address are the inaccuracies of data and faults of argumentation that bedevil her revisioning. There are glaring disjunctures between the sweeping claims advanced and the paucity of the evidence proffered, while logic is defied by extravagance of assertion, leaps in assumptions, and glib transitions from probability to dogmatism. Discrepant logic is further evidenced through the attribution of causation to the conjuncture or correlation of event, behaviour or custom. Afroz' application of doubtful logic to the production of questionable historiography is contained in her newspaper series, "The Invincibility of Islam in Jamaica", as well as several substantial articles: "The Unsung Slaves"; "From Moors to Marronage: The Islamic Heritage of the Maroons"; "The Manifestation of Tawid: The Muslim Heritage of the Maroons in Jamaica"; and "The Jihad of 1831-1832: The Misunderstood Baptist Rebellion in Jamaica".3

The launching pad for her argument is an inflation of the number of enslaved Muslims in Jamaica, a polemic direction that becomes noticeable from her 1999 treatise onwards. To build this case, she first distorts comments made by some nineteenth-century commentators. For example, in "The Jihad" (231], Afroz quotes comments by Bridges4 on the continuing loyalty to Islam among Christianized Muslims in Jamaica, a useful testimony for her thesis, but she goes on to include his remarks about Muslims in the Senegambia, giving the impression that these customs and ideas apply to Jamaica. Another instance of falsification occurs when she claims that Carmichael5 had "interviewed many Mandinka slaves in 1833" ("The Jihad", 228). However, the final chapter of volume one of Carmichael's book provides data on her interviews with ten enslaved persons in St Vincent, three of whom were Mandingo, four Ebo (Igbo), one from the "Guinea-coast", and two whose origins were not given. Furthermore, Carmichael does not accredit the belief in God the Creator, "all Powerful and all seeing", to enslaved Muslims, as implied by its placement in Afroz' texts, "The Unsung Slaves" (32), and "The Jihad" (231), since Carmichael's discourse at this point concerns their Christianization.6 She does, however, refer to encountering Muslims, associating these with Mandingos, and as for their number, she merely says: "Several native Africans have told me . . .".7 A further misrepresentation occurs when Afroz comments that "Mrs. Carmichael's observation authenticates the presence of a large number of Muslim slaves in Jamaica who had a firm conviction in Islam during the period leading to emancipation" ("The Jihad", 228). Carmichael was a resident of St Vincent and Trinidad, both islands in the Eastern Caribbean. Jamaica, in the northern Caribbean, was not the subject of her text.

On the basis of these sources, Afroz concludes that "a considerable number of Muslims" inhabited nineteenth-century Jamaica, and that they "formed a formidable number on the plantations throughout the length and breadth of the island" ("The Jihad", 229, 232). She also supplies a quantitative figure by referencing Diouf, on the basis of which she states that "Jamaica had 56.8 percent of her arrivals from Muslim areas" ("The Jihad", 228}. However, Diouf's actual text reads: "Between 1817 and 1843, 44 percent of the Cuban slaves came from Senegambia, Sierra Leone, and the Bights of Benin and Biafra. For Jamaica from 1655 to 1807, Curtin8 proposes 423,900 Africans from the selected areas, representing 56. …

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