Sunday, December 22, 2013

Islam in Central America & Fiji: A Documentary & Commentry

Islam In Espanol is a documentary on Islam's call to faith in Central America produced by Bilal Morris, a Muslim journalist and documentary filmmaker from Belize, who has written on Central America and the Caribbean region. The documentary is a good introduction into the expansion of Islam in the region and to stimulate one’s thinking. Here is part one of the documentary followed by a few comments.


My first knowledge about Muslims in Belize came from some of the comments I begun reading from Evan X Hyde. Hyde often talks about the role of Muslim members in the activities of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD).  Given that there are no mosques in San Ignacio, I had never had that sort of exposure.I do remember that there was a mosque (or it was at least a gathering place) in Belmopan near the University, which I always saw as peculiar. I would later gain more knowledge about Islam through readings. 

A few months ago, I attended an Eid celebration hosted by a student organization at the University of South Pacific (USP), Fiji. It was my first experience listening to a speaker on Islam.
Guess Speakers at Eid Cellebration, Aug 2013, USP


Interestingly, as in the documentary, the young people had a speaker from India as the guest speaker. The content of the message and its form of articulation was synonymous to a Christian theology, in my view. Despite my knowledge of Islam interconnections with Judeo-Christian beliefs, I was rather surprised. The songs and verses that were recited required knowledge of Fijian-Hindu and Arabic. It was an interesting experience.
Chicken Palao, given to attendees after
Muslim women in Fiji, at Business Expo
Regarding Muslims in Central America, one cannot foresee any significant growth at the moment. The challenges of interpretation and language are crucial factors that is rightly recognized in the documentary.

There are other factors too, too many to discuss here. Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism is on the rise in many of the Latin American countries and in Belize. These forms of religious beliefs are much less organized allowing for relatively easy ‘ordination’ of preachers and establishment of Churches. Women and youths are some of the main converts. They also have greater participation than say in Catholicism and indeed Islam. The revitalization occurring in Evangelicalism therefore will continue to make its impact in the Central America. This is also not surprising given the historical context of Christianity in the region. For more info, see Anderson, Allan, et al. Studying Global Pentecostalism. University of California Press, 2010.

Islam in some senses is also revitalizing. As the video shows, Arab Muslims are facilitating the teaching of Islam in the region. In Fiji, I have read since the 1980s there has been a substantial number of Mosques built. Some of which are quite extravagant. (I will post a few pictures later.) There are also various organizations in Fiji that seek representation for their religious identity in areas such as politics and education. 

In Belize, we are yet to see significant conversions to Islam especially beyond Belize City. However, I do not expect to see this any time soon.


I also encourage readers to view The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012) directed by Mira Nair. It is a movie that captures the impact of anti-Islamic tendencies after the destruction of the World Trade Centers, also discussed in Bilal's documentary. Here is the trailer: 

2 comments:

  1. It was refreshing to read your sharp views on the documentary. Your textual analysis produced surprising answers as to how Islam has played out in Central America from a socio-political view. Placing yourself into the picture as one who has seen sketches of Muslims and Islam in Belize and information from your readings is the best kind of participatory observation to understand the dynamics that are under the surface. Indeed Islam in Belize has a long way to go in comparison to Christianity, and the rise of Pentecostalism. But some how Islam has been been embraced by many young people in Central and Latin America as I had try to show through my interaction with Latino muslims in the documentary. Your reflection of Fiji muslims and how Islam has played out there was educational to me. You presented a informative spin in terms of the role Middle Eastern or immigrant muslims played in that part of the world---identifying their contribution in the development of islamic theology. It is my hope that the documentary will help to dispel some of the misconceptions about Islam around the world. Your analysis has helped greatly from a Sociology student's point of view in how Islam is interpreted as faith based system in Central America.

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    1. You are right regarding the misconceptions that many people have of Islam particularly after 9/11. I likewise hope that your documentary becomes effective in clarifying such misconceptions. Perhaps, you can also speak or create a video on why Islam is being embraced by newcomers or converts in your area. It would also be interesting for you to speak on how Islam contributes to a renewed sense of public justice among members of BREDAA or during UBAD.

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