June 29, 2017

Like other cultures and religions brought here by the immigrants who have shaped and built this land, Muslims have influenced our cuisine, fashion, architecture, politics, education, and so much more. Among prominent citizens of the Muslim faith who rose to positions of influence in T&T are legal luminary Noor Hassanali, a former president, as well as Nizam Mohammed, who was Speaker of the House of Parliament.

But there are many more Muslims who, quietly and unobtrusively, contribute to their country, and for whom Islam is a touchstone for uplifting personal change, charity and community outreach, and above all, a sense of family connection.

Among them is Acklima Mohammed, who says she has dedicated her life to helping others who are less fortunate, and does this work with no fanfare. She explained: “What the right hand is doing, the left hand must not know,” saying that charity work is done not for fame, but for love of humanity.

Acklima spoke a little about her faith. She said that since she was 11, she has observed the month of Ramadan by fasting, praying and giving to charity. In the beginning, she said, she would fast for a couple of days, then stop as her body felt weak, and later start again. But over the years her body has adapted to the fasting routine, making it easier to observe.

“Fasting is a sacrifice,” she said. “It is not just about staying away from food and drink from the break of dawn to the setting of the sun. It is abstaining from everything that is wrong. It is about cleansing of the body, mind and spirit, and something I look forward to every year. God created this fasting, and if God created it, then it is good. Sometimes you make a mistake, but as long as you stay conscious, spiritually, you reap the benefits.”

One of the benefits, Acklima said, is the unity it creates among family members and members of their mosque who break fast together, especially in this period when families are so busy and hardly have time to share a meal together.

The T&T Guardian spoke to another TT Muslim who has lived abroad for many years now: a woman called Wasipha. Wasipha comes to Trinidad faithfully every year, for at least a week, to celebrate Eid with her family.

She explained: “Trinidad is unique. It’s a place where everybody gets involved—my Baptist neighbour, my Hindu and Christian friends. We take for granted, in TT, that we all participate in the celebration of different cultures, unlike other countries where different people celebrate different cultures.” She spoke about how important it is for her to connect with family at Eid.

“One year I did not come back home for Eid, and I was in a mess. My husband suggested I call my sister in New York and talk to her. By the time I finished speaking to her, she too was in a mess. After that, we swore we would not spend another Eid alone ever again. It’s either we come home to TT, or we meet in New York, Florida, or wherever one of us lives, to celebrate together.”

She said she usually arrives in T&T a few days before Eid, and leaves the day after Eid, so she can fully participate in “family time and Masjid time.” That closeness of Eid sharing and family time is similar in spirit to the Christian sharing and family time at Christmas: coming together for religious festivals in order to express faith, feel togetherness, as well as have a good family reunion.

Yesterday, Wasipha began her Eid day with her family, all dressed up in their most beautiful Arabic outfits, attending their mosque for prayers. After prayers were the traditional greetings of Eid Mubarak. Then they exchanged gifts, enjoyed games for the children, and gave donations to the less fortunate.

And later, it was time for some family feasting, similar to many Muslim Eid lunches across T&T, which can include combinations of delicious curried duck, goat or chicken eaten with either dhalpurie or buss up shot roti, biryani (a Persian rice dish which resembles our pelau), Jasmine or basmati rice, and sweets, including maleeda or sawine for dessert.

Eid Mubarak!