The stereotype of the Caribbean -- calypso dance and beaches -- is being replaced in Guyana, on the northern coast of South America, where, in a traditional village, many women who used to move around with no head covering, are now wearing a hijab.
While the dominant religions in Guyana are Christianity and Hinduism, seven percent of the population -- many of Indian extraction - is embracing Islam. Despite the small percentage of Muslim there now, Guyana is a permanent member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an international association that brings together Muslim countries.
Although Islam in Guyana used to be open, there is an increasing revival of orthodox Islam. Raymond Chickrie, a Guyanese-born professor, writes that in Guyana there is a move toward a more literary tradition in conformity with Islam at the expense of local traditions. "In this religious discourse," he wrotes, "the interpretation provided by orthodox Muslims, relying on the scriptural tradition, seems to become more hegemonic, creating religious authority itself."
The Iranian connection
The website CaribbeanMuslims.com reports that many Arab countries have have tried to finance activities in Guyana, to influence Guyanese Islam. The first country is certainly Libya. In 1977 Libyan Charge d'Affaire Ahmad Ibrahim Ehwass introduced activities to benefit the Muslim community, especially the youths. Many scholarships were given to young Guyanese Muslims to study in Libya; and in 1978, Ehwass was responsible for the formation of the Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT), which owns a primary school, a secondary school and an Institute for Islamic training.
With Iran, the 1979 Iranian Revolution marked a new era of relations between Guyana and Iran. While it is true that Saudi Arabia in the past invested in Guyana to spread Wahabi Islam, many Guyanese observers say that Shiite Islam from Iran is starting to have more appeal to the Muslim population of the Caribbean. Saudi Arabia, for example, invested more money in Guyana than Teheran did, but some Guyanese Muslims often seem to be more attracted to Shiite Islam -- perhaps because, according to its eschatology, the mother of the prophesied redeemer of Islam, called the Mahdi, is dark-skinned. Further, in Saudi Arabia, the approach towards descendants of Africans is unfortunately often seen as racist.
Burqa and temporary marriage
The book Guyana Junction by Johannes Gerrit de Kruijf states that new trends in the Guyanese Muslim society are dictated by foreign influences mainly, nowadays, from Saudi Arabia and Iran. "Some [Guyanese] Muslims deliberately assume a stereotypical Muslim role. I have heard them state they want to 'look like Taliban.' Witnessed the popularity of turbans, come across young girls opting for a burqa," the book says. Whereas several years ago it was rare to see Muslim girls wearing Islamic garments, nowadays due to the strong influence of imam, who studied in the Middle East, it is possible to see in the middle of the hot Guyanese capital, Georgetown, girls covered from head to toe. Furthermore, among the Shiite minority, even though not allowed by the law, temporary marriages [muttah] are practiced. Temporary marriages last for predetermined fixed-term in Shiite Islam, often for one night: many opponents call this arrangement legalized prostitution.
Radical Islam in the Caribbean
The U.S. recently convicted three would-be-terrorists from Guyana who were plotting a terrorist attack in New York. During the trial, links between the three Muslim Guyanese defendants and Iran were exposed: the plotters had travelled to Iran and had met with key figures of the Iranian regime. Further, one of the would-be-terrorists, Abdul Kadir, a former Guyanese MP, had sent information on the Guyanese army to the Iranian Ambassador in Venezuela.
Salafi movements with Al-Qaeda connections are also present in Guyana. The Jamestown Foundation writes that many observers worry that radical ideologies will find resonance among Guyanese Muslims and others in the region: "Guyana's porous borders and growing problems with violent crime remain a concern, especially as its security and intelligence capabilities are overwhelmed, thus presenting a potential opening for radical Islamists to gain a foothold." Adnan el-Shukrijumah, a top al-Qaeda operative and explosives expert, who had plotted to blow up New York's subway system, was also known to have lived for a period in Guyana.
The spread of radical Islam is a threat to the whole Caribbean region. Sheikh Abdullah Faisal, an extremist Muslim cleric who converted to Islam -- and who, according to National Public Radio, allegedly has connections to terrorist plots around the world -- is still preaching hate and violence on the internet from his shop in Jamaica.
Social tensions are also an incentive for people in the Caribbean to convert to Islam: it is perceived as a religion of empowerment for the masses. A few years ago, an underground blog in Barbados published a call for Hamas and Hezbollah to target "white people in this country, who are more powerful than Castro in Cuba." Barry Rubin in his book Guide to Islamist Movements states that the "radical Islamic challenge emanating from the Caribbean is expected only to increase with the ever-growing social and economic tensions." Observers think that, as more and more Wahabi-affiliated institutions are being sent to the West, especially to the United States and Canada, a new wave of jihadis and radicalized Imams could come from just the poor sectors of the Caribbean, preaching holy war [jihad] and and spreading hate.