The Unknown Land of South America: Suriname

Surinam Haritası

Translator: Zeynep Öncül

Appearances differ, languages and skins are diverse; yet there is a simple occurrence: the savageries are equal.” says Mehmet Akif Ersoy. Those were the first lines to remember when I think of Suriname, the name which most of us hear for the first time. Somewhere in the Caribbean region in South America, there is this country which’s history is full of colonialism or as Ersoy puts forward, with savageness, that contains multiple ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups. Being exploited by various nations throughout history, the most forceful and extent exploitation was done by the Netherlands, in such a great scope that even today the official language is Dutch. The most important fact that makes Suriname special is that, with a population of approximately 580.000, it has the highest Muslim population in the Americas.


Muslims in Suriname

As in the general history colonialism had also a huge impact in the formation of the religious history of the country. In 1667, with the Treaty of Breda, England assigned its rights over Suriname to the Netherlands in return for New Amsterdam, today’s New York. Among the first inhabitants of Suriname there were over 250.000 slaves uprooted from Africa to work in sugar cane and coffee plantations, as well as workers from India and Java. In 1864, when the slavery was abolished in the colonies of the Netherlands, approximately 34.000 workers were brought to the country mostly from Indonesia, 6.000 of them being Muslims.

At the time when the foundation of the country was based on slavery, Muslims were protesting often due to poor conditions. However, their grandsons nowadays not only work in various sectors as agriculture, livestock breeding, commerce, industry, and transportation, but also, they are in the best positions in many areas. In short, Muslims, compared to members of other religions, have a more dominant role in this cosmopolitan country. Suriname is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, established in 1969 to gather Islamic countries under a single roof, since 1997 in consequence of it being the country with the highest Muslim population in the American continent.

Trace of Islam in the Architecture

Keizerstraat (Jama) Mosque in Paramaribo, the capital city, is the biggest mosque in the country. The foundation of the Mosque, whose construction began in 1923, was laid with wooden minarets. In 1979, Muhammed Ali, the legend of boxing, visited the Mosque and its construction came to an end in 1984. Today, Keizerstraat Mosque is located next to an Ashkenazi Synagogue named Neva Shalom.

Some Developments Regarding Islam

The civil law in the country was Dutch Civil Code up to 1940 consisting of inapplicable practices for a Muslim. This legal system was disregarding the religious marriage, and that is why more than 90% of Muslim kids born at that time were considered illegitimate. With the intent of resolving these problems, special arrangements for the marriage of Muslims have been made by taking Eastern customs into consideration in 1940. Since 1970, the Ramadan Fest has been celebrated as a national holiday in the country.

This article was originally written in Turkish. Click here to read it! :Güney Amerika’nın Bilinmeyen Diyarı: Surinam

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