As Barbados TODAY continues its series on the Muslims in Barbados, the head of the An-Noor Muslim Association talks about its planned housing project and seeks to allay any fears about Muslims living together in Clermont, St James.
There is really no secret behind the Clermont, St James housing project being spearheaded by Muslims. In fact, the concept behind the project is as open as the five acres of land consisting of 37 lots, situated opposite Queen’s College. The development will include an already designed mosque catering to approximately 250 people, which is the main reason behind the community being established. A public community centre, recreational area and, hopefully, a free medical clinic catering to the wider community are also in the pipeline for the non-profit venture.
“So the debate which has deteriorated into an anti-Muslim debate, even carrying racial overtones, following the announcement in the Press about the coming development are unfortunate and unnecessary,” the chairman of the An-Noor Muslim Association, Abdulsamad Pandor, expressed to Barbados TODAY as he told the story behind the project and sought to clear up numerous misconceptions.
“There is nothing secretive about it or nothing exclusive about it,” he stressed during an interview at his Oxnards, St James home.
An-Noor was formed three years ago to look after the welfare of the 50 Muslim homes in the general Wanstead, Cave Hill, Husbands, Prior Park, Crystal Heights and Upper Black Rock areas. And though those Muslims, like the billions across the world who follow the Islamic faith, are requiredto pray five times a day, they have no specific place to worship.
“We have been looking for a place in this general area to say our prayers as a group for several years. We have identified one or two spots but each time we approached authorities about the spots we were told you are not going to get permission to put a mosque there because it is a residential area, which is strange because there are churches in residential areas,” he said.
After knocking at those closed doors, Pandor said his group was advised that perhaps the best way to get permission to build a mosque was to acquire land where Muslims would live.
“So we drove around and we found this piece of land opposite Queen’s College and we approached the owners of the land and they agreed that they would sell it . . . . We said, ‘Look, we are going to buy it if we can get permission to put up a place of worship because that is our ultimate aim’.
“The people that were selling it to us were very good to us and drew up a plan, divided it into lots and put a spot where the mosque should be and they submitted it to the Town and Planning Department and it was approved. Town and Planning said, ‘Fine this is good, you have a community here and you have a mosque’,” Pandor said.
He further explained: “But . . . we figured if we can sell the lots at X dollars per square foot we would raise enough money to buy all of the land, including the land for the mosque. So members of the community thought it was a great idea and straight off, without advertising or even knowing what they were buying, we sold 30 lots and raised enough money to buy the land. Then we proceeded to cut the road and show the brothers and sisters where their lots were.”
Why were the lots never advertised to be purchased by the general public? This is a question that the chairman said he was sure many non-Muslim Barbadians may want answered.
“What’s the point in putting up for sale when the moment we announced more than 33 lots were sold like that? So there was no need to go to a real estate agent or there was no need to put up For Sale,” he pointed out.
The chairman disclosed that one lot owner has decided that he does not want to build on the spot and has erected a For Sale sign on his piece of land. According to Pandor, the owner could not be stopped from carrying out his desired move and emphasized that the covenants for the lots do not mandate sales to Muslims only.
“It could be sold to anybody. And even if a Muslim builds an apartment, he can rent it out to whoever he wants and that could be anybody because the developers of the land cannot tell him who to rent to. It may very much end up that many non-Muslims end up living in the area even if they do not own the spots because they could be renters,” he suggested.
Getting back to the reason behind the project, Pandor explained that as was the case all over the world, Muslims preferred to live close to a mosque. It was sometimes difficult for Muslims living in surrounding St James districts to get to a mosque when prayers were called.
“If I have to go to Kensington five times a day to pray, I have to get into my car, drive down there, the prayer takes five to ten minutes and then I have to get back in my car and come home and two of the prayers are during peak travelling time. Whereas there at Clermont, the people who live in the vicinity can roll off their bed and go to the mosque because the houses will all be built three or four yards maximum away from the mosque.”
In response to concerns from residents living close to the proposed development about noise coming from the mosque when the prayers were taking place, Pandor assured that would not be a problem.
“We have agreed that we would not use speakers in this mosque so you wouldn’t even hear the call to prayer. These days with modern technology you can put a receiver in your house and wirelessly connect to the mosque so we could call the prayer in the mosque and people in their homes can hear it.
“The most you are going to see is people driving in and you are not going to hear a ping because prayers are conducted very softly . . . ,” he assured.
Dismissing speculation about the exclusiveness of the community, the chairman noted that this would not be the first time or place in Barbados that Muslims would be living among each other.
“If you go into Kensington New Road, there are at least 12 Muslim homes and they were there from the time I was a boy. Muslims have been living in Barbados since 1910 and that’s 104 years. My grandfather himself came here in 1933 and my father came in the early 1940s.
“People of my generation who are not young people were born here and grew up here. I went to school here, I have worked in Government, I have worked in the private sector all my life. We see ourselves as Barbadians. When West Indies play cricket we support the West Indies team even when they are playing against India,” said a passionate Pandor.
Muslim Nabeel Ali, who expects to be living in the community with his immediate family after they relocate from Canada, said he chose the area primarily because of its closeness to family and the mosque. The businessman said that he had attended meetings related to the project and it was never raised directly or even suggested that this would be “an exclusive community”. However, he said he believed the misconceptions from the non-Muslim community came from tainted pictures being painted about Muslims
in the international media.
“Although there may be a minority of people doing something, there is the idea that people of the same class or the same race or religion have the same inclination. So I understand why people would feel apprehensive but, again, I don’t think it’s a logical [response],” Ali quipped.