Last week, Muslims celebrated Eid-ul-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice. For the occasion, Prime Minister Mia Mottley chose to send greetings to the Muslim community. She stated: “Greetings and peace be upon you as you celebrate the auspicious Eid-ul-Adha, on the culmination of the pilgrimage to Mecca where 60 Muslims from Barbados have journeyed.
“My wish for the Muslim community and all Barbadians on this Eid, is that peace, hope and joy embrace your life and stay with you on this blessed day and always.”
It is heart-warming that a Prime Minister would make the time to issue felicitations to a minority group on the occasion of one of their sacred festivals. It is these simple messages and greetings that help build bridges of understanding and motivates others to respect each and every one regardless of their religious, social or ethnic background.
The Muslim community has been present in Barbados for over 100 years and two mosques have dotted the landscape of the city of Bridgetown for just over 60 years. The Islamic faith, while very much a minority religion on the island, has played a part in the development of the Barbadian society.
As Muslims gathered to celebrate Eid-ul-Adha last Wednesday at Brownes Beach, Carlisle Bay (it is a tradition to pray outside the mosques on the occasion of Eid), the diversity of people attending was striking. Barbadians of all backgrounds, race and social standing, assembled. Even visitors to the island who shared the faith joined in to experience Eid on the island and perhaps to pray together for the first time in the environs of an exceedingly wonderful tropical atmosphere, white sands and crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.
I continue to argue that the religious groups which make up Barbados have much to offer the country, whether they are a majority or a minority. And I have made it my mission to create a better awareness and understanding between these groups and of these groups especially for the faith I represent.
If we can have an awareness of what each other believes and practices then it is a start in building a harmonious society and breaking down barriers of suspicion and misinformation.
The Barbados TODAY editorial of August 23rd highlighted the decline in religiously accepted codes of conduct. The opening lines of that editorial set the stage for their analysis of this disturbing trend: “Whether or not we like it, the conservative, genteel society of Barbados is fast disappearing.
“More and more we see it: the lack of courtesy, the violent manner in which we settle our conflicts, and the poor treatment of our elderly, our women and our children. We could belabour the point, but to what end?
“More than anything else we were known as a Christian society but we have to admit that hardly appears to be the case.
“The recent acts of theft at several churches of varying denominations across this country are glaring signs of this worrying decline.”
I agree wholeheartedly that there has been a decline in seeing the importance of faith in the daily lives of many. And certainly, the recent, frequent, acts of thefts at religious places point to a reality that these places are no longer sacrosanct. I know that even our mosques have had to put security measures in place, even CCTV systems, as they also have fallen victim to acts of theft. Theft is theft and whether it is at a religious place or other it must all be condemned.
Faith practitioners must take stock of all that is happening around them in a world increasingly becoming more materialistic and less spiritual. And more importantly they must appreciate that the spotlight being cast on religion, in most cases a negative one and in many cases because of our own doing, does not help our cause of bringing faith-based principles to the table in helping humanity manage its various crises.
The Barbados TODAY editorial made the point in its last line: “The Church cannot be what it used to be. For Barbados isn’t.” And that is true in the application of our respective faiths. Our beliefs and the basic fundamentals of each of our respective faiths will remain but the methodologies we utilize in getting that message to our followers and indeed to our society will change as the society changes.
One of the common challenges is attracting young people into the religious fold and retaining them. The pull of the materialistic world seems to be getting stronger and more influential as technologies change.
Utilization of that same technology is fast becoming the norm by faith-based institutions in getting the attention of the younger generation. These institutions and their leaders in many cases have been dragged kicking and screaming into this practice of utilizing social media to get youth participation in faith-based activities.
Social media is where you will find young people and, increasingly today, the not-so-young as well. So must it be in social media that faith-inspired messages must be found.
As I observed the gathering at our Eid celebrations after the prayers and other formalities, it was clearly evident that young and old were busy in selfies, posting on social media and taking photos of all that was happening around them. Carlisle Bay is scenic and if I were the tourist I would probably be busy doing the same. But it wasn’t only the visitors among the congregation that took in the ambience; many families gathered for together on that prime spot to have a photo taken on a joyous occasion surrounded by such tropical splendour.
Hopefully, the sermon of the morning was not lost in the fervour to get those selfies. I hope that the advice given of being compassionate and showing love to others remained fresh in the minds of the listeners as they departed the venue. And I also wish the example of sacrifice which is what was being commemorated was not forgotten amid the eagerness to get the best snaps posted or tweets tweeted.
Understanding our respective faiths and each other, applying them in the circumstances in which we live, and building a better society for all are the legacy we all can strive to leave behind.
Suleiman Bulbulia, Justice of the Peace, is Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org