ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
National name : República Dominicana
Land area : 18,680 sq mi (48,381 sq km); total area: 18,815 sq mi (48,730 sq km)
Population (2007 est.) : 9,365,818
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Santo Domingo, 2,851,300 (metro. area), 2,252,400 (city proper)
Other large city : Santiago de los Caballeros, 501,800
Monetary unit : Dominican Peso
Language : Spanish
Ethnicity/race : white 16%, black 11%, mixed 73%
Religion : Roman Catholic 95%
Literacy rate : 85% (2003 est.)
Economic summary : GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $85.4 billion; per capita $9,200. Real growth rate: 7.2%. Inflation: 5.8%.
The Dominican Republic in the West Indies occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti. Its area equals that of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Duarte Peak, at 10,417 ft (3,175 m), is the highest point in the West Indies.
The Dominican Republic was explored by Columbus on his first voyage in 1492. He named it La Española, and his son, Diego, was its first viceroy. The capital, Santo Domingo, founded in 1496, is the oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere.
Spain ceded the colony to France in 1795, and Haitian blacks under Toussaint L'Ouverture conquered it in 1801. In 1808 the people revolted and captured Santo Domingo the next year, setting up the first republic. Spain regained title to the colony in 1814. In 1821 Spanish rule was overthrown, but in 1822 the colony was reconquered by the Haitians. In 1844 the Haitians were thrown out, and the Dominican Republic was established, headed by Pedro Santana.
Islamic History and Muslims
Statistics for Islam in the Dominican Republic estimate that 0.02 percent of the population (2,000 individuals) are Muslim, but accurate statistics of religious affiliation are difficult to calculate and there is a wide variation concerning the actual numerical amount. Although the majority of the population is Roman Catholic, Muslim students and local organizations such as the Círculo Islámico de República Dominicana (The Islamic Circle of Dominican Republic) and the Islamic Center of the Dominican Republic (located in Miami) have helped spread Islam in this country. Currently, the Círculo Islámico estimates that Muslims number about 3,000 (most recent statistics), comprising of a good number of local converts.
Recent research has suggested that the area comprising the modern-day Dominican Republic had substantial contacts with West African Muslims before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. The native Taíno Indians of Hispaniola claimed a black people had previously come to the island, having on the tops of their spears a metal which they called gua-nin, samples of which Columbus sent to the Sovereigns to have them assayed. These samples were found to have the same ratio of alloy as those in African Guinea. The origins of the word gua-nin may be tracked down in the Mande languages of West Africa, through Mandingo, Kabunga, Toranka, Kankanka, Bambara, Mande and Vei. Other examples of African contacts prior to 1492 have been found in several other locations in the Americas and have confounded claims that Europeans were the first peoples from the "Old World" to discover the region.
Like other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, the history of Islam in the Dominican Republic began with the importation of African slaves, which first arrived to the island of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and DR), beginning in 1502. These people arrived with a rich and ancient culture, although brutal repression and forced conversions gradually diluted their original cultural identity and religions. The first recorded instances of resistance were in 1503, when Nicolás de Ovando, Hispaniola’s first royal governor, wrote to Isabella requesting that she prevent further shipments to the colony of enslaved ladinos, or persons possessing knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese languages and cultures, but who also often had connections to either Senegambia, Islam, or both. De Ovando had arrived earlier in April 1502 and was already complaining that the ladinos on the island were “a source of scandal to the Indians, and some had fled their owners,” establishing maroon communities in the mountains.
The first large scale slave revolt recorded in the Americas occurred in Santo Domingo in 1522 and was led by a group of enslaved Muslims from the Wolof nation. Intent on spreading sedition throughout the island, the insurrectionists moved to mobilize an equal number of coconspirators on neighboring establishments. Machetes in hand, they dismembered plantation personnel and livestock as they proceeded, initiating a “wild and bloody expedition under dawn’s early light.” In their wake lay torched houses and fields, while “here and there in the open ground lie the decapitated bodies of unfortunate whites who [the insurgents] were able to catch off-guard.” On December 28, 1522 they reached the cattle ranch of Melchoir de Castro, upon which they may have been planning an assault. By then, however, they no longer enjoyed the element of surprise; a mixed force of Europeans and indigenous persons under Melchoir de Castro’s leadership, both militia and volunteers, attacked the desperate band of Africans, effectively ending the revolt. Those not immediately killed took to the hills, only to be captured within a week. When the dust settled, some fifteen bodies were recovered, including those of at least nine Europeans. Diego Columbus reflected that if the uprising had not been quickly quelled, many more “Christian” lives would have been lost.
Although modern day scholars of religion in the Dominican Republic have acknowledged the African nature of Afro-Dominican practice of Catholicism, there has not been a detailed study of the influence of Islam. Similar to the process of black consciousness among African-American Muslims, Dominican converts to Islam often become interested in the religion through a re-examination of their African heritage as well as the cultural legacy of the Moors of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). Many conclude that Islam is not alien to Latin American culture and begin to look at it as an alternative form of religious practice.
Islamic Centers and Organizations
Muslim Owned Business