ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

      

General Information

United States Virgin Islands

Status: Territory

Land area                    : 135 sq mi (349 sq km); total area: 136 sq mi (352 sq km)

Population (2006 est.) : 108,605

Capital (2000 est.)       : Charlotte Amalie (on St. Thomas), 11,004

Languages                   : English (official), but Spanish and French are also spoken

Ethnicity/race               : West Indian 74% (45% born in the Virgin Islands and 29% born elsewhere in the West Indies), U.S. mainland 13%, Puerto Rican 5%, other 8%, black 80%, white 15%, other 5%, 14% of Hispanic origin

Religions                     : Baptist 42%, Roman Catholic 34%, Episcopalian 17%, other 7%

Literacy rate               : n.a

Monetary unit             : U.S. dollar

Economic summary     : GDP/PPP (2002 est.): $2.5 billion; per capita $17,200. Real growth rate: 2%. Inflation: 2.2% (2003).

The Virgin Islands, consisting of nine main islands and some 75 islets, were explored by Columbus in 1493. They were originally inhabited by the Carib Indians. Since 1666, England has held six of the main islands; the remaining three (St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John), as well as about 50 of the islets, were eventually acquired by Denmark, which named them the Danish West Indies. In 1917, these islands were purchased by the U.S. from Denmark for $25 million.

Congress granted U.S. citizenship to Virgin Islanders in 1927. Universal suffrage was given in 1936 to all persons who could read and write English. The governor was elected by popular vote for the first time in 1970; previously he had been appointed by the U.S. president. A unicameral 15-person legislature serves the Virgin Islands, and congressional legislation gave the islands a nonvoting representative in Congress. Residents of the islands substantially enjoy the same rights as those enjoyed by mainlanders, but they may not vote in presidential elections.

Tourism is the primary economic activity, accounting for most of the GDP and 70% of employment. All goods made in the Virgin Islands qualify for duty-free entry into the United States.

Islamic History and Muslims


It was only about 30 years ago that a Muslim community began to grow on the Virgin Islands with the building on St. Thomas of Masjid Muhammad in 1978.

Later it became Masjid Al-Nur located in Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the US Virgin Islands. With a population of about 300 Muslims the Islamic Community in St. Thomas is unique in that it is made of up of indigenous Virgin Islanders, Palestinians, and residents that moved there from the United States mainland.

Much like their US stateside Muslim community counterparts, there is a struggle to maintain a sense of community amongst the indigenous African-Caribbean Muslims along with the other ethnic groups.

Despite some of their struggles in trying to understand one another, they still work to try to come together so that they and their children can have a sense of hope in practicing Islam on such a small predominately Christian island.
At a recent Friday Khutbah Imam Dawood Aygun spoke with a visitor about patience.

“Having faith helps you to increase your inner faith with yourself and with each other, he says. “Allah related to Prophet Musa that having patience will balance out your good deeds, and your good deeds will weigh heavier then your bad deeds.

Imam Dawood emphasizes the importance of having a family life in maintaining faith. “If you have no family life it is very difficult for you to protect your Islam. Family life is a very important aspect in the Caribbean culture and it has a huge impact on how Virgin Islanders practice their Islam. Many fear that when their children leave the Island and go to the United States they may get caught up in the fast life style and forget the basics of their religion from home.

With this in mind, the community established an Islamic daycare on the premises of the Masjid. “It is important to instill a foundation in the children while they are young, says Sister Inshirah Abiff, one of the long term members of the community.
Despite the lack of diverse activities like in the US, the community finds a unique sense of close-knit comfort on a small island.
 
Sister Sarah Husein was born in Palestine; her parents are from Venezuela. “However I always try to make sure the children have a sense of pride being Muslim since they have to go to public school, she says. Sister Sarah is one of the main facilitators of the daycare that the Masjid helps to run.

Sister Aminah Aygum the wife of the Imam Dawood moved to St. Thomas after living in both Chicago and New York; she loves the slower pace of the island. It allows her to get deeper into her practice of Islam. “We just have a challenge of trying to educate people on the island about Islam as well as our children, she notes.

Sister Pamela Hoheb was born on St. Thomas but spent 30 years in the states, returning recently after she got married. “I do not get as many stares here being Muslim like I did when I was in NY after 911, she says.

However she misses the variety in lectures from different Islamic scholars like she had access to living in Brooklyn. “It would be a dream come true if our small community here was able to sponsor Imam Siraj Wahaj to come here to give a lecture to us, she says, of a famed speaker.

Sister Ishirah Abiff feels there could be more unity amongst the indigenous Muslims and the Palestinian Muslims who make up a majority of the Arab population on the island. “The ones that first came here in the seventies and eighties were more sociable with the African-Caribbean Muslims, she says. “Now that they have established many businesses on the Island they feel that they do not have to interact with us as much as they used to.

She also feels that educating people on the island that you do not have to be Arab to be Muslim is also a challenge. “Many people see them and since they are the majority in the Muslim population here they think all Muslims are Arabs—However when you tell them there are Arabs that are as dark as me they look at you like your are crazy.

By Tahira Muhammad (June 13th, 2007)

Islamic Centers and Organizations

Organization Name Address Phone-Fax-Email-Web General Information
The Masjid Al-Nur The Masjid Al-Nur

St. Thomas VIRGIN ISLANDS


(340) 776-3097
(708) 906-4248
 
       

   Muslim Owned Business

Organization Name Address Phone-Fax-Email-Web General Information
       

References
Islam On US Virgin Islands ( http://www.blackstarnews.com/?c=122&a=3420   , June, 2008).
Info please ( http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0113951.html ,  June, 2008).