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Suriname officially known as the Republic of Suriname (Dutch: Republiek Suriname [ˌreːpyˈblik ˌsyːriˈnaːmə]), is a sovereign state on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America. It is bordered by French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west and Brazil to the south. At just under 165,000 square kilometers (64,000 square miles), it is the smallest country in South America Suriname has a population of approximately 566,000, most of whom live on the country’s north coast, in and around the capital and largest city, Paramaribo.

SURINAME:independence Day

A higher percentage of Muslims five in Suriname-a former Dutch colony on South America’s northeastern shoulder-than in any other country in the Western Hemisphere. An estimated 25 percent of Suriname’s 400,000 citizens profess Islam, according to officials of the country’s largest Muslim organization, the Surinaamse Islamitische Vereniging. Some 50,000 Muslims, however, have emigrated to the Netherlands since independence in 1975. Ethnic strife among the country’s other minorities-Creoles, Amerindians and socalled Bush Negroes- has further bankrupted the oncestrong Surinamese economy.

Throughout most of its history this 163,000-square-kilometer territory, one of the world’s largest bauxite producers, was a Dutch colony and was noted for religious tolerance. In the 1630s, Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Brazil arrived in Suriname, where in 1665 they built South America’s first synagogue at a jungle settlement known as Jodensavanna. In 1667 England ceded Suriname to the Dutch in exchange for New York, and the colony began to prosper from exports of coffee, cacao, sugar, and bananas to Holland.

As is the case with Trinidad and Guyana, which also have sizable Islamic minorities, Muslims first came to Suriname as indentured servants. In 1873 the Lala Rookh arrived in Paramaribo carrying indentured Indian Muslims. Suriname also has a much larger contingent of Indonesian Muslims descended from Javanese rice farmers who settled here between 1902 and 1935. Indonesian Muslims now comprise some 65 percent of the Surinamese Muslim community, with Indian Muslims making up 30 percent and African converts to Islam the remainder.

Some 150 mosques are scattered around Paramaribo and throughout Suriname’s sparsely populated interior.

Indonesian Muslims, however, rarely pray at Indian mosques because of language difficulties-Indian services are conducted in Urdu. During Ramadan, when the two groups sometimes pray together, services are conducted mainly in Dutch.

In the mid-1980s the East Indians inaugurated Suriname’s largest, most elaborate mosque, the Jama Masjid, in the heart of downtown Paramaribo. The building, dominated by four 3o-meter minarets, seats eight hundred people; it is adjacent to Congregation Neve Shalom, an eighteenth-century Ashkenazic synagogue recently restored by the country’s tiny Jewish community. Muslim and Jewish leaders have long been guests of honor in each other’s houses of worship.

Such harmony has not been seen among Suriname’s other ethnic groups in recent years. During most of the 1980s, jungle-dwellers descended from escaped African slaves fought a low-level guerrilla war against military strongman Desi Bouterse. Hundreds of people died in the fighting, which affected mostly eastern Suriname near the French Guiana border. Among Bouterse’s suspected backers was Libyan leader Mu’ammar Qadhdhafi, who set up a Libyan People’s Bureau in Paramaribo in the late 1980s, As a result of Suriname’s civil war the Dutch government suspended its $1.5-billion development aid program. In 1990 a bloodless coup led by Bouterse toppled the government. Civilian rule was restored in 1 99 1 with the election of Ronald Venetiaan, and in August 1992 a peace agreement was signed between the government and Suriname’s two guerrilla groups.

Since 1970, `Id al-Fitr has been celebrated as a national holiday, and Muslims-like all religious groupsenjoy full religious freedom. Besides Surinaamse Islamitische Vereniging, seven other groups supervise Muslim affairs in Suriname, the most important being the Surinaamse Moeslim Associatie, Stichting Islamitische Gemeenten Suriname, and Federatie Islamitische Gemeenten in Suriname. Yet Islamic life is stagnating because of a decline in religious education. Less than 3 percent of the Muslim population speaks or reads Arabic; some teachers have recently arrived from Pakistan and Indonesia to give lessons in Arabic and the fundamentals of Islam. Community leaders cite a lack of Islamic literature in Dutch and English and a dearth of qualified personnel, along with the community’s relatively low socioeconomic level and the “brain drain” to the Netherlands and other countries.


French, Howard W. “In Suriname’s Racial Jungle, a Quest for Identity.” New York Times, 23 October 1990.

Luxner, Larry. “Muslims in the Caribbean.” Aramco World Magazine 38 (November-December 1987): 2-11.

Meijer, J. Pioneers of Pauroma: Contribution to the Earliest History of the Jewish Colonization of America. Paramaribo, 1954.

Treaster, Joseph B. “Suriname’s Fall from Paradise: Guerrilla War, Economic Ruin.” New York Times, 13 July 1987.

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/suriname/

  • writerPosted On: August 27, 2017
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