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Leaving Trinidad To Join Islamic State, Part 2

CULTURE: Revellers pull a costume at Trinidad’s world-famous carnival

MEANWHILE, 15 family members of Imam Nazim Muhammad, who leads a Muslim community of 25 families in the countryside outside the south-eastern town of Rio Claro, have also gone.

There are also a number of so-called Indo-Trinis sources have said come from well-known, established families who have been able to keep a low profile and out of the media spotlight
Indo-Trinis, who make up about 35 per cent of the country's population, are descended from Indians who first came to Trinidad in the 19th century to work on cane plantations vacated by emancipated slaves. The majority of them are Hindu.

On the other hand, Afro-Trinis, who also make up 35 per cent, are mostly Christian, but a segment are recent converts to Islam. It is thought that most of those who have gone to Syria are recent converts who have been ostracised from their families and, more often than not, have very little understanding about Islam.

There are also others whose parents – like Abu Bakr – who converted to Islam in the wake of the Black Power Revolution in the early 1970s, and who were influenced by the likes of Louis Farrakhan, Stokeley Carmichael and Malcolm X.

Muslims I spoke to said they felt they could practice their religion freely. They make important contributions to civil society, business and culture. Yet, the Trinidadians that have left for IS and the association of some inner-city youth with Islam has caused some to view Islam with suspicion and byword for criminality.

BROTHERS IN ARMS: Shane Crawford, right, with another Trinidadian fighter who joined Islamic State in Syria

To exploit these sensitivities, IS has included Trinidadians in its propaganda videos who claim that it is not possible to practice Islam while remaining in the country and playing on Islamic symbolism and themes.

One video cuts between five Trinidadian men undergoing sniper training and interviews where they exhort fellow Muslims to join them because, they claim, all Muslims are duty-bound to join the true Islamic state that is really a continuation of Prophet Muhammad’s original Muslim community. One of the men, a close friend of Shane Crawford, ponders:

“What will we tell Allah the Great and Almighty if I don’t emigrate to the land of the Muslims?”


Another, who was also rounded-up along with Shane Crawford for the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister, appears lined up along with his three male children and says that he “had to leave” because “you cannot practice your religion 100 per cent”.

For the most part, Trinidad and Tobago is a tolerant country and boasts a multi-cultural ethos that most countries would be proud of. Chinese, Arabs, French Creoles as well as Indians and people of African descent have been settled there for generations. There has, historically, been a rivalry between its Indian and black communities, which has only been exacerbated since the country achieved independence in 1962 – and claims ofracial discrimination from both sides down the years.

SPOKESMAN: Muslim Front of Trinidad and Tobago leader Umar Abdullah leader says that racism has led to anger among the country’s black population

Selwyn Ryan, Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of the West Indies, said that institutional racism and government policy based on identity politics have left black people in a dire state. He added:

“In the past, black people controlled the bureaucracy and government, and Indians controlled commerce – that has now gone. Your fate is decided by where you live.”

He says that Trinidad’s black people have fallen so far behind that we could now be witnessing ‘the last dying gasp of black youth’. This divide is also reflected in the Muslim community, where black Muslims do not sometimes feel welcome at Indian mosques.


The Jamaat al-Muslimeen is one among many mosques throughout the country that cater first and foremost for Trinidad’s poor urban black people.

Umar Abdullah, leader of the Muslim Front of Trinidad and Tobago, said that racism contributes to the feeling of disenfranchisement among blacks. Though things were improving, it was still commonplace for “East Indians to shun African Muslims. If a daughter falls in love with an African man this is certainly not allowed”.

Abdullah, who is himself East Indian, added that blacks are not represented on mosque committees, while black groups, such as the Jamaat al-Muslimeen and other predominantly black groups “are left out of discussions with other Muslim organisations”.

In the wake of the horrific recent attacks in London and Manchester, some have argued that western foreign policy over the last few decades has been a driving factor when it comes to political violence. Most people I spoke to in Trinidad also feel the same way. Abdullah says that people like Shane Crawford were also motivated to take up arms because “there was a need to stand up for Muslims” in places like Chechnya, Palestine and Burma.

Mrs Crawford said that her son explained his reasons for leaving:

“But this is what I choose, this is my choice. (In Syria) they are raping my sisters and they are killing my sisters and their children.”

Shane Crawford was to die believing in this cause. He was killed in a US drone strike last month. His distraught mother said as she heard the news:

“It feels like a part of me has gone. It is something I know would have happened. As a Muslim I understand and accept, but as a mother I grieve.”

Amandla Thomas-Johnson is a journalist who has worked on documentaries for Vice News, Channel 4 Dispatches and Aljazeera. The documentary Caribbean to Caliphate is available to watch on

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