Haiti and Its Relevance to the Islamic Diaspora

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Aftermath of the earthquakeThe Shia community was especially hit hard by the disaster of the earthquake. There are roughly 25 to 30 Shia families in Port Au Prince, the capital of the country. The Imam Mehdi mosque was destroyed and seven children lost their lives. Despite all this pain, there will be a brighter future with the appropriate thought process and actions.

Aftermath of the earthquake“God does not do the slightest bit of injustice to mankind, but it is mankind who is unjust to themselves.” (10:44)

Haiti, the land of my parents and many people whom I love and admire, recently suffered a horrendous earthquake that at last count has claimed over 150,000 lives. When one hears of my ancestral homeland, it is a mantra to refer to this country of 10 million people as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The subconscious meaning is to say that this country and its people offer nothing to the world. As a result, when Haiti is in the news, the context usually is one of patronization and marginalization. It is the personification of racism when self described pundits question whether Haitians can really make the country better without understanding the significance of what Haitians have historically overcome starting from the continent of Africa.

When one studies the history of Haiti, one sees a very resilient people who have faced insurmountable odds, and with the grace of God, have survived nonetheless. I am hard pressed to think of an ethnic group that has suffered for as long as the Haitian people have, starting from being kidnapped from the continent of Africa, surviving the middle passage, facing the horrors of slavery, conducting a successful revolution against the world’s superpowers, and paying for that transgression for the past 206 years.

The Haitian community has suffered silently without fanfare and blamed for our plight without the world acknowledging the historic role that they have played in our present condition. Corrupt leaders have been forced upon us, and sincere leaders have been banished by powers beyond our control. The story of Haiti is one that offers a lesson for marginalized people throughout the planet. Disposed President Jean Bertrand-Aristide referred to Haiti’s recent collective struggle to move forward “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty.”

The irony of Haiti is that it has not always been a land of extreme poverty, but rather during the heinous period of slavery, it was one of the most profitable colonies in the West, one that rivaled many of the American colonies and helped lay the foundation of unimagined wealth for France and many other Western European nations. It should never be forgotten that Europe, the United States, and many Western powers would not enjoy the wealth that they presently enjoy had it not beenfor the Atlantic Slave trade. Despite the trauma that Haitians suffered while being kidnapped in Africa, the travails of the middle passage across the Atlantic and then facing unspoken brutality in Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), it is a blessing that such a people could organize to defeat the most powerful country in its era. The second republic formed in the Western Hemisphere after the United States, Haiti holds a special distinction in being the first and only one that was engineered and carried out by enslaved Africans against a powerful and depraved foe. This revolution – where a disenfranchised people suffering from some of the greatest injustices known to man sincerely believed that they possessed an ordained right from God to govern themselves – shook the very fabric of the myth of white supremacy.

The tactics that the French used to force the kidnapped Africans into submission was quite barbaric. The personal secretary of Henri Christophe (one of the heroes of the Haitian revolution) describes the crimes perpetrated against the Haitians by their French oppressors:

“Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat excrement? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?” (Robert Heinl, Written in Blood: The History of the Haitian People)

These actions were par on course of the tools of oppression that the overseers would use to destroy the will of the masses. Tragic that one set of humans would subjugate fellow humans to such misery. “Every day is Ashura, and every land is Karbala.” Many of the founders of the Haitian revolution, men such as Macandal and Boukmen, were reported to have had an Islamic lineage. In fact, there have been reports that Macandal was a Sayed. It is very difficult to confirm these claims, but one should not primarily discount this because he was black and had been enslaved. This aspect highlights one of the psychological injuries of slavery, which is the abject marginalization of the enslaved African. The fact that these were human beings with dreams, goals, needs, and families is often forgotten.

The Islamic heritage of the Haitian cannot be ignored. In Sylvianne Diop’s book Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, it is reported a significant amount of the enslaved Africans in Haiti had names like Fatima, Muhammad, etc., exposing their Islamic heritage. Over the years, the Islamic presence in Haiti subsided for a multitude of reasons, and the current dominant religion is Christianity with elements of the native religions of Africa intertwined. A minor miracle is happening in Haiti in that the Islamic Diaspora is playing a significant role in helping Haiti. When the Anderson Coopers of the world leave Haiti and go on to the next hot story, that is when the real work will be needed, and the Ummah will need to step up to the plate and continue the work of our Imams.

The fact that an unfathomable amount of the victims in Haiti are orphaned children is something that should tear at the psyche of the Ummah. Currently, the contributions made by the Ummah at large have been significant. Several Muslim countries have provided support for the Haitian people, such as and not limited to Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. These contributions have been substantial and have saved the lives of thousands. Jordan sent two air force planes carrying a military field hospital, six tons of food, supplies, and Jordanian medics. Lebanon loaded a plane with 25 tons of tents and three tons of medical supplies. Morocco sent two planes carrying 24 tons of aid and has pledged a million dollars to Haiti. Qatar sent a C-17 aircraft loaded with 50 tons of aid and a rescue team to set up a field hospital. Turkey sent three cargo planes carrying search and rescue teams, a mobile hospital and aid material. Iran’s Red Crescent society sent 30 tons of humanitarian aid, including food, tents and medicine.

The Shia community was especially hit hard by the disaster of the earthquake. There are roughly 25 to 30 Shia families in Port Au Prince, the capital of the country. The Imam Mehdi mosque was destroyed and seven children lost their lives. Despite all this pain, there will be a brighter future with the appropriate thought process and actions. Hard work will be needed to rebuild the country in a better image than when the earthquake struck, and prayers will be needed followed by a sincere and longstanding effort. However, the Haitian people have proven to be a very resilient community, and anything is possible with the help of Allah.

“If God assists you, then there is none that can overcome you, and if He forsakes you, who is there then who can assist you after Him? And on God should the believers rely.” (3:160)

The author is a Shia Haitian-American physician in New York.

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