Getting The Feel Of A Place

Islamic Teaching Centre, Brbados

When getting the feel of a place it is good to walk around, and not only interact with some of the people, but to also pay attention to its layout and the type of buildings and their uses.  This can help give you a sense of its history, recent past, and current situation.

This  is the Islamic Teaching Centre, in Hart’s Gap, just off the Hastings Main Road which is an area historically and architecturally not given to Islamism.  Visually it is somewhat an anomaly.  Here are next-door neighbours:

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This would indicate that the area was a fairly quiet basically residential neighbourhood of long-standing.  The photos would suggest some slight depreciation in the area, although when we look around more, we see that it is both a low scale commercial address as well as a mainly upper middle-class sector.  For example the homes are well established and cared for, and the commercial addresses such as this Guest House

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and this now “corporate property”

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were formerly private homes.

One could surmise therefore that the placement of the Centre is indicative of either 1) A growing Muslim/Islamic community in the vicinity or 2) An intention that such a community may be created.

The Islamic population in Barbados has never been large.  It is significantly less than 1% of the roughly 285,000 overall Barbadian population.  There were two Mosques where, I was told, most teaching was usually conducted.  Sometime in the early 1970’s a Teaching Centre was established in the Capital, Bridgetown, which was where most Muslims had set up homes and businesses.  This one in Hart’s Gap is apparently its replacement.

Muslims have been part of the Barbados scene for generations.  Most were ‘Indian’ from places like neighbouring Guyana, Syria, or Bengal and Western India.  As a child they seemed to me no different from ordinary Barbadians in their demeanor, love for the island, and ability to laugh.  Too, they were proud and had a healthy work ethic which endeared them to other hard-working people.  Like my grandparents and those in our milieu.

Some I remember passing by with their goods for sale, and since my grandmother was a Seamstress she would often have long discussions about cloths (material) with them.  The only thing that marked them out to me as ‘different’ was their accent.  They did like other Barbadians did and kept themselves to themselves.  Of course they probably also indulged in the wonderful Bajan past-time, Gossip.  But like the rest of the Islanders they were basically harmless.

Later as I grew older, I was allowed to visit their shops in Swan Street and other parts of Bridgetown with my grandmother, on the hunt for not only sewing materials, but carpets and other house fittings.  These visits were especially pleasant and heart-warming as the atmosphere and welcome were above par.  One of my primary acts on my return home was to visit some of these places, buy some furnishings, and shed a tear in her memory.  I however could not find the place where at eighteen years of age I had my first job, selling material and men’s clothing. 🙂

The ITC in Hart’s Gap puzzles me.  I would not expect it to be a permanent feature.  Its location is more curious than that of the new-ish Mosque in Belleville, which was built soon after I left these shores.  That one is an incongruity.  Located within spitting distance of a main Roman Catholic Cathedral in an area once/still regarded as ‘upper-class’.  Similarly, this Islamic Teaching Centre is not far from My First Church, St. Matthias’ Parish Church, and the Barracks and Barbados Defence Force Headquarters.

Whether architecturally, socially, aesthetically or demographically, the 2000 or so Muslim Community in Barbados seems to be changing.  It would appear that they are serious about making a mark, moving away from the ‘old quarters’ and the old-type Bajan Muslims of my youth.

Yet Barbados still feels like Barbados.  It just has one or two anomalies and incongruities.  Let’s hope that these will be turned out to the betterment of the island’s continued peace and development as Barbados goes on  to its Jubilee, celebrating 50 years as an independent nation on November 30th.

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