Three Muslim organisations have distanced themselves from claims that the Muslim community in T&T are supporting the United National Congress (UNC) in the August 10 general election.
While the UmmahTT Muslim Federation has endorsed the UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to become the next prime minister, the Trinidad Muslim League (TML), Anjuman Sannat ul Jamaat Association (ASJA) and Tackveeyatul Islamic Association (TIA) say their members can vote for whichever party they want.
On Sunday, 25 Muslim organisations gathered at the Islamic Diplomatic Centre in Felicity to encourage members, their families and friends to support Persad-Bissessar and the UNC.
TML president-general Faz Khan told Guardian Media yesterday that his organisation has historically remained independent of political affiliations. Khan said doing this helps to foster a better working relationship with the government, regardless of which party is in power.
“Each member has to evaluate for his or herself and see which of the parties’ manifesto or programmes best meets his or her political needs and take an individual decision to vote for the party they desire. From the organisation’s perspective, we will not influence them to vote in a particular manner.
“In terms of our historical perspective on political parties, we find it beneficial to be neutral because at the end of the day, regardless of which political party wins the elections, we see our role to work with any government for the benefit of the Muslim community. Regardless of which political party is in charge, we have a good working relationship,” Khan said.
Some leaders threw their support behind the UNC, saying that the People’s National Movement (PNM) did nothing for the Islamic community.
However, Khan said that regardless of which party is in government, the community will always want more.
He said TML engaged both current and former governments in constructive dialogues relating to the Muslim community, including legalisation that affects them.
Khan also clarified that TML was not a member of the UmmahTT Muslim Federation and did not receive any communication about Sunday’s gathering.
Similarly, ASJA general secretary Rahimool Hosein said that contrary to news that his organisation threw its support behind the UNC, it has been apolitical since its inception. Hosein said it would continue to remain like this for the elections.
He added that ASJA was not a part of Sunday’s meeting and had no representative there.
“ASJA is an independent religious body and is not affiliated to any Ummah T&T Muslim Federation. ASJA members across the country are free to support any party or organisation of their choice. It will be inappropriate for any office holder of ASJA to speak on its behalf on supporting any political party in Trinidad & Tobago. I repeat, we, ASJA are apolitical,” Hosein said.
Later on, ASJA president-general Yacoob Ali said that as an autonomous body, it maintains a strict code of ethics where politics is concerned and abided by the law of the land. Ali said ASJA works with the government of the day and holds no special allegiance to any political party.
“Therefore, whoever forms the government of the country is viewed so far as the legitimate entity for its governance. The ASJA continues to serve for the betterment of all in society in the management and growth of the entire Muslim community,” Ali said.
TIA president Imran Hoosaney said the group will not support any political group,
“We were not invited and had no representative at the meeting,” he said.
Responding to the stance taken by the organisation, UmmahTT chairman Imam Rasheed Karim said he is not upset as his organisation is not telling members who to support.
“We are not forcing anyone to vote, we are just asking to let good sense prevail,” Karim said.
When he spoke to Guardian Media, he was campaigning with Lt Col Alloy Hunte, the UNC candidate for the Tunapuna constituency.
Karim said he sees nothing wrong with lobbying for the UNC to win the elections.
Despite ASJA and TML’s stance, he said there were executive members and worshipers from the various masjids of the organisations present at Sunday’s meeting.
“I am not angry with them. They have to toe the line because they have benefits to come from the government of the day regarding schools, but UmmahTT is securing the interest of citizens and Muslims of T&T,” Karim said.
He said the government treats that Muslim community unfairly, making the country believe they are terrorists while favouring the Christians and Hindus. He said the only thing the government does for the Muslim community is to pay its teachers and provides subvention for its schools.
“What did they give the Muslim community? Did they give us a hospital to take care of Muslims women or make a rehabilitation centre available for the needs of the community? They do not even give anything to the small masjids, just a menial grant of $250,000 and they gave large organisations. In the end, it does not trickle down to independent masjids.
“The UNC has seen it fit, during its tenure, to enquire about the different masjids in rural areas, assisted with lighting and retaining walls, paving car parks and the granting of two parcels of land to build cemeteries. The UNC mediated and brought down people from the Saudi embassy to help with the dispensation of Hajj visas and also has plans for Islamic banking.”
Karim said if the PNM retains power in this elections, it will not affect the relationship between those that endorsed the UNC as the government has a responsibility and will facilitate the smooth running of the organisation.