Last Updated on Thursday, 24 August 2023, 7:42 by Denis Chabrol
The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) on Thursday defended the right of a woman at the recently held Cuffy250 forum to characterise the role and status of Muslim women at home and at mosques,and accused two Muslim organisations of creating divisions between the party and Indo-Guyanese.
In a joint statement, the Central Islamic Organisation (CIOG) and the Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT) heaped condemnation on the WPA for Rhonda Layne’s views saying they amounted to Islamophobia. “We call on the leaders of the WPA and APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) to refrain from disparaging Guyana’s established faith traditions in order to advance a political agenda. Inciting hatred by targeting members of our country’s faith communities is a dangerous and perilous road to travel and all law-abiding citizens of Guyana should stand on guard against it,” those organisations said in a joint statement.
But the WPA argued that there was a real fear that the WPA’s frontal approach to addressing the race question is exposing the racial domination agenda of the People’s Progressive Party, the party that CIOG and the Chronicle support.
“The second intent of CIOG is to attack the WPA and in the process drive a wedge between the party and the Indian community,” the WPA said. The WPA accused the CIOG and GIT of joining a well-orchestrated campaign to frame the political opposition as anti-Indian Guyanese in pursuit of a racially divisive agenda.
Latest available census figures show that there are 50,572 Muslims and 185,439 Hindus. Of Guyana’s 746,955 persons, there are 297,493 East Indians; 218,483 Afro-Guyanese; 148,532 Mixed; 78,492 Amerindians; 1,377 Chinese; 1,910 Portuguese and 415 White.
The WPA said it does not comment on religious practices and Ms Layne is not a party member or executive member but supports that party’s stance against the PPP’s autocracy and ethnocracy. At the same time, it said the CIOG and GIT masked its concerns about alleged hate speech to actually suppress free speech. “Her observation and critique of male domination and female marginalization in Islamic organizations are part of a general critique of mainstream religions,” the party said.
While that political party said it does not comment on religion it respects the right of citizens to do so in their private capacity, and made it clear that Ms Layne’s views at Cuffy250 did not amount to hate speech. The WPA reasoned that Ms Layne’s views were part of a global critique of the male gendered nature of our social, religious and political institutions. “Her observation and critique of male domination and female marginalization in Islamic organizations are part of a general critique of mainstream religions. The WPA does not comment on religious practices,” the WPA added.
The WPA called on the CIOG to channel its energies towards more substantive issues such as institutional and systemic racism that is daily infecting Guyana’s governance. The CIOG is on record as issuing statements in favour of President Irfaan Ali, a Muslim.
The CIOG and GIT disagreed with Ms Layne’s views that in a Muslim’s life, “a woman is only there to be a homemaker, a child-bearer and everything that is against the women.” “This is a well-established trope that hate-mongers have deployed to smear and ridicule Muslim women. Saying that Muslim women are only good for two things – the kitchen and the bedroom – is insulting to all women and more specifically Muslim women who have and continue to play a vital role in the development and prosperity of our country. Muslim women in Guyana own businesses, serve as educators, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and even in uniform to help keep our nation safe and secure,” he two Muslim organisations said in a joint statement.
Those organisations disagreed with Ms. Layne that because globally Muslim men sit in the front and the women are at the back lessens their importance or relevance at mosques. “However, no Muslim has ever said that simply because men occupy the front row that it gives them more access to God’s mercy, love and forgiveness,” CIOG and GIT said. They added that at mosques during one of the five daily prayers, indeed women will worship behind the men, a practice that Muslims, including those who attend any of approximately 300,000 mosques in Africa, have followed for 1400 years as taught to us by Prophet Muhammad.
The CIOG and GIT disagreed with Ms Layne’s view that all Muslim affairs were the same. “This is patently false, malicious and misleading. In the sacred city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, both women and men circumambulate the Ka’ba, referred to as “God’s House” in the Qur’an, in unison. In other words, they worship God without any gender barriers or separation.”
According to those organisations, President Irfaan Ali attended a wedding celebration at the Leonora Masjid compound on August 19 where imams and Muslim community leaders were present. There, they said women sat with their families at nicely decorated tables without any separation. CIOG and GIT explained that there is no rule that determines where a woman might sit at a Muslim gathering in Guyana. “Where a woman sits is determined not by religion, but rather by factors having to do with numbers, accommodation and personal preferences.”
Ms Layne’s previous observations about Indo-Guyanese at a public meeting in Buxton had drawn the ire of a number of prominent Indo-Guyanese in the predominantly Afro-Guyanese backed People’s Nati0nal Congress Reform.
The WPA and APNU maintain that the mainly Indo-Guyanese supported PPP is practicing racism against Afro-Guyanese in the award of contracts, distribution of land, oil wealth and other opportunities. Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo last week said those who harbour such concerns should lodge complaints with the constitutional Ethnic Relations Commission.