Islamic Human Rights Commission – Events in Papua New Guinea

Events in Papua New Guinea

01 December 1997

The growth of Islam in Papua New Guinea started slowly in 1986, gradually gathered momentum, reached a peak six or seven years later and then faltered.

Events in Papua New Guinea
Extracts from the November 1997 Report of Sadiiq Sandbach General Secretary
Islamic Society of Papua New Guinea

The growth of Islam in Papua New Guinea started slowly in 1986, gradually gathered momentum, reached a peak six or seven years later and then faltered.

Of late. all by itself as it were, it has taken off again. In and around Port Moresby there must be 100 families. There are pockets of Muslims in Baimuru, in Daru, in Marshall Lagoon, in the Musa Valley, all in Papua. There are more pockets in New Britain and New Ireland. There are dozens living in isolation throughout the country, a family here, a family there.

It is in the Highlands where growth is beginning to blossom. In the Goroka/Simbu region there are 250 adults in small remote villages and communities, with the figure growing every day. As this report was being written our Senior Imam returned from a dawah visit to the western highlands where 20 adults, not previously contacted, embraced Islam.

We do not and cannot keep accurate records. People move from place to place quite frequently. People use a number of different names, often adopting a new name when they arrive at a new location. Muslim names are accepted by individuals but are rarely used.

When dealing with disasters, such as the current drought crisis and tribal warfare. there is another anomaly. The people who live in the rural areas – 90% of the population live in CLANS. Members of a clan need not live in a single village but nevertheless, are governed by their ties of clan rather than of village. Should one family have some good fortune it is inconceivable that the other members of the clan do not share in it. Thus in the context of drought aid, should one family in a clan be Muslims and receive a bag of rice, that bag of rice is immediately shared among the entire clan, if the other clan members have nothing.

Remember the clan of the Prophet (SAW) and how they ALL went into the Sheib of Abu Talib, not just the Muslims.

Difficulties we must overcome

There is, as there always is, a big problem.
The Muslims with knowledge, such as it is, of the Message are not in contact with these people. They have become Muslims through their instinctive need for ‘something better’ and having heard of Islam and the Muslims. Remember how the people of Aws and Kahzraj first learned of Islam!

Our greatest need of the moment is people – Mus’ab bin Umair of old – to go and search them out, to live with them, to show them the way.
This greatest need is, simply, training in Dawah methodology. We need someone to train us in how to carry our Dawah in a nominally Christian land.

Our second greatest need is for our Islamic Education to be orientated around the Message and not around rituals. Rituals are necessary for purposes of unity and zhikr, but it is the Message the beauty of Islamic behaviour and the benefits that accrue therefrom that become the sine qua non for the practical application of the Message. From this knowledge of the Message will spring the young, energetic, believing, sincere and devoted Followers of the Companions that we need so desperately.

Our third greatest need is the resource to carry out this massive work of dawah. This is a difficult country to travel in – the reason for its long isolation. Was not Makkah isolated for centuries from the time of Ismail (AS) until the time of the Prophet (SAW)? And for good reason.
Travel is hard, time consuming and very expensive. From 1994 to the beginning of this year the Executive made the conscious decision to concentrate its efforts and resources on the building programme and hence, resources being limited, to abandon dawah work.
This decision has been reversed, but we have a long way to catch up.

The Mosque Construction Project

It is true that as soon as the prophet (SAW) became economically independent and established an Islamic State in the 12th / 13th year of his Mission, he caused the first Masjid to be constructed at Quba. For the first twelve years, while he and his followers were in a minority situation, he made do with temporary quarters. The Mosque is not a necessity. On the other hand, to erect a Mosque only to later discover that we are unable to maintain it in a fitting manner, would be a major disaster to the cause.
All the economic signs indicate that this country is sliding towards a very difficult financial situation. This is not the time to be constructing buildings unless they may contribute to the future of Islam in PNG, in a practical way.

We are now exploring ways in which the funds that we hold and have been promised. including those which have been set aside by the Islamic Development Bank, may be utilised to erect, on the site that we own, a simple building that will serve as a multi purpose Islamic Educational School, as a Prayer Hall and Meeting Place. when needed. and which could be expanded into a prestigious dedicated Mosque when the financial situation improves to the extent required.

Drought relief

The mailer of the drought that has lasted for seven months and has affected a large proportion of the people of this country may cloud the main issues which face the Muslims in PNG and which appear above.

Briefly, a practically total absence of rain since April/May this year has caused the villagers, who form 90% of the population and who are subsistence farmers, to see their gardens reduced to parched earth and their food reserves eaten up. Extremely widespread grass and forest fires have accentuated the damage done by the sun while in some parts of the country tribal fighting and clan jealousies have added to the misery. If your gardens are empty what easier plan is there than to chase your traditional enemy out of his villages and grab whatever he may have left behind.

One of the badly, although not necessarily the worst, hit areas is the region in Gorokal/Simbu where we have been concentrating our efforts, such as they have been, to spread the Message of Islam.

We spent about K 1100 on an initial relief operation of our own in this area. Since then we have received wonderful support from the Australian Human Appeal International who have donated some Australian $11,000 to this cause. 50% of this Australian aid has been distributed. The remainder will be distributed by the 1st / 2nd week of February.

During November 978 people in six Muslim Centres received emergency food. A second distribution commenced 1st December and will reach 1570 people in 12 Muslim Centres. This larger figure included people in more remote villages where there is a steadily increasing interest in Islam, mainly fostered by independent Muslims who have learned of Islam in the towns of Lae, Goroka and Port Moresby and passed it on to their village relatives.

Distribution to this larger area is going to prove costly in transport hire. This is particularly so since on of our workers, driving his truck loaded with relief rations, was recently help up at gun point and relieved of his watch and all the cash he had on him. The bandits were not interested in the foodstuffs he was transporting.

What happens in 1998?

We should now consider what the situation may be during February 1998. There is no certainty, as yet, that the rains have broken in that particular area. Recently, come ‘experts’ in Japan and China, who admit they have very little information regarding this region, have given their opinion that it could be April before ‘the rains come.’ Only Allah knows.

Root crops, which are the staple of the region, take some six to seven months between planting and harvesting. The best scenario is that next year’s harvest will be available for consumption in June 1998. If the relief aid now being distributed will last the people until the end of February then the question remains ‘What happens during the four months until June?’

Our coordinator in the Highlands Region, the indefatigable Ifham Samsuddin. is being asked to determine through enquiry, whether the Governments of the two provinces concerned have the intention and the resources to provide relief rations during the period end of February to June, or whether they consider this will not be necessary. Upon Ifham’s report depends decisions upon the need for future supplies, either from Human Appeal International or other sources.

Sadiiq Sandbach

In this regard it should be noted that no other aid organisation, of the many appealed to, even made enquiries of us concerning the extent of the need.

Islamic Society of Papua New Guinea
P0 Box 5107
Boroko PNG Telefax (+675) 323 4539


This piece is taken from the website of the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

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