Islam in the Kingdom of Tonga

Islam in the Kingdom of Tonga

By Moshe Terdiman – Research fellow in the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa

November 2011


Tonga, or the Kingdom of Tonga, is the only constitutional monarchy in the Pacific and the only South Pacific country never to have been colonized by a foreign power. It is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, which consists of 171 islands with a total land area of 290 square miles and a population of about 106,000 as for July 2011.[1] These islands are spreading over 700,000 square miles in the South Pacific and Only 45 islands of them are inhabited. Most of the population lives in the largest island, Tongatapu.[2]

The dominant religion in the Kingdom of Tonga is Christianity. According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2010, Christians comprise 96 percent of the overall population.[3] Islam is a recent newcomer to the Kingdom of Tonga and consists only of about 25 families. The total Muslim population consists approximately of 100 people, of which around 70 are Tongan nationals. The Tongan Muslim community is very mixed and consists of Tongans, Fijians, Bangladeshi, Pakistanis, Arabs, and Indians.[4]

History of Islam in the Kingdom of Tonga

The beginnings of Islam in the Kingdom of Tonga go back to 1983, when the late Fayaz Manu, his wife and their six children, including the future Imam Ilyas, who was 16 years old at the time, converted to Islam. Fayaz Manu played a significant role in spreading Islam and conducting da’wah activities in the Kingdom of Tonga. After his conversion, Fayaz Manu established the Tonga Muslim League and became its first president.[5]

After years when all Islamic activities and congregational prayers were held in a special room provided by the King of Tonga in his palace, Sheikh Imam Abdul Fader set up the first Islamic center in 2004 on a plot of land in ‘Anana, which was donated by Mohammed Abdul Razak, the President of the Tonga Muslim Society, with the help of local Muslims. Sheikh Imam Abdul Fader is the spiritual leader of the Tongan Muslim community. He lived in Tonga during the 1980s, and married a Tongan convert to Islam, with whom he has seven children. Then, they worked and lived in New Zealand and Australia until 2004, when they returned to Tonga. This center included a place of prayer and served also as a school, where the Sheikh taught the children the basics of Islam. Thus, the center has served as a place for Islamic activities for the Muslims in the Kingdom of Tonga. In July 2008, Tonga Muslim League was renamed Tonga Muslim Relations. The President of the Tonga Muslim Relations has been Mohammed Abdul Razak. Its main aim is to increase the Islamic knowledge among the Tongan Muslim community by providing Islamic and Qur’anic classes to Muslims in the island, adults and children alike. In 2010, the first mosque in the Kingdom of Tonga was built with the help of foreign donors.  The new mosque is called Masjid Khadijah after the Prophet Muhammad’s wife. It is located in the capital city of Nuku’alofa. However, the mosque is not yet fully completed, certain parts attached to the main mosque including women hall, class rooms and library are under construction.[6]

The Tongan Muslim community has not been able to sustain itself without the funding and help by Muslim states, such as Libya and Saudi Arabia, and organizations, such as the Fiji Muslim League and the Regional Islamic Da’wah Council of Southeast Asia and the Pacific (RISEAP), which is based in Kuala Lumpur. For example, In 1992, during his visit to Tonga, RISEAP President, Pehin Sri Dr Hj Abdul Taib Mahmud, gave financial assistance to Tonga Muslim Society through  Malik Hussain Nikua, then President of the Society.[7] However, according to a situation report on the Muslim communities in Tonga and Western Samoa prepared by the director of the Fiji Muslim League’s Da’wah Department, a lot of money was given to the Tonga Muslim League by Libya, Saudi Arabia, and RISEAP, but, most of it was “being abused, mismanaged and unaccounted for”.[8]

In addition, since there was no way of receiving Islamic education in the Kingdom of Tonga, Fayaz Manu sent his son, Ilyas, to study Islam at the Suva Muslim College and at the madrassah at Toorak Mosque in Fiji. His studies there were sponsored by the Fiji Muslim League. Then, he enrolled in the University of Islamic Call Society in Libya, where he earned his bachelor degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies in 1992. A year later, in 1993, Ilyas was appointed as imam of the Tongan Muslim community. In 1996, he attended the first Imam Course held at the Regional Islamic Da’wah Council of Southeast Asia and the Pacific (RISEAP), along with three other participants from the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. He has been receiving monthly allowance from the Muslim World League office in Melbourne.[9]

But not everyone regards the activity of Imam Ilyas favorably. According to a situation report on the Muslim communities in Tonga and Western Samoa prepared by the director of the Fiji Muslim League’s Da’wah Department, “Elyas Manu unfortunately lacks commitment and dedication to carry out his duties as an imam”.[10]

On the other hand, Imam’s Ilyas’ da’wah activity was very appreciated by RISEAP. In the website of RISEAP, Imam Ilyas is regarded as “an active da’wah worker who conducted various activities to impart Islamic knowledge and awareness to Muslims in Tonga” and that since his appointment to the post of the imam of the Tongan Muslims, “Imam Ilyas organized daily Qur’anic class, led prayers and gave Friday khutbah.  Besides, he conducted talks and discussions with non-Muslims and made a frequent visit to their houses as a part of his da’wah activities”.[11]

On February 14, 2011, Imam Ilyas visited the RISEAP in order to strengthen ties and enhance cooperation between Tonga Muslim Relations and RISEAP. During the visit, he also attended RISEAP General Assembly held at Kuala Lumpur as a representative of Tonga. He said that Muslims in Tonga are still in need of help particularly in the area of education and da’wah work. He also thanked RISEAP and particularly its President, Pehin Sri Dr Hj Abdul Taib Mahmud, in the name of the Tongan Muslim community for his generosity and continuing support to them.[12]

Challenges Facing the Tongan Muslim Community

The Tongan Muslim community is facing a lot of challenges going forward. One of them is the issue of Islamic education. Until now, the only places where children could acquire Islamic knowledge have been the mosque and the Islamic Center. In April 2007, an attempt was made to build the Kingdom of Tonga’s first Muslim boarding school on Tongatapu, which would serve especially the “orphans who stay in the isolated outer islands or villages and are deprived of fundamental education” and will be free of charge. The new school was supposed to follow the regular school curriculum of all Tongan schools with the addition of Arabic language and Islamic studies as options. The non-Muslim children would neither be forced to study these subjects nor will they be forced to convert to Islam. But, to no avail.[13]

However, Arif Abdul Rahim, who is a son of late Abdul Rahim Rasheed, a dedicated da’wah worker and lawyer in New Zealand, and himself a lawyer, has been paying regular visits to the Kingdom of Tonga. During these visits, he gives lectures to the Tongan Muslims, meets with them, and supplies them with reading materials.[14]

Another problem faced by the Tongan Muslim community is that due to its small numbers, the pressure of their families, and a lack of support or follow-up from Tongan Muslims and Muslim organizations from the outside world, some of the individuals who embraced Islam, lost interest and converted back to Christianity.[15]

Other difficulties faced by the Tongan Muslim community are: in the past a lot of money was showered on the Tongan da’wah operations and, as a result, some Tongans converted to Islam from money reasons, and, therefore, it is hard to know who has converted from money reasons and who did it from his own sincere wish; the level of Islamic piety and knowledge is different between the local converts to Islam and the immigrant Muslims and this gap affects the relationship between these groups; the social culture of the Tongans put great pressure on the converts against practicing Islam; and the Ahmadiyyah remains a great threat for this community by presenting its false message as a true religion of Islam.[16]


It is important to mention in this connection that there is a lack of research on Islam in the Pacific Islands in general and on Islam in the Kingdom of Tonga in particular. Not much has been written about da’wah and Islamization processes in this country neither in English nor in Arabic and in other language. Also the activities of the Ahmadiyyah in this country are unknown. This is why it is not possible to widely explore the challenges facing the Tongan Muslim community going forward.

However, in conclusion, it is safe to note despite these gaps in knowledge that international Muslim funding, aid and da’wah efforts have been and will continue to be paramount in the sustainability of the Tongan Muslim community. In addition, its continuity depends also on the impact of the clash that might be taking place between the Tongan social culture and tradition and between the religion of Islam, which is foreign to this Kingdom and to its culture. In my point of view, the outcome of these two factors will determine the future of the Tongan Muslim community.



6 Responses to Islam in the Kingdom of Tonga

  1. Ahmed Yusuf Carmona says:

    Salam alaikum to all. Alhamdulillah rabil alamin and peace and blessings of Allah be upon our beloved prophet Muhammad. My name is Ahmed Yusuf Carmona and I am the amir of DOTS
    dawah on the street Australia. We are working on the dawah fiel to non Muslims on the street. I was reading your article that made fill sad and happy for the Muslim situation in your country but at the same time this open a door to try to support you all for the sake of Allah swt along. In sha Allah we can supply your with dawah matirials like CDs, Books, Qurans and so on.
    Please just try to contact me.

  2. Abasi Selemani Karata says:


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  4. Abdelkader Al'rabi'e says:

    Wa alaikoum assalam dear brother
    could you please send me your email in order to send some important information as I am a father of 7 tongans Muslims and been the first Islamic teacher sent by rabitah , what you have read content only 40% of the real truth and as you see the editor’s name is moshe ( what this can tell you? )
    This is my email : spic 1987
    my phone number is : (+61) 0404255222
    my name abu ridwan alyamani
    looking forward to hear from you
    wassalam alaikoum.


    salam alaikum
    i need to contact imam iIlyas manu tonga
    here is my my email id mreezan,
    please someone help me to contact him urgent
    wassalam alaikoum

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