Islam in Fiji

Islam in Fiji


The Muslims of Fiji comprise around 7% of the population (62,534). The Islamic community is made up of people of Indian origin, who were brought to the islands in the late 19th century by the British colonial power. The majority of the Indian community is however, Hindu. Around 16% of the Fiji's Indian community is Muslim. There are also a few hundred indigenous Fijians, including the well-known politician Apisai Tora, who have converted to Islam.

Muslims are mostly Sunni followers Imam Abu Hanifa(59.7 percent) or unspecified (36.7 percent), with an Ahmadiyya minority (3.6 percent) regarded as heretical by more orthodox Muslims. The Ahmadis run the Fazl-e-Umar Mosque in Samabula, which is the largest in the South Pacific. In the 1966 elections a Suva-based Muslim communal party, the Muslim Political Front, took part.


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By the end of the 19th century, Islam was firmly established in Fiji. Muslim migrants had had Islam in their families for generations when the first ship brought Indian indentured labourers to Fiji in 1879. The first indentured labour ship, Leonidas, had an unusually high proportion (22%) of Muslims. Between 1879 and 1916, a total of 60,553 labourers were brought to Fiji from India under the Indenture system. Of those who came from Calcutta, 6557 were Muslims, while 1091 Muslims came from Madras, 1450 from North- West Frontier, Baluchistan-Afghanistan and Punjab.

Life during Indenture

While, with the loss of the caste system, Hindus did not have any institution binding them together, the Muslim faith was affected little by travel to a far off land, although initially there was a lack of mosques and learned leaders. Most of the religious duties and festivals were maintained, but under the harsh reality of the indenture system, it was difficult to pray five times a day and observe the full fast of Ramadan. C.F. Andrews, in his report after his first visit to Fiji, noted that religious decline had not been as rapid amongst Muslims compared to the Hindus, and on his second visit wrote that Muslims had retained their social system and religious life was showing signs of revival.

Muslims played their part in protest against indenture. In 1907, a group of indentured labourers went on strike in Labasa, because they were being asked to work on the cane plantations, whereas on recruitment they had been promised jobs as policemen. Most of these were Afghan-Indo Pashtuns and Punjabis were Muslims.

Hindu-Muslim Relationship during Indenture

Although Muslims lived as a separate community in India, the early indentured labourers spoke the same language as their Hindu counterparts and the two communities lived together amicably. There was also a high proportion of inter-marriage between Hindus and Muslims. The South Indian Muslims were easily absorbed into the larger Northern Muslim community and did not suffer as much prejudice as their Hindu counterparts. There was cooperation between Hindus and Muslims in the celebration of various festivals, the best example of which was Mohurram, a Shia celebration, when Hindus and Muslims worked together to build a decorated edifice, called the Tazia, which was carried to the sea in a procession where it was abandoned.

Free Fiji Indian Muslims

From 1884 onwards, as labourers completed their five years of indenture, Muslim communities began springing up in different parts of Fiji. They tended to be small, often isolated, but recognising the need for contact and cooperation among themselves for social and religious enhancement. There were, amongst the first Indian labourers, Muslims who were literate and sufficiently versed in Islam to assume leadership roles and to lead prayers. Prayer meetings, initially in homes, helped foster an Islamic identity and inculcated a sense of unity. The arrival of Mulla Mirza Khan, as a free-immigrant in 1898, was a boost to Islam in Fiji as he contributed a lot to the educational and religious needs of the Muslims. In 1900 a mosque was built in Navua on land provided by the Fiji Sugar Company, a small mosque and school was built in Nausori on land provided by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and another mosque was built in Labasa in 1902. In 1909, Muslims made submissions to the Education Commission, for Urdu to be taught in the Persian script to their children. In 1915, the Anjuman Hidayat ul-Islam petitioned the government for the solemnization of Muslim marriages by a kazi and recommended its secretary's appointment as one for the Suva area. In Lautoka, the Isha Ithul Islam emerged and in 1916 and was directing its efforts towards building a mosque there.

Establishment of Fiji Muslim League

By 1908 there were about 4000 Muslims in Fiji, a third of them still indentured. In 1915 the Anjuman Hidayat-e-Islam was established in Nausori and in 1916 the Anjuman Ishait El Islam was established in Lautoka. Around Suva there were only about 70 Muslims, without a school or a mosque. But as the number of Muslims in the capital city steadily grew, Anjuman-e-Islam was formed in 1919. The Fiji Muslim League was formed on 31 October 1926, at a meeting at the Jame Masjid in Toorak.

Maunatul Islam Association of Fiji

Maunatul Islam Association of Fiji (MIAF) represents approximately 30% of the Sunni Muslims in Fiji who are mostly followers of Imam Shafi. The followers of Imam Shafi in Fiji are the descendants of Muslims of Malayalam origin who came to Fiji under the indenture system from Kerala in South India between 1903 and 1916. The other Sunni Muslim organisation in Fiji, the Fiji Muslim League, represents all other Sunni Muslims in Fiji who are mostly followers of Imam Hanafi. The organisation originally operated under the name of Then India Maunatul Islam Association of Fiji since it was officially formed in 1942. One of the most prominent past President and Speaker of the Association was the late Hon S.M. Koya. The Association owns mosques in Lautoka, Ba and Tavua.

Role of Fiji Muslim League in Education and Welfare

The Fiji Muslim League has made valuable contribution in the field of education in Fiji. The first school, Islamic Girls School, was already in existence in 1926 and is today known as Suva Muslim Primary School. Today, the Fiji Muslim League owns and manages seventeen primary and five secondary schools plus a tertiary institution (Islamic Institute of the South Pacific). The Fiji Muslim League accepts as students and staff members of all ethnic groups domiciled in Fiji. In 2000 its student population was: 4464 in secondary and 5243 in primary schools. In the secondary schools 3015 were Muslims, 994 Fijians/Christians, and 455 others, including Hindus.

The Fiji Muslim League provides help for tertiary studies for needy Muslims through loans from its Education Trust and the Islamic Development Bank. Of the two IDB loan/awards for tertiary studies one is given locally for information technology and the other for the study of medicine in Pakistan. Most of the latter in recent times have been allocated for training Muslim female doctors; some have qualified and are working in Fiji.

Besides education, the Fiji Muslim League from its outset has attempted to assist in satisfying all the social needs of Muslims. Currently its involvement in social welfare is both at national and branch levels. In times of natural disasters or turmoil the Fiji Muslim League directly helps Muslims whose homes and lives are disrupted. Its charity keeps many families clothed, fed and housed, and Muslim children sent to school.

Muslims and Politics

Since 1929 the Fiji Muslim League has sought to obtain separate representation for Muslims, in the Legislative Council till 1970, and in Parliament (both the House of Representatives and the Senate) since 1970. Except for the period between 1932 and 1937, Muslims have been represented well in Fiji's Parliament. From 1937 to 1963, there was always one Muslim nominated into the Legislative Council out of a total of five Fiji Indian representatives. Thus Muslims were represented by 20% of the Indian members in the Legislative Council, when they formed approximately 15% of the Fiji Indian population. In the expanded Legislative Council of 1963, a Muslim, Mohammad Sidiq Koya was elected for the first time, and Muslims held 2 of the 6 (33%) Indian seats. (The other Muslim was nominated member, C.A. Shah). In the 1966 election 4 of the 12 (33%) Indo Fijian members were Muslims. These were Sidiq Koya, C.A. Shah, and Mohammed Towahir Khan for the Federation Party and Abdul Lateef for the Alliance Party. The Muslim Political Front was formed to advance Muslim political rights and in 1966 it joined the newly formed Alliance Party, but voting trends have shown that most Muslims have always voted for the Party representing Indo-Fijian , showing that their political aspirations are not different from the other 84% of the Fiji Indians.

Muslim Sports

In 1944 the first Muslim soccer inter-district tournament was organised in Sigatoka by the Fiji Muslim Sports Association. It has since been an annual event and in 2006, three teams from overseas featured in the inaugural Fiji Muslim Football Association International Muslim Club Championship. The Fiji Muslim sports association in association with Fiji Muslim FANCA Sports Federation is hosting its inaugural club championship during Easter Weekend 2007 in Lautoka. 4 teams from Australia,5 teams from New Zealand and 1 team from USA and all district team from Fiji will particiapte. This will be annual event to get the Muslim sports if Fiji amongst the best.

Muslim Youth

There is also a very active youth movement tracing its origins to the 1960s, whose executive meets regularly and organises camps and other gatherings for young Muslims. It has a national outreach, with members from high schools as well as tertiary institutions and university graduates and professionals in the workforce. Recently it has organized a wing to facilitate the interests of young educated Muslim women.

See also

Further reading


  • A. Ali, Girmit: Indian Indentured Experience in Fiji, Fiji Museum, Suva, 2004
  • A. Ali, Plantation to Politics: Studies on Fiji Indians, University of South Pacific, 1980
  • C.F. Andrews & W.W. Pearson, Indian Indentured Labour in Fiji, Perth, 1918
  • K.L. Gillion, Fiji's Indian Migrants: A History to the end of Indenture in 1920, Oxford University Press, Melboiurne, 1973
  • K.L. Gillion, The Fiji Indians: Challenge to European Dominance 1920-1946, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1977
  • R. Norton , Race and Politics in Fiji, University of Queensland Press, Australia, 1990

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