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“Say a Prayer for Abu Bakr”: A Eulogy for the Caribbean’s No. 1 Muslim Terrorist

Abu Bakr, leader of the Jamaat al-Muslimeen, is taken into custody by the Trinidad Army in Port-of-Spain on August 1, 1990, ending the Muslimeen government coup. Bakr launched an unsuccessful government coup in 1990 that led to many dead. (Charles Tasnadi/Associated Press)

ALIYAH KHAN

I. PROLOGUE

“Abu Bakr is dead,” declared Trinidad’s Daily Express headline on October 21, 2021. No introduction or title was necessary for the man whom even Trinidadian emigrants long gone from the islands still whispered about “in hushed tones, as if he is the country’s shadow ruler” (Gold). Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, the Caribbean’s most notorious Muslim to himself and everyone else, passed on to his reward in heavenly Jannah or hellish Jahannam—depending on the Caribbean observer’s religion and politics—days after celebrating his 80th birthday.

Once a mounted policeman named Lennox Phillip from Carenage, and a convert to Islam since 1969, Abu Bakr was a protégé of Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi. On July 27, 1990, Bakr, who was the founder and leader of Trinidad’s Jamaat al-Muslimeen, led 113 men in the only armed Islamic government coup in the Western Hemisphere.

That is what people know. But me and Bakr have we own story.

One time, Abu Bakr try fuh kill me. And he try fuh kill me family. Nearly three decades later when I question he as a professional interviewer, I didn’t tell he so. I let he think I was any old Caribbean Muslim, so he would talk to me free.

In 1983 somebody bomb the Ahmaddiya Muslim convention in Chaguanas, Trinidad. Sunni don’t like Ahmadi or Shia, everybody know. Bakr was a big-time Sunni wid nuff Arab influence, more than any other Trini Muslim had then. Fourteen people get injure but none ent dead, because de last bomb didn’t explode. Dat bomb was next to de stage which me grandfather, an imam in Guyana, just walk across. Me and me mother was watching me grandfather. I was a lil child then. I don’t remember nothing, but I don’t know is why I don’t remember. They blame Abu Bakr and he Jamaat fuh de bombing but never charge he.

Three years later in 1986, they seh was the Jamaat assassinate de Pakistani British Ahmadi missionary Muhammad Anwar in Guyana. This happen ‘pon de doorstep of Mistah Anwar host, my same grandfather. Granddad watch de man dead and must be remember how he almost dead from Abu Bakr three years before.

Imam Mohamed Rasheed, the author’s grandfather, ca. 1966 in Georgetown, Guyana. (Author’s family archives)

Yes, I didn’t tell Abu Bakr how he try fuh kill we, he fellow Muslims. Now I big I don’t really subscribe to Ahmadi, so what I can say now? I too get plenty Sunni training at a next madrassa in Georgetown. Me grandfather in his old age railing against any kind of sectarianism and for unity of de one ummah, de Muslim community, just like how Guyana politicians begging fuh end racial strife and mek one Guyana. Is still plenty Muslims killing Muslims in dis world. But I ent need apology from Abu Bakr, and he too wrong and strong to hear my anger. What I know is: my grandfather still alive in Guyana, and Abu Bakr dead.

What follows is a reflection and requiem, neither critique nor paean, on the legacy of Abu Bakr. He was the Caribbean’s most famous Muslim and Muslim “terrorist,” and the region’s first truly visible Black Muslim.

I telling you Bakr story from personal interaction with this charismatic Caribbean character, a lover of calypsos, women, and Islam. I telling you as a Guyanese child and a historical researcher. I am both, and me and Bakr know each other in two life.

II. COUP

In 1990, at the Red House — the seat of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago — Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson and his cabinet, along with personnel from Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT), were taken hostage for six days. The headquarters of the Police Service was firebombed. Arson and capture attempts were made on the National Broadcasting Service and other public buildings. Between twenty-four and thirty-one people allegedly died, hundreds were injured, and what Abu Bakr intended to be a people’s revolution resulted instead in “de Lootout,” with enterprising citizens reported to have robbed stores of goods ranging from televisions to panties. The details of the coup are well-reported in the eyewitness accounts of Selwyn Ryan, Raoul Pantin, and Daurius Figueira.

After a promise of amnesty Abu Bakr and the Jamaat gave up their arms, but they were still jailed for two years. For the rest of his life Bakr was insistent that he had never surrendered, instructing me to look at all de photos from the coup to prove it.

“It was not a surrender, it was an agreementI refuse to submit to that, that there was a surrender…You can see me coming out of TTT and my gun is in my hand. Now you don’t surrender with a gun in your hand, you gotta put it down, hear?”

As a big man, a Muslim, and former member of the Police, Bakr want everybody fuh know he know gun, and he don’t know give up. He would surrender neither to a corrupt government nor to any earthly authority. He only know agree with his consent.

Despite the religious identity of the perpetrators, the Jamaat al-Muslimeen coup was not an Islamic coup aimed at establishing a Muslim theocracy in Trinidad. As Abu Bakr has said numerous times in media, the coup was undertaken over a series of local concerns: government incursions on the Jamaat’s compound land at Mucurapo, the murder of policewoman Bernadette James who had witnessed corrupt police cocaine dealings, the spread of the narco trade, poverty, and the unavailability of medical care, supplies and other social assistance for citizens. He had rejected government claims of Jamaat gangsterism even before the coup, framing the Jamaat’s mission as national  community work. But observers could be forgiven for wondering about the extra-local Islamic or political reasons for the coup, given that Bakr had he hand in all kind of global ting.

Despite his previous evasiveness about alliances, by 2019, when we talked, Abu Bakr no longer denied involvement with Libya and controversial Caribbean political actors: “I worked with the World Islamic Call Society in Libya for 28 years. Libya did quite a bit of work in Guyana and I was the representative for South America and the Caribbean. So, I used to organize conferences and things like that and I know Hamilton Green,” said Abu Bakr. Green was a former Prime Minister of Guyana who had converted to Islam.

Bakr also wanted me, as a Guyanese, to know his political pedigree. “I know Forbes Burnham…I know Cheddi Jagan because his son was in Canada with us during the burning of the Sir George Williams University. I, myself, was at Ryerson University at the time…we were actively involved in the Caribbean struggles. You know how it is.” Dat was his signal to me that he well and know ‘bout Guyana race story, so I ent fooling he, coming as a Guyanese and asking he ‘bout Trinidad problems.

Deliberate mention dat he protest alongside Jagan son was the sign dat he know Black and Indian in the Caribbean, and had political relations with both even when dey fighting each other—a real unusual ting dat give he more in common wid Walter Rodney than Burnham. Later on, as a Muslim he cross dem racial Caribbean boundaries too.

Burnham and Green were architects of a nominally socialist Afro-Guyanese-led governmental regime that had for decades disenfranchised Guyanese Indians led by Jagan, a communist feared by a United States steeped in Cold War politics. The 1969 ‘Sir George Williams affair’ in which Abu Bakr claimed participation was a radical student protest involving both peaceful occupation and the burning of Sir George Williams University’s computer lab in Montreal. The occupation gained notoriety because it included West Indian students like Cheddi Jagan Jr. and because of the racist white Canadian crowds yelling, “Let the n*s burn!”

So, long before the 1990 Muslimeen coup, from his student days Abu Bakr had established a trajectory of revolutionary or radical thought and action: His involvement in the 1969 multiethnic Caribbean-Canadian protest against a racial imperialism the students had witnessed at home during the British West Indian independence era; his knowledge of the Nation of Islam and US Black Muslim movements; his 1970s-1980s interaction with Guyanese socialists; the simultaneous years of his involvement with Cold War Libya and his implication in 9/11 discourse, make him an underrecognized key player in the transnational and postcolonial Caribbean and hemispheric American politics of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Interestingly the majority of the Muslimeen, whose numbers have dwindled from a couple of thousand in the 60s and 70s to a few hundred today, were Afro-Trinidadian. Indo-Trinidadian Muslims and their religious organizations distanced themselves from the coup and Muslimeen politics, with Muslim and non-Muslim Indians whispering in homes that it was a “Black people ting.”

Abu Bakr was concerned with the racial and economic uplift of all Black Trinidadians in the aftermath of chattel slavery, and with asserting his conviction that Islam belonged as much to African ancestors as to Indian ones. The Jamaat considered themselves “returnees” to Islam, (preceding a contemporary move by Muslim converts to refer to themselves as “reverts”) returning to a primordial Islamic state of fitra and purity in which all babies are said, according to prophetic hadith, to be born Muslim. But for Abu Bakr and many Afro-Caribbean Muslims, becoming Muslim is much more: it is a return to a religion forcibly taken from African ancestors. At least 10% of enslaved Africans in the Americas may have been Muslims: literate in Quranic Arabic and multiple languages, as we know from their surviving manuscripts in Jamaica, Trinidad, Panama, and the US, and hailing from West African cities such as Timbuktu, Mali, a center of African and Sufi Muslim learning since the 15th century.

Before the transatlantic slave trade, the first Muslims in the Americas were enslaved North African Moros on Spanish and Portuguese voyages of conquest, most famously one Estebanico née Mustafa Azemmouri of Morocco, survivor of the ill-fated 1527-1536 Narváez expedition to Florida. African Muslims were the first Muslims in the Caribbean. But none of them left direct descendants, because of the cultural and material depredations of chattel slavery.

In the Anglophone Caribbean Islam was propagated and preserved into the twentieth century by indentured laborers from India. Abu Bakr knew early on what people in Trinidad and Guyana and Jamaica were slow to understand: Islam is yet another common ground that colonized African and Indian people share. As he said to me, despite being primarily concerned with the education and uplift of Black people, his goal was to rectify for all Trinidadians “all of these great injustices that we have suffered as enslaved people…It’s chattel slavery and that’s the end of it…And indentured labor is also slavery, yes same slavery.”

Indentureship and chattel slavery is two different ting I think, even though Bakr and some scholars don’t. Dem don’t enslave Indian children in de same cruel way. But it have tings in common when Indian put in the same logie slave barracks fuh live and wuk ‘pon British plantation unda de whip, de same year dat African get truly emancipate. Why we in the Caribbean can’t say some tings same and some different, but all ah we get colonize, I still ent know. Bakr, though, was a man willing to say out loud nuff ting most people can’t.

III. CALYPSO

Abu Bakr considered himself to be the real Trini Calypso Monarch. When the Jamaat took over Trinidad and Tobago Television in 1990, he broadcast his favorite calypsos alongside revolutionary exhortations to the nation. This was an unusual move for an Islamic leader — considering that Muslims have limiting theological opinions of vocal music — but a defining cultural move for a Caribbean Islamic leader. Cro Cro (Winston Rawlins), David Rudder, and Watchman (Wayne Hayde, like Bakr a former policeman) were among the calypsonians played on TTT during the coup.

For the February 1991 Trinidad Carnival, the coup was on calypsonians’ minds. They understood Trinidadians needed to process their feelings about the coup in song, as Caribbean people do. Entries invoking the coup included Cro Cro’s “Say a Prayer for Abu Bakr” (two versions), the Mighty Sparrow’s “Abu Bakr,” Brother Ebony’s “Abu Bakr Take Over,” Preacher’s “Abu Baka Take Over,” Watchman’s “Attack With Full Force,” Superblue’s “Get Something and Wave,” Black Stalin’s “Look on the Bright Side,” and David Rudder’s “Hoosay,” which tied the Muslimeen coup to the Indo-Caribbean Muslim holiday of Hosay. In his interview with me Abu Bakr, disdainfully called Hosay “that culture thing that David Rudder sang about,” and disavowed any connection between coup and holiday, though the coup occurred on Hosay. “That culture thing” is a typical way that some Indo-Caribbean Muslims today dismiss what they see as inappropriate “Indian” — or Hindu — ancestral cultural influences on Arab Islamic “purity.”

Abu Bakr had his own professional opinions of the ’91 Carnival songs about him: “Sparrow song was very positive,” he told me, but “the best of them was done by Cro Cro.” Of all the 1991 Carnival calypsonians, and perhaps in recognition of Abu Bakr’s fandom, in “Say a Prayer for Abu Bakr” Cro Cro offered the most detailed critique of then Prime Minister Robinson, political corruption, and poverty, lyrically arguing that even though “In we democratic society / De coup was wrong without a doubt,” Trinis needed to “get conscious” and gratefully “say a prayer for Abu Bakr.” The imam graciously accepted the invocation. And Cro Cro heself tell me I have he permission to use he Bakr lyrics. De man dem more than know each other.

Not surprisingly Black Stalin’s (Leroy Calliste) “Look on the Bright Side,” which calypsonian Daisann McClane called “a masterpiece of ambiguity” as it seemed to take no side, won the government’s 1991 Calypso Monarch competition. Most calypsonians were conflicted, their lyrics expressing admiration of antigovernment action and Abu Bakr’s audacity, alongside fear of the ascendance of an unknown minority religion, Islam, which seemed rigid, militaristic, and incompatible with supposed Caribbean ideals of cultural hybridity and the revealing dress styles of its women. The Vincentian Brother Ebony (Fitzroy Joseph), for instance, sang that he told his current lady friend to “Throw way she bikini,” because he was now busy “Thinking how ah guh survive / When I have meh seven wives.” Was a real conflict Ebony had wid Islam deh.

But it was Abu Bakr himself who provoked prurient curiousity about Islam in the first place since he was known to have three or four wives. Even before the coup, he had introduced the officially monogamous but unofficially “deputy” mistress-minded Trinidadian public to the possibility of polygamy for Muslim men. Especially when he, as an Afro-Trinidadian man, caused a stir by marrying an Indo-Trinidadian Muslim woman named Fatima Juman, allegedly against her family’s wishes. He was implicitly proud of being a ladies’ man, or what Trinis would call a real sagaboy.

When I interview Bakr for my book on Caribbean Islam, Far from Mecca: Globalizing the Muslim Caribbean, he was a loquacious, charming, and joking elder. But he was not nobody bazodee Caribbean uncle, except in his penchant for nostalgic old times. He sharp like a knife. Bakr tell me he was giving me extra information because I was a Muslim too, ask my age as a “young lady,” and invite me fuh come and visit he personally in he compound—to which my male Caribbean relatives put forth a resounding “Yuh ent going.” Me aunty in Trinidad, fuss ting she seh is don’t talk to he, he going want fuh marrid yuh.

Tragically the COVID-19 pandemic did not allow for Bakr’s invitation to be taken up, one way or another, before his death. But Trinis will never forget their first introduction to Islam and polygamy through Bakr.

The Trinidad government destroyed Jamaat property after the coup, in Bakr’s view a corrupt earthly action the worst of which was thwarted by divine intervention: “They came with the army explosives and they blow up everything except the mosque. When they tried to break the mosque the tractor overturn,” Abu Bakr declared triumphantly. “So the mosque was left standing and everything else was destroyed.” In this miracle narrative, pre- and post-coup despite earthly losses, Cro Cro’s prayer was answered and Allah remained on the righteous side of Abu Bakr and the Jamaat al-Muslimeen.

4. 9/11 AND THE WORLD

In the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries, Abu Bakr was the man to whom Trinidad and Caribbean media turned when anything “Islamic” happened in the Caribbean. He relished that role, even while styling himself a humble community leader. He was the imam ministering to the community to the end: pinning him down to times, dates, and places for interviews was difficult, as he was always on the road, leading funeral services, conducting marriages, counseling congregants, and giving talks.

After the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, by the Saudi Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers, the Jamaat’s Mucurapo compound in Port-of-Spain was searched by Trinidadian authorities in a symbolic attempt to root out local Islamic terrorism. Then Abu Bakr was put on a North American no-fly list. In 2005 he was charged for seditious and threatening statements in an Eid sermon. Rumors abounded in Trinidad, first that Abu Bakr and the Jamaat had ties to al-Qaeda, and then to IS, the Islamic State.

In 2013-2016, around 100 Caribbean nationals — Afro- and Indo-Caribbean Muslims from Trinidad and Jamaica, including women and families — traveled to fight for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/the Levant (IS/ISIS/ISIL). Caribbean people flying to the Middle East to fight for IS seemed even more preposterous than a Muslim coup in Trinidad in 1990. But it was true, and though Abu Bakr was accused of fostering this new Islamic radicalism, no proof ever emerged of his involvement. In 2019 he told the BBC ,“We told all our followers not to go, the whole ISIS thing is utter nonsense” (Freeman).

According to Simon Cottee, Trinidadian involvement in IS can be traced “to a social network of around 350 like-minded individuals located in three geographic areas of T&T: Chaguanas in west-central Trinidad, Diego Martin in the north-west, and Rio Claro in the south-east. At the heart of this network is the Umar Ibn Khattab mosque, located in Boos Village, Rio Claro, where Nazim Mohammed is the imam” (Cottee 298). Mohammed was an Indo-Trinidadian participant in the Muslimeen coup who went off afterward to form his own Salafi splinter group, the Jamaat perhaps not being radical enough for him. Numerous members of Mohammed’s own family went to Syria. His daughter Aneesa Waheed was sentenced in Baghdad in 2018 to 20 years imprisonment for IS activity (310).

Abu Bakr in 2013 at the Jamaat al-Muslimeen compound in Mucurapo, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. He led the Muslimeen from the 1970s until his death in 2021. (David McFadden/Associated Press)

In the Caribbean we learned that the IS kunya or country-dependent nom de guerre for Trinidadians was “at-Trinidadi,” as in the case of Shane Crawford, alias Abu Sa’d at-Trinidadi, a fighter interviewed by the IS magazine Dabiq who told the world that English-speaking Trinidadians “do very well with ISIL” as propagandists with English-language skills.

Abu Bakr maintained that he had no connection to IS. This seems plausible; his days of flirting with the Libyans and international Islamist politics were long gone. But it was not a question of age—the accused IS proselytizer Mohammed was also in his late 70s. It was that Abu Bakr’s concerns had always been local Trinidadian ones, not global Muslim ones.

The linking of Islam with terrorism, he said, is “more political than it is religious because Islam has 1.6 billion people. How come the rest of us are not blowing up ourselves? If Islam was this fanatical religion, then we would have killed everybody in the Parliament because they would have done the same thing to us…if Islam was this terrorist religion…how come we didn’t do that?”

Well, he ent right? The Muslimeen wanted to do something in dat coup, not even dem knew what, but was not murder. Islam is practiced in ways as culturally and politically diverse as its now 1.8 billion adherents. In the Trinidadian coup, the Muslimeen’s intent was neither homicidal nor genocidal; they wanted recognition of their social causes and a change in government. Of course, Abu Bakr wanted at least some official recognition of his stature, power, goals, and ego; he has always been so inclined.

In his Islam-inflected narrative of world events, post-Cold War global crises began with Saddam Hussein and the first US invasion of Iraq, which occurred at the same time as the Muslimeen coup. Since then, according to Abu Bakr,

“There has been no stopping the world as it is…some of it is class exploitation. Some of it is Islam on the rise…if you take a census of all these events [in the Middle East] you will see it is people who claim that people are occupying their land, and they want them out of their land, because they are there to take their raw material which is oil. You think if Iraq was growing cabbages anybody would be in Iraq? You think if Iran was producing potatoes anybody would be in Iran?”

Who could argue with this assessment of petrol- versus potato-based foreign policy? But is what “Islam on the rise” mean? Guyana for one will soon find out, since it have Islam and Exxon Mobil oil now. I hear was last month Saudi ambassador and delegation come fuh talk to President Irfan Ali — de Caribbean first Muslim head of state — ‘bout prospects and ting.

5. FINALE

In July 2020, in response to the reopening of an inquiry into the Muslimeen coup, Abu Bakr offered an apology to Trinidad for any pain caused, writing,“For all the pain I caused the nation I am sorry. Now it is time for closure.” His legacy, he said, should be “defender of the people of TT,” and citizens should understand his “rationale behind the 1990 events.” In typical self-lionizing fashion, he could not avoid declaring, “I am a lion, a smart lion, but now is my time to speak.” Nonetheless, he added, because of his age and diabetes he rejected being called to an in-person hearing, “I am a lion, but this is covid19 season. I am extremely susceptible to contracting this virus. I am very concerned” (Loutoo). A keen observer would note that the lion never apologized for perpetrating the coup itself, only for causing pain when he did so.

The firebrand was going strong a mere month before his death. In September 2021, in a Facebook Live broadcast from the compound that lasted 75-minutes, he threatened the government with “war” over lack of education funds for Afro-Trinidadian children, alleging that “all the money [was] for the Indian children.”

“I am warning the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, I am warning the police, the army, Coast Guard,” he declared. “I am warning everybody who involved in repression, oppression of the African people, this is the last-day warning. If you do not change, if you do not adjust the society, it coming on you. God is going to destroy you. You have no weapons to defend yourself. It proven already because right now we have COVID and you can’t do nothing” (Webb). In 2021 at the age of 79, a still-savvy Abu Bakr was broadcasting the same antigovernment message he offered on coup radio in 1990, live on social media and adjusted for pandemic times. And de man never settle on one essentialist position between Indian and African politics in Trinidad and Guyana, as really one cannot.

Abu Bakr was a savvy media user who kept up with the times. It was not his well-known son Fuad Abu Bakr running the Facebook show, as the imam had removed him in June 2020 from the position of Muslimeen Public Relations Officer after an unwise Fuad criticized his father’s politricking with the ruling People’s National Movement, declaring on television that his father “could continue making excuses for the PNM” (“Fuad,” Loop News). Fuad, leader of the New National Vision political party, had been spreading his own political wings, getting arrested at #BlackLivesMatter protests and running for a seat in Trinidad’s 2020 general elections, which he failed to secure.

Nonetheless, Fuad remained a loyal son, writing after his father’s passing of the Imam’s bravery and that, ominously, “Abu Bakr was that healthy fear that helped to ensure some level of democracy. Good people had nothing to worry about with Abu Bakr, they came for his assistance at the mosque constantly” (Abu Bakr). It remains to be seen whether Fuad will ever escape the shadow of his father, and whether anyone else, Muslim or not, could ever be such a “healthy fear” for Trinidadian democracy. The Jamaat for now is still led by the old heads, not the younger generation—a not-uncommon generational conservation of power in many religious organizations. Sixty-six-year-old Sadiq al-Razi was appointed to lead the Jamaat in November 2021 (Berkeley).

Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Jamaat al-Muslimeen, whose politricks spanned the entire twentieth- and twenty-first-century post-Independence history of the Caribbean has left a gap in the epic drama of national and regional discourse that we will be hard-pressed to fill. To whom will Caribbean TV stations and newspapers turn for interviews when political “Islamic” or “Muslim” events happen in proximity to the Caribbean, or anywhere in the world? The unfolding story in August 2022 of the  stabbing of Indian author Salman Rushdie in the US, the author who was once under Iranian fatwa for penning The Satanic Verses (1988), is one of the first transnational media test cases for Muslim Caribbean reporting without Abu Bakr. The Trinidad & Tobago Guardian has thus far confined itself to the reproduction of Rushdie reports from the Associated Press, a sadly diminished state of journalistic affairs from the days when Abu Bakr could always be counted upon for an incendiary Muslim quote (Goodman). Is not dat we ent know de story—Satanic Verses did mek it to the Caribbean and raise controversy in ’89. Muslims was very hush-hush and secretive when dey talking ‘bout it and was only a few copies from abroad in circulation. But dat is a different Islam story.

Abu Bakr was a real Caribbean character, Trini to de bone to the very end, a nearly 80-year-old threatening to bring war on the government for corruption, proud that he was still the subject of calypsos. “I am the author of this revolution,” he said, and he seemed to mean any movement one could point to in T&T.

Calypsonian McClane wrote in the New York Times at the time of the coup that what Abu Bakr brought to democratic Trinidad was “calypso diplomacy,” not, as Fuad Abu Bakr had suggested, “healthy fear.” As Rudder pointed out, “Calypso helps keep our society on an even keel. The songs become our violent acts. We kill each other with song” (McClane).

An armed Abu Bakr broadcasting his favorite calypsos on the captured TTT taught the Caribbean that, in his words, “In Trinidad calypso is the culture and in calypso stories are told.” The coup was an old story he was trying to tell about Trinidad and a new story he was trying to create. The stories were never completed, but even in his old age, he said, people were telling him “Man, they can’t leave you out of the calypso at all. And this is thirty-something years…it’s part of the history. It’s part of the cultural history and of course the history of Trinidad and Tobago, the events of 1990.” And so, Abu Bakr, Muslim Calypso Monarch of Trinidad and Tobago, passed into Caribbean history.

But I still deh here, outside history book. He didn’t kill me.

Before he dead, I decide that if I went to his compound, I would have tell him me and he story. Some tings have to tell in person.

I did ask him, is how you think people in the Caribbean see you, Imam? He seh, You would have to ask the people how they perceive me. I have no perception of myself. I am who I am.” I think to myself, dis man is something else, he is Biblical: “I am that I am,” as God Himself said to Moses in self-identification. Or must be Rastaman “I and I” and Jah—no, Allah—living in Bakr, me nah know. Old man have nuff ego.

When Bakr dead I seh istirja fuh he, Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un, which yuh does seh when yuh hear a Muslim gone. It mean “Verily we belong to Allah and verily to him do we return.” Why not, I is not a Muslim like he too? The Caribbean only have religion and religious people. We writing de story but is God going to judge me, you, and de imam.

References

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Freeman, Colin. “Yasin Abu Bakr: Leader of Western World’s Only Islamist Coup.” BBC News, March 3, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-47419535. 

“Full Interview: Dabiq with Abu Sa’d at-Trinidadi.” CNC3, August 2, 2016. https://www.cnc3.co.tt/press-release/full-interview-dabiq-abu-sad-trinidadi.

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Goodman, Joshua. “Author Salman Rushdie Attacked on Lecture Stage in New York.” Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, August 12, 2022. https://www.guardian.co.tt/news/author-salman-rushdie-attacked-on-lecture-stage-in-new-york-6.2.1531511.17aa4922e5.

Khan, Aliyah. Far from Mecca: Globalizing the Muslim Caribbean. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2020.

Loutoo, Jada. “Abu Bakr Offers Apology for 1990 Coup Attempt, Explains Uprising.” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, July 12, 2020. https://newsday.co.tt/2020/07/16/abu-bakr-offers-apology-for-1990-coup-attempt-explains-uprising/.

McClane, Daisann. “Pop Music: In Trinidad, ‘Calypso Diplomacy’ with a Beat.” New York Times, March 31, 1991. https://www.nytimes.com/1991/03/31/arts/pop-music-in-trinidad-calypso-diplomacy-with-a-beat.html.

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Ramdass, Anna. “Abu Bakr is Dead.” Daily Express, October 20, 2021. https://trinidadexpress.com/newsextra/abu-bakr-is-dead/article_91b067c2-32e6-11ec-a716-a796e0dc0591.html.

Ramdass, Rickie. “Fuad Abu Bakr Charged with Six Crimes.” Daily Express, July 3, 2020. https://trinidadexpress.com/newsextra/fuad-abu-bakr-charged-with-6-crimes/article_896739c8-bd27-11ea-9c42-c7fc3009ec1d.html.

Ryan, Selwyn D. The Muslimeen Grab for Power: Race, Religion, and Revolution in Trinidad and Tobago. Port of Spain: Imprint Caribbean Ltd., 1991.

Webb, Yvonne. “Bakr Warns of ‘War,’ Police Look Into ‘Threat’ Against PM, Education Minister.” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, September 12, 2021. https://newsday.co.tt/2021/09/12/bakr-warns-of-war-police-looks-into-threat-against-pm-education-minister/.

Aliyah R. Khan is a professor of Caribbean and Muslim literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her navel string is buried where she was born and spent her childhood, in Georgetown, Guyana. She holds a creative writing MFA from Hunter College of the City University of New York, and a PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her nonfiction academic book on enslaved African Muslims, indentured Indian Muslims, and Islam in the Caribbean, Far from Mecca: Globalizing the Muslim Caribbean, was published by Rutgers University Press and the University of the West Indies Press in 2020. She is always thinking of yesterday’s night sky above the Caribbean and today’s Atlantic politricks, in hopes of a decolonized tomorrow.
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