Monday 13 February 2023

Islam in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is a country in Oceania that comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia (a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia). With an overwhelming Christian population, Islam is a rather new religious community that began its journey in the 1980s. From a few dozen in 1980s to 10,00 strong Muslim community (2012 estimates), the journey to Islam has been slow yet very encouraging. Although, Muslim traders have been visiting this part of the world since the 17th century, yet despite centuries of contact with Muslims, there seems to have been little Islamic influence in Papua New Guinea except in certain rituals or customs among some native tribes.

In recent times as early as 1970s, the Muslim population of Papua New Guinea was merely 120. Most were expatriate workers from Africa and South Asia. But then things started to improve when the government officially recognized Islam in 1982. In 1988, Muslims in Papua New Guinea set up the first Islamic center, with the help of a Malaysia-based Islamic organization and the Saudi Ministry of Islamic affairs. In 1996, three more Islamic centers were established, with the help of the Muslim World League. There are now seven Islamic centers in the nation. The Muslim population rose to 500 in 2001, but it surged to around 5000 in 2012, claiming a surge of over 500%. In some cases, the entire villages have embraced Islam when dawah teams visited the villages. Such conversions have been very interesting as the dawah teams had t disguise them as per the customs and culture of the indigenous people (watch the video below).
First Papua New Guinean Family to embrace Islam
Barrah Islam (Nuli) and Fatima (Margaret) - (Photo)

As for the rise of Muslim population, a report was published in "The Garamut" based on a survey by Steve Marshall about the growing number of Papua New Guineans converting to Islam in the country. His story raises a number of interesting points and questions concerning the religious future of PNG. The report quoting Isa Teine, the general secretary for PNG’s Islamic Society tells why many Christians are drawn to Islam is because of many similarities Islam has with Melanesian customs: [3]
“When we greet people, we hug them. This is Islam. We don’t shake hands and leave them, so most of our cultures are Islamic. Polygamy – this is Islam. Islam encourages four wives. Before Islam came in, people already had two, three, four wives. This is Islam.
“So, when the religion came in and said, ‘Oh we have to do this, our Islamic culture, we have to do this and that’, people fit in easily. So, it’s very easy for Papua New Guineans to embrace Islam. Once the religion itself spread I tell you, I’m just predicting in 20-30 years' time, all Papua New Guinea will submit to Islam”.

Papuan Muslims are largely concentrated Port Moresby and villages situated in the Highlands. despite having an overwhelming Christan population, Muslims are free to proselytize and build places of worship in the country, mainly due to the secular nature of the country's constitution. The majority of the Muslims are Sunni. Interestingly, unlike many other non-Muslim countries where a large number of Muslim percentages constitutes of foreign workers, the majority of Muslims in Papua New Guinea are indigenous Papua New Guineans. 
Beautiful masjid and community centre in the capital city of Ports Moresby (Photo)

The spread of Islamophobia around the world has also started to make its presence felt in this part of the world too. The present state of Muslim community viz a viz the dominating Christian population has not been very encouraging. Although, Islam was officially recognized as one of the religions, to the present day, the government has threatened to ban Islam. Muslims have experienced discrimination and even violence from the Christian majority.
The mosque in downtown Port Moresby has been fire-bombed, there is a bullet hole in one of the windows, and a senior PNG Government minister once said that Islam was dangerous and a serious threat to peace and unity here.
"There is not adequate understanding by the people of this country about Islam, because the more negative pictures are painted on the religion of Islam, the more people tend to believe what the other people say instead of coming and hearing from the Muslims," says Khalid, one of the Muslim imams.

Note: This post is our initial venture into how Islam spread in Papua New Guinea. we will add more in time, especially a firsthand account of how Islam came to this part of the country in 1970s.

You may like to watch a short video clip on conversion of a village to Islam for which the dawah team had to "dress up" like the people they were visiting and despite initial hesitation, they embraced Islam

Disclaimer: The data for this post has been collected from the references given below. If anyone differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

To know more about life of Muslims in other non-Muslim countries, please visit our Reference Page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
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Thank you for the encouragement

Alhamdulillah may allah protect papua new guinea

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