Islam and Indigenous peoples of Panama
Indigenous peoples of Panama, or Native Panamanians, are the native peoples of Panama. According to the 2000 census, there are 285,231 indigenous peoples living in Panama, and they make up almost 5% of the overall population. The Guaymí and Ngöbe-Buglé comprise half of the indigenous peoples of Panama.
Many of the tribes live on comarca indígenas, which are administrative regions for an area with a substantial Indian populations. Three comarcas (Comarca Emberá-Wounaan, Kuna Yala, Ngöbe-Buglé) exist as equivalent to a province, with two smaller comarcas (Kuna de Madugandí and Kuna de Wargandí) subordinate to a province and considered equivalent to a corregimiento (municipality).
- Bokota, Bocas Del Toro
- Embera, southeastern Darién Province
- Guaymí (including the Movere and Murire peoples), mainly Chiriquí Province
- Kuna, Darién Province and Caribbean side.
- Ngöbe-Buglé, mainly Chiriquí Province
- Wounaan, southeastern Darién Province
- Bokota language: 933 speakers (in Panama)
- Bri-bri language: 2,521 speakers
- Buglé language: 17,731 speakers
- Emberá language: 22,485 speakers
- Kuna language: 61,707 speakers
- Naso-Teribe language: 3,305 speakers
- Ngöbe language: 169,130 speakers
- Wounaan language: 6,882 speakers
The first Muslims in Panama were African slaves from the Mandinka tribe, brought by the Spaniards to work the gold mines in 1552. The Mandinka were Muslims, and their importation was prohibited by Spanish Laws but was violated nonetheless. A group of about 500 that arrived on the Atlantic coast of Panama in 1552, escaped from a sinking ship. They elected a man called Bayano (Vaino) as their leader in the fight against the colonizers. They formed councils, and mosques in the areas now known as Darién Province, Bay of San Miguel, San Blas Islands and the area along the Bayano River, named after Bayano. Bayano gained truces with Panama’s colonial governor, but the well known Commander Pedro de Ursúa successfully captured the guerrilla leader, who was sent to Peru and then Spain where he died. After Bayano’s death, efforts were made to destroy any trace of Islam during that period in Panama. There is no history as what happened to the Muslims who remained in Panama.
The second wave of Muslims were single-male immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and Lebanon who arrived from 1904 to 1913 and later married local women. The first mosque was built by the Ahmadiyya Muslim movement, in 1930. In 1929 another group came from Bombay, India who went on to form the Sunni Indo-Pakistani Muslim Society. From 1929-1948 this organization (renamed Panama Muslim Mission) initiated construction on a mosque in Panama City. The location was half completed and was used for Eid prayers and classes for new Muslims, who numbered about twenty-five blacks of West Indian descent. There was also another group practicing Islam in Colón led by a Jamaican named Basil Austkan, who rented a place for salat on 6th Street and Broadway. In 1932 there was a group of Muslim in San Miguel, Calidonia in Panama City who resided in Short Street where they held meetings and prayers. The Muslims in Panama City of Indo-Pakistan origins had no family structure until 1951 when the first families arrived. In 1963, they purchased a plot in the local cemetery called Jardin de Paz; in 1991, property was purchased in an area called Arraijan, which is now used solely as a Muslim cemetery.
Community Development: 1970s to Present
In the mid-1970s some native Panamanians influenced by the Nation of Islam and led by Abdul Wahab Johnson and Suleyman Johnson, began propagating Islam in Panama City and Colón. After meeting with Dr. Abdulkhabeer Muhammad they began to study orthodox Sunni Islam. In 1977 they received financing from Arab merchants in Colon to rent a place on 7th Street and Central Avenue, Colón. This group, due to lack of knowledge and assistance, eventually disintegrated. The Indo-Pakistani Muslims began teaching their children at home in 1965 until 1973, when a small teaching program began in a room above Bazar Hindustan on Central Avenue, Panama City. In 1978, they began to use a place in the area of Perejil, Panama City, where prayers and meetings took place until the completion of the El Centro Cultural Islámico de Colón on January 15, 1982. This masjid was built jointly by the Islamic Call Society (based in Libya) and Salomon Bhikhu a local merchant from India. Since its inauguration, classes have been held in the evenings and Sundays for new Muslims and people interested in Islam, given by Dr. Abdulkhaber Muhammad and in his absence Hamza Beard. In 1991 the Muslim community purchased in Arraiján, which is now used solely as a Muslim cemetery. As of March 1997, there were four mosques Panama.