Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bahamian Converts to Non-Christian Religions

The following article from the Nassau Guardian profiles three Bahamians who have converted from Christianity to Buddhism, Islam, and Rastafarianism. While Christianity is by far the most prevalent religion in the Bahamas, accounting for well over 90% of the population, the reality is that non-Christian religions such as those profiled below are making inroads into the Bahamian religious landscape. Undoubtedly, this is a trend that will continue--albeit slowly--in future years. In the meantime, pastors and churches would do well to ask themselves why a growing number of Bahamians are dissatisfied with Christianity and, likewise, what they are finding in other religions that is not being offered by the Christian church. While I suspect that the answers to these questions are complex and multifaceted, my initial response would be that increasing legalism, nominalism, emphasis on the "get rich quick" ethos of prosperity theology, and the huge disconnect between what the church preaches and actually practices are all major factors that have encouraged a growing number of Bahamians to embrace alternatives to Christianity.
Owning your religion

By Nadine Thomas-Brown
Guardian Lifestyles Reporter

If Bahamian religion could be seen as a fabric it would probably be Androsia cotton with little if any room for Gabardine or Kente Cloth. Usually when one thinks of religion in The Bahamas, Christianity with its variant denominations is the only one that comes to mind. However several faiths call The Bahamas home.

Among them, Buddhists, Muslims and Rastafarians. Though many people do not wear their religion on their sleeves, some faiths have no choice due to their doctrines, but to sport some tangible proof as evidenced by a Muslim's clothing and a Rastafarian's dreadlocks. Unfortunately these characteristics of their religion label them and at times make them outcasts in their own country.

James Rolle, 35, (name changed) is one in what may be a growing number of practicing Buddhists. However it is difficult to ascertain the exact numbers that practice the religion here in the country. Rolle does not want to be identified for personal reasons pertaining to his religion. He explained that in his faith, Buddhism, while aiming to eradicate suffering, is about looking at and thinking about one's own life. It shows how to understand one's self and how to cope with daily problems.

Though brought up between the Anglican and Catholic denominations of Christianity, Rolle says he was formerly introduced to Buddhism seven years ago, shortly after meeting a relative who had practiced it for many years. "It just seemed to be the most practical thing for me because I am still wary of what religion does to people and families and it overwhelms you when it is supposed to be a unifying element, but it creates division and that part of it has always made me apprehensive," he said.

Buddhism has brought him peace and comfort. But says his biggest fear as a practicing Buddhist is that of being ostracized. "I am always fearful because anyone knows that the worst thing that you can talk about is religion. It always ends up as an argument." Rolle says that the conversation often positions you in opposition to Christianity which is not the case. "I just believe that people, particularly in Buddhism, believe that we try to take responsibility for ourselves in the environment in which we are in".

As the father of a toddler, Rolle says that he will expose his child to both Christianity and his Buddhist beliefs (his wife is not Buddhist). "I would never force him or anyone to follow my beliefs."

As far as future conflicts for his child because of his religion, Rolle says that so far he has not heard of anyone being subjected to religious persecution because for the most part a Buddhist's faith is not something public per se.

This is not the case for 39-year-old Abdul Hakim, a Bahamian who converted to Islam while living in the United States. His faith, which has been made very public through the years because of it's association with the civil rights movement and 911, has made Muslims the victim of religious bias and persecution.

Hakim says that he became a Muslim because of his disillusionment with Christianity. "After experiencing Christianity and seeing that there was a lack of connection to the creator and the attributing of the creator to other things, I did some research on Islam which brought me to the understanding of our purpose here as humans beings and our relationship with the creator and how we should worship him," he says. Hakim says he chose the religion because he found that it was the closest thing to anything in any other religion as far as worship to the creator was concerned.

While living in the U.S. before 911, Hakim said that he had no problems with prejudice pertaining to his religion. However he said that post 911, attitudes have changed significantly both in The Bahamas and abroad. "They will say that you are worshipping Iraq or something other than the creator," he said. The attitudes are fostered by the media, according to him.

Hakim says that his family and he have gotten accustomed to the name calling and the dirty/curious looks because of the way they dress — the women are covered up, their faces and hands are the only exposed parts of their bodies. Men wear the kufi — a small knitted skull cap.

"My family and I do not go out that often but when we do we get different comments," he said. " Because we know it's an obligation upon us as Muslims we don't let it bother us." While the community of Muslims is not a large one, according to Hakim, it is growing.

Another religious group that is well known in The Bahamas are the Rastafarians — a group which just like the Buddhists, the Muslims and the Christians is made up by varying sects, each with their own way of doing things.

Dwayne Wilson, 26, is Bobo Shante a branch of the Rastafarian faith, which according to Wilson. Bobo Shante is the Ethiopian word for "royal Ethiopian". "This is how we see ourselves," he says.

According to Wilson, the teachings of Bobo Shante originated in Timbuktu, Alexandria, which is in Africa and was brought to Jamaica at Ten Miles, Bull Bay by King Emanuel Charles Edwards.

Wilson said that though he was from a predominantly Christian family, he was led to the faith by certain facts in the Bible which he studied.

"Many faiths come about by people's deciphering of Bible verses," he said. "I had a firm belief in Christianity and 'clean-hearted Rasta' who wants to get away from drinking and smoking usually join up with the Bobo Shante," he said.

Rastafarians are largely misunderstood according to Wilson. "I have experienced a lot of discrimination from friends, family members and others," he said. He said that a lack of acceptance and tolerance also plays a part in the way that Rastafarians are perceived.

Wilson is the father of a child. Though the child is not yet wearing the trademark dreadlocks which would mark him as Rastafarian, his father plans to remedy this soon. "Dreadlocks is the nature and is a sacred pledge between God and the individual," explains Wilson on the significance of the hairstyle in his religion. Wilson said that while he has apprehensions about his son's inevitable interaction with society (his son is a toddler), he has learned and has been prepared through the struggle of other Rastafarians with the system to raise his son.

Even though people may look upon these religions as being vastly different from Christianity and each other, one unifying thread runs throughout each. They say they are striving for peace, love and enlightenment.

Rolle believes that even though he is Buddhist his faith does not preclude his respect for the fact that the society is predominantly Christian. "The rhythm of the society is Christian and is dictated by the Christian calendar and the holidays and the whole mentality. So you need to be flexible, you need to be respectable and you need to say this is where I am. But if I have a belief or conviction strong enough for me to want to adopt a different faith or to believe something different then you have to take it. It's not shocking that the average person of a different faith is going to look at you and go oh you are crazy."

"We worship the same God as Abraham did," Hakim says.

As for Wilson he says that the Bobo Shante believe in the Bible and practice the teachings of the Bible. However he believes that "the only way you can see God is through one another."

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