A rift within the Muslim community over the firing of talk show host, Fazeer Mohammed, now seems imminent. Some Muslim groups are incensed over the dismissal of Mohammed by the Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) after an interview with Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan, charging religious discrimination, and are planning to protest outside the CNMG office today. Other groups believe, however, the whole thing is being blown out of proportion. Activist Inshan Ishmael, CEO of the Islamic Broadcasting Network, said the dismissal of Mohammed and several responses from the People's Partnership Government to the Muslim community since it assumed office reeks of "blatant religious discrimination."
Ishmael said it appeared there was a great hesitation on the part of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to accept invitations from Muslim groups to functions during the recent month of Ramadan. Ishmael further claimed that Muslim groups, with the exception of one, received no funding from the PP Government for Eid even though over 200 groups of another religious organisation got money to celebrate their festival. He noted that Muslims were also sidelined by the Government in state boards and senatorial appointments. "The firing of Mohammed put the icing on the cake...It is blatant religious discrimination," he said. Ishmael, who claimed he informed the PM of this, rejected any notion, however, that the fallout will cause him to pull away his support from the PP. "I am a supporter and financier of the PP and will continue to support the Government," he said.
"This is chalk and cheese compared to the discrimination I suffered under the former PNM government... Remember I was locked up." Ishmael said a large number of Muslim groups, in a meeting at the Islamic Missionaries Guild's Kelly Village office on Tuesday night, condemned the firing of Mohammed. He said they are all calling for an explanation by Rambachan and the reinstatement of Mohammed. Imtiaz Mohammed, head of the Islamic Missionaries Guild and Muslims of T&T, an umbrella body of more than 20 Islamic organisations, said some six weeks before a September 25 Eid dinner, they sent an invitation to Persad-Bissessar to attend. "We never even received an acknowledgement," he said. On the Rambachan/Mohammed incident, he said Rambachan's line of questioning seemed to target Mohammed's religious belief.
He said if Mohammed is not reinstated, the Muslim community will be convinced that the PP is discriminating against them. "Five months now the PP has been in power and we have many reasons to complain about not being treated in a satisfactory manner," he said. "We need to sit with the PM and work this out." Dr Nasser Mustapha, president of the Trinidad Muslim League, dismissed the entire Rambachan/Mohammed incident as a "misunderstanding." Asked if he felt it was religious discrimination, he replied: "Not at all. "It's being blown out of proportion by the Muslim community," he said. "The minister maybe stepped out of line and brought up things that were not relevant and Fazeer also responded."
Mustapha, noting that good faith should prevail on both sides, said there may be a need for dialogue and some mediation in the matter. "It could escalate into a rift in society," Mustapha said cautiously. Shiraz Ali, Imam of the Islamic Masjid of El Socorro and teacher at the T&T Darul Uloom Institute, said he did not believe the incident stemmed from religious discrimination. "There are always elements that would take issues of race and religion and blow it out of proportion," he added. Ali said he believed the incident was politically-motivated. "The minister was the one questioning Mohammed about religion...Fazeer was perceived to be too critical of the Government," he said. "Mohammed should be reinstated and Government should look at sending a message that this is not politically motivated."
Dookeran, Warner responds
Acting Prime Minister Winston Dookeran says he is only aware of what he read in the newspapers. "I'm not familiar with what is happening at CNMG at this point in time," he said. "The issue that has become public is one that we must not allow to distract us from our commitment to ensure that we build a society in which freedom of expression should be adhered to and in due course ensure that those who are involved in CNMG would be able to explain exactly what is happening there in terms of their restructuring process." He said he's now ascertaining what is happening and would apprise the Prime Minister when she returns. UNC deputy leader Jack Warner said he planned to talk to Rambachan on the matter.