It is Eid day. The smartly dressed congregation are flocking to morning prayers at the large Nur E Islam Mosque, in Farouk Avenue, that serves the Muslims of San Juan (pronounced saa-waa), a suburb of Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad. Each person is eager to get a place in the shade before the sun unleashes its full splendour on the congregation. The imam, alert to the fact that he has before him his seasonal captive audience, conducts a rather lengthy but moving sermon about the need to value common humanity which ends with him breaking down in tears.
Just as he composes himself for his closing injunctions, top of the range four-by-four wagons pull up outside the masjid. Those of us stretching our legs on the pavement look on wide-eyed as each vehicle discharges an extravagantly dressed African-Trinidadian woman, dripping with jewellery and covered in elaborate niqab, with smartly dressed young children in tow. They verbally joust with the young lads hanging about on the street: ‘A salaam alaykum, wa’appen bhai?’ (everyone is bhai in Trinidad, a small mark of the syntheses of ethnicities, cultures and languages that converge in Trinidad patois).
It’s quite an entrance and contrasts sharply with the huddle of destitute and poor people nearby, who, kept in line by a muscular policeman armed with a shotgun, wait patiently for post-sermon alms. ‘Who are these sisters?’ I ask, not understanding why they came so late and dressed in such ostentatious opulence. ‘Gangsters Molls,’ whispers a fellow street loiterer. ‘From Abu Bakr’s Black Muslims from St James’.