Islam's inroads in land of Voodoo and Christianity

By Trenton Daniel

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Inroads made by Islam (and by extension, by Mormonism and Rastafarianism) tell me that Haiti is very much a product of this century, subject to all winds, ill-winds and otherwise, that blow over the Caribbean nation-states," Bellegarde-Smith wrote in an email.

Rosedany Bazille, a 39-year-old teacher who converted several months after the earthquake, said she had felt rudderless before embracing the religion and was looking for a way forward.

"Islam can put people on the right path and show them who's God," she said.

Some Haitian Muslims belong to the Nation of Islam, a U.S.-based branch of the religion that preaches black self-determination. Some local members converted while serving time in U.S. prisons before being deported back to Haiti. The group's leader, Louis Farrakhan, visited the country for the first time last year.

The decision to convert has made some targets of discrimination.

The Haitian government doesn't recognize Islam as an official religion, nor does it honor Muslim marriages. Wearing the skullcaps or flowing head scarves typical of the religion can draw stares and finger-pointing. Derosier said her neighbors gossip that she's evil.

Voodoo, a blend of West African religions created by slaves during the colonial period, has long been a popular faith in the country, with elements followed even by some of the 85 percent of the population who claim Christian beliefs. Voodoo was once so commonly embraced that the notorious dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier used it to terrify and control the masses.

Most Christian Haitians identify themselves as Roman Catholics. A priest, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected president in 1990 by opposing the hereditary dictatorship that continued with Francois' son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

With so much still wrong in Haiti, the need for Islam couldn't be greater, said Billy. Two months ago, he launched his live talk show to educate his compatriots about his adopted faith.

"Haiti has gone astray. It can't produce anything," said Billy. "Right now Haitians just want a visa to go the United States, to Canada. They don't want to stay in Haiti."

With a tapestry of Mecca and praying crowds as a backdrop to his TV show one recent evening, Billy and his co-host Ruben Caries invited watchers to send questions about Islam via text messages.

Billy's BlackBerry buzzed with missives, including this one in Creole: "M vle vini Muslim" — "I want to be a Muslim."

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