Islam in Panama
Islam in Panama has a long and unique history. Official data estimates 0.3 percent of the population of Panama is Muslims.
The first Muslims in Panama were African slaves from the Mandinka tribe, brought by the Spaniards to work the gold mines in1552. 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 area now known as Darien, San Miguel , San Blas and the area along the River Bayano, named after Bayano. Bayano gained truces with Panama's colonial governor, but the well known Commander Pedro de Ursua 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, and the history books have largely omitted Bayano‘s Islamic heritage.
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. 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 Colon 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 Arrajain, 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 onJanuary 15, 1982. This masjid was built jointly by the Islamic Call Society (based in Libya) and Salomon Bikhu 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 Arrajain, which is now used solely as a Muslim cemetery. As of March 1997, there were four masajid in the Republic of Panama.
Source: Dr. Fernando Romero (el Rey Bayano y Los Negros Panameños en los mediados del siglo xvi ) - KC.