– by Kumar Mahabir
Nov 15, 2016: It was reported in the mainstream media on Sunday that 124 inmates from seven prisons in Trinidad attended a Roman Catholic church service in Port of Spain.
The event was intended as a pilgrimage for the prisoners to walk through The Mercy Door at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Were the inmates exclusively Catholics? If so, why the preference for Catholic prisoners to be let out of prison?
On that same Sunday, as well as the next day, Hindus were also engaged in a pilgrimage to the sea in observance of Kartik. During this ceremony, devotees worship mainly Ganga Ma who is believed to preside over sanctified, clean rivers and oceans. Bathing, or merely touching the holy water, symbolises the removal of sins and the purification of the body and soul.
The prisoners could have also been taken to this pilgrimage but isolated from the mass of devotees for security and other reasons. This multi-faith event would have required a religious paradigm shift that would have been historic as well as liberating. But would the Commissioner of Prisons and the Minister of National Security have granted permission?
The response is embedded in the question: What is the relationship between the State and Religion, particularly non-Christian faiths. Clearly, the State is partial to Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism.
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Discrimination against non-Christian religions by the State is exhibited every year. At the ceremonial opening of each law term, services are held in the Holy Trinity Cathedral rather than rotated in a mandir or mosque.
The Prison Service has set a precedence by allowing inmates to attend mass at the Cathedral in Port of Spain.
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Now Hindus and Muslim priests can demand that prisoners be released to attend religious services in their respective places of worship. Imams, for example, can demand that inmates be taken to perform itikaaf in a mosque during Ramadan. Itikaafis a form of meditation intended to beg for forgiveness from Allah.
(Dr. Kumar Mahabir is the chairman of Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre in Trinidad and Tobago)