The Synagogue and Mosque of Paramaribo, Suriname


It’s not that uncommon for Jews and Muslims to be living together! However, there is probably only one place in the world where it’s quite obvious to see a mosque and a synagogue at the same premises, sharing one common boundary wall. At the Keizer Street in Paramaribo, the Jewish Synagogue Neveh Shalom and the Muslim Mosque of Ahmadiyya Anjuman are side by side.

As gathered from the sources during my visit, the original Neve Shalom Synagogue building was constructed during 1719 by Ashkenazi Jews. The synagogue was rebuilt and enlarged to its current size between 1835 to 1837.

This magnificent wooden Synagogue is the only active Synagogue today in Paramaribo, the Capital, serving the whole Jewish community of Suriname. The Synagogue is a striking landmark of downtown Paramaribo.

The Aron Kodesh (holy ark), Bimah (dais) and the benches are all made of beautiful woodwork. The synagogue boasts several beautiful Torahs, hundreds of years old.

A very unique characteristic of the Neve Shalom Synagogue is its sandy floor. According to tradition, the sand is:

a reminder of the Hebrews’ 40 years in the desert after the exodus from Egypt, and

the days of the Inquisition when practicing Judaism was punishable by death. During those days, marranos (those who were forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition but however, continued to practice their Judaism) met in cellars to practice their Judaism. They covered the floor with sand to muffle the sounds of their prayers.

Further, as gathered from other sources in Paramaribo, according to it’s name, the mosque was established after the missionairy and pioneering work of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha`at Islam Movement.

In 1914, six years after the death of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, some of his prominent followers, whom he had himself appointed to manage the movement after him, established the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha`at Islam in Lahore. It was formed in order to preserve and advance Hazrat Mirza’s mission, and to save the movement from degenerating into just another squabbling sect of Islam.

Leaders of the Lahore Ahmadiyya movement have been recognised, by eminent Muslims outside the movement, as the ablest Muslim scholars, authors and missionaries of modern times. Maulana Muhammad Ali (d. 1951), the first head of the Anjuman, wrote numerous books about Islam, including many in English, and these have been acclaimed as making a true picture of Islam available to the world, and to the West for the first time. Khawaja Kamal-ud-Din (d. 1932) was the pioneer Muslim missionary to the West. He established the Woking Muslim Mission in England in 1913. The Anjuman also set up a mission in Berlin and completed a magnificent mosque there in 1926.

These missions were, for decades, the principal centres of Islam in Europe, and were supported by Muslims of all persuasions. The missions achieved considerable success in correcting the West’s misconceptions about Islam and brought many Europeans into the Muslim faith, including several intellectuals, writers, and members of the British nobility.

The Lahore Ahmadiyya movement also sent its missionaries and literature to many other parts of the world, from Fiji in the remotest east to Suriname in the farthest west, where Muslim communities were helpless in the face of attacks upon the religion of Islam. The threat to Islam was comprehensively repulsed in all these places.

Submitted by Bobby Singh

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