Home / View Point / Mixing God with Mammon: The problem with Gov’t funding for religious festivals

Mixing God with Mammon: The problem with Gov’t funding for religious festivals

The bickering among Islamic organisations over the allocation and distribution of Government funding for the recent Eid celebrations underscores a point I’ve made ever since this nonsense started a few years ago: Government ought never to dispense public funds for religious festivals.

Photo: Children celebrate Eid in Moradabad, India. (Courtesy New Indian Express)
Photo: Children celebrate Eid in Moradabad, India.
(Courtesy New Indian Express)

A few weeks before Eid, in the midst of Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan—a time when Muslims are obligated to give generously to the less fortunate among their brethren and in their communities—several prominent leaders publicly complained that Government had given no indication that State-funding, which had descended into a feeding frenzy under the previous administration, was forthcoming.

The perception they conveyed was if they received no funding, there would be no Eid. Instead of adhering to the Quranic injunction of giving, these men were bullying. They stopped short of hiring Watson Duke to placard the Prime Minister: “No money, no Eid!”

The Government, which has asked citizens to lower their expectations in the face of a serious economic crisis and cut back on expenditure even for the neediest in society, did not hesitate to grant two or three million dollars to selected organisations.

That others were excluded from the “eat-ah-sawine” swilling triggered allegations of political discrimination.

The Government invited this controversy. Upon taking office last year, it should have signalled to all religious denominations that while it will continue with subventions for the schools that they own and run—some like fiefdoms over which Government has little say and no control—there will be no public funding for festivals such as Eid, Divali, Christmas, Baptists’ Day and whatever else religions may decree as being important to them.

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (second from left) poses with (from left) Pastor Winston Cuffie, his daughter Winsie-Ann Cuffie and US evangelist Benny Hinn. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (second from left) poses with (from left) Pastor Winston Cuffie, his daughter Winsie-Ann Cuffie and US evangelist Benny Hinn.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

I feel strongly about this issue. Besides the fact that Ramadan is the month of giving, not taking, every mosque in this country hosts lavish, costly “iftars” (“aftaris” in my day) that are funded by members of the “jamaat”.

An overabundance of dishes and delicacies are served, in instances on almost every night during Ramadan, so much so that many Muslims put on weight even though they fast.

Besides such extravagance, Muslims are obligated to pay to their jamaats “Zakat”, which is a tax based on a percentage of their overall worth—cash, property, jewellery, etc—and which, I need add, those who are poor or of ordinary means observe more strictly than the rich. There is also “Satkafitir”, which are alms given to the poor.

Every Eid, scores of destitute people gather outside mosques and worshippers distribute dollars to them before prayers.

Additionally, jamaats raise funds for building or upgrading mosques, acquiring furniture and equipment, and so on.

Photo: A Muslim observes prayer time.
Photo: A Muslim observes prayer time.

So why do they need Government funding? And do the recipients account for usage of the grants?

It seems to me that soliciting money this way is un-Islamic, and accepting it might even be “haram”.

I am not singling out Muslims, mark you: They just happen to be the most recent recipients of Government grants. Pretty soon Hindus will demand Divali dollars, and shortly afterwards Christians will clamour for Christmas funding.

Not long ago, none of these religious organisations received public funding for any such observances and they all went off well. In fact, I suggest that the prayers, fasting and festivals had more meaning, brought more joy to adherents of the different faiths because the faithful, not the Government, funded them.

I don’t recall how the slide into dependency began, but I know that Kamla Persad-Bissessar took it to new heights—or depths, depending on one’s perspective—in terms of the millions of dollars dispensed.

She used her office and public funds in a bid to buy out mosques, mandirs and churches, only it did not quite work in her favour when elections came.

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) celebrates with the Spiritual Baptists. (Courtesy UNCTT)
Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) celebrates with the Spiritual Baptists.
(Courtesy UNCTT)

But if the politicians use taxpayers’ dollars to buy religious currency, what of the imams, priests and pundits? You mean not one among them has the decency to reject this synthetic mixing of God and Mammon?

All religions claim human compassion as the bedrock of their beliefs, or so they say.

Yet none of them would tell politicians bearing millions of dollars as gifts: Get thee hence!

Tend to the suffering children who need life-saving surgery abroad. Look after the old and infirm who cannot get medications at public health facilities. Hire Chinese doctors who, magically, perform 20 and 30 times the number of surgical procedures locals do, bringing relief to patients who have waited years for simple cataract or bypass operations.

It’s not that the 10 or 15 million the Government doles out to religious organisations annually will have a big impact on the plight of the infirm.

Photo: A doctor tends to his patient. (Copyright BET)
Photo: A doctor tends to his patient.
(Copyright BET)

It’s more that the few lives they would save by foregoing money they do not need would distinguish them from the evangelical buccaneers who enrich themselves by fleecing their gullible flocks, shamelessly mixing God and Mammon and wallowing in the kind of opulence all scriptures condemn. Amen.

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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81 comments

  1. Raffi doh leh Sat hear you he will crucify you Sat like plenty monetary gifts. He doh like Deyas light over darkness, he like darkness over light.

  2. Zakaat is not given to the masjid to do with as they please. It MUST go towards the poor.

    You cannot fund buildings and events with Zakaat. Educate yourself please.

  3. Real Muslim were & will be always
    Like that they give and you would not hear about it were as other religious rich and wealthy or that park any where keep back you from coming out of the church boy no one can say boo but if it other person old car not fancy dress well it will reach the priest sad to say . E SINGH.

  4. I agree. I also question largesse to the steelbands etc.

  5. Mr. Shah, I agree with you 112.5% (vat added). It is not too late to change. If political patronage would be lost then so be it. Funding from government for all these religious festivals should be reduced to zero and let the various groups organise their own funding. Thank you Mr. Shah for that insight.

  6. Where them muslims get that moon and star from? Islam isn’t represented by it

  7. Do Christian churches/organisations receive government funding for Christmas and/or Easter celebrations? I’m not aware of any, but of course that doesn’t mean there is none.

    I agree that religious organisations shouldn’t expect and shouldn’t receive government funding for religious celebrations. Why should Divali or Eid or whatever religious celebration depend on government funds in order to take place? It’s ridiculous. Don’t religious organisations already receive tax relief/exempt status and also benefit from other concessions? And hasn’t at least one organisation told the government to stay out of their business as concerns child marriage? How can they then turn around and demand financial support? Function within your means.

    I say all this as a church-going Christian. I don’t have an axe to grind against religious organisations. I just think that when it comes to these celebrations, the government shouldn’t have to play any part in sponsoring them. Save that largesse for projects and initiatives that will actually help people and make a lasting impact on society (outreach programmes, etc.)

    • I agree with your point, but actually christians do get great benefits, trinidad and tobago is establish as a roman catholic state or christian state: if you know your history. the catholic board works in hand with the government….plus a bunch of private christian churches got money, land etc.. from past governments along with other groups……but I’m not into religion, all are fake…

    • As I stated, I meant specifically for Easter and Christmas celebrations, like how there’s funding for Eid, Divali, etc. I know that some churches get benefits (I also alluded to that in my original comment). I know that Christianity (lumping all the denominations together especially) is the majority religion in this country, and others have had to fight hard for recognition and acceptance (not mentioned in my original comment, but I’m aware, lol). So I’m not sure why you’d say “I agree with your point, but actually Christians do get great benefits….”, when I’ve already acknowledged that. I just don’t know if those benefits include government funding for Christmas and Easter. And I don’t believe that there should be any. As I said, I’m a Christian, I attend church and everything, but I don’t think this habit of demanding public funds for religious holiday celebrations is acceptable.

    • Churches do get funding for Christmas celebrations also

  8. This convo has gone so off course

  9. I am unaware of that government funds iftaars……..can this be confirmed?

  10. ..Politics at the service of Religion. Religion at the service of Politics..

  11. Now it’s all fund and games.

  12. Your quote Chabeth, I have my own views too yes…I know what you mean

  13. He is preaching to the choir here. How do these religions operate on a daily basis? The govt needs to keep away from religious observances and I go so far as to include the unions and the group that handles Emancipation Day activities. All groups really need to plan what they can afford.

  14. “An overabundance of dishes and delicacies are served, in instances on almost every night during Ramadan, so much so that many Muslims put on weight even though they fast.” 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂

    But I don’t even support state funding of these denominational schools given some of the policies they have that seem preferential and discriminatory to me.

    • Denominational school funding is a whole argument by itself

    • I believe limited State funds IF the schools don’t charge. But I know some religious schools charge. Do those get State funds too?
      Since Pastor Samuel’s school is one, I’m guessing yes.
      I don’t mind some State funding for schools. But they cannot then discriminate at all.

    • If they want students to be able to go for ‘free’ they have to fund. Govt cannot handle education on its own. Apparently.

    • State funding should not go to an organization, school or otherwise, that links religion to job promotion. You will not find a Hindu as principal of a catholic school or a Presbyterian as principal of a Muslim school regardless of how long the teacher has been at the school, how capable the teacher is of being principal etc etc

    • But the funding shouldn’t be to pay for salaries and so on. It should be to help students.
      Maybe the help should come in other forms like books or repairs or school meals and stuff.

    • All teachers at public schools are paid through the ministry of education.

    • But not religious schools right?

    • What do you mean by religious school? CIC, convent, bishops, naps, presentation, hillview, Saghs, holy cross. These are all denominational schools whose teachers are paid through the ministry.

    • Damn. Didn’t realise. As if the Catholic church can’t afford to pay teachers. Just for one, of course.

    • I’m guessing it has been that way since Eric Williams…

    • Probably. And the boards basically get to select the principal through recommendation to the ministry.
      But the state and their relationship with private schools is another issue.

    • Chabeth is correct. I have no idea what the Boards really do anymore. But dont throw the baby out so quickly, these are the better performing schools academically, so something us happening here as opposed to the government schools

    • Private schools are separate from “assisted” schools.

    • From what I understand the reason why we have government assisted schools was when the government decided to expand the number of available secondary school places the reached an agreement with the “denominational private schools” thus the concordat (not sure if I spelt it correctly).

      Its easy to say that the government should stop funding these schools but the fact is that these schools perform the best and if these denominational schools decide to revert to private schools they will not have a shortage of available students.

      I personally benefitted from the concordat as my parents would not have been able to afford to pay to send me to a “prestige school” and I am guessing that I am not the only one in this group that has had this experience

    • Before the govt paid salaries and expenses, students had to pay fees. Do you want the denominational schools becoming like the international schools? Education at a ‘high’ level only for those who can afford? Only a few getting in free? Until the govt makes changes to the govt schools so that the level of education offered at any school is the same, then denom boards will continue to exist. Also, these schools are there to put forward their religion. Therefore people of that religion are the ones that tend to teach there. Don’t look for a principal not of the same religion.

    • You know another conversation to be had is how segregated schools are these days.
      I went to school at CIC and I can only imagine how different it would have been if there was an International School and Maple Leaf or whatever back then.
      I don’t think the Gov’t schools are necessarily worse you know. Just the type of parents who push their children are pulling them out and sending them to pay schools.
      My theory is that the pay schools are selling the placebo in fact and the Gov’t schools are just as good or better in most areas.

    • True Nigel, I speak from my experience in Catholic school from the age of 5 straight thru to 16 as well and do not advocate for a de-funding. It has also helped with the integration and tolerance we grew up with.

    • The “denominational private schools” are not the same as the government assisted schools.
      Government assisted schools are like the ones I mentioned higher up.
      Private schools are where ppl have to pay. Parents pull their kids out of public schools and send them to private schools. Government does not pay the salaries of teachers at private schools. The schools have to do that for themselves.
      Some private schools have an arrangement with government to take in students via the SEA exam. Others do not.
      Private schools charge students between 3k-5k a term. The government pays the school $1200 a term per student and the government decides how many students it will send which may be more than the principal agreed to.
      Teachers at private schools make a third to a half less than teachers at public schools.

    • Lasana is getting mixed up here

    • I went to a denominatonal school. The principal had to convert to get the post.
      All teachers at public schools have to go through the ministry. In some cases principals again get to pick and choose teachers via recommendation. But some teachers get assigned to denominational schools. Regardless of their religion.

    • Lol. Maybe Savitri Maharaj. Ideas are flying around. But I am a bit worried about how the school system has found a way to separate the haves and haves not according to finances rather than ability though.

    • Part of the issue for parents why the dont send their children to certain government schools is not the standard of education but the fear of their children interacting with the “wrong children”

      Look at private primary schools, it is no longer just about whether the parents can pay but the parents get interviewed to determine if the parents work in jobs that can benefit the school

    • The 20% is for children who didn’t do well enough to get in on their first choice.

    • It starts in primary school Lasana. Try registering your child @4 or 5. They want to know your background, whats your profession etc.

    • Lasana Liburd believe it or not but the teachers at our alma mater were paid by the government however I do know that when there were vacancies the school sometimes hired teachers at their own costs so that no classes went without a teacher whereas in a government school students would probably have been left without a teacher for a period

    • We’ve had this denominational discussion before cause I remember relating how every August holiday we would bring home a donation sheet. But the principal put all the donation to good use. I have no problem donating to a school if my child is attending and it will benefit other children

    • Savitri, I lined up for hours at a couple RC and Gov’t schools and got properly grilled too. I had to jump through hoops. My daughter is five and schools were saying they have to give preference to older kids, blah, blah. Some were asking where we went to church and where we were baptised.
      Arima New Gov’t was the only one who took her and she is doing really well there so far and I like the school.
      I compared the good Gov’t schools to private schools and wasn’t convinced that the teaching or so was superior at the private schools. Only the extra curricular activities and you have to pay for those anyway.

    • I think any school that handpicks parents from a particular educational background of a particular economic worth will always do better for reasons not necessarily related to the quality of their teaching at all.
      I hate scams. Lol.

    • At the private schools the classes are smaller and they do give the child a lot of attention. The extra curricular activities help with a more rounded personality…but if you’re happy where she is, you can now focus ob what she likes to do. But remember we are now talking about 3 sets of schools here – wholly run govt, govt assisted and private.

    • There are extra curricular activities at the Gov’t schools too. There are where she is. But the point is since you have to pay for them separately and they are after school hours, you can send your child to a Gov’t school and simply pay for whatever extra curricular activity you’d like elsewhere if you wish.

    • Totally agree but read Nigel Noel’s comments above where he mentioned the “wrong children”.

    • At then end of the day, its damn scary bringing children up now. All your best intentions could go right down the drain if you’re not alert. Its harder now than when we were growing up

    • There are several denominational primary schools that are doing poorly. These denominational primary schools in Port of Spain and environs stood out this year The focus on performance between government and denominational schools is mostly at the secondary school level.

    • But beside that Lester, seems as if the south schools are performing better than those north of the invisible line…lol

    • Oh yeah Savitri. Nigel Noel knows what he is talking about when he speaks of the “wrong children.” Diversity is powerful and uplifting. Pity that some don’t realise that.

    • And that is what I liked about the denominationals years ago…

  15. I’m hoping that they don’t want to be leaches but just don’t want to be left out.

  16. The optimist in me says if all the religious groups were told to “go fish”, they may not have such a problem. And part of the issue may be that no group wants to be left out when they feel others are benefitting.

  17. This public funding of religious festivals is really silly now. I understand it was almost $3M per org, for 15 of them. Whatever happened to fundraising in the community and bringing people together?

  18. Earl Best

    Raf, I would have agreed with you publicly but I no longer get invited to any Muslim homes and I now have to depend on the neighbourhood masjid for my annual serving of sawine. Truth be told, therefore, I have no objection to getting back some of my own tax dollars, even if it has to be by this most circuitous route.