The Rise of Islam in PNG

ABC News Papua New Guinea correspondent Steve Marshall recently produced a story about the growing number of Papua New Guineans converting to Islam in the country. His story raises a number of interesting points and questions concerning the religious future of PNG.

According to the report, PNGeans began converting to Islam in the early 1980s and there are now more than 4,000 followers in the country with recent reports of entire villages converting at the same time.

Why the gradual increase in PNG Muslim numbers?

Well, according to Isa Teine, the general secretary for PNG’s Islamic Society (Yes, they have a website!), many are drawn to Islam because of the many similarities Islam has with Melanesian customs:

“When we greet people we hug them. This is Islam. We don’t shake hands and leave them, so most of our cultures are Islamic. Polygamy – this is Islam. Islam encourages four wives. Before Islam came in, people already had two, three, four wives. This is Islam.

“So when the religion came in and said, ‘Oh we have to do this, our Islamic culture, we have to do this and that’, people fit in easily. So it’s very easy for Papua New Guineans to embrace Islam. Once the religion itself spread I tell you, I’m just predicting in 20, 30 years time, all Papua New Guinea will submit to Islam”.

Hohola, Port Moresby.When one thinks about it, Isa Teine is quite right – there are a lot of similarities between Melanesian custom and Islam.

The similarities enable many PNGeans to fit in and actually feel comfortable practicing the religion because it doesn’t completely require them to totally transform their cultural beliefs.

This also makes the claim that entire villages are converting unanimously to Islam quite believable because one would only have to convince the elders of the clan to become Muslims before the rest of the clan-members follow suit. This tactic is commonly used during elections – politicians understand that by securing the “Big Men’s” loyalty, they have ultimately secured the loyalty of the collective as well, i.e the clan or tribe.

It’s interesting to note that Islam is particularly making inroads in the Highland provinces of PNG with the PNG Islamic Society now operating four branches in the Highlands – with the only mosque located in Hohola, Port Moresby.

According to the report, the mosque in downtown Port Moresby has been fire-bombed and there is a bullet hole in one of the windows. A senior PNG Government minister once said that Islam was dangerous and a serious threat to peace and unity in the country.


  • The PNG Islamic Society is the only Islamic organisation in the country and was founded in April 1981 – it won its recognition from the government in November 1982.
  • The first person to embrace Islam on PNG soil was Brother Sadiiq Sandbach, then a Scottish national – now a Papua New Guinean, who became a Muslim in October 1982.
  • The first Papua New Guinean to embrace Islam was Alexander (Bilal) Dawia who declared Shahadah on the 18th of February 1986.

~ by Tavurvur on November 20, 2008.

6 Responses to “The Rise of Islam in PNG”

  1. The following story was told to me a while ago:

    There were a mob of workers who were protesting about not getting their fortnightly pay in Goroka so they went to the police station to present their issue. The police couldn’t do anything about the situation and repeatedly told the mob to go away and talk to their respective employer. The mob began to get restless and threatened to start rioting until they saw something – a small group PNG Muslims who were working towards them. Somehow the mob’s anger switched from the police to the Muslims and they ended up severely beating the PNG Muslims…

    Just a story I heard.

  2. Personally I have no qualms about the rise of religions other than Christianity in PNG.

    I believe, as in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

    I believe religion is just a medium to escape the reality that we are mortal beings and that we will all eventually die. It is something that preaches love and all those honorable virtues, yet it is the cause of a majority of conflicts and wars in the world.

    I am not an atheist nor a Muslim but I am increasingly loosing confidence in religion because of all the atrocities committed in the name of God.

    My favorite quote is: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Gandhi

  3. Who did that collage, I really like it?

    Another great posting. Religion seems irrelevant in most cases today, its more politics, popular culture and money that set us apart from each other today.

  4. PNG is always heralded to be a “Christian” country – or more appropriately, a country founded on “Christian” principles. It will be interesting where we end up in the next 20-30 years.

    I guess some people will find it extremely hard to accept Islam in PNG because of the connotations of Islam and Terrorism, and the Muslim Jihad – the latter is a valid point as the Koran specifically outlines what should be done to the “heathen”.

    I think that’s one aspect I like about Islam – it seems to be quite straightforward. You either join us – or die (i’m generalising here – but do you get my point?).

    Solo, it’s interesting you mention Ghandi – and he’s quote is definitely one powerful statement.

    And Emmanuel, I pipped the collage off the web :).

  5. […] Will we one day see a change to the PNG Constitution? Tavurvur on: The Rise of Islam in PNG […]

  6. […] blogger “Tavurvur” published an article a few days ago titled: “The Rise of Islam in PNG“. According to the report, PNGeans began converting to Islam in the early 1980s and there are […]

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