Islam on the rise in PNG

In recent years the number of Papua New Guinean Christians who have converted to Islam has been considerable.

According to the recently released 2011 Census data, the Islamic population in rural areas of PNG has risen from about 300 in the year 2000 to 1352 in 2011.

They are concentrated mainly in the Highlands, especially in Simbu (589), Jiwaka (211), Southern Highlands (113) and Western Highlands (69).

There are also pockets of Islam in rural West New Britain (104), Oro (88) and Morobe (30).

The National Statistical Office has not yet released data regarding the nationality of Muslims in PNG as a whole nor the number of Muslims in urban areas.

The total number of Muslims in PNG, both national and expatriate, could now exceed 2000.

In the previous census in the year 2000 there were only 756, of which 280 were expatriates.

The great majority of Papua New Guinean Muslims now belong to the Sunni branch of Islam.

In the 1980s the majority were Ahmadiya, which is a sect considered heretical in Indonesia and other Islamic countries.

Ahmadis, as they are called, were mostly Simbus living in West New Britain.

When some of them went back to Simbu, they spread their new faith there.

Ahmadis now feel now under attack by the Sunnis and many have abandoned Islam altogether.

“When I asked them why they converted to Islam they corrected me saying, ‘We did not convert, we just reverted to our natural religion’.” says  Fr Franco Zocca from the Melanesian Institute in Goroka.

“It seems that this claim by the Prophet has been the foundation of the Islamic mission strategy in PNG: to convince Papua New Guineans that their traditional beliefs and practices were ‘naturally Islamic’.”

Over the last 2 years Zocca has been interviewing Muslims in Port Moresby and Simbu.

He says Islam will likely grow in numbers and in power as Muslim refugees at the processing centre in Manus are given residency in PNG.

Young Papua New Guinean Muslim boys and girls are also now boarding in Koranic schools in Malaysia, Fiji and West Papua and “come home well indoctrinated”.

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