In the Name of Almighty God, The Merciful, The Compassionate

بسم لله الرحمان الرحيم

Salaam Aleikum (Peace be with you)! I hope you may gain some insight from my work here. Remember, I'm not a scholar and don't claim to be. I only claim to be a person who has a passion for both Islam and this great republic in which I live and wish to share my thoughts with others. Remember that anything good you find in this blog is from Allah, and anything wrong or bad is from my own flawed self.

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The Holy Ka'aba

The Holy Ka'aba
The House of God built by Abraham (peace be upon him)

The Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance
take out the 9th line, and it would be haram (forbidden) to say this.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Muslims in Early America: Part 1: The Origins of the "Black Muslims"

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. For many the history of Islam and Muslims in America goes back about as far as immigrants from Muslim lands settling in the US in the early to mid 20th century. For others they may understand some of the history of the "Black Muslim Movements" of the early 20th century. However very few people know much about the existence of Islam in early America, early being pre1776 up thru the late 1800's. In these next few posts, God willing, I will describe some of the influences and history of Islam in early America.
For this installment, I will be focusing primarily of the experience of Muslims within our largest ethnic minority, African Americans. It is known that many (as little as 10% or as many as 40% depending on the study) slaves brought to America from Africa, came from areas of Africa dominated by Muslim Sultanates and were dominantly populated by Muslims. So it is safe to say that many slaves brought to the US were indeed Muslims. However, like most other elements of their being, they were stripped of their Muslim identity. Even Slaves who were originally Christian were stripped of their own brand of Christianity in favor of European Christianity, if any at all. However there were a small few that, because of their extensive Islamic education, retained their Muslim practices and even in some cases instructed fellow slaves in practices such as daily prayer and fasting.
Abdul Rahman ibn Sori was an example of a Muslim slave that gained a lot of notoriety. He was actually a prince from Africa who, upon their learning of his position back home, was freed by then Secretary of State Henry Clay and President John Quincy Adams. His life is fairly well documented and was even the subject of a PBS documentary titled "Prince of Slaves". He was freed in 1828.
Now that would definitely be early in American history but in fact the history of Muslims in America goes back a lot further. The first "well documented" Muslim to come to America was Estevanico of Azamor, or otherwise known as Mustafa Zammouri and many other nick-names such as "Black Stephen", was a Moor from present day Morocco who travelled to America around the year 1527 as part of a Spanish expedition to colonize Florida. He was one of the first early American explorers to chart what is now the U.S. southwest (i.e. Arizona, New Mexico).
Bilali Muhammad was a slave from Sapelo Island, Georgia, arriving there in 1802. He was known for being one of the earlist American Muslim "sheikhs" or theological scholars and wrote several written works instructing Muslims on the proper ways to pray, make ablution before praying, fasting, etc. He earned a great deal of trust from his "owner" and during the War of 1812 commanded the other slaves of the plantation as a militia and guarded the plantation.
Also, Omar ibn Said was a Muslim slave who also wrote several works on Islamic jurisprudence. He spoke and wrote Arabic and at one point received an Arabic translation of the Christian Bible from his owner James Owen. After his death the Bible was found to have an Arabic dedication to the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in it. Today that Bible is housed at Davidson College in North Carolina. In 1991, a mosque in Fayeteville, North Carolina was named "Masjid Omar ibn Said" in his honor.
Muslims also served in early American wars including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. A freed slave named Peter Saleem (Saleem meaning "peaceful one" in Arabic, was a name he adopted after being freed) fought for the US during the Revolutionary War. A Muslim by the name of Muhammad Ali ibn Said fought in the 55th Massachusetts Colored Regiment and fought in the Civil War.
These are only a few examples of various African Americans who not only shaped the history of Islam in America, but indeed have helped to shape the history of America itself. It is these Muslim slave traditions that were the foundation of later "Black Muslim" movements of the 20th century, though these movements were not founded on actual Islamic teachings. It wouldn't be until 1975, upon the death of his father Elijah Muhammad, that Warith Deen Muhammad would take control of the Nation of Islam and lead them into the "real" Islam that many African Americans follow today; this being the largest mass religious conversion in US history. Hajj Malik al Shabaaz (Malcolm X) also was influential in this after he had made the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and realized that Islam was inclusive of all people, including white folks, which we'll talk about in the next installment insha'Allah (God willing)

...And Allah Knows Best...

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