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.

!!!please make sure to sign up on my followers list at the bottom of the page!!!

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 2: The Anglo Muslims

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. This is the second installment of "Muslims in Early America", in which I am discussing the history and influence of Islam and Muslims in early American history. In the last installment I gave a brief history of the "Black Muslim Movement" dating back to slavery in early America as well as all the way back to early Spanish exploration of the North American continent. Some might subsequently say that Islam's presence in early American history was limited to small minorities within minorities. However that's not entirely true.
The earliest known white-Anglo American known to be Muslim was a man named George Bethune English. G.B. English was born in 1787 in Washington D.C. He was baptised as a baby and raised as a Christian. He attended Harvard College and received a master's in theology there in 1811. In an unexpected move for someone of his background, he then wrote a book called, "The Grounds of Christianity Examined", in which he raises concerns about the validity and thus authority of the New Testament and of modern Christian theology in general. Because of this he was excommunicated by the Church of Christ. He also published several works that were essentially responses to Christian criticism of that book. In 1815, he was nominated and commissioned by President James Madison into the United States Marine Corps during the War of 1812, and was assigned to the Mediterranean. It is said that English became the first American citizen to visit Egypt. It was at some point while he was there that it assumed he embraced Islam. He resigned his commission there to join an Ottoman general named Ismail Pasha as an artillery officer on an expedition down the Nile river to quell rebellions in what is today Ethiopia. While there was no explicit declaration of Islam in any of his published works, evidence of his Islamic faith are found in the narrative of this adventure which he published in London in 1822 called "Narrative of the Expedition to Dongola and Sennar". In one instance he was visiting in the home of some of the Natives he had encountered along the Nile. These particular people were Berbers (Muslims). While staying in their home the mistress of the house offered one of their daughters to him as a "nighttime companion". His exact words from the narrative are, "The family of this Malek (chief) carried their hospitality towards me to a very extraordinary length for people professing Islam. I was offered by the mother and mistress of the house my choice of two of her daughters as a bedfellow. They were both young and the handsomest women I have seen in Berber, but married to husbands whose houses were at the other end of town. When I understood this circumstance, I told the mother that a genuine Mussulman ought to regard lying with his neighbor's wife as a crime almost as bad as murdering him in his bed". He also records the dates in the narrative with the Islamic calender and makes other reference to the teachings of the Qur'an throughout. After his work with the Pasha, he joined the US diplomatic corps, working to establish trade relations between the US and the Ottoman Empire. He returned to the States in 1827 and died a year later in Washington D.C.

George Bethune English was a Muslim but definitely didn't seem to "wear his religion on his sleeve". Although the next known prominent Anglo American Muslim was much more vocal about it.

Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb was born in 1846 in Hudson, New York. He was raised as a Presbyterian. He was a writer and worked as an editor an several news papers, eventually moving to Missouri. His prowess as a journalist was such that he eventually became the assistant city editor of the Missouri Republican, which was the second biggest newspaper in the country at that time. While working at the Missouri Republican he was appointed by President Cleveland as the Consular Representative to the Philippines in 1887.
As early as 1881 he started investigating other religious traditions finding Christianity unfulfilling. He studied Buddhism for a while but didn't find it compelling, and then started studying Islam. In 1888 he formally declared himself a Muslim. In 1892 he resigned his post and toured India before returning to the US to promote Islam in America. In fact, "Islam in America" was the name of his book in which he outlines why he became Muslim, explanations of the five pillars of Islam, issues such as war and polygamy in Islam, and others. In 1893 he was the primary Representative of Islam at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Later he founded Islamic study circles in New York City, Washington D.C., Newark, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland and published an Islamic magazine called "Moslem World". He died in 1916 and his study circles had their final meeting in New York in 1943 and was attended by his daughter Aliyya.
God only knows but it is likely that if these two individuals could find Islam in America in the 1800's, it is likely that other Anglo Americans (who weren't as famous) likely did as well. Especially with the da'wah (outreach) efforts of Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb. It was the work of people like this that has opened the door for some of the most prominent Islamic scholars of today who are "white Americans", such as Hamza Yusuf, Suhaib Webb, Yusuf Estes, and others. These are not only renown for their scholarship and leadership for Muslims in the US, but indeed are respected and admired the world over. Yusuf Estes, a Texan and former Baptist preacher, held the position of National Muslim Chaplain for the federal prison system and today is one of the busiest Islamic preachers in the world. Hamza Yusuf, after having studied with some of the great scholars of the middle east, has illuminated the Muslim people of the world with his intellect and superb command of the Arabic language as it relates to the Qur'an and Islamic tenants. He founded the Zaytuna Institute in California along with African American Imam Zaid Shakr. Zaytune is quickly becoming the first accredited Islamic University in the US. It was also Hamza Yusuf that was called to the White House by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, to advise the president on proceeding with a response.
One prophesy of the end times in Islam is that the "sun would rise from the west". I once heard it speculated that metaphorically, it could be that the "light" of true Islamic scholarship may come from the west as it largely is today. Today, many of the most respected scholars of Islam are from America and Canada, whether they be white, black, Arab, or otherwise. The success of these modern scholars is the direct result of the struggle of Muslim slaves, explorers, and writers who lived in this great country before them, and it is also due to the very nature of American democracy that allows people to think, speak and worship freely according to their own understanding of God. The founding fathers, who were largely devout Christians, were wise enough to realize that the American dream is simply too big to be confined to any one theology, even if it be there own. God willing in the next and final installment I will explore their views of Islam and the influence Islamic civilization had on that "American Dream".

No comments: