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Early American Muslims - The Slaves - Black History Month

Updated on February 9, 2015

Slave Trade Introduced Muslims to America

America is predominantly populated by those of European ancestry, and our scholarly research leaves most of the history of the African influence on the North American world largely unknown, yet deserving of recognition.

You, like myself not so many years ago, may be unaware that a recent influx of Muslims to the New World is not a new phenomenon at all. It may simply be that only now does our modern media give attention to Muslims.

Frequently television viewers get the impression that the first American Muslims were early members of the Nation of Islam, and their descendants, most of whom have since converted to Islam.

In truth, Muslim presence in America goes back to the early days of slavery, if not to the 12th Century when Muslims navigated the high seas, exploring unknown territories, according to a Chinese report. 14th Century Mali Muslims sent their own delegations to explore the world, far a wide. Reports show them to have navigated the Mississippi River, from the Gulf of Mexico.

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Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (Job ben Solomon) served at least two years slavery in America prior to being taken to England where he returned to freedom in the 1730s. This Senegalese man's memoirs were then published in England under the title: Some Memories of the Life of Job, the Son of the Solomon High Priest of Boonda in Africa, a first-person account told to Thomas Bluett of Annapolis, MD, where he served as a British judge. It is available for sale below.

“The enslaved Africans came mostly from eight regions: Senegambia, Upper Guinea, Windward Coast, Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, West Central Africa and Southeastern Africa”

Triangle Route

African Muslims in Antebellum America

African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles
African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles

Excellent documentation of the existence of well educated Muslim slaves in America.

 

A Slave Bible in Arabic Script

Did you know that some slaves read and wrote Arabic? I didn't until I began to research the origins of Muslims in America, knowing that they didn't just suddenly appear on the scene in the 20th Century in the names of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

A significant document exists at Davidson College, NC, signifying that some of the early American peoples who came to the North American continent were Muslim. An extraordinary handwritten Christian Bible from a Carolina plantation is exceptional in that it is written in the Arabic language.

Muslim Slaves

photo credit: Omar Ibn Said

Omar Ibn Said's Story

From the land that is now the nation of Senegal, this Muslim slave represented African nobility. In the early 19th Century he ran foul of the law and was delivered into the hands of slave traders, for a price.

Soon he was submerged into a life a slavery as a drudge on a South Carolina rice plantation, from which he escaped after a couple of years toil. Freedom didn't last long, but his new owner was mightily impressed by Iby Said's literacy and fluency in Arabic.

As was common in those days, slaves were forced or encouraged to adopt the Christian faith, and Ibn Said became a well respected Presbyterian after the family resettled in Delaware. However, many argue that his conversion was simply a lifesaving and freedom garnering move that failed to reflect his true beliefs.

Islam and Christianity share the same monotheistic roots, so some of his writings could be misinterpreted as evidence of his conversion. It is claimed that Ibn Said stood alone in his day, for his American mainstream scholarship.

photo credit: Verse Transcribed by Ibn Said

Son of a King

Abd al Rahman Ibrahima, a Muslim slave who, in 1807, was recognized by an Irish ship's surgeon as the son of an African kings

What happened when the surgeon of an Irish ship recognized a slave serving on that ship, as the son of an African king - one known to the doctor because the king had previously saved the surgeon's life.

Due to his noble birth and education And al Rahman Ibrahima was a prized possession, and though Dr. Cox sought to obtain Ibrahimi's freedom, the slave owner insisted on maintaining ownership. In recognition of his fine qualities the master did place Ibrahimi into a managerial position where he excelled.

Eventually Henry Clay, then Secretary of State negotiated Ibrahimi's freedom. The story became local folklore, but was not widespread in its fullness until production of the documentary Prince Among Slaves in 1977.

A Prince Among Slaves

Prince among Slaves
Prince among Slaves

This is the book from which the famous movie, A Prince Among Slaves, was drawn. A fascinating account of a dignified man.

 

African Muslims Enslaved

The map shows the main regions from which Africans were sold into slavery, for the three centuries prior to 1900.

Approximately 95% of the once free residents of the areas that comprise the present day countries of Senegal and Gambia are Muslim.

During the centuries of the rampant slave trade close to 5% of those who were sold or snatched by the European slave traders were Muslim.

photo credit: Free Muslims Enslaved

West African Slave Trade Includes Muslims

Slavery, Commerce and Production in West Africa
Slavery, Commerce and Production in West Africa

Further studies into the depth of slavery of Muslims.

 

Island of Goree Site of Slave Embarkation

Island of Goree Site of Slave Embarkation
Island of Goree Site of Slave Embarkation

Timeline

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Explore Muslim History in America in timeline format.

Timeline of African Muslims in America

Pre-Columbus Era Muslim Explorers

Sylviane A. Diouf

writer of Servants of Allah

Sylviane A. Diouf is a contemporary historian, writing and editing on the West African slave trade and the related African American heritage.

Early in her career she produced books for children and young readers, but now concentrates on writing for adults. Her books include:

Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America, winner of three notable prizes. The story revolves around the accounts of children and youths on the Clotilda, whose sailing was remarkable in that it ended the mass importation of African slaves across the Atlantic, to North America, where they lived in slavery until the emancipation of 1865.

Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americasreceived multiple distinguished awards. The book chronicles the exploitation of West African slaves from their capture throughout their history in the Western World, over five centuries.

Diouf's expertise served her well in her task of editing the 2003 volume, Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies, a slate of essays from a university conference.

She edited In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience, with its focus on a central aspect of African American society - the shifting of their historical locales, as a people influenced by captivity.

Servants of Allah

Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas
Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas

Muslim Africans brought into slavery in America were literate and well educated. They provided leadership among slaves, exemplifying tenents of Islam.

 

When Did You Know?

Were you already aware that Muslims came to America centuries ago?

photo credit for above illustration: Goree Island, Senegal

An Enlightening Slavery Story

Michael A. Gomez Researches Muslim Slaves

photo credit: Astrolabe The astrolabe is an instrument that was used by ancient ships to aid in navigation. Such devices were used during the slave trade.

Captive slaves, by law, were not permitted to practice any religion in the days of lawful slave ownership, however, many Muslim slaves still made every intention of observing Islamic religious procedures in secret. At times their masters enforced an outward conversion to Christianity, while they were unable to eradicate tightly held beliefs and practices from the Muslim slaves' hearts.

Research, such as Philip D. Curtin's The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History; and Africa in America: Slave Acculturation and Resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831 by Michael Mullin, offer promising findings deserving of further investigation.

Scholarly Article Read More

Read Philip D. Curtin's Book

The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History (Studies in Comparative World History)
The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History (Studies in Comparative World History)

This book presents the broad perspective of the Plantation Complex. Vitally interesting.

 

Africa in America is Available in Paperback

Africa in America: Slave Acculturation and Resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831 (Blacks in the New World)
Africa in America: Slave Acculturation and Resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831 (Blacks in the New World)

The author makes the arguments that the higher degree to which African slaves retained their homeland traditions, the lesser their resistance to slavery in America.

 

Feedback on Early American Muslim Slaves, the article

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    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Lady Lorelei: In childhood I believed that slavery truly was abolished, but eventually came to recognize the many forms of slavery that still exist and how easy it can be to ignore it, if the clothing's cheap, or the people are different, perhaps.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      Slavery was and still is a very sad aspect of our world. The very best of wishes.

    • profile image

      Colin323 4 years ago

      Fascinating - and a well-structured and organised lens, with interesting and relevant links to other sites and resources

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Really enjoyed-very interesting

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      A Prince Among Slaves sounds like a really good book.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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