Muslims in America: Examining the Facts by Dr. Craig Considine

“The Facts: Unbeknownst to many Americans today, the United States has never existed without the presence of Muslims. Several studies elaborate on how the history of Muslims in America was immeasurably augmented by the transatlantic slave trade. As many as 15 million West Africans were enslaved by Europeans beginning in the 16th century (Diouf, 1998). Among those West Africans, approximately 10 to 20 percent were Muslim (Austin, 1997). Other scholars have suggested that upward of 30 percent of all enslaved Africans were Muslims (Ahmed, 2003).”

“The Muslims who were enslaved and brought to the Americas are thought to have been mostly well learned and literate. Consistent with the basic teachings of Islam, education was paramount to the West African civilizations. Timbuktu, in modern-day Mali, was one of the great centers of learning in the world, with libraries having up to 700 volumes and numerous schools ( well over 150 during the 16th century) ( Dirks, 2006).”

“Most of the Muslim slaves from West Africa were literate in at least Arabic, and it has been estimated that the percentage of literacy in Arabic among African slaves was actually higher than the percentage of literacy in English among their Christian owners (Dirks, 2006).”

“Al Haj Omar Ibn Said, a notable American Muslim slave with family roots in West Africa, is said to have been born and educated in the modern country of Senegal, where he served as an Islamic scholar of the Fula people. He is known for 14 documents that he wrote in Arabic, including an autobiography that detailed his life as a trader, soldier, and faithful Muslim. Said wrote that he performed the hajj, an Arabic word referring to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, required by all Muslims (Considine, 2017: 185 ), and studied the Qur’an for 25 years before being sold into slavery in 1807 (The Pluralism Project, n.d. ).”

“Said’s handwritten works are now part of the North Carolina Collection in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Today, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the Omar Ibn Said mosque on Southern Avenue stands as a testament to his legacy. A nearby historical marker notes that Said was a slave, scholar, and African-born author who penned in autobiography in Arabic. Other details of his life on the marker show that he lived in Blady County and worshipped with local Presbyterians. Muslims from the territories of North Africa and the Ottoman Empire are considered to be the second group of Muslims to arrive on U.S. soil.”

“One European Christian, the English sea captain and privateer Sir Francis Drake, commanded 25 to 30 English ships, whose shipmen liberated approximately 500 prisoners at Saint Augustine in Florida between 1585 and 1586. Dirks ( 2006) notes that about 300 or more of these liberated slaves were North African and Turkish galley slaves. North African and Ottoman captives from the Mediterranean region, usually called Moors and Turks, respectively, were needed to perform menial duties for their Spanish overlords in places such a5 Saint Augustine. Further evidence of Muslim galley slaves in the Americas is documented by the Smithsonian, which estimated that many of the Colombian city of Cartagena’s slave population were Muslims.”

In 1586, Drake besieged and captured the town, instructing his men to treat Frenchmen, Turks, and black Africans with respect (Lawler, 201 7). Edward D. Neill, an historian of early American history, wrote in his book The Virginia Carolorum that several shipments of Turkish and Armenian indentured servants, both men and women, were present in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in the early 17th century, meaning that the slaves Drake captured were likely of Turkish and Armenian descent (Neill, 1886).”

“These hypotheses are confirmed in recordings by The Virginia Carolorum, which note that several of the Turks in Jam es town included the names “Mehmet the Turk,” “Ahmad the Turk,” “Joseph the Armenian,” and “Sayyan Turk” (Neill, 1886). A 1652 colonial document also refers to a “Turk” in Virginia, who wrote in the Turkish language. In the same year, Governor William Boyd of Virginia referred to a Turkish merchant in a letter (Dirks, 2006).”

“An obscure group known as the Melungeons also had a presence in precolonial and colonial America. Of mixed racial background, the Melungeons settled in the Appalachian region as early as the 17th century (Dirks, 2006). According to Wayne Winkler (2004), the Melungeons are a hybrid group with African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean ancestry.”

“A DNA study published in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy in 2012 found that Melungeon families are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin. Further details about the ancestry of the Melungeons are provided by Kathy Lyday, a researcher based at Elon University. Lyday claims that a Spanish influence is likely, given that the Southwest and the mountains were explored and settled by Spaniards as far back as Hernando de Soto, a conquistador who marched through the region in 1540 (Neal, 2015 ). These Spaniards likely brought African Muslim slaves with them, and they probably intermarried with Natives.”

Source: Muslims in America: Examining the Facts

Islam is as African as it is Middle Eastern

“Islam penetrated several parts of Africa at different times, and its presence in the continent predates Christianity. For instance, the initial spread of Islam in West Africa dates back to 800 CE when the Almoravid warriors (Berber Muslims) pushed the religion southward into the Ghana empire from Morocco. On the east coast of Africa, Arab traders in Mombasa, some of whom had taken part in the trans-Saharan long-distance trade, were able to spread Islam to that part of the continent with ease because of the similarities of the local inhabitants’ culture and those of Arab traders.”“The growth of Arab power did not mean the total collapse of Berber resistance. To the contrary; the processes of Arabization and Islamization were accompanied for several decades by violence and coercion. In fact, so unstable and rebellious were the Berbers that they “apostatized twelve times before Islam gained a firm foothold over them”.


2.5 times bigger than the United States.

“These traders brought Islam with them to places like Zanzibar, Mogadishu, and Mombasa. Evidence suggest that these traders had traveled from as far away as the Middle East and the Orient, and many of them had knowledge of the geography and topography of the continent because of the advanced trans-Saharan trade roots that linked the Arabian Peninsula to several parts of Africa and the middle east. Because of the booming business in spices and ivory with Africans, Arab traders decided to gradually settle down along the east coast of Africa. They married local women and soon began to spread the religion of Islam. The mingling of Arab culture with local African cultures, languages, and dialects eventually gave rise to what is now known as the Kiswahili culture. Thus, one can surmise that the acceptance of Islam in black Africa, especially wester Africa, can be traced to the internaction with Arabs in countries such as Tunisia, Lobya, Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. In Central Africa, Islam was spread by the Shirazi merchants and Arabs traders, may of whom had also traveled far from their native land. But unlike East and West Africa, it took a while before the new arrivals began to settle down and internmingle with the Africans. However, with political turmoil back in thier homeland, especially in Arabia and Iran, many of these merchants found it convenient to settle in towns along the East Africa coast and eventually Central Africa.”

“The Berbers seemed to have been chosen by history to carry the banner of Islam into West Africa because of their geographical location and their historical role as middlemen between Arabs and black Africans.”

“The first Berber tribe in the Sahara to play a major role in the Islamization process as implemented by the Sanhaja. This ethnic group became Muslims as a result of their interaction with Muslim traders who had settled in thier midst.”

“The historical evidences seems to point out that such politically astute decisions were taken only under circumstances of grave danger; the most interesting example that is directly related to our discussion of early Islam in the Sahara and the west of the Sudan occured in about 1020 CE. This act of unity by the different Berber tribes was motivated by their collective desire to bring down the Ghanaian kingdom. In fact, this much needed unity thatt the Lemtuma, Godala, and Masufa Berbers hoped for was based on the ideas acquired by one of their leaders, Tarsina the Lemtune, whose pilgramage to Makkah inspired him to rationalize his campaigns against black Africans in the name of the Islamic Jihad.”

“The end of the Almoravid dynasty and the collapse of Ghana did not necessarily mean that Islamization ceased with the death of the Almoravid movement. The process of propogation continued and Islam began to penetrate more and more into the West Sudan. This phase in the propogation of Islam in Africa was made possible by the activie involvement of three different groups of Arab-Berber and Sudanese-Muslim cultivators of Islam in West Sudan. These three groups, according to J.R. Willis and his fellow contributors in the volume entitled Studies in West African Islamic History (1979), are the Zawaya clerisy, the Mande-Islamic clerisy, and the Torodbe clerisy. The first group has been traced to a community of Berbers who suffered oppression at the hands of fellow Berbers and Arabs. According to Willis in his comprehensive introduction to the volume cited above, the Zawaya formation began to take shape in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They decided to be pacifist and so laid down their arms and took up the life of Muslim scholars dedicated to the propogation of Islam in the area. The Mande-Islamic clerisy emerged from the numerous trading centers created by Mande Muslims throughout the West Sudan.”

Source: Islam in Africa South of the Sahara: Essays in Gender Relations and …edited by Pade Badru, Brigid M. Sackey