Muslims in Colonial America: Where Were They?

When discussing American history and the founding of America, religion is often a big topic of discussion. The Puritans came to America because they hoped for religious freedom and then many people of different religions followed. Catholics, different Protestant subsets, even Jews are all acknowledged for coming to America. What many people often forget to account for are Muslims. Muslims were in America during colonial times, not always out of their own free will. Muslims in America were usually slaves from Africa who had been sold and made the journey from Africa to America successfully. Approximately 30,000 African slaves were brought to North America from 1711-1808 and a good portion of those were Muslim. The slaves tried to keep their traditions and religion alive by sometimes naming their children Islamic names, not drinking alcohol and not accepting European customs that went against their religion. However almost all their efforts had to be kept secret from their owners and some were forced to convert to Christianity.

There are a few famous examples of Islam in early American history. One is Salih Bilali. He was a slave in Georgia and was so trusted by his owner that he would be left in charge of the plantation for long periods of time. Bilali “Ben Ali” Muhammad is another example. While he was enslaved he became a trusted slave and was the community leader of many Muslims. During the War of 1812, he told his owner that he had 80 men to help defend the land against the British. He wrote a book called “Risala” about Islamic laws. Abdul Rahman Ibrahima was an African prince who was captured and sold into slavery. He eventually became free 40 years later and went back to Africa. He died in Liberia. These three men are examples of the handful of Muslim lives in North America that we have record of today. Muslims in American history are often ignored until the last couple of decades. What we need to realize is that even if we do not talk about it Muslims are a part of American history for better or for worse.

Image

Drawing of Abdul Rahman Ibrahima

Sources:

http://www.talkingaboutislam.com/articles/history/History_1800.htm

http://www.fofweb.com/History/HistRefMain.asp?iPin=EAHRII019&SID=2&DatabaseName=American+History+Online&InputText=%22Santeria%22&SearchStyle=&dTitle=Muslims+in+colonial+America&TabRecordType=All+Records&BioCountPass=2&SubCountPass=4&DocCountPass=0&ImgCountPass=0&MapCountPass=1&FedCountPass=&MedCountPass=1&NewsCountPass=0&RecPosition=5&AmericanData=Set&WomenData=&AFHCData=&IndianData=&WorldData=&AncientData=&GovernmentData=

http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/islam-in-america/

http://docsouth.unc.edu/highlights/ibrahima.html

http://www.westga.edu/~history/FacultyUpdated/vasconcellos/Atlantic%20World%20Fall%202010%20PDF%20Files/muslims%20in%20early%20america.pdf

Image Source:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_the_United_States

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3 thoughts on “Muslims in Colonial America: Where Were They?

  1. You did a very good job introducing a very uncommon topic of Muslims in America and the roles they played in normal society. I liked that after you explained what happened to them, you showed that not everything was horrible for all of them by giving examples of famous Muslim slaves.

  2. I wondered this, too!!! I just assumed that because the colonists were all Puritans in the beginning, there would be no concept of Islam and so they were not part of the early history of America. I completely forgot about the slaves!!! Good job presenting evidence and summing it up very nicely, especially as how there are a LOT more Muslims in America now.

  3. I love that you decided to talk about something that our text book ignored. It’s nice to be reminded that American history is so much more than what is written in American Pageant.

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