The African-American Muslim Minority 1776-1900 by Y. N. Kly

BeFunky_Omar_Ibn_Said.jpgIn reviewing early African-American history, the question is raised as to whether this period contributed anything, direct or indirect, to the development of the present day Muslim African-American Community? Or, is the present Islamic Community in America the primary product of later movements such as those of Noble Drew Ali and Elijah Muhammad in the mid-20th century? Or, is it the result of the impact of such indigenous movements and the assistance provided by the still later immigrant Muslim organizations such as the Muslim Students association of The United States and Canada and the Islamic Society of North America?

To single out one determinant in this historical process at the expense of others, would be factually inappropriate. It can be convincingly demonstrated that much of the appeal and credibility of movements such as those of the Moors and The nation of Islam were the result of these movements repeated references to the historical fact that many Africans who were brought in chains to North America were Muslims; and that they had been forced to renounce their Islamic beliefs on pain of death. [1]

Similarly, it is true that many immigrant Muslim organizations provided literature and guidance to the indigenous black movements as well as to individual African-American Muslims who so0 desired it. But the opening of the hearts and the minds of African-Americans on such a large scale to this literature and guidance despite the widely prevalent negative view of Islam in American Society at large, including the Afro-Christian Church, was due to the African-American perception that their entire history had perhaps once been Muslim and that it had deliberately been forgotten in order for the race to survive.

Hence, while we feel that all three of the above mentioned factors played crucial roles in the evolution of present day African-American Muslim communities, we chose in this short article to focus on the factor that bears historical primacy: the earliest period of African-American Islamic history in the United States.

HISTORICAL EVIDENCE OF EARLY AFRICAN MUSLIM PRESENCE

At the time of the founding of the United States, the European conquest and colonization of Africa and Asia had begun in earnest. [2] Although 99% of the Africans enslaved in the United States were originally from the areas in West Africa that were part of the Islamic empires (Songay, Ghana, or Mali), only about 30% of those enslaved in the U.S. were Muslims. [3]

The reason why so few of the Africans brought to the U.S. were Muslims was that many of the tribes along the coast where the slave trade was most entrenched were still pagan, although living in empires controlled by a Muslim feudal aristocracy. All documented cases of enslaved African Muslims show that they had either come from the interior regions of these empires (areas like Timbuktu) or had been sent for the acquiring of knowledge and education to such regions.