WASHINGTON, DC — Amir Muhammad, the founder and chief curator of America’s Islamic Heritage Museum, has dedicated his life to shed light on the rarely told story about the long history of American Muslims stretching back centuries.
“American Muslims haven’t been great at explaining our side, at engaging with folks — you know? Not too many Americans come out here. We get some schools and international guests,” said Muhammad, 64, in an interview with USA Today.
America’s Islamic Heritage Museum started in 1996 as a traveling exhibition called Collections and Stories of American Muslims.
In 2011, it moved to another location where it introduced and entertained about 52,000 people with Islamic artifacts, historic documents, and photographs that explore the contributions and legacies of American Muslims.
Last year, about 8,000 people visited, a figure far from the more than 30 million visits made last year to the 19 museums, galleries, and National Zoological Park that comprise the Smithsonian Institution six kilometers away.
On his behalf, Emad Al-Turk expressed that “it was a struggle for a long time to even get American Muslims behind our idea of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jackson, Mississippi,” which he co-founded about six months before the 9/11 attacks.
“Did you know there are two towns in the USA called Mohammad? There’s also a Palestine, in Texas, and an Aladdin, in Wyoming. There’s been a US post office in Makkah, Indiana, since 1888. In fact, from New Orleans to the Alamo, Islamic styles of architecture can be detected in buildings across the USA,” Al-Turk informed.
“Even the pointed arches that once stood at the base of the fallen World Trade Center towers in New York City mimicked Islamic geometric tradition,” he further assured.
“Blues music may be a uniquely American art form that originated in the Deep South — music ethnographers have established that many of its harmonies and note changes resemble Muslim prayers and other recitations, a result of the African slaves who came to the US from Muslim areas on that continent.”
Professor Hussein Rashid, who teaches at Columbia University says there’s a problem with President Donald Trump’s Muslim narrative: Muslims have been coming to America since at least the 17th century, with anywhere from a third to a quarter of the enslaved Africans brought to the USA against their will likely Muslims.
“There is evidence that Muslims were on the ships that the Italian explorer, navigator, and colonist Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the 15th century. There are even reports of Chinese Muslims making it to American shores, in California, in the 9th century. They arrived as pirates or fleeing religious persecution,” Rashid informed.
“We have autobiographies, we have oral histories, we have mosques, cemeteries, tombstones. We also have a lot of conjectural evidence: For example, the way people are buried facing Makkah. Cornelia Walker Bailey, who died last year aged 73, wrote in her memoir that children on Sapelo Island, Georgia, where she grew up, learned to say their prayers facing east toward Makkah in keeping with Muslim practice.
“Bailey, like many African Americans from Sapelo Island, claim Bilali Muhammad, a Muslim scholar from West Africa who was brought to Georgia as a teenage slave in the 18th century, as a distant relative,” he explained.