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Muslim Slaves: America’s First Muslims

Muslim Slaves: America’s First Muslims
The beginning of Islam in America and its association with African slaves is yet to receive the attention that it deserves.

With the approach of Black History month, rising Islamophobia, and the portrayal of Islam as a religion that is foreign to America, it is important for us to look back at the history of Muslims in this country.

The identity of slaves who came to America is rarely mentioned in the media, movies, or history books. Most of the time African slaves are simply portrayed as non-Christians and their religion is rarely identified.

The beginning of Islam in America and its association with African slaves is yet to receive the attention that it deserves. When we read about slaves in America, very little attention is given to who these slaves really were, what they believed, their morals and values.

This is due to the fact that most who wrote about them were ignorant about such things themselves.

Many historical works write about slavery from the master’s point of view. Such negligence in determining the culture and beliefs of slaves is very unfortunate given the fact that one of America’s most illustrious sons, Frederick Douglass, may have himself been a descendant of Muslims.

We have limited material on the subject because the colonial and antebellum observers, who were ignorant of the Islamic faith, did not accurately record the religious and cultural expressions of the African slaves.

Read: Is Islam Foreign to American History? (Watch)

However cumulative evidence does show that such observers were able to distinguish Muslim slaves from other slaves, but they had no interest to record detailed information about them.

Muslim slaves in America were quite significant in number, probably reaching into the thousands. Historian Michael Gomez points out that between 400,000 and 523,000 Africans came to America during the slave trade, at least 200,000 came from areas influenced by Islam, thus Muslims may have come to America in the thousands, if not tens of thousands.

Many of the advertisements for runaway slaves had Muslim names on them even though they were rarely identified as such because their masters associated them with supply zones; however they were identified by name, place, or origin.

Both of these sources tell us that these slaves were Muslim. Additionally, Muslim slaves made a genuine effort to practice and maintain their religious beliefs; they also educated fellow non-Muslim slaves about Islam, many of whom converted.

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