The Forgotten Islamic Roots of American Slaves
Muslims represent one-fifth of humanity. Many Americans are unaware of this simple fact. But there is another statistic of which most Americans are also unaware: More than one fifth of all “slaves” brought to these shores during the horrific period of transatlantic slave trading were also people of the Islamic faith.
While this has been known by some in the African-American community for many decades, little serious academic research was done on the subject until recently. Alan Austin, a retired professor of history from Massachusetts, did much of the original research that culminated in his book “African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles.” Since then, many other prominent researchers have expanded on his groundbreaking research.
Despite the sound basis of his work, Austin’s research was largely ignored in the academic community. Sylviane Diouf’s book — “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” — is another well-written, academic work now in it its second printing, but it too has not received the attention it deserves.
Those who want more information on this subject will find the information fascinating. Many of these Muslims were highly educated in their African homeland, and they considered America to be barbaric compared to their own civilized communities in Africa.
The stories of these people are moving, to say the least. Some, in fact, sound like ready-made screenplays for a Hollywood film. One is that of Prince Abdar Rahman, who was born a prince in his homeland of Mali and, because of his aristocratic breeding, intimidated many of the Southern whites who crossed his path. Some of these men became lecturers and toured the country giving speeches about their lives and experiences, and some even made it back to their homelands through diplomatic and business ties.
These stories should be written in every textbook of American history. Americans should realize that Islam is not an alien faith new to this land but has been here from the first arrivals of Europeans to these shores, and perhaps even before that.
This information is a powerful tool that can be used to dispel false beliefs about the ignorance of Africans and their lack of culture and civilization. It can enable young people as well as old to see the rich tapestry that makes up the continent of Africa and how much of that richness came to and embellished these shores.
Surely, we owe it to the men and women who suffered so greatly to at least find out who they were and to read and hear about the powerful responses they gave to the awesome tribulations and hardships they faced.