July 5, 2003

From Slavery to Leadership: Muslims in North America

 
 

Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Jameel Al-Ameen are perhaps a few names that cross our minds
when we consider the evolution of Muslim identity and community in North
America. What often escapes notice is the sacrifice, discipline, social justice,
leadership, and cooperation modeled by such individuals and their communities.

 

The organized struggle of North American Muslims begins over 7 centuries ago with the civil
rights movement led by multitudes of Muslim African slaves. The spirit and
movement continues today with the millions of Arab and South Asian Muslim
immigrants, as well as the Latin and First Nations indigenous Muslim converts in
North America.

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style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”> style=”FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>Keeping Faith Alive
in the ?New World?

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style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>In the story of
early African American Muslims, we find fascinating and empowering historical
events. The story of Job ibn Solomon Jallo, in the early 1700?s, who was a
well-mannered, intelligent, literate trader and Imam, reminds us of the Quranic
and Biblical story of Prophet Yaqoob?s (Job) life. Captured in Gambia, Job wrote
out three copies of the entire Quran from memory. He was later freed and
reunited with his loving son and family
style=”mso-endnote-id: edn1″ href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_edn1″
name=_ednref1> style=”mso-special-character: footnote”> face=Arial>[i] face=Arial>.

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style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>The account of
Bilali Muhammad (Ben Ali), an African scholar in the early 1800?s, captivates
many as we read about the vibrant Islamic community he built in Georgia, as a
slave
href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_edn2″ name=_ednref2> class=MsoEndnoteReference> face=Arial>[ii]
. His determination to
hold on to Islamic principles, regardless of his circumstances, inspires awe and
admiration.  In many ways his life
parallels the life of Bilal Ibn Rabah, an early African slave convert to Islam
in Makkah.

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style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>As Amir Nashid
Ali Muhammad explains in Muslims in
America: Seven Centuries of History (1312-1998)
:

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style=”MARGIN: 0in 0.55in 0pt 0.5in; TEXT-ALIGN: justify”> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>In the ?New
World?, some of the African slaves suffered doubly tragic fate. Initially, they
were enslaved because they were African, but when it was discovered that they
were also Muslims, their suffering was compounded. They were tortured, burned
alive, hung, and shot unless they renounced their religion and their names. At
least 20% of the Africans brought to the U.S. were Muslims from ?.the coastal
and interior regions of the Islamic empires of Songhai, Ghana, and
Mali.
href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_edn3″ name=_ednref3> class=MsoEndnoteReference> face=Arial>[iii]

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style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”> style=”FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>Early Muslim
Participation in America

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style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>We discover with
pride that there were Muslims, who, in the War of 1812, helped defend America
against the British
href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_edn4″ name=_ednref4> class=MsoEndnoteReference> face=Arial>[iv]
. lang=EN-CA
style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Arial”> face=Arial>In a lecture held at Concordia University, Montreal, Imam Khalid
Griggs, a political activist and leader of a North Carolina mosque, highlighted
the role Africans played in the American Civil War. He related the stirring
account of one African Muslim named Mohammad Ali Ibn Said, who moved to the U.S.
from Africa to volunteer for the all-Black 55th
division:

style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Arial”> face=Arial> 

 

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0.55in 0pt 0.5in; TEXT-ALIGN: justify”> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Arial”> face=Arial>?Mohammad Ali said, ?I do not want to just sit back and not do
anything, I want to do something to help my brothers. The blood that joins me is
deeper and stronger than the water that separates me from Africa to the United
States,??So he chose to come into a slave country at a time when he was risking
his own freedom.? href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_edn5″ name=_ednref5> class=MsoEndnoteReference> face=Arial>[v]
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>

style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> face=Arial> 

style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”> style=”FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>Did You
know?

style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> face=Arial> 

 

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt 0.25in; TEXT-INDENT: -0.25in; tab-stops: list .25in; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1″> face=Arial> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>1. style=”FONT: 7pt ‘Times New Roman'”>     lang=EN-CA style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>The
first person to request the freedom of all slaves in America was
Muslim
.

 

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt 0.25in; TEXT-INDENT: -0.25in; tab-stops: list .25in; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1″> face=Arial> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>2. style=”FONT: 7pt ‘Times New Roman'”>     lang=EN-CA style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> face=Arial>Muslims fought in many of the early wars.

 

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt 0.25in; TEXT-INDENT: -0.25in; tab-stops: list .25in; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1″> face=Arial> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>3. style=”FONT: 7pt ‘Times New Roman'”>     lang=EN-CA style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> face=Arial>Muslims were known to live in at least 7 of the 13 original colonies,
including Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, North
Carolina, and Georgia.

 

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt 0.25in; TEXT-INDENT: -0.25in; tab-stops: list .25in; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1″> face=Arial> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>4. style=”FONT: 7pt ‘Times New Roman'”>     lang=EN-CA style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>The
early American Muslims have contributed many Arabic words found in English
today, such as, admiral, algebra, atlas, banana, cable, camel, checkmate,
coffee, cotton, jasmine, lemon, magazine, mask, rice, sofa, sugar, syrup, and
zero to name a few
.

 

style=”MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt 0.25in; TEXT-INDENT: -0.25in; tab-stops: list .25in; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1″> face=Arial> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>5. style=”FONT: 7pt ‘Times New Roman'”>     lang=EN-CA
style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Arial”> face=Arial>Columbus was not the first adventurer to travel from Europe to the
Americas. Around 986 AD, Moors (people from North Africa) crossed the Atlantic
Ocean in ships, bringing back with them people from the new
world. style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>

style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>
lang=EN-CA
style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Arial”> face=Arial>Sadly, the impact of Black, African, and Muslim cultures on world
history is often neglected in historical discourse. There are pages of history
which tend to get ripped out
. style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>

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style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”> style=”COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>Towards
Contribution & Leadership

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style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> face=Arial>While, it could be argued that faith in today?s secular world is
receding to the private quarters, North American Islam is manifesting itself as
an urban phenomenon.
 style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>Dr. Tariq
Ramadan, a professor of Philosophy at the College of Geneva, in his monumental
study, To be a European Muslim,
reminds us of our role and responsibility in the secular context today. He
explains:

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style=”MARGIN: 0in 0.55in 0pt 0.5in; TEXT-ALIGN: justify”> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”>At this time of
globalisation and internationalisation, when all nations are subject to a new
world order which denies or forgets God,?based on an exclusive economic logic,
Muslims are facing the same responsibilities… Assertive and confident, they
have to remind people around them of God, of spirituality and, regarding social
affairs, to work for values and ethics, justice and solidarity. They do not
forget their environment but, on the contrary, once in security, they should
influence it in positive way.
href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_edn6″ name=_ednref6> class=MsoEndnoteReference> face=Arial>[vi]
style=”COLOR: black”>

style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> face=Arial> 

style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-fareast-font-family: ‘Times New Roman’; mso-ansi-language: EN-CA; mso-fareast-language: EN-CA; mso-bidi-font-family: ‘Times New Roman’; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA”> face=Arial>Contemporary North American Muslims possess a rich seven-century old
legacy of dedication, activism, community empowerment, justice, peace, and
tolerance, inherited from their Muslim forefathers in this land. They
 style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-fareast-font-family: ‘Times New Roman’; mso-ansi-language: EN-CA; mso-fareast-language: EN-CA; mso-bidi-font-family: ‘Times New Roman’; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA”> face=Arial>must now change their outlook from the reality of ?protection? alone
to that of an authentic ?contribution? to the society. style=”COLOR: black”> 
It is
at this unique juncture of Islamic history, constituting the largest and most
diverse Muslim minority that we need to study the contribution of African
American Muslims as the models that produced the great leaders we long for
today.



style=”mso-endnote-id: edn1″ href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_ednref1″
name=_edn1> style=”mso-special-character: footnote”> face=Arial>[i] lang=EN-CA>  style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-font-family: Tahoma”> size=2>Amir Nashid Ali Muhammad, style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Muslims in America: Seven Centuries of
History, (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 1998),
11
.

style=”mso-endnote-id: edn2″ href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_ednref2″
name=_edn2> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> style=”mso-special-character: footnote”> size=2>[ii] lang=EN-CA style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-font-family: Tahoma”> size=2>A. Muhammad, style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Muslims in America
xi
.

style=”mso-endnote-id: edn3″ href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_ednref3″
name=_edn3> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> style=”mso-special-character: footnote”> size=2>[iii] lang=EN-CA style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-font-family: Tahoma”> size=2>A. Muhammad, style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Muslims in America,
xiii
.

style=”mso-endnote-id: edn4″ href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_ednref4″
name=_edn4> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> style=”mso-special-character: footnote”> size=2>[iv] lang=EN-CA style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-font-family: Tahoma”> size=2>A. Muhammad, style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Muslims in America,
xi
.

title=”” style=”mso-endnote-id: edn5″ href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_ednref5″
name=_edn5> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> style=”mso-special-character: footnote”> size=2>[v] style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> The
McGill Daily, Issue 46.

style=”mso-endnote-id: edn6″ href=”mhtml:mid://00000000/#_ednref6″
name=_edn6> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> style=”mso-special-character: footnote”> size=2>[vi] lang=EN-CA style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> size=2> style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-ansi-language: EN-US”> size=2>Tariq Ramadan, To
Be A European Muslim
lang=EN-CA
style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-style: italic; mso-bidi-font-family: Arial”>(
lang=EN-CA style=”FONT-SIZE: 11pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana”> size=2>Markfield, Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1999),
144-145.

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