In the summertime of 1863, newspapers in North Carolina introduced the dying of “a venerable African”, referred to, in a paternalistic method, as “Uncle Moreau”.
Omar ibn Mentioned, a Muslim, was born in 1770 in Senegal and by the point of his dying, he had been enslaved for 56 years. In 2021, Omar, an opera about his life, will premiere on the Spoleto Competition in Charleston, South Carolina.
Muslims are normally regarded as Twentieth-century immigrants to the US, but for effectively over three centuries, African Muslims like Omar have been a well-known presence. They’d grown up in Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Benin and Nigeria the place Islam was identified because the eighth century and unfold within the early 1000s.
Estimates range, however they have been not less than 900,000 out of the 12.5 million Africans taken to the Americas. Among the many 400,000 Africans who spent their lives enslaved in the US, tens of 1000’s have been Muslims.
Although they have been a minority among the many enslaved inhabitants, Muslims have been acknowledged like no different neighborhood. Slaveholders, travellers, journalists, students, diplomats, writers, monks and missionaries wrote about them. Founding father of Georgia James Oglethorpe, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State Henry Clay, writer of the US nationwide anthem Francis Scott Key, and portraitist of the Founding Fathers Charles W Peale have been acquainted with a few of them.
Seen manifestations of religion
A part of the Muslims’ conspicuousness was as a result of their continued observance, every time attainable, of essentially the most noticeable tenets of their faith. Prayer, the second pillar of Islam, was one among these seen manifestations of religion famous by enslaved and enslavers alike.
In his 1837 autobiography, Charles Ball, who escaped slavery, associated in nice element the story of a person who prayed aloud 5 occasions a day in a language others didn’t perceive. He added, “I knew a number of, who will need to have been, from what I’ve since realized, Mohamedans; although at the moment, I had by no means realized of the faith of Mohamed.”
Charles Spalding Willy had this to say about Bilali from Guinea, enslaved by his grandfather on Sapelo Island, Georgia: “Thrice every day he confronted the East and known as upon Allah.” He witnessed different “religious Mussulmans, who prayed to Allah morning, midday and night.”
Yarrow Mamout, one other extremely seen Muslim, was taken from Guinea in 1752 when he was about 16. After 44 years of slavery, he was freed and acquired a home in Washington, DC. Mamout was a sort of movie star who was “usually seen and heard within the streets singing Praises to God – and conversing with him,” said famous artist Charles Willson Peale.
Within the Thirties, women and men previously enslaved in Georgia described how their kin and others prayed a number of occasions a day: they knelt on mats, bowed, stated unusual phrases, and had “strings of beads” or misbahs. As Bilali pulled the beads, one descendant recalled, he stated “Belambi, Hakabara, Mahamadu.”
It’s exhausting to think about how individuals in dismal poverty might give alms, the third pillar of Islam, however nonetheless, charity proved to be essentially the most widespread and resilient of all of the Muslims’ non secular practices.
Within the Sea Islands, the ladies left their mark on this custom. Within the Thirties, their descendants recalled with fondness the rice truffles their moms gave to youngsters. There was a phrase for it: Saraka, adopted after the sharing by “Ameen, Ameen, Ameen.”
Rice truffles are the charity nonetheless supplied by West African Muslim girls on Fridays. The cake is just not known as saraka, however the act of giving is a sadaqa, a freewill providing, and that phrase is uttered as the ladies give it.
Reflecting the Muslims’ affect, non-Muslims everywhere in the Caribbean to today supply saraka, unaware of its Islamic origin.
Fasting and dietary necessities
There isn’t a doubt that Islam’s fourth pillar, fasting, was exceedingly exhausting for individuals underfed and overworked. Nonetheless, Bilali and his giant household used to quick throughout Ramadan. And so did his buddy Salih Bilali. Kidnapped in Mali when he was about 14, 60 years later he was nonetheless “a strict Mahometan; [he] abstains from spirituous liquors, and retains the varied fasts, significantly that of the Rhamadan” wrote his “proprietor”, James Hamilton Couper.
Omar ibn Mentioned was stated to have fasted too. Others whose lives weren’t recorded could have used the identical subterfuge as Muhammad Kaba in Jamaica: Each time he needed to quick, he pretended to be sick.
A number of testimonies point out Islam’s dietary restrictions. All through his lengthy life, Yarrow Mamout instructed individuals, “it’s no good to eat Hog [and] drink whiskey may be very dangerous.”
In Mississippi, the son of a prince acknowledged the problem of adhering to those guidelines since slaveholders offered the meals. He stated “by way of bitter remorse, that his scenario as a slave in America, prevents him from obeying the dictates of his faith. He’s below the need of consuming pork however denies ever tasting any sort of spirits.”
In South Carolina, a person solely referred to as Nero was extra lucky, he drew his ration in beef as an alternative. By fasting and refusing sure meals Muslims weren’t solely remaining devoted to their faith, they have been additionally asserting a level of management over their lives.
Distinguished by their gown
Along with respecting the tenets of Islam, Muslims distinguished themselves, when attainable, by the best way they dressed. In Georgia, some girls wore veils whereas males sported Turkish fez or white turbans.
An 1859 article described how, every morning, Omar ibn Mentioned nailed the top of an extended strip of white cotton to a tree and, holding the opposite finish, wrapped it round his head, fashioning a turban. Daguerreotypes present him with printed cloth round his head or a wool hat. In his portrait, painted in 1819 by Charles W Peale, Mamout wore the identical sort of hat as Omar’s.
In 1733, the Senegalese Ayuba Suleyman Diallo insisted on being immortalised in his “nation gown” with a white turban and a gown. Likewise, some Muslims in Trinidad, Brazil, and Cuba have been described as carrying “flowing robes”, skullcaps and vast pants.
By short-circuiting the coarse, demeaning slave garments, the Muslims who might achieve this have been reclaiming a little bit of possession of their very own our bodies, whereas stating their constancy to their faith.
Curiosity and literacy
Apart from being seen, Muslims generated a lot curiosity due to their literacy, an Islamic requirement as a result of believers must learn the Quran.
This literacy was acquired in faculties and, for essentially the most educated, in native or international establishments of upper studying. This particularity set them other than the non-Muslim Africans in addition to many illiterate Individuals, enslaved and free.
A slaveholder in search of a 30-year-old current arrival listed just one attribute in an 1805 runaway discover: he was a person “of grave countenance who writes the Arabic language”.
Two years later, Ira P Nash, a doctor and land surveyor, dropped at Thomas Jefferson’s consideration – in three letters and one assembly – the tribulations of two Muslims. Captured in Kentucky, they escaped to Tennessee the place they have been jailed and escaped twice extra. He gave Jefferson two pages that they had written in Arabic. They included the final surah (chapter) of the Quran, al-Nas, Humanity, which speaks of refuge with Allah and evil, an ideal analogy to their scenario.
In search of a translation Jefferson despatched the papers to scholar and abolitionist Robert Patterson. He thought the writings have been in regards to the males’s “historical past, as said by themselves”.
Presumably, based mostly on what that story would reveal, the president was keen to “procure the discharge of the lads if correct”. Nevertheless, their hint was misplaced earlier than he might intervene.
Writing for fellow Muslims
In the present day, manuscripts, from Brazil and Panama to the Bahamas, Trinidad and Haiti nonetheless exist. Written by nameless Muslims and some identified ones, they cowl Quranic chapters, prayers, talismans, invocations, and admonitions for the Muslims to stay devoted to Islam. A number of are linked to the 1835 Muslim rebellion in Bahia.
In about 1823 Muhammad Kaba Saghanughu, who had been captured in 1777 on his method to Timbuktu and deported to Jamaica, wrote a 50-page doc in Arabic. Addressed to the “neighborhood of Muslim women and men,” it’s an tutorial handbook on praying, marriage and ablutions, and incorporates commentaries and references to basic Islamic texts.
In distinction to autobiographies by previously enslaved individuals, together with Africans reminiscent of Olaudah Equiano, the Muslims have been writing for their very own neighborhood, not a Western viewers.
Within the US, Bilali wrote a 13-page doc, a part of a piece by the Tenth-century Tunisian Ibn Abu Zayd al-Qairawani. It was written on paper produced in Italy for the North African market, which raises intriguing questions as to how he acquired it.
Salih Bilali, wrote his proprietor, “reads Arabic, and has a Koran (which nonetheless, I’ve not seen) in that language, however doesn’t write it.” Equally, Bilali who “stored all of the plantation ‘Acts’ in Arabic … was buried together with his Koran and praying sheep pores and skin.”
These informal mentions of Qurans on distant plantations beg the query of the place they received them. Maybe, as different memorisers of the Quran did within the Americas, they wrote them themselves.
The Muslims who grew to become well-known have been solely a handful however many others, as achieved, remained anonymous.
William Brown Hodgson, a former diplomat posted in North Africa and a slaveholder, said in 1857: “There have been a number of educated Mohammedan slaves imported into the US.”
In 1845, he knowledgeable the French Société d’ethnologie that “a Foulah prince, named Omar, is presently a slave in the US and can be capable of procure valuable parts for an in depth discover on his nation.”
Hodgson had tried to get info – most likely for a similar function – from Muslims however needed to cease as a result of slaveholders’ hostility.
Equally, Theodore Dwight, the secretary of the American Ethnological Society, noticed in 1871 that a number of Africans in numerous components of the nation have been literate and he had “obtained some info from a few of them”.
Sadly, he too encountered “insuperable difficulties in the best way in slave international locations, arising from the jealousy of masters, and different causes.”
Writing for freedom
Ayuba Suleyman Diallo made essentially the most of his literacy. A dealer and Quranic trainer from the Islamic State of Bundu in Senegal, he was kidnapped in 1730 in Gambia and offered to captain Stephen Pike of the Arabella.
Diallo instructed him his father would pay for his freedom and he was allowed to dispatch an acquaintance to his hometown. However the Arabella left earlier than Diallo may very well be freed.
From Maryland, he wrote a letter to his father and gave it to a slave vendor with directions to remit it to Pike. The letter didn’t attain him however ended up in London within the palms of James Oglethorpe, the deputy governor of the Royal African Firm and future founding father of Georgia. After studying the interpretation, Oglethorpe organized for Diallo’s launch and transportation to England.
The Senegalese arrived in London in April 1733. He met the royal household and helped famend doctor and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane – whose non-public assortment was the muse of the British Museum, the British Library and the Pure Historical past Museum – translate Arabic paperwork. Earlier than returning to Bundu in July 1734, he posed for painter William Hoare and wrote three copies of the Quran from reminiscence. One was offered in 2013 for 21,250 British kilos ($28,040) to the Dar El-Nimer Assortment for Artwork & Tradition in Beirut.
In Mississippi, Ibrahima abd al-Rahman adopted in Diallo’s path with a letter he wrote in 1826. Thirty-eight years earlier the then 26-year-old son of the Muslim ruler of Futa Jallon in Guinea had been captured throughout a conflict. His letter was despatched to Thomas Mullowny, the American consul in Morocco. He took it to Sultan Abd al-Rahman II, who requested for Ibrahima’s launch. Secretary of State Henry Clay introduced the case to President John Quincy Adams who devoted a passage to the matter in his diary on July 10, 1827.
After 39 years in Mississippi, Ibrahima was freed and left for Liberia in 1829 alongside together with his American-born spouse. He died shortly thereafter. Eight youngsters and grandchildren have been freed with the $3,500 he had raised for that function amongst abolitionists earlier than leaving the US. They settled in Liberia, however seven kin remained enslaved.
If his literacy didn’t free Omar ibn Mentioned, it largely improved his scenario. After he ran away in 1810 from an “evil man … an infidel who didn’t concern Allah”, Omar was captured as he prayed in a church and thrown in jail as a runaway. With items of coal, he coated the partitions with pleas, in Arabic, to be launched. The brother of a North Carolina governor purchased him, gave him mild duties and furnished him with paper and Christian proselytisation.
Omar’s 1831 autobiography, written in Arabic, subtly denounced his enslavement with the assistance of Surat al-Mulk, which states that God has the ability over all; in impact refuting his “proprietor’s” supremacy.
Professors Mbaye Bashir Lo at Duke and Carl Ernst on the College of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have intently analysed his 17 identified manuscripts. They discovered that he quoted from reminiscence from quite a lot of works, together with one by a Twelfth-century Andalusian Sufi grasp and a Sixteenth-century Egyptian theological poem.
A lot was made from Omar’s alleged conversion to Christianity and Francis Scott Key helped procure him a Bible in Arabic. Omar additionally had a Quran, which was stated to be his most valuable possession. Tellingly, his final identified manuscript, in 1857, was Surat al-Nasr (the Victory) as within the victory of Islam in opposition to the “unbelievers” and different enemies. This was the final surah revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
To make certain, the stereotype of Africans as uncivilised idolaters used as justification for his or her enslavement didn’t align with literate, monotheist individuals. Subsequently, Muslims have been usually misrepresented as Arabs, Moors, and “descendants of the Arabian Mahomedans who migrated to Western Africa”.
The American Colonization Society, whose goal was to deport free Black individuals to Liberia, envisioned freed Muslims, like Ibrahima, as a conduit to the “civilising” of the continent and, unusually sufficient, its Christianisation.
The imprint of enslaved African Muslims can nonetheless be seen at the moment. Arabic terminology survives within the Gullah language of South Carolina, in Trinidadian and Peruvian songs, within the Caribbean saraka, and in quite a lot of religions reminiscent of Candomble, Umbanda and Macumba in Brazil, Vodun in Haiti, and Regla Lucumi and Palo Mayombe in Cuba.
Furthermore, a big Muslim contribution, the blues, has been acknowledged by main musicologists because the Nineteen Seventies. The roots of the blues might be discovered within the subject holler – a solo, non-instrumental, sluggish tune with elongated phrases, pauses, and melisma, all constitutive parts of the Islamic fashion of singing and reciting.
What musicologists didn’t recognise, nonetheless, is that the holler was a direct product not of the Muslims’ reminiscences, however of Islamic practices that endured within the US reminiscent of prayers, the recitation of the Quran, Sufi chants, and the adhan, the decision to prayer.
Specifically, the closeness to the adhan of WD “Bama” Stewart’s “Levee Camp Holler”, recorded in 1947 at Parchman jail in Mississippi, is kind of extraordinary. When each are juxtaposed, it’s exhausting to inform when one ends and the opposite begins.
The blues is without doubt one of the most lasting and neglected contributions of African Muslims to American tradition.
One other could be the ring shout of the American South, Jamaica, and Trinidad. A non secular ceremony throughout which individuals flip in a circle, it was considered an African dance with a perplexing identify since there isn’t any shouting. One other clarification was proposed within the Nineteen Forties. One tour across the Ka’ba is known as a shawt, which sounds near the phrase “shout” in English. Just like the pilgrims do in Mecca, the American shouters flip counterclockwise round a sacred construction, such because the church, the altar, or a devoted second altar. May Muslims have “reinvented” the most important episode of the Hajj?
A forgotten historical past
Over time, the story and even the presence of African Muslims within the Americas light from reminiscence. However because the tragedy of 9/11, there was a rising curiosity on this forgotten historical past, a shocking discovery to most.
African American Muslims used it to assert an historic lineage and immigrant communities to indicate that Islam, removed from being international, was as American as Christianity.
In the present day, individuals within the wider Islamic world are more and more on this worldwide historical past of Islam.
As Africans and as Muslims, the individuals who lived their religion within the dreadful oppression of American slavery contributed to the social, non secular and cultural cloth of this nation. The Muslims’ legacy, acknowledged or not, lives on. Their story is an African story, a Muslim story, and an American story.