Why We Must Learn America’s Islamic History


“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” So we were taught in primary school. But, did you know that the captains of two of the three small Spanish ships comprising Columbus’s fleet were in fact Muslim? 

Martin Alonso Pinzon the captain of the Pinta and his brother Vicente Yanex Pinzon the captain of the Nina helped organize Columbus’ voyages which introduced Europeans to the New World. The Pinzon brothers were in fact Muslims related to Abuzayan Muhammad III, a Moroccan Sultan. 

I note this because American Muslims are often misperceived as foreigners unwilling to assimilate. Yet, a survey of modern Islamic history and early American religious history reveals a uniquely different reality: the presence of Muslims in what would become the United States of America dates back to the earliest arrivals of Europeans in the Americas. 

Some Muslims, such as Estevanico de Dorantes, arrived here as explorers. Originally from Morocco, in the 1550’s Estevanico was the first Muslim and the first African to travel to the continental U.S.

Many Muslims arrived here as slaves from Africa. In fact, scholars estimate that “tens of thousands” of African Muslims lived in colonial and antebellum America. During the 1730s, several such Muslims who were taken into slavery became well known. 

Among them was Yarrow Mamout, for instance, an indentured servant in the South who was set free after he finished making all the bricks for a house his master planned to build. Mamout became a property owner, held stock in the Bank of Columbia, and even had his likeness painted by the famed artist Charles Wilson Peale in 1819 and again in 1822 by James Alexander Simpson. 

Peter (Saleem) Salem is another such prominent American Muslim slave. Born into slavery in Massachusetts, Salem fought in the Revolutionary War and was subsequently honored for his valor. Specifically, he shot and killed British Major John Pitcairn when the colonial troops were near defeat and Pitcairn ordered them to surrender. In 1882, a gravestone monument was erected in his memory and he is also depicted in John Trumbull’s famous painting of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Other Muslim slaves never had their likeness painted in such an illustrious fashion but they were featured in runaway slave advertisements. In fact, in September 1774, one such advertisement in the Savannah Georgia Gazette called for the capture of “Mahomet.” Another advertisement in the Gazette which ran in April 1789 sought the capture of “Amer.” In 1790, the Gazette also advertised about “Osman.”

An inextricable aspect of the American Muslim slave experience was their Islamic practice. Indeed, a number of Muslim slaves continued to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob while toiling on plantations. 

Job Ben Soliman, for example, was a Muslim slave who was known to “often leave the Cattle, and withdraw into the Woods to pray; but a white Boy frequently watched him, and whilst he was at his Devotion would mock him, and throw Dirt in his Face.” 

Salih Bilali was a Muslim slave on a Georgia plantation who was described by his Master as a “strict Mahometan; [who] abstains from spirituous liquors, and keeps the various fasts, particularly that of the Rhamadan. He is singularly exempt from all feeling of superstition; and holds in great contempt, the African belief in fetishes and evil spirits.” 

American Muslims have historically practiced their faith peacefully in the U.S.

Even more Muslims arrived in America in the 1700s, occupying diverse professions as teachers, cavalry leaders, religious leaders and students of law. Consider, for instance, Paul Cuffe who was a Muslim shipbuilder, captain and philanthropist. Cuffe’s family was originally from Ghana; his father’s name was Haiz (Saiz) Kofi. Cuffe was the first African American man to petition the U.S. government to free the slaves and to allow every African man desiring to leave America the opportunity to do so.

Ponder Hajj Ali, a native of Syria who was hired by The United States Cavalry in 1856 to experiment with raising camels in Arizona. He experimented with breeding camels in the desert and was a local folk hero in Quartzsite, Arizona, where he died in 1902.

Mohammed Ali ben Said, also known as Nicholas Said, is similarly worth referencing. Said fought in the American Civil War as a Union solider. Serving in Company 1 with the “55th Regiment of Massachusetts Colored Volunteers,” Said quickly rose from corporal to sergeant. According to his army records, he died in Brownsville, Tennessee in 1882.

And, then there is … well, I am sure you get the picture: American Muslims are an inextricable part of early American history even before our nation’s founding — an apt reminder to all those who use religion to sow hatred and division among us. 

Engy Abdelkader is an accomplished attorney and a Legal Fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. and an authoritative source for information on American Muslims and Muslims around the globe.

Source: The Huffington Post



By: engy abdelkader | Source: the huffington post | Category: Articles, Featured, Politics, Society | Views: 7,223 | Comments: 4

4 Comments

  1. Judo-Christian law, at least that practiced up to the time of the enlightenment, was all based on “rex non protest peccare”. The church installed, king can do no wrong. This was a top down government based on minor rulers like governors getting their rights from above, not below. People who weren’t aristocracy only had the temporary rights granted them by the lowest ruler above them at any instance of time. The enlightenment, a project of Muslims from Andalusia Spain, and the scientists that travelled there to study while the Judo-Christians had been reduced to barbarity by the church and kings, lead indirectly, so as not to get the proponent burned at the stake by the inquisition, to the bottom up government of democracies. “all men are created equal” (no aristrocracy), “they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights”(not just those allowed them by kings), “that governments are instituted among men to secure these rights” (democracy). Where did the concept of equality, inalienable rights, and bottom up government come from? Definitely not from Judo-Christian law. The Quran states “govern yourselves through mutual consultation and give of that which God has provided you”. In other words democracy and taxes. Look up Burlamaqui, Jean Jacques, 1694-1748, The principles of natural and politic law. Or Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence. They are both available on the internet.

    The founding fathers of this nation were “Deists”. Compare that concept with the first sentence of the second paragraph of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law#Islamic_natural_law. Did our Deceleration of Independence come from Jefferson’s Quran or his Bible? How many accountants do you know of that use roman numerals? How many scientists don’t use al-gebra, al-chemy (chemistry) or al-stronomy. Obviously, Muslims had no influence over the US what so ever. Beware the anti-sureaist, they wish to “return” the US to the dark ages and constant civil war

  2. To Marshall: Please read history and do not be an ignorant or pretend you know it all just like the holy Catholic Church. All the pedophile priests are good as long as the victims forgets them or destroy all the evidence so no one will challenge the facts. Sale as your Catholic dictionary look at the early versions and later version see the changes in most of the versions whatever is good for them. Soon they will add Gays are ordained by Jesus in fact may be he was one of them things like that, do not make a fun of you referring their dictionary that full of half facts and invented facts as the trinity. What a joke, get a life pal. Study may your God help you.

  3. With all due respect & the rest of the piece aside, Captain Paul Cuffe (1759-1817), the son of freed slave Cuffe Slocum and Ruth Moses, a Native Person of the Wampanoag tribe, was certainly NOT Muslim. Paul Cuffe was a member of the Society of Friends, that is a Quaker, who was spent his all-too-often overlooked life Southeastern Massachusetts (born on Cuttyhunk Island and later moved to the mainland Town of Dartmouth, a section of which became the Town of Westport, Mass).

    Indeed, Paul Cuffe helped to build the current Quaker Meeting House on Main Road in Westport. He and his wife, Alice, are buried in the back of the property with a monument dedicated to him in the front at street side near the entrance.

    Rather than refer to my own 214-page thesis on Captain Paul Cuffe, here is one article of many from the local newspaper commemorating Cuffe, http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20020208/LIFE/302089956&cid=sitesearch.

    Thankfully, in recent times, institutions like the New Bedford Whaling Museum and New Bedford Historical Society, in New Bedford, Mass. have begun to more fully recognize and celebrate Captain Cuffe, his life, and legacy. In 2009, Governor Deval Patrick declared January 17 to be “Paul Cuffe Day” in honor of his 250th birthday.

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