A True Story of a Prince among Slaves

Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Views: 14170

In an effort to gain support for his children's freedom from slavery, the newly freed American slave Abdul Rahman once wrote out what was supposed to be the Lord's Prayer in Arabic.

Years later, it was discovered that he had actually written out Surah Al-Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur'an.

After forty years of crushing servitude in a strongly Christian land, this former African prince still remained faithful to Allah, with the memory of His words still in his heart and mind.

That incredible fortitude, enduring belief and nobility of character infuses the remarkable story of Abdul Rahman's life, now brought to public television in a new documentary, "Prince Among Slaves," by Unity Productions Foundation, producers of Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet and Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain.

"The theme is , the oppressor can never rob you of your dignity so long as you show forbearance," said Co-Executive Producer Alex Kronemer of the film. "Remember this man, and remember your dignity: which is the message I would like people to come away with."

Born in 1762, Abdul Rahman lived his first 26 years as royalty in the kingdom of Futa Jallon, in western Africa, where he served as a military commander in his father's army. His extraordinary journey, which would test his character in the most surprising and often brutal ways, began when he was captured by rival warriors and sold to English slavers in 1788.

After surviving the harrowing 3,000-mile Middle Passage in chains on a slave ship, and several hundred more miles through the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi river, Abdul Rahman began his life as the slave of a young planter named Thomas Foster by running away. But after weeks of wandering in the wilderness -and after the search for him had been abandoned -he returned to his new master and pledged his loyalty.

"Someone brought up in Futa Jallon believes that... God knows and numbers every day of your life," said historian Terry Alford, author of the 1977 book, "Prince Among Slaves," upon which the documentary is based. "This fate, however cruel it seemed to him, was part of a divine plan. His resignation to the will of God was demanded."

Over the next twenty years, the prince used his knowledge, skill and integrity to build the best life for himself possible in his situation, marrying an American-born slave, Isabella, raising nine children, and winning his master's trust by his own loyalty and hard work. He helped to greatly increase Foster's wealth and success as a farmer, and became known as the "African Prince" in the environs around Natchez, where he lived.

An astonishing chance meeting in 1807 showed once again the power of the will of God in Abdul Rahman's life. At a Sunday market where the prince was allowed to sell a few of his own vegetables for his own money, a passerby recognized him as the son of the African chief who had saved his life over twenty years earlier. Dr. John Cox, an Irish ship's surgeon, had been stranded sick in Africa in the late 1780's and nursed back to health by Abdul Rahman's family. 

Cox immediately tried to secure the prince's freedom, and continued to try until his death in 1816, after which his son took over his efforts. But Foster would not sell his loyal, hardworking slave for any price. Still, rising anti-slavery sentiment across the country made it possible for Abdul Rahman's supporters to bolster his efforts. Cox had partnered with a local Natchez journalist to draw national attention to his story, which eventually led to the involvement of President John Quincy Adams and his Secretary of State Henry Clay. Because of the prince's Arabic knowledge, the government believed he was Moroccan, and agreed to support his cause only to boost America's relations with Morocco.

In 1828 Foster finally agreed to free only Abdul Rahman, with the stipulation that he return to Africa immediately and alone. But white supporters helped purchase Isabella's freedom, and then Abdul Rahman defied Foster's orders and set off on a tour across the northern United States, giving speeches and collecting donations to help free his children and grandchildren. 

On his return trip to the White House, President Adams declined to aid Abdul Rahman after discovering he was not in fact Moroccan. That was when the prince turned to the American Colonization Society, a powerful group working to free slaves, resettle them in Africa and spread Christianity there.

Abdul Rahman sought the help of Thomas Gallaudet, head of the ACS's Connecticut office. It was Gallaudet who, in his mistaken belief that the prince was a Christian, gave him an Arabic Bible and asked him to write the Lord's Prayer in Arabic.

Although Abdul Rahman's story did not end quite as he hoped, it still stands as a testament to his incredible resilience of spirit and commitment to his own values, as the documentary illustrates.

"Abdul Rahman survived the harsh ordeals of slavery through his love of family and his deep abiding faith," said Co-Executive Producer Michael Wolfe. "The film depicts a universal story of perseverance and hope. Abdul [Rahman] endured unimaginable indignities and faced immeasurable odds, yet managed to survive his long fall from royalty with character and integrity intact."

"Prince Among Slaves" airs at 10 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4 on PBS stations nationwide. Check local listings at www.pbs.org and visit www.princeamongslaves.tv

Ayesha Ahmad is a freelance writer working with the Unity Productions Foundation

  Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society
Views: 14170
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Older Comments:
Assalam Alaykum!
What an inspiring true story.its evident that Islam isnot only a true religion from ALLAH but also the total submission to the will of ALLAH. Is indeed striking but thinik about to today,every Muslim is gazatted as a "terrorist,extremist,cleric..." because he prays 5 times a day and observes Islam,arent we near the days of Kiyam? Think about it if these really arenot turning out to be the significant days of Masaud-Dajr! May Allah protect us and make us be strong in belief as this African prince,indeed Allah will make those who obeys him his Princes and princesses


As Salaam Alaikum

The short documentary, "Prince Amomg Slaves", to date is the greatest testament to the power of Allah's mercy on his servant. Abdul Rahaman despite the indignity and cruelty endured from slavery, he remained a believer in Allah and the religion of Al-Islam. This devotion to his Lord freed his soul and his mind.
May Allah have mercy on his soul and on the souls of his descendents. Ameen

The "Prince Among Slaves is an interesting story-very similar to Alex Haley's "Roots",about an African prince that was kidnapped into slavery and he eventually gained his freedom. Us African American's anceastors had to be a hell of a strong people to survive those gruesome "middle passage voyages-in which the slaves were shackled & chained in anguish and their own waste for an average of 80 to 90 days-which at the end of they had to survive more physhical & physchic horrors as slaves in America.They was stripped of their culture,language,and rich cultural African heritage. I missed the viewing-but I read the book. I hope to catch the next viewing of "Prince Among Slaves. It would make a good movie too.

I liked the article.The "Prince Among Slaves story is similar to Alex Haley's "Roots". Us African Amrican's ancestors had to be a hell of a strong people to survive those dreaded "Middle Passage"voyages-being shackled & chained in anguish & their own waste for an average of 80 to 90 days-at the end of in which they had to survive more physchic & pyshical horrors as slaves in America. It would make a good movie too.

AsSalaamu Alaikum,
Jazak Allah Khair for posting this inspiring story. It is important for our young generation to be aware of the sacrifices that were made by our ancestors. Today, we must continue to inform and reveal the truth of the history of African American people. Knowing the truth will set you free. I pray that more stories will be shared in my lifetime.


This is the first Muslim story of Africans to America in the 18th. century that I have heard. Congratulations IslamiCity and the author of this rather touching article. I am impressed by the endurance and hardship that the slave had to go through and yet his faith in Islam remained entrenched and deeply rooted that it became impossible for anyone to change it. Look at the conditions that this true Muslim had to undergo. And it also epitomised a history of the past " white America " a land which grew in prosperity from human slavery. Yes, they abolished slavery after the civil war but did this improve the conditions of the slavery. Most slaves found themselves being shut down from so many job opportunities, public places were closed to them, and some didn't actually leave the cotton farms of their former slave masters because they couldn't make their living elsewhere. In the so proclaimed " blessed country ".

What really, I wondered, is the meaning of that type of freedom. They were denied dignity by America and it's white populace. So much for the Christian bible belt states of the south that anyone having born with the " wrong skin " are hold in contempt.

Even in today's America, that is still the prevailing practice except that it is done more subtly.