February is Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the accomplishments of black Americans throughout history. This year, we’re focusing on black Muslims who were brought to America as slaves.
The first Muslim slaves in America are believed to be enslaved Africans brought to North America in the 17th century by colonists. These African slaves were brought to the English colonies of Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas, and they were among the first African slaves in the New World.
In 1807, a wealthy 37-year-old scholar Omar Ibn Said was captured in West Africa, in what is now Senegal, and transported to the United States to be sold into slavery.
Omar Ibn Said, lived the remainder of his life enslaved in the American South, and his story might have been forgotten if not for the handwritten autobiography he left behind. The Life of Omar Ibn Said, written in 1831. It describes some of the events of his life and includes reflections on his steadfast adherence to Islam and his openness towards other "God-fearing" people. On the surface, the document may appear to be tolerant towards slavery; however, Said begins it with Surat Al-Mulk, a chapter from the Qur'an, which states that only God has sovereignty over human beings.
For Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro) he managed to buy his freedom after 44 years of enslavement. As an entrepreneur and homeowner, he continued to practice his faith.
In the 19th century, some of the earliest Muslim communities were concentrated in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, particularly in the ports of Norfolk, Virginia and Wilmington, North Carolina. It is difficult to determine exactly how many of these slaves were Muslim, as many slaves were forced to convert to Christianity upon arrival in America. In some cases, however, slaves were able to maintain their Islamic faith and practice in secret. Even so, estimates suggest that only about 10 percent of the African slaves brought to America were Muslim.
Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Muslim slaves is the modern movement among some African Americans to embrace what they believe to be the original religion of their people.
Beginning with the period of American slavery until today, black Muslims continue to comprise the largest segment of the Muslim community in the United States.
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