Two books about early American Muslims from Africa, â€œServants of Allahâ€ and â€œPrince Among Slaves.â€
Excerpted from â€œThe Americasâ€™ First Muslimsâ€ by Sylviane A. Diouf, Curator of Digital Collections, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Muslims were among the very first Africans to be introduced into the Americas. They arrived as early as 1503 mostly from Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria. Among them were teachers, students, judges, religious and military leaders, pilgrims to Mecca, and traders. The United States, where Senegambians represented almost 24 percent of the Africans, probably had the largest proportion of Muslims in the Americas, even though their actual numbers were higher in Brazil.
Many Muslims were literate, reading and writing Arabic and their own languages in the Arabic script. From North Carolina to Georgia, from Brazil to Trinidad and Jamaica, they wrote letters, excerpts from the Qurâ€™an, prayers, autobiographies, and other manuscripts that are still extant today.
Some Muslims who knew the Qurâ€™an by heart wrote their own copies. Among them was Ayuba Suleyman Diallo, whose portrait opens this post. Part of the religious elite in Senegal, he was kidnapped and enslaved in Maryland in 1731. He wrote three copies of the Qurâ€™an once in London after being freed in 1733 thanks to a letter in Arabic he wrote to his father asking to be redeemed. One copy, 223 pages long, has just surfaced (it was owned by a Californian since 1960) and was sold at auction on October 8 for $34,362.
In Georgia, Bilali Mohamed wrote, in Arabic, excerpts ofan eleventh century Islamic text; and Brazilian Muslims operated underground Qurâ€™anic schools. Sufism (the mystical side of Islam)was overwhelmingly present in West Africa and so too in the Americas where its influence can be seen in the Muslimsâ€™ writings and practices.