Friday, February 29, 2008

A Salute to African American-and Islamic-History

From the Desk of Ibrahim Abdil-Mu’id Ramey, MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) February 29, 2008 - Today marks the culmination of African-American History Month. Founded by the great scholar Carter G. Woodson in the early 1930's, this month commemorates the celebration of the history and achievements of people of African ancestry in the United States.

But to an increasing community, it is also a recognition of the fact that the history of Black people in America has a significant Islamic component.

A few days ago, I attended an event at the U.S. Capitol that hosted a museum display called 'Collections and Stories of American Muslims'. The curator of this dazzling visual historical display, Brother Amir Muhammad, explained that the chronology of the Muslim presence in the "New World" did not begin with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, where some 25 percent of enslaved Africans were Muslim captives. Indeed, African explorers, from as early as 1312 C.E., established contact with indigenous American (Indian) communities.

One such African Muslim explorer, named Estebanico, is believed to be have set foot on what is now called New Mexico and Arizona in the year 1527.

The millions of captured African Muslims in America also have a rich and compelling historical narrative. The 'Collections and Stories of American Muslims' exhibit also features the names of Muslims included in the first U.S. census in 1790, and copies of the manuscript of a Holy Qur’an from early 18th century America.

African-American Muslims fought in both the American Revolution and the Civil War.

And numerous graveyards from early America feature tombstones embellished with the one raised finger, signifying the declaration of faith in the one deity (Allah).

One enslaved Muslim, a Fulani African prince and military commander named Abdul Rahman Ibrahima born in 1762, is featured in the remarkable documentary movie called "Prince Among Slaves". Abdul Rahman, who was literate in the Arabic language, was captured by slave traders and transported to Natchez, Mississippi, where he was forced to labor on a cotton plantation. But never abandoning his faith, he was able (by Allah’s mercy) to eventually secure his freedom from bondage. He and his Christian wife were able to return to Africa before his death in 1829.

Historical developments in American Islamic communities and movements of the late 19 and early 20th centuries are also included in the collection.

The facts and nuances of Muslim history in America are numerous, and profound. But as more historical data and artifacts become known to the public, it is clear that the Muslim presence in the United States predates the establishment of the American republic itself.

The Muslim community in America is heir to a deep, complex, and fascinating history. It is certainly a history worth exploring, and one that we should be thinking about in the other eleven months of the year as well.

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