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  • Writer's pictureBrookville Multifaith Campus Contributor

When Did Muslims Come to the United States? By dr. Sultan Abdulhameed

Many people brought to America as slaves were from the predominantly Muslim West African region. It has been estimated that about half a million enslaved Africans were brought to what became the United States during the 18th century. Historians estimate that between 15 and 30 percent of the men and about 15 percent of the women were Muslims.

Although enslaved people were denied freedom of religion, many practiced their faith in secret and passed it on to their children. As an example, Ben Ali Mohammad came from west Africa in 1803. He became the Imam for a slave community of eighty men on a plantation in Sapelo Island, Georgia. He wrote a booklet on Muslim religious practice. During the War of 1812, Muhammad and his Muslim companions protected their master's property from a British attack.

There are several autobiographies of Muslim slaves that have survived.

This is a drawing of Abdu Rahman who was a prince from west Africa and made a slave in the United States.

As recognized by their names, many Muslims served in the Union Army during the Civil War. The highest-ranking Muslim officer in the Union Army was Captain Moses Osman.

The next significant wave of Muslim immigrants was from the late 19th century until the 1920s when many Arabs from Lebanon and Syria arrived in the United States. They were attracted by the availability of free land under the Homestead Act of 1862 and settled as farmers in the Midwest.

African American Muslim identity re-emerged under the leadership of Elijah Mohammad who founded the Nation of Islam movement in Detroit in the 1930s. Elijah Muhammad had no contact with the global Muslim community and taught his own version of Islam. The main issue for black people at that time was dealing with racist oppression and Elijah developed an anti-white doctrine in his version of Islam. Upon his death, his son Warith Deen Mohammed succeeded him. Warith disbanded the Nation of Islam in 1976, disavowed racist doctrines and founded a mainstream Islamic organization known as the American Society of Muslims.

Before 1965 the number of people admitted annually as immigrants from a country was proportional to their representation in the existing US population, and therefore almost all the immigrants were from Europe. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 changed that and allowed some people to emigrate to the US based on their professional qualifications. As a result, many highly educated people from Muslim regions in Asia and Africa came to seek the American Dream. This highly skilled group attained wealth and built most of the mosques we see today. Pew Research has estimated that there were 3.45 million Muslims in the United States in 2017, about one percent of the total population.

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