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African Muslim Slaves in America


>>> Item number 467, dated 95/08/02 16:34:57 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 2 Aug 1995 16:34:57 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      QUERY: African Muslims Slaves in America

Date:           Tue, 01 Aug 1995
From:           William G. Sacks, Washington University
                <wgsacks@artsci.wustl.edu>

(cross posted from H-AMSTDY, h-amstdy@msu.edu)

A recent post has asserted that the majority of African slaves brought to North America during the colonial periods were Muslim. As a long-time student of the period, I find it curious that I've yet to come across any primary evidence of this claim. Where might one turn to find substantiation of this claim?

>>> Item number 470, dated 95/08/03 21:03:09 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 3 Aug 1995 21:03:09 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Muslims Slaves in America

Date sent:      Wed, 2 Aug 1995
From:           Peter CARON, Tulane University
                <ahpc@mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu>

I did not see the initial post on Muslims, but I believe that the assertion that the majority of slaves brought to North America during the colonial periods is incorrect. However, it is likely that historians have underestimated the numbers of Muslims actually brought to North America. There is evidence of Muslims in North America in colonial records, but their numbers are limited and they probably came from the Senegambia.

Michael A. Gomez addressed the issue of Muslims in America in an article in the *Journal of Southern History*, LX (November, 1994) 4, 671- 710. Gomez analyzes the regions of the African coast from where Muslims could have been exported and concludes that Muslim slaves could have accounted for "thousands, if not tens of thousands," but does not offer a more precise estimate.

In colonial Louisiana inventories, a minority of slaves were Muslims. Nevertheless, in Louisiana, as elsewhere, it is important to remember that first generation African Muslims, though a small minority, would have likely exerted an influence greater than their number. Further, the presence of Muslims had important ramifications for intra-slave relations. There was considerable tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in Africa, and there is every reason to believe that this continued in some for in North America.

As yet there exists little work on Muslims in North America. See Allan Austin's *African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Sourcebook* (New York, 1984) Austin describes many of the same persons as Philip Curtin's *Africa Remembered*. Also, Paul Lovejoy's "The Central Sudan and the Atlantic Slave Trade" in Robert Harms, et al. ed. *Paths to the Past* (Atlanta, 1994) deals with the export of Central Sudanic Muslims to the New World.

>>> Item number 471, dated 95/08/03 21:10:59 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 3 Aug 1995 21:10:59 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Muslim Slaves in America

Date sent:      2 Aug 95
From:           A.T. Miller, Union College
                <ATMILLER@gar.union.edu>

William Sacks wrote to ask about primary sources regarding enslaved African people who were Muslims. While this is not my area of expertise, I know that Davidson College in North Carolina has in their rare book room a copy of the Christian Bible written in Arabic script which was copied by/for enslaved people on a Carolina plantation and came to the college from the library of that plantation. For many years, Davidson did not know what "that Arabic book" was until they hired a religion professor who read Arabic and identified it.

I have looked also at 19th-century naming practices in African communities in the United States, which also exhibit some degree of Islamic influence and identity. African American Christian- ity also reflects to a great degree an Islamic orientation in that many of the most favored stories and motifs are those that are common to both Islam and Christianity.

I think many people carelessly regard African "conversion" as an abandonment of past tradition without recognizing that Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Elijah, Jesus, etc. are all important figures in Islam and the Koranic tradition--and some of the modal presentations of African American religious music reflect African Islamic traditions as well.

As for the percentage, that is probably regionally variable--the rice coast of the Carolinas and Georgia certainly had a large Islamic population since the SeneGambian rice coast was the source of cultivation techniques and the favored point of origin for "dealers" and "buyers" of forced labor in that area.

>>> Item number 472, dated 95/08/03 21:12:29 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 3 Aug 1995 21:12:29 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Muslim Slaves in America

Date sent:      Wed, 02 Aug 1995
From:           Ralph Austen, University of Chicago
                wwb3@midway.uchicago.edu

[Editor's Note: regarding the perception that the majority of African slaves who arrived in the Americas were Moslems.

mep]

It is wrong, because most slaves came from the forest and savanna regions beyond the then Gold Coast (which did export a lot of slaves from inland Islmaic regions). Michael Gomez of Spelman Colleged has just published a long article on that minority of N. American slaves who were Muslims (they often got priviled treatment and promotion to supervisory positions). He is on e-mail (mgomez@auc.edu) and can tell you more about this (I suspect that an even smaller % of slaves in the Caribbean and Brazil were Muslim than in the 13 colonies).

>>> Item number 473, dated 95/08/03 21:13:29 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 3 Aug 1995 21:13:29 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Muslim Slaves in America

Date sent:      Wed, 2 Aug 1995
From:           Martin Klein, University of Toronto
                <mklein@epas.utoronto.ca>

Certainly, a high percentage of savannah slaves would have been Muslim. That would be many of the slaves from Hausaland and from the Senegal and Gambia rivers. It is doubtful, however, that Muslims were majority even in those areas. The largest sources of slaves, the Slave Coast and Central Africa had almost no Muslims. For one Muslim, see Phil Curtin's article on Ayuba bin Suleiman in his *Africa Remembered*.

>>> Item number 474, dated 95/08/03 21:14:06 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 3 Aug 1995 21:14:06 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Muslim Slaves in America

From:           Joseph M. O'Neal, St. Edwards University
                <josephon@admin.stedwards.edu>
Date sent:      Thu, 3 Aug 95

I don't know of any evidence that large numbers of slaves were Muslim. Given what we know about their origins in Africa, that assertion seems most unlikely. However, there are individual narratives of literate, cosmopolitan slaves who were Muslims and who even succeeded in practicing their religion in the New World (mostly in Jamaica rather than on the mainland).

I don't have the reference at home, but Ivor Wilks is one of the editors of a book that contains the narratives along with informative introductory essays. I'll send the exact reference next week in response to a request.

>>> Item number 481, dated 95/08/04 15:28:57 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 4 Aug 1995 15:28:57 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Muslims Slaves in America

Date sent:      Fri, 04 Aug 1995
From:           Richard Lobban, Rhodes Island College
                <RLOBBAN@grog.ric.edu>

I find the claim that a majority of slaves were of Muslim origin to be most unlikely. It is certain thart there were some, no question about this at all, but certainly not a majority since the majority were from coastal communities which were largely animist. Indeed, it was Muslim slavers who raided, and then traded down to the coasts.

>>> Item number 483, dated 95/08/04 15:55:55 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 4 Aug 1995 15:55:55 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLIES (3): Africans Muslims in America

The following are cross-posted from H-AMSTDY (h-amstdy@msu.edu).

> [1]
>
> >Date: Wed, 02 Aug 1995 16:15:38 +0100 > >From: curtinpd@jhu.edu (Philip Curtin) >
> The question has been asked: is it possible that a majority of the slaves > brought to North America in the era of the slave trade were Muslim? There > is, of course, very little direct evidence, and it is true that some Muslim > slaves were identified as such after their arrival. They came mainly from > Senegambia, a few from the hinterland of Sierra Leone and a few from the > hinterland of the Gold Coast.
>
> But at that period, the majority of the population was not Muslim in any of > these regions. In West central Africa and the Bight of Biafra (which > together furnished a little over half of the slaves entering the trade as a > whole) Islam was completely unknown at that time. >
> If I were asked to guess, based on the recent religious situation in the > regions that furnished slaves to the trade, I would have to conclude that > it is extremely unlikely that more than 5 percent of slaves arriving in > North America were Muslim.
>
>
> [2]
>
> >Date: Wed, 02 Aug 1995 14:05:44 -0400 (EDT) > >From: "Sweet, Timothy R" <TSWEET@WVNVM.WVNET.EDU> >
> I don't know about a "majority" but a few instances are treated in Ronald > Judy's *(Dis)Forming the American Canon: African-Arabic Slave > Narratives and the Vernacular* (Minnesota 1993). >
>
> [3]
>
> >Date: Wed, 02 Aug 1995 16:22:29 -0400 (EDT) > >From: Kevin Lewis <KELEWIS@UNIVSCVM.CSD.SCAROLINA.EDU> >
> Charles Joiner, *Down By the Riverside*? >
> But I do not believe Joiner has ever or would ever claim that a majority > of Africans brought over into bondage were Muslim.

>>> Item number 484, dated 95/08/04 16:18:23 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 4 Aug 1995 16:18:23 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Muslims in America

Date:           Fri, 04 Aug 95
From:           David William Voorhees, Papers of Jacob Leisler
                <VOORHEES@ACFcluster.NYU.EDU>

A number of Muslims are known to have lived in New Netherland and New York in the seventeenth century, among them Anthony Jansen van Salee, whose Koran still exists. It is unclear what percentage of them arrived as slaves, but they appeared to have congregated in the vicinity of Gravesend in present- day Brooklyn, which was known to have liberal religious attitudes.

Despite the known existance of Muslims in early New York there are no known studies of them or their community as far as I am aware. It is possible that the Muslim religion had some influence in laws prohibiting Africans from gathering together in Kings County, Long Island, after 1684. It appears that most Muslims eventually converted to Reformed Christianity in the New York City, region, though the community may have merely gone underground.

>>> Item number 490, dated 95/08/06 16:38:33 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 6 Aug 1995 16:38:33 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Muslims in America

Date:           Sun, 06 Aug 1995
From:           Eugenia Herbert, Mt. Holyoke College
                <eherbert@mhc.mtholyoke.edu>

cross-posted from Nuafrica <nuafrica@piranha.acns.nwu.edu>

(not an H-Net list)

The discussion has concerned mainly Muslim slaves in No. America, but for those also interested in Latin America, there is the exhaustive study of the Muslim-led slave uprising in Bahia by Joao Reis. The dissertation (UMinn 1983) is in English: "Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The African Muslim Uprising in Bahia, 1835," although the subsequent book is in Portuguese: *Rebeliao escrava no Brasil: A historia do levantes dos males* (Sao Paulo 1986).

>>> Item number 494, dated 95/08/08 07:59:33 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 8 Aug 1995 07:59:33 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: African Muslims in America

Date sent:      Mon, 7 Aug 95
From:           Kelly Tucker, Indiana University
                <KETUCKE@cluster.ucs.indiana.edu>

Paul Lovejoy and Jack Goody have also written articles concerning the presence and role of African Muslims in the 1835 Bahian uprising:

     Lovejoy, Paul.  "Background to Rebellion:  The Origins of Muslim
     Slaves in Bahia."  *Slavery and Abolition* vol.15, no.2 (August,
     1994):  151-180.

     Goody, Jack.  "Writing, Religion and Revolt in Bahia," *Visible
     Language* XX3 (Summer, 1986):  319-341.


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