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Before the slave ships: Islam in West Africa

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2/18/05 Stephanie Oliver Intro. To Islam Steinfels Before the slave ships: Islam in West Africa When thinking about African-American Muslims in the United States images of civil rights leader, Malcolm X, World championship boxer, Muhammad Ali, current leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan and famous NBA super star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar come to mind. However, the faces of African-American Muslims are far greater then these men. The involvement of African Americans with Islam dates from the earliest days of the African presence in North America. Today, African Americans account for about 42 percent of the Muslim population in the United States, which is somewhere between four and six million people. The history of African American Muslims is deeply root in the history of America, and it stems back before slavery to Africa where the religion of Islam was introduced to Africans. Historians say Islam first came to Africa by way of Egypt around 640 AD. By the end of the century, through armed conquest and trade, it had spread to North and West Africa. Islam quickly began to play an important role in the lives of West Africans. However, Islam was not the religion of the majority. Many Muslim rulers governed over a large non-Muslim population. Polytheistic kings often ruled Muslim subjects. Islam was the religion of traders and rulers, but quickly it became the religion of the masses. Islam in Africa as in all other places that follow the religion had a variety of followers, the devout, the sincere, the casual believer, the fundamentalist, and the mystics. In the 15th century, Muslims in West African became largely associated with the Sufi order. The word Sufi comes from the Arabic word 'suf' which means 'wool' and refers to the coarse woolen robes that were worn by the Prophet Muhammad and by his close companions. The goal of a Sufi is none other than God Himself. ...read more.


The American Colonization Society bought and purchased land now known as Liberia in Africa. Ibrahima finally earned his freedom in 1829. Two other African Muslim mentioned in historical writings are Bilali, a Georgia Sea Island slave who lived in the early 1800s. Bilal passed on Muslim traditions to his 19 children and was known for his ability to speak and write Arabic. When he died, he left an Arabic manuscript that he had written, and his pray rug. A copy of the Qu'ran was placed in his coffin. Fulani Muslim scholar Omar ibn Said, who was a slave in North Carolina, is also mentioned in historical writings. He lived from 1770 to 1864 and pretended a conversion to the Christian faith of his master. By the eve of the American Civil War, the Islam of the original African Muslim slaves had began to vanish, because Muslims were not able to develop institutions to perpetuate their religion in 19th-century America. After they died, their version of Islam disappeared. New American Islam and Pan-Africanism In the late 19th century the Pan-Africanism of Liberian nationalist Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912) provided the intellectual framework for the confluence of Islam and Black Nationalism in the United States in the 20th century. Pan-African ideas of Edward Wilmot Blyden are the important keys in understanding how and why the racial separatism. He used the example of Islam in West Africa as the model for racial separatism and signification in his Pan-African ideology. He argued that as a global religion for black people, Islam should be preferred over Christianity. Additional influences were the internationalist perspective of the Universal Negro Improvement Association of Marcus Garvey and the Great Migration of more than one million black Southerners to Northern cities at the beginning of the century. Urbanization, migration, and immigration were important factors that sensitized African Americans to Islam in the 1920's. The migration of southern blacks to the northern and midwestern cities from 1915 to 1930 resulted in the new religious, political, economic, social, and psychological needs in the African American community. ...read more.


Malcolm X later El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, helped bring the Nation of Islam many followers through his preaching. He also became know as a militant leader and became well know throughout the U. S. because of his many public speeches and interviews. In 1963, Elijah Muhammad suspended Malcolm from the Nation of Islam after giving a speech in which he suggested that President Kennedy's assassination was a matter of the "chickens coming home to roost." He then formed a rival organization of his own, called the Muslim Mosque, Inc. In 1964, after a pilgrimage to Mecca, he announced his conversion to orthodox Islam and his new belief that there could be brotherhood between black and white. In Feb. 1965, he was shot and killed in a public auditorium in New York City. His assassins were identified as Black Muslims, but this is a matter of controversy. After Elijah Muhammad's death in February of 1975 several changes in the social, intellectual, and spiritual direction and development of the Nation of Islam took place under the leadership W. D. Muhammad, Elijah's son. During this period all concepts of racism, and the glorification of Fard were rejected, and the organization was renamed the American Muslim Mission. In May 1985 W.D. Muhammad announced the dissolution of the American Muslim Mission in order that its members might become a part of the worldwide orthodox Islamic community. The centralized leadership and organization that had previously characterized the movement thus came to an end, although its network of mosques and their attendant religious, educational, and economic programs continued to function. Since 1978 Louis Farrakhan has led a revived group of the Nation of Islam to a position of national significance, as evidenced by his organization of the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., in 1995. Like Elijah Muhammad, Farrakhan has made some connections to the Islam of the Middle East, but he has not changed the original teachings of the Nation of Islam to join the Islamic mainstream. A History of African-American Muslims: Before the days of Malcolm X ...read more.

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