AFRICAN MUSLIMS IN AMERICA – Part One - Free

By: Hajj
Haroon

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This paper was delivered during the First Conference of the Ahle Baite, held in Tehran Iran in 1990.

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As the title of the paper implies, all three categories of African Muslims have existed historically in America. The first category (free) applies to the early Muslim visitors to the Americas. Most of them were in the employ of the Spanish and Portuguese governments, and accompanied the explorers (Conquistadors) during the early years of the 15th and 16th centuries. One outstanding example is given in the case of a Moor of that period who is known simply as Estevanico. (1.)

Estevanico was a Moor in the service of the Spanish explorer Captain Pamfilo de Narvaez who sailed from Spain to the Americas on June 17, 1527. De Narvaez had received a commission from the Spanish King to assume the position as Governor of Florida. The ship met with disaster enroute, and Estevanico became separated from the main party, but with the assistance of a few members of the crew Estevanico went on to discover the legendary Seven Lost Cities of The Zuni Indians, and he is also credited with the discovery of the territory now known as the State of New Mexico.

Several historians have credited Estevanico with having preached Islam to the native Indians, and rendered medical services to many people during his travels. Estevanico is but one of a myriad of early Muslim travelers who were Free to travel and explore, but the tragedy that follows in the wake of the achievements of these early Muslim heroes is the fact that their deeds have been overshadowed by the history of the governments that employed them.

I have in my hands an article that reports that a Muslim Navigator by the name of Kashkhash sailed across the Atlantic Ocean as early as 889 A.D.  In February of 999 A.D. another Muslim navigator by the name of Ibn Farukh landed in the Grand Canary Islands, and in the year 1324 the brother of Mansa Musa the renowned Mandinka monarch whose name was King Abubakari II successfully navigated to present day Brazil. Because I do not have the proper bibliographical documentation for these exploits I have mentioned these early incidents that predate Estevanico as probable inclusions for future research. I have however written to the author of the article for her data. (2.)

Authors Note: (Since several years have elapsed since this article was first written, I have been unable to contact the author. I have photocopied the article as it was originally published in Mahjubah Magazine and have included it in a collection of articles which will be available on the Nuradeen website in the near future.)

For the sake of establishing a historic time perspective for the reader, it might be wise to note that the Spanish Nasirid Dynasty, whose capital was in Granada, fell to the Christians in 1492 the same year that Christopher Columbus made his historic voyage to the “New World”. This happened a mere thirty-five years prior to the journey of Estevanico.

It is a good idea to remember the mistake that Christopher Columbus made in thinking he had landed in the East Indies, which are in the Pacific Ocean, and mistakenly named the natives he ‘found’ on the shores of the Atlantic in the so-called New World INDIANS, a name that they have carried to this day. (3.)

The year 1501 marks one of the earliest references in American history to Blacks coming from Spain to America. (4.)

Most of them were Moors from Morocco that were part of the remnant communities of the Nasirid and earlier dynasties that had fallen to the Christians prior to 1492. The official date for the arrival of Blacks in America from Africa is commonly accepted as August 1619, although there is much recent research data that would argue the point from a multitude of academic disciplines. This ‘official’ landing took place at Jamestown, Virginia and the status of these original twenty Africans has been the topic of much speculation as to whether they were free, slave, or indentured servants. (5.)

From the year 1619 until the final measures were taken in 1865 to abolish slavery in the United States, we find America feverishly involved in the importation of Africans for the sole purpose of using slaves. History uncovers two hundred and forty six years of the forced migration of Africans to the shores of North and South America, and as we shall soon discover the introduction of Muslims into the fabric of America. This forced migration has come to be called in African American History as: The African Diaspora. All of these Africans were not Muslims, but modern research has proven that a great many of them were. (6.)

During the three centuries following the exploration and conquest of the Americas we see the forced migration of an estimated 50 to 100 million Africans. Estimates vary but the fact remains that the figures are very high whether you accept the highest or the lowest. Several African Scholars have opted for the high end because of the present day statistics that show large land areas in West Africa whose male populations had been decimated by the ravages of slavery to an extent that to this day (2002) many former Countries, States, Towns and Villages simply collapsed because of the lack of manpower. These statistics also support current Economic theories that suggest the possible reasons for most, if not all of the West African nations being classified as “Under-Developed”. Interesting, is it not?

It is a sad blemish on the record of Muslim leadership during those times to have allowed such crimes against humanity to have occurred, particularly to their “Own Brethren”.

There are many scholars and educators throughout the world that harbor much resentment toward the Africans both Muslim and non-Muslim who participated in this trade. But particular resentment has been directed to the Arabs for their role and their acquiescence during the time in question.

Many ethnic groups have claimed reparations in the last few years for injustices done to them, and I suggest that the Muslim world take a close look at their hands (historically) to see if they might be stained with the blood of their brothers and sisters in faith.

We all need to seriously reflect upon this fact and act accordingly. American Indians in some states (instances) have successfully sued the United States Government and received financial remuneration for past injustices. The Japanese community in the United States has also been successful in gaining financial reparations from the government as a result of their internment during the early years of World War II.

Instead of being brought before an international tribunal to be further humiliated I would advise those of you who have a knowledge of these matters to persuade your governments to set an example and volunteer to make amends somehow (even as an apology) to the African community in the Americas and in any other areas that have been the recipients of African slave cargo.

Recently the Southern Christian Coalition, a traditionally White dominated religious group has openly asked for forgiveness for the centuries of racial segregation and racial strife they supported during the days of slavery in the United States – which included their open and rigorous support for the former institution of slavery.

It is of interest to note some of the many West African tribes that were uprooted during the heyday of slavery. I will cite a few and hopefully you will grasp the underlying immensity of this cultural epic-tragedy. Puhle, sometimes spelled Pullo have a special place in this paper primarily because they constituted one of the largest Muslim tribes south of the Sahara at that time. They inhabited a territory that ran from the Atlantic Ocean in the West from the Senegal River and Futa Toro, to the Red Sea and the farthest reaches of the African Continent to the East.  The Greater Sudan as it was known then. This tribe consists of five or six basic groups who are linked by a common language (Pule) but have marked physical differences such as skin color. Some are very dark, ranging from what I would call an eggplant purple to a very light beige, to variations of deep brown.

Unfortunately these people for some unknown reasons have been called by the Arabs Fulan or Fulani, an Arabic word that translates roughly as “them”, or “those people over there”. It is usually used when the proper name is not known, or intentionally disregarded. Reminiscent in some ways to the Columbus incident with the Indians.

The Mandingo, Woloff, Serer, Serakole, Twi, Fang, Ashanti, Kru, Yoruba, Ibo, Dahomey, and Congo peoples –the Bambara, Baule, Dogon, Malinke, Benin, Susu, Mossi, and many others too numerous to list in this paper were all part of the Great African Diaspora. They came from many different parts of the African continent, but for the most part the vast majority came from the countries in the West of Africa.

Let us return to Puhle for a moment. The Puhle, because of their affinity for the nomadic style of life are found living in most African countries but seem to proliferate in the area, which we have described as the greater Sudan. Recent studies done by the late Puhle scholar, anthropologist and historian Dr. Sheikh Anta Djiop of Senegal has traced the Puhle linguistically to the hieroglyphic culture of the Nile Basin and to pre-dynastic Egypt. Thereby creating a link with the so-called Nilotic peoples such as the Somali, Sudani, and the Habashiyah (Abyssinian).

The point of my digression is to suggest to the learned audience that by an investigation of the historical background of one African tribe we would hopefully uncover a multitude of possibilities in terms of historical and cultural linkage –and also serve to dispel a few long standing myths concerning African people. One such myth claims that the Africans who were captured and brought to the “New world” had no history prior to their enslavement, thereby creating a Negro bereft of history, culture and tradition. Having classified the transplanted African as a non-entity who began his sojourn on the world stage as a creature spawned from the womb of colonialism, his new parents. Remarkably, this myth still persists today.

Suffice it to say that aside from the Puhle nation, who in my haste I avoided to mention were 90% Muslim, we also have to take into consideration many of the other tribes that I have mentioned, all of which suffered great losses during the rape of Africa, and that many of them had sizeable Muslim populations.

Many ‘Slave Narratives’ have survived the ravages of time, and the perceptive researcher can detect a common theme that rings clear in all of them: 1. Homesickness, and 2. Liberation.  A few of these Africans won their freedom and returned to their homeland to recount their stories. But most remained to contribute their blood and their skills to a burgeoning America. Each new day lengthening the distance between the past and the present.

The accumulated images and memories of their ancient past was pushed deeper and deeper into the safe womblike realms of the subconscious mind, to come bubbling back to the surface again when time and circumstance prevailed. One particular African-American scholar of note has labeled this cache of data “The Muslim Memory”. (7.)

The Fulani (Puhle) are a people that are proud to proclaim that they are descended from the family of the prophet Muhammad. And I am sure many of you would find that a most unreasonable assertion.  However, after looking at the historical records of 7th century North Africa we find that a strong possibility exists.

Idris, the great grandson of Imam Hassan, who was the grandson of the prophet Muhammad by his daughter Fatimah and Imam Ali (Amir al Mumineen) - was forced

into exile from the city of Madina, Arabia and migrated to the Maghreb (Morocco) and eventually established the first Shiah Dynasty in Africa (The Idrisid).

Once we examine the wives of Idris we find little doubt in the Fulani’s claim of kinship through the prophet Muhammad’s great grandson.

I mention this point for two reasons, the first being the fact that Muslims enslaved Muslims (Arab Traders), and my second point is that neither tribe nor lineage exempted anyone from the slavers chains. (8.)

It is interesting to note that many of the Ethiopian and Somali tribes trace their origins to the historic meeting of Suleiman (King Solomon) and (Balquis) The Queen of Sheba, which is also mentioned in detail in our beloved Qur`an.

My point is that nothing interfered with the choice of captives that would be sold as slaves; all Africans were fair game and viewed as saleable commodities.  I have chosen the Pule (Fulani) as examples because they substantiate my assertion that many of the Africans brought to the new World were Muslims, and to validate the statement of the late El Hajj malik al Shabazz, when he said: “We are not converts to Islam, we are Reverts”. And to finally re-emphasize the fact that Africans did have extensive histories and noble cultures prior to their capture and enslavement in the Americas.

At this time I would like to direct your attention to the second category of African Muslim mentioned in the title: SLAVE.