Donald Trump’s call for the banning of Muslims from entering the United States demonstrates a certain hint of historical irony given the manner in which the earliest Muslims arrived in the United States in the first place. Many of the Africans that came to the United States were Muslims that were brought to America against their will. They would have loved for America to issue “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Two of the most notable of these African Muslims were Omar ibn Said and Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori. Omar ibn Said was an Islamic scholar from Futa Toro, which is now present day Senegal. He was captured and brought to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was enslaved by an abusive slave master. Omar ibn Said ran away and eventually ended up under the ownership of a much less abusive master. Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori was a prince who was captured during a battle and sold into slavery. He was taken to Dominica where he was bought and sold to a slave owner in Mississippi. Abdul Rahman’s case is interesting in that he was eventually able to make his way back to Africa. His story was told in a book titled Prince Among Slaves and a movie by the same name. Muslims were brought to other parts of the Americas as well. In the history of slavery in Brazil, the revolt of 1835 stands out as being one of the most notable in the nation’s history. This revolt was led by African Muslims that were fighting for their freedom.
Trump’s comments are part of a larger anti-Islamic narrative that we have seen emerging in political discourse. Both Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have argued for accepting refugees from Syria only if they are Christians. Ben Carson has expressed his own discomfort with the idea of a Muslim president. When Herman Cain was running for the presidency in 2011, he claimed that he would refuse to appoint a Muslim to his cabinet. All of these statements suggest that Muslims have no place in the American society or American politics, when in fact the religion of Islam was in America from the very founding of the country. As President Obama has said in the past, “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.” If Muslims have no place in American society, the American slave masters were not aware of this. They certainly expressed no qualms about robbing African Muslims from their homelands.
The story of these African Muslims is largely neglected. Most Americans are certainly familiar of the stories of European and other immigrants coming to America in search of a better life, but the story of the Africans that were brought to the United States is not well-known. Most people can tell you that Africans were brought to America to labor as slaves, but many people know little of the lives of those Africans before they were slaves. Knowing this information would change the conversation on Islam and its place in American history. For example, as ironic as Trump’s comments on Muslims are given the history behind how Muslims first came to America, consider an even greater irony that Ben Carson may very well be a descendent of some of the first set of Muslims to come to America.
-Dwayne Wong (Omowale)