By: Mohammad Hassam Kang
We are privileged to be part of a group in America that appreciates that its part of a racially diverse group of Muslims, but nearly a quarter of native American born Muslims are African Americans. The history of Islam in America is often misconstrued, as it dates back even to times of slavery, where known records suggest that some of the Africans brought here in the period of slavery and brutalized were in fact some of our Muslim brothers. They were forced to convert at the hands of their masters in puritanical American society.
The fear of Islam was seen of course in the Enlightenment to be a threat to Christianity and Republicanism. However, in the meetings of Philadelphia there was considerable dispute of whether or not to include the freedom of religion clause. Some contested Islam was not to be tolerated and argued, fearing an Ottoman insurgency, that a Muslim might obtain presidency. However, it was the Deist philosophy and the non-denominational meetings inspired by Ben Franklin that set the tone for freedom of religion, as he said, "even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service."
The openness of religion was maintained in the coming years by the political elite. John Adams, the second President of the United States wrote in his "Thoughts on Government," that the Prophet (PBUH) was a "sober inquirer of truth," listing him among other notable thinkers such as Confucius, Zoroaster, and Socrates. George Washington also wrote regarding hiring "Mahometans," as well as people of any nation or religion, to work for him, citing that he did not discriminate based on race or religion. In 1797, President John Adams signed a treaty granting special legal status to a community of Moroccans in South Carolina and declared that the United States had no, "character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen.” This differs greatly from the fear of Islam in the present age where two states (Louisiana and Tennesee) have banned sharia law, and dozens of other states are working on it. Furthermore, Thomas Jefferson famously had iftar with an Ambassador from Tunisia and wrote elsewhere about his acceptance of Muslim people.
Most notably the sixth President John Quincy Adams famously released Abdul-Rahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, a Muslim Prince from West Africa, after the Sultan of Morocco ordered Secretary of State, Henry Clay, to release him from slavery after spending 40 years as a slave. He was the leader of one of his father’s army divisions in Fula and studied in Mali. Ibrahim was famously known as the Prince among slaves. Sadly the history of Muslims on this continent also began with slavery.
However, even earlier accounts of Islam that detail the precedents for Islam were seen as explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca brought along his indentured serveant Mustafa Zemmouri (known in the west as Estavanico of Azamor), to a Spanish expedition to North America. On this expedition, they explored the regions of Arizona and New Mexico. He was a slave, but spent most of his life as an Arabized African Moor, raised in the Islamic tradition and became the first known African to set foot on Continental North America. It was after an ill-fated expedition to Cuba which led them to seek refuge along the coast of Florida, when they were actually attempting to sail to Mexico, that they found themselves shipwrecked. These events took place as early as the early 1500s. After many of their crewmembers starved, drowned, or died by contracting illnesses, the only ones to survive were Álvar, Mustafa and a few other men. They eventually traveled across the present day U.S territory back to their countrymen in Mexico, encountering many Native tribes along the way.
Lesser known are lives of the Muslim slaves brought here and forced into slavery, and others even forced to convert to Christianity. This is a minor detail in the great life of Omar ibn Sayd, also known as Prince Omeroh, who was an Islamic scholar born in West Senegal to a wealthy family of nobility. He spent over twenty five years of his life studying with Islamic scholars in theology and arithmetic. He was brought across the Atlantic during a military conflict in 1807 and was brought to Charleston, South Carolina and forced into slavery where he would eventually escape his cruel master. However, he was recaptured on his travels in Fayetteville, North Carolina and sold to James Owen. Although he was forced to convert to Christianity, Sayd's own autobiographical accounts that were later found suggest he maintained his practice of Islam, and begins his autobiographical essays with Surat al-Mulk. Another Muslim slave from Senegal is Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, who also published memoirs and was a learned scholar. Yet another account is of Bilali Muhammad who was brought to Sapelo Island, now part of Georgia, from his home in Timbo Futa-Jallon in present day Guinea-Conakry. He became the Imam for 80 other Muslim men on his plantation and led daily prayers. During the war of 1812 him and his 80 Muslim brothers protected their master’s home from British attack. He is the author of the Bilali document, which is an Arabic Risala detailing basic laws of Islamic etiquette, which is kept at the University of Georgia.
Of course this isn't the first instance of Muslim slaves helping to fight in American wars, as many Muslim slaves were listed among the ranks of those who fought and died in the Civil War. Muhammad Ali ibn Said who was a teacher from Detroit who came to the U.S in 1860 enlisted in the 55th Massachusetts Colored Regiment in the United States Army and rose to the rank of sergeant. Max Hassan, an African who worked for the military as a porter is another example of an early Muslim American soldier. Hajj Ali was employed by the United states cavalry in 1856 to raise camels in Arizona and New Mexico. He later became prospector and serves as another example of Muslims being in America since the very development of the modern Union.The soldiers at the University of Alabama, which was burned down in the Civil War by General Croxton who maintained a scorched earth policy, saved but one momento from its historic collection. When a sympathetic officer pleaded not to have it burned down, a rare copy of the Quran that was found among the debris was saved. Since the import of at least as many as 500,000 slaves from Africa, 15 to 30 percent of male African slaves and less than 15 percent of women, were Muslims. The places in Africa where slaves were abducted generally maintained at least a minority population of Muslims, which would guarantee that more than half of the slaves that reached North America were influenced by Islamic teachings in some way.
Notably, historians have said that these slaves stood out from their fellow enslaved men in terms of "resistance, determination and education." Tens of thousands of African slaves are estimated to have been practicing Muslims upon reaching America. Some spoke arabic and wrote various risalas and manuscripts. Behind the veil of oppression, the quiet struggle of many enslaved Muslims will never be known and will forever be relegated to footnote status in the history books, but it is our duty to preserve the history of our people.
Photo Credit: Google Image Search
By: Mohammad Hassam Kang
Newt Gingrich's surprise victory in the South Carolina primary on Saturday brought forth the non-establishment candidate who apparently has worked with the establishment for several decades, including lobbying for rich corporations like Fannie and Freddie Mac. The anti-Mitt candidate needed to follow some political requirements of social conservatism, which seemed to be the only uphill battle left for the nominee.
So what was it really that propelled the former speaker into a position to challenge front runner Mitt Romney? Many are calling it cultural populism, or the hardline rhetoric that philosophically tries to seperate itself from most
liberal ideology, by employing familiar hallmarks of American life that are supposedly under attack.
Attack by who? Without strong defense it can come under attack by liberals inspired by the European view of governance through socialism and the egalitarian modes of Islam, which challenge the values this country was based on, which is what social conservatives have believed for years.
However, many of the principles purported by this ideology, including service to one’s country, are in conflict with many of the candidates’ political past, like the fact that while in college, Newt Gingrich dodged the Vietnam draft through issuing deferments, contrary to his belief in American exceptionalism. The idea itself has given the conservative ideology its political crutch in the past decade, and has now become a litmus test for conservatives, who often label themselves the true defenders of American freedom.
As the regular working class White republicans poured into his rallies, complete with camouflage fatigues, it was found that Newt gained an audience of nearly every primary voter below the income margin of 200,000. His folksy propaganda, like a fundraiser with cute dogs, or bringing boy scouts on stage to say they were "training to fight the Japanese" turns out to work in the political hotspots. It was moves like holding his rally at a military museum in Charleston aboard the USS Yorktown that proves why he has been a mainstay of American politics, as in the fact that he constrantly equates himself with the quality of life we have all grown to expect as Americans.
In his acceptance speech for the South Carolina primaries where he has recently won enough delegates to stop Mitt Romney from an early win, Newt centered in on the distinctions between him and Obama. He was quoted as saying that American exceptional-ism is going toe to toe with the radicalism of Saul Alinsky. Many in the audience must've scratched their heads at the mention of a stranger. Saul Alinsky was effectively Obama's employee, when he worked in the south side of Chicago in impoverished communities in his capacity as a community organizer.
This is because the speaker believes in President Obama's guilt by association liberal agenda, and is alluding to the fact that anybody who works with self proclaimed radicals or socialists, or even people connected to ideology foreign to that of the mainstream, has themselves become radicalized, which would categorize even many of us reading
this as social radicals. It is the same thought process that tries to blame Islamic teachings for the workings of terrorists.
In another speech Gingrich proclaimed, "growing anti-religious bigotry of our elites," has led us astray. He links the percieved liberalism of Barack Obama with the anti-religious hatred, where perhaps the opposite has taken place around the nation, where a few states have now banned Shariah law, and many other purport that Barack Obama was not born a U.S citizen and is actually a Muslim in disguise.
"Obama is taking care of his extremist left wing environmentalist friends in San Francisco," Gingrich says, although there is no viable connection between San Fransisco law and Barack Obama, other than a percieved connection of liberal ideology. He seems to be fighting between what he assumes to be cultural depravity through employing a series of political stereotypes, and rather than making a point, issues another attack.
Many people found it downright laughable that former potential candidate Herman Cain was ousted from the race, based on the media focusing in on his relationships with multiple women, and some allegedly that occurred while he was married, while Newt's serial relationships with women and extramarital affairs are well known. But again he rather attack the questioner than answer the question as seen in the CNN debate in South Carolina, where TV journalist, John King, questioned Newt on claims that he requested an "open relationship" with one of his former lovers.
Winning 42 percent of Evangelical Christians, his vote was largely composed of older voters. Forty-seven percent of his vote was casted by those 65 and older, which is why some like Ben Adler of The Nation magazine argue his culture wars are directed at an older audience, and in an ideology that pledges to preserve the hisorical America versus a progressive one.
In a report by Think Progress, journalist Maria Diamond tells of over 40 Catholic leaders that have called for potential Republican presidential nominees Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop using divisive rhetoric about race and poverty, where on many instances the two candidates have described a correlation between poor people and minorities.
In his speech that embraced his win in the South Carolina primary, Newt also praised Rick Santorum’s declaration of a war against Iran, seconding Santorum's plan to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, which would be considered an act of war against a Muslim country four times the size of Iraq.
So far in the campaign Ron Paul is the only candidate not interested in aggressive foreign military tactics, and he also is the only one to have served overseas for the U.S in Vietnam. And at this point any mention about corruption in the political spectrum including the Congress would seem hypocritical because Gingrich himself was pressured to resign as speaker by his Republican colleagues after ethics violations that were settled through payment of fines, rather than what many people expected would lead to a hearing in court. But increasingly as one begins to examine some of his other opponents, one begins to realize with growing disdain that this type of ideology has become widespread in American politics. Precisely the kind that sends others to die to preserve its dying honor.
Mitt Romney also tries to portray himself with deep love for corporate America and expanding the military. Much in line with their coroporate benefactors, he believes in less environmental regulation, and some believe, like Gingrich, in abolishing the EPA.
Santorum argued that the pursuit of happiness as Jefferson wrote it actually meant, "not what you want to do, but what you ought to do." Similarly reinterpreting foundational American documents, Gingrich said, “We are the first country in history to say that power comes from God to each of you personally, and your rights are inalienable,” and later added, "Happiness in the 18th century meant wisdom and virtue, not acquisition and hedonism.” Since all of their critiques are exactly the same, it’s really no wonder why the generalities that they project have many Republican voters scratching their heads and confused.
As they look for a serious candidate, it seems that the prospective candidates haven't proposed any sound plans for changing policy, other than Ron Paul, and rather seem to be damning each other based on conservative cliches, arguing that each of them is more right wing than the other guy. It's become a "who’s more American" contest rather than a serious debate at this point, as Mitt Romney said in his speech, "He [Obama] wants to turn America into a European-style social-welfare state. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity...This president takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe. We look to the cities and towns across America for our inspiration."
The candidates are judged on the extent of their love for the four C's: Country, Capitalism, Consumerism, and Christianity. Other than that it’s become clear that the Republicans are in a process of attacking their opposition rather than deciding on any key beliefs and practices that are principal to those who stand there and obsess over policy change. Rather, to divert the attention of the American people, they are using such dramatic ploys as emotional appeals to sway the nominee.
Conservatives have thus implied an American superiority far greater than any realm of American exceptionalism, which is the the belief of many that the U.S is a country where general freedoms and civil liberties are upheld. But the belief that we are somehow better than others is an arrogant and unnecessary component of policy decisions.