Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas

By Sylviane A. Diouf | Go to book overview
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Upholding the Five Pillars of
Islam in a Hostile World

Scattered across every region of the Americas, the Muslims entered a hostile world—a world that enslaved free Muslim men and women; a white Christian world determined to wipe out any trace of “paganism” or “Muhammadanism” in the newly arrived Africans.

It was essential that the new land become Christian as quickly as possible, because evangelization was a large part of the justification for the enslavement of the Africans. Moreover, as stated earlier, the fight against the possible spread of Islam had been an intense preoccupation in the Spanish colonies since the beginning of the sixteenth century. All the conditions were thus present for a rapid disappearance of Islam in America, or even for its nonemergence. A religion that requires as its five fundamental principles not only the profession of faith but prayers five times a day, almsgiving, a month-long fast, and a pilgrimage to Arabia would seem to have had little chance of being followed by tightly controlled slaves. Nevertheless, the information gathered from all over the Americas demonstrates that African Muslims, wherever they lived, did not easily renounce their religion and its practice, if at all. On the contrary, they made tremendous efforts to continue observing its most important principles: the Five Pillars of Islam.

The First Pillar, the profession of faith, or shahada, is expressed by the formula La-ilaha ill'l-Lah Muhammadan rasul-ul-lah—“There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God.” According to Islam, when uttered with sincerity, the shahada makes anyone a Muslim. In America the shahada manifested itself in three ways: affirmation of the Africans' faith in Allah and his prophet, Muhammad; rejection of conversion to Catholicism or Protestantism; and, when necessary, pseudoconversion.

“Allah. Muhammad.” It was with these words that a slave found wandering in Kent County, Pennsylvania, introduced himself to the men who


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Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas


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