An Understudied Presence and Legacy
For three hundred and fifty years, Muslim men, women, and children, victims of the general insecurity that the Atlantic slave trade and the politico-religious conflicts in West Africa fostered, were sold in the New World. They were among the very first Africans to be shipped, and among the very last. When they reached the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, after a horrific journey, they introduced a second monotheistic religion (after the arrival of Catholicism and before Protestantism) into post-Columbian America. Islam was also the first revealed religion freely followed—as opposed to imposed Christianity—by the Africans who were transported to the New World.
The American story of these Muslims starts in Africa. It has its roots in the aftermath of the dislocation of the Jolof Empire, the politico-religious wars in Futa Toro, Bundu, Kayor, Futa Jallon, the northwest part of the Gold Coast, northern Dahomey, and central Sudan. The story starts with religious men and women, dedicated to their faith, who were willing to take chances in a time of insecurity to pursue education and knowledge and to find the best possible religious guidance, wherever it was. It starts in peasant resistance to the raids of warlords and corrupt monarchies. It also has its origins in the violent reaction of so-called unbelievers, who had become a reservoir of captives whom the Muslims sold to the Europeans and Americans and who, in turn, got rid of their captors.
Literate, urban, and in some cases well traveled, the Muslims realized incomparable feats in the countries of their enslavement. They came as Muslims and they lived as Muslims. The preservation of their faith and the maintenance of their lifestyle in a hostile Christian environment were in themselves no small accomplishments. Yet many historians and writers have not acknowledged their presence, much less their success at upholding their religion. The most widely held opinion among writers on