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Introduction 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 1 slavery and on Islamic issues in the Americas is that “what Muslim faith they brought with them was quickly absorbed in their new Christian milieu and disappeared.”1 A few scholars in the United States have recently recognized some famous Muslims and published their stories, but these figures have remained individuals, not part or representatives of a wider community, whose presence and achievements remain unknown. That Islam as brought by the African slaves has not survived does not mean that the Muslim faith did not flourish during slavery on a fairly large scale. On the contrary, systematic research throughout the Americas shows that, indeed, the Muslims were not absorbed into the culturalreligious Christian world. They chose to remain Muslims, and even enslaved , they succeeded in following most of the precepts of their religion. With remarkable determination they maintained an intellectual life in mentally sterile surroundings. Through hard work and communality they improved their situation while building a tradition of resistance and revolt. Despite being far outnumbered by Christians, polytheists, and animists , they preserved a distinctive lifestyle built on religious cohesiveness , cultural self-confidence, and discipline. Standing out in the slave community, a few individuals were identified by their owners and by other Christians as men of stature and became the subjects or the authors of testimonies and narratives. The educated and cosmopolitan Africans whose life stories have been preserved put a personal , intimate face on the brutal experience of being uprooted from home, taken away from family, marched to the coast, branded, loaded aboard a slave ship, shackled naked to the floor, thoroughly examined by strangers, and put to infernal work in degrading conditions in an unknown , distressing world. Few Africans have left personal accounts of their life under slavery, but among those who did are a disproportionate number of Muslims. In freedom as in enslavement, Islam was the hope of the Muslims, their strength and their comfort. But for most, Islam and its complex relationship with the Atlantic slave trade were also what had brought them in chains to the West, as chapter 1 of this book illustrates. As Muslims in Christian lands, these involuntary immigrants had to overcome particularly daunting obstacles to maintain and express their faith. Notwithstanding the limits imposed on them by their subordinate status, many succeeded in following, to the letter, the principles of Islam. How they upheld the Five Pillars of Islam in their new world is the subject of chapter 2. 2 | Introduction A double minority—religious and ethnic—in the colonial world...


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