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The Muslim Legacy With a documented presence of five hundred years, Islam was, after Catholicism, the second monotheist religion introduced into post-Columbian America. It preceded Lutheranism, Methodism, Baptism , Calvinism, Santeria, Candomble, and Voodoo to name a few. All these religions are alive today and are followed by the vast majority of the Africans’ descendants, but in the Americas and the Caribbean, not one community currently practices Islam as passed on by preceding African generations. Where orthodox Islam exists in America it has been reintroduced by immigrants from the Middle East, southern Europe, Asia, and, recently, West Africa again. The United States is the only American country with a native Muslim population of African descent, but there is no indication so far that the African American Muslims of today inherited Islam from the Muslims of yesterday. The orthodox Islam brought by the enslaved West Africans has not survived. It has left traces; it has contributed to the culture and history of the continents; but its conscious practice is no more. For Islam to endure, it had to grow both vertically, through transmission to the children, and horizontally, through conversion of the unbelievers. Both propositions met a number of obstacles. Barriers to the Vertical Growth of Islam The transmission of a religion to one’s progeny presupposes, of course, that there is a progeny. Yet the very structure of the slave trade, with the disproportionate importation of men, the physical toll that enslavement took on the Africans, and the selling off of family members, placed tremendous obstacles in the path of the constitution and perpetuation of families. There was, to begin with, a significant imbalance between the number of African males and females shipped from Africa. Among the Africans 6 179 in the eighteenth-century Americas, for example, 72 percent of Senegambians were male and 28 percent female.1 The figures for the central Sudanese are even worse, with about 95 percent men.2 On any given plantation the demographics could be even more slanted, with some planters buying males exclusively when they needed sheer strength and adding a few women over the years for reproductive and domestic purposes. Because of this policy, a large number of African men could not form families . Language barriers and differences in cultures and religions among the Africans added another layer of difficulty in the finding of a mate. Among the native-born population, the sexual distribution was natural, and the sexes tended to be of equal numbers; but there are indications all over the slave world of a tendency to endogamy, with native-born slaves marrying and living among themselves and the Africans who could doing the same. For both African and native-born men and women, the low fertility rate and the high infant and adult mortality rates were another hindrance to the development of families. And at the end of this obstacle course loomed the ever-present possibility of the sale of family members, which could forever destroy the unit and any possible cultural continuity. Therefore, the chances for a Muslim man to find a Muslim spouse, have children, and keep them long enough to pass on the religion were indeed slim. Muslim women fared better in the first and second parts of this process, but the third was out of their control. If the lives of the wellknown Muslims are any indication, about half did not have children. By choice or out of necessity, it appears that Omar ibn Said, Abu Bakr al Siddiq , Yarrow Mahmout, and Job ben Solomon did not have descendants in America. In contrast, Ibrahima abd al Rahman, John Mohamed Bath, Salih Bilali , and Bilali Mohamed did have children. There is no indication that Ibrahima’s children, who had Christian names like their mother’s, were Muslims; but one of Salih Bilali’s sons, named Bilali, apparently was a Muslim and kept alive the female West African tradition of the distribution of rice cakes as an Islamic charity (saraka). He married the daughter of a marabout, but their children, who grew up seeing Muslims around, nevertheless had no understanding of Islam, at least as recorded by the WPA. In general, the grandchildren of Muslims recalled the exterior manifestations of Islam, such as prayers, but do not seem to have had precise ideas about the religion and, as far as can be ascertained by the published interviews, did not mention the religion by its name. It is not 180 | The Muslim Legacy impossible that they knew...


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