Muslims arrived in America 400 years ago as part of the slave trade and today are vastly diverse

file-20190409-2931-vj92z7Most Americans say they don’t know a Muslim and that much of what they understand about Islam is from the media.

It’s not surprising then to see the many misunderstandings that exist about Muslims. Some see them as outsiders and a threat to the American way of life and values. President Donald Trump’s controversial policy to impose a ban on Muslims from seven countries entering into the United States played into such fears.

What many don’t know, however, is that Muslims have been in America well before America became a nation. In fact, some of the earliest arrivals to this land were Muslim immigrants – forcibly transported as slaves in the transatlantic trade, whose 400th anniversary is being observed this year.

The first American Muslims

Scholars estimate that as many as 30% of the African slaves brought to the U.S., from West and Central African countries like Gambia and Cameroon, were Muslim. Among the difficulties they faced, were also those related to their faith.

As a scholar of Muslim communities in the West, I know African slaves were forced to abandon their Islamic faith and practices by their owners, both to separate them from their culture and religious roots and also to “civilize” them to Christianity.

Historian Sylviane Diouf explains how despite such efforts, many slaves retained aspects of their customs and traditions, and found new, creative ways to express them. Slave devotionals sung in the fields, for example, kept the tunes and memory of a bygone life alive well after the trauma of dislocation.

Diouf argues that blues music, one of the quintessential forms of American culture, can trace its origins to Muslim influences from the slave era. She also demonstrates how the famous blues song, “Levee Call Holler,” has a style and melody that comes from the Muslim call to prayer, the “adhan.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CONVERSATION 

Group highlights civil rights abuses against Muslims

An elementary school student who received threatening notes in her classroom. A congressional candidate who dealt with anti-Islam political flyers during her campaign. And a mother who was subjected to an invasive airport search.

Those and many other cases from 2018 are highlighted in a new report released Wednesday by the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the state’s largest Islamic advocacy organization.

The goal of the report is to educate the public about the abuses local Muslims are facing while also encouraging people to step forward if they’re dealing with similar issues, said Barbara Dougan, the group’s civil rights director.

“The perpetrators and haters are emboldened,” she said. “The level of aggression toward women is especially troubling. Muslim women who wear hijabs are shouldering the greatest burden of the physical violence and harassment.”

Among the prominent cases highlighted was one involving a fifth-grader at Hemenway Elementary School in Framingham who received two notes in her classroom storage bin — one calling her a terrorist and the other threatening her with death. The incident prompted an outpouring of support from across the country as some 500 people sent letters of encouragement to the young student as part of a campaign promoted by the council.

FULL ARTICLE FROM FOX NEWS

How To Fight Islamophobia In America, No Matter Your Faith

MuslimGrafittiThe U.S. is no stranger to discrimination against Muslims. Here’s how you can fight back.

“Hello, brother.” Those were the words that a Muslim man said to a gunman before he was shot to death at the Al Noor mosque in New Zealand on Friday.

The gunman, an avowed white supremacist, went on to kill at least 49 others in a horrific attack on two mosques in the city of Christchurch during Friday prayers, a weekly tradition for those who practice Islam.

While the attack on Muslims may have been an unprecedented show of hate for New Zealand, the gunman’s Islamophobia is hauntingly familiar in the U.S. 

In December, a woman in Dallas attacked a Muslim woman and told her to “go back to [her] country.” A month later, four people in upstate New York were charged with plotting to attack a Muslim community with explosives. Last April, three white militiamen in Kansas were charged with planning to bomb a Somali community’s apartment building

That’s why now is as important as ever for people of all faiths to speak out against hate and violence against Muslims, according to Catherine Osborne. Osborne is a Christian and the campaign director for Shoulder to Shoulder, an interfaith coalition against Islamophobia in the U.S.

“Silence is action, in and of itself,” Osborne said of the response to Friday’s massacre in New Zealand. “Choosing not to speak out is an action that somebody is choosing to take.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST 

9th Circuit revives Muslims’ lawsuit charging FBI with spying at mosques

la-1551386386-xctei62fw0-snap-imageA federal appeals court decided unanimously Thursday to revive much of a proposed class-action lawsuit brought by Southern California Muslims against the FBI that claims they were subjected to surveillance because of their religion.

The decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will return the case to a district court for further review.

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Southern California, alleges that for at least 14 months in 2006 and 2007, the FBI paid a confidential informant to spy on Muslims in Southern California’s mosques and elsewhere.

A federal judge dismissed the bulk of the lawsuit in 2012 after the government argued it could not defend itself without disclosing state secrets.

In a 103-page decision, the 9th Circuit said the district court should not have dismissed claims without more careful review and consideration of ways to continue the case without jeopardizing national security.

In other cases, that has included redacted documents, prepared summaries of the evidence and limited disclosure to lawyers.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Arkansas High School Students Use Art to Learn Islamic Faith

191102170_WC-FHS-ISLAM-003_ORIG_t800BY DAVE PEROZEK, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — A high school art project helped students gain a new perspective by connecting them with people of the Islamic faith.

 

Fayetteville High School students in Ashley Grisso’s advanced placement world history classes worked in groups of two or three. They interviewed Muslims in the community, then told their stories through art.

The students’ work was on display recently at the University of Arkansas‘ Kittrell Art Gallery. Each piece of the “Putting a Face on Islam” exhibit was accompanied by a one-page artist statement about the work. Students and their subjects gathered one evening for a reception at the gallery.

 

“It’s really great to be able to understand a person from a different culture, because you might see stuff on the news and read about stuff, but there’s like, a person right there,” Peter Herman, a Fayetteville High School junior, said to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Herman worked with classmates Robert Benafield and Grady Cape. They interviewed a man identified in the statement as only Amel. He was born and raised in the Comoro Islands, off the east coast of Africa. Amel is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the university.

 

The boys’ piece of art is a collage on paper, divided in halves. The left half, with a purple background, depicts some of the negativity Muslims feel from America. A quote from Amel — “I was so scared to show my religion to America” — is at the center of that half.

The other half, with a white background, was meant to showcase Amel’s jolly personality. It includes a picture of him with a broad smile standing on the university campus.

The high school students met their subjects during an event arranged by Cynthia Smith, assistant director of outreach programs in the university’s department of International Students and Scholars.

Enslaved African Muslims Helped Build America

8cd605f0-814b-4ca7-92ba-d6f9fd9b5856_cx0_cy19_cw0_w1023_r1_sIn the year 1807, a wealthy scholar was captured in West Africa, brought to the United States and sold into slavery. His name was Omar Ibn Said. He was 37 years old at the time, and he spent the rest of his life enslaved.

Said was one of many enslaved Muslims in early U.S. history. Up to 40 percent of Africans captured and brought to the U.S. were from mostly Muslim countries in West Africa.

Said’s story might have been forgotten, but he wrote about it in a book called The Life of Omar Ibn Said. The U.S. Library of Congress recently received the book, which was written in Arabic.

The book is one of only a few personal stories written by a slave in America. It is also one of the first intimate reports of the early history of Muslims in the United States.

The book challenges the idea that the U.S. is a Christian nation, says Zaheer Ali. He is a historian at the Brooklyn Historical Society in New York. Ali adds: the book “opens us up to the understanding” that people who were not Christian helped build the United States.

What records did enslaved Muslims leave?

Most enslaved African Muslims did not leave written records. But we can learn about their lives from public evidence and the memories of their families.

How long Muslim slaves practiced their faith is unknown. Some became Christians. Others acted as if they did to better deal with their captors.

But there is evidence that some remained Muslim.

FULL ARTICLE FROM VOA 

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE ALLEGED PLOT TO BOMB THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY OF ISLAMBERG

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A high school student at Odyssey Academy in Greece, New York, just eight miles from Rochester, overheard a troubling conversation in the school’s cafeteria last Friday. Another student was showing a photo to his peers and said something to the effect of “He looks like the next school shooter, doesn’t he?”

The student told school administrators, who passed the tip along to the Greece Police Department.

The tip rapidly expanded into a full-blown investigation that involved the FBI, state police, and local law enforcement from other towns. The next day, after executing search warrants, police arrested the student who’d shown the photo, along with three men between the ages of 18 and 20. They’d stockpiled weapons and explosives, allegedly as part of a plan to bomb Islamberg, a small Muslim community near New York City.

“If they had carried out this plot, which every indication is that they were going to, people would have died,” Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan told reporters Tuesday. “I don’t know how many and who, but people would have died.”

Phelan also told VICE News that the U.S. Attorney’s office is looking into whether the government should pursue federal charges against the suspects but added that the investigation is still in its early stages.

FULL ARTICLE FROM VICE