A few days ago, a fundamentalist Christian I knew from long ago was having a Facebook conversation with some of his friends about Islam in American history. His friend (another Christian) was citing history on the existence of Muslims who helped build America from it’s earliest beginnings. To my amazement, my friend denied the existence of Muslims until the mid-1900’s. As with many fundamentalist Christians that I know, the conversation then quickly digressed off topic to debating (self affirming) to each other as to how you must be saved, Muslims are the enemy and they all are going to hell.
My “friend” (now former) must not have realized that I was reading the thread. Their “Spirit filled, speaking in tongues and baptized in fire” Pentecostal sect believes that I am guided by the dark forces and deceived by Satan because I converted to Islam. So, when I imparted my knowledge affirming his friend’s assertions, I was soon after removed from his friends list!
Ordinarily, I’d think that a person who denies the existence of Muslims in early America is poorly educated on American history or at least has not put much thought on the topic. The problem for me by thinking that in this case is that this friend of mine is a scientist working on things like the cure for AIDS and is in his late 60’s. Not only has he had enough time on this earth and debated the topic enough to know better, but he is a well read and educated individual in his area of study. One would think that someone like him should know how to research topics that concern him enough to vehemently oppose such a notion.
It is typical of many political minded evangelical “Christian conservatives,” to believe that America is a “Christian” country and therefore no one else has played a role in it’s creation, existence or advancement. Despite the early colonies being founded by people fleeing religious persecution by other Christians in Europe, they still assert that America is a “Christian country” founded on “Christian values”. The ideology leads people to insinuate that no other religion played an integral part (Jews, Muslims, Hindu’s, Buddhists, Native Indian religions) or at least if they did, contrary to the Declaration of Independence, they are not equal and deserving of acknowledgement.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” ~Declaration of Independence
Of course, according to the history of the African and indigenous Indian in America, we know that American Christians in those days did not view everyone as equal.
“Most colonists were intolerant and fearful of American Indians whom they perceived to be a single, standard, homogeneous, and heathen Indian nation – and as such, a threat to white progress, humanity, and most importantly – Christianity.” ~Humbolt State University
To find Islam in America, one does not have to look far beyond the question of, “Where did America get it’s slaves?” Everyone can agree it’s Africa that provided the supply of slaves to the Americas. What is one of the main religions on the continent of Africa? Just because Christian slavers captured, bought or kidnapped (in the case of freemen) Muslim black people and sold them to other Christians in the west, does not mean they were not Muslims, nor does it mean that they did not retain their identity as Muslims in many cases. It also does not negate their contributions to the founding and building of America. In fact, when bringing religion into the discussion, I’d even argue that to negate these facts (while claiming credit for Christendom) is to be complicit with colonial slave owners. It was a predominantly Christian slave owning society that denied, and took credit for, the contributions of Muslim (and other non-Christian) slaves on the basis of their African heritage.
A similar dubious argument is often made by Americans when they teach in schools that Christopher Columbus discovered America. The fact is, it wasn’t a European at all who “discovered” America. Who do we think the ancestors of the Navajo, Apache, Cherokee, Souix natives where (to name a few)? How much earlier did they land on the continent than Christopher Columbus or any European for that matter? How did Europeans (and later Americans) end up with “possession of the land”?
The American Indian paid perhaps the greatest contribution (forcibly) to the creation of America, not to mention the Aztecs, Mayan and other tribes in South and Central America.
It is a common theme of us “European” westerners to re-write history to our liking in an effort to feel a sense of pride or nationalism but lets give some credit here. Before we knew what a “Native American Indian” was, they were already here! And, from the moment we began bringing African Muslim slaves to the Americas (North, Central and South), Islam began it’s legacy among the colonial countries that now exist.
Did Muslims contribute significantly to the early colonies, the American revolution, creation of America and even the rebuilding of the nation after the revolutionary and civil wars? Absolutely. One cannot in good conscience deny the blood, sweat and tears of the African people brought here, many of whom were Muslims, on the basis that they were slaves.
In closing, I find it curious that it took a national tragedy for Americans to wake up and realize there were Muslims living in their country. We have been here since the beginning. We may not have looked like “those people” who came over upon the advent of the discovery of oil in the middle east. Our facial representations may evolve as a community, but Islam has always been woven into the fabric of society.
We are part of America’s heritage.