Many historians have attempted to discover the earliest American contact with Muslims or Arabs. A Chinese document known as the Sung Document records the voyage of a Muslim sailor to Mu-Lan-Pi (America) in 1178. A Muslim king of the Malian Empire spearheaded a series of sea voyages to the new world in 1310. Two wealthy ship outfitters of Muslim origin who were related to the Moroccan Sultan Abu Zayan Muhammad III (The Marinid dynasty) financed and commanded the PINTA and the NINA. Martin Alonso Pinzon was the captain of the PINTA and his brother Vincente Yanez Pinzon was the captain of NINA. Both Vessels joined the flagship, SANTA MARIA during Columbus’ first transatlantic voyage in 1492. A well documented contact between America and Islam took place when colony settlers brought slaves from Africa, and with them came Islam.
It is undisputed that a minimum of 7 to 10 percent of the 10 millions slaves dragged to the new world were Muslims. Starting in the early sixteenth century, African slaves were brought to America. The majority were uprooted from their homes on the western shores of Africa. Futa Toro, Futa Jallon, Bundu, Timbo and other regions (what is now Senegal, Gambia and Guinea) forcefully supplied the men and women of the slave trade, many of whom were Muslims. Very few maintained their religion, due to the simple fact that to practice a religion is to be able to freely express your thoughts and devotion. Slaves had no such luxury.
Among the few who were able to maintain their Islamic heritage was Job Ben Solomon, or as he was known in Bundu: Hiyoub boon Sallumen boon Hibrahemm (Ayyoub Ibn Sulayman Ibn Ibrahim – Job the son of Solomon the son of Abraham.)
According to Allan D. Austin, “African Muslims in Antebellum America“, Job’s life was energetic, daring, clever, and, like most real people, less than perfect. He was the son of an Imam from the Fulbe clan in the Bundu region. Before he turned thirty years of age, he was already married with three children: Abdullah, Ibrahim and Samba from his first wife, and a daughter from his second wife. When his father sent him with two captured enemy tribesmen to sell to an English captain and use the money to buy papers and other items, he warned him not to cross the river into enemy Mandingo territory. Job obeyed his father but argued with the English captain over the price of the two men. Unable to strike a deal with the Englishman, he was determined to trade his captives somehow. He crossed the river and traded the men for some cows. While he was resting with his translator, seven or eight Mandingo men captured them. Their heads were shaved so they would appear to be prisoners of war, and they were sold to the same captain Job had been haggling with earlier. The captain recognized Job and allowed him to send home for ransom money to pay for his freedom. But the ransom came too late. Job, his translator and a ship full of slaves were already on their way across the Atlantic to Annapolis, Maryland. There, he was sold to a Mr. Tolsey, to work preparing tobacco in Kent Island, Maryland. Job was devastated by this ordeal, to say the least, so he turned to his faith. He did a lot of praying, which provoked a lot of ridicule. Once, a white boy threw mud on him while was prostrating in the same manner Muslims everywhere prostrate during prayer. “I need to find a master who will allow me to pray,” he decided, and ran away. He reached as far as south Pennsylvania, where he was picked up by the sheriff for not having a proper pass or a reason for being there.
In prison, no one could speak his language nor did he know English. He was encouraged, however, to write if he could. He picked up the pen and chose to write two words. In the Arabic alphabet he wrote and pronounced “Allah” and “Muhammad.”
Copy of Bluett’s Book at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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Other stories of early Muslims can be found here