History of Islam In the Americas

The History of Islam in the United States is divided into three periods: the pre-Columbian and colonization period, post World War I period, and the last few decades.

Early Muslims

Estevanico of Azamor, a Moorish Muslim, began exploring America in the 16th century. He landed in Florida in 1527, and until 1539, explored Arizona and New Mexico. In 1587, a shipload of Muslim Moriscos landed and settled in the coastal towns of South Carolina, Eastern Tennessee and along the western belt of North Carolina mountains.

In 1790, the South Carolina legislative body granted a special statute to a community of Moroccans, as the Sultan of Morocco had recognized the United States in 1787.

In 1888, Alexander Russell Webb is considered by historians to be the earliest prominent Anglo-American convert to Islam. In 1893, he was the only person representing Islam at the first Parliament for the World’s Religions.


Estimates of the percentages of Muslim slaves as a total of the whole vary from 10-20%.More than 50% of all slaves brought to America came from areas under the influence of Islam. Muslim slaves first arrived in what is now the United States during the 1520’s. These were the Senegambians, who were known to believe in Allah and abstain from beer and pork. Two of the best known early Muslims are West Africa slaves: Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, who was brought to America in 1731.

There exists evidence that Muslim slaves, despite living in a society hostile to slaves, assembled commnal prayers. In some cases Muslim slaves were provided a private praying area bby their owner. Bilali, a notorious Muslim slave, is known to have fasted, wear a fez and kaftan and observe the Muslim feasts in addition to his prayers. Many Muslim slaves conversed in the Arabic language. Some even wrote literature (such as an autobiographies) and chapters from the Quran.

Views of Islam

In 1796, then president John Adams signed a treaty declaring the United States had no “character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen“.

Modern immigration

Small scale migration to the U.S. of Muslims began in 1840, with the arrival of Yemenites and Turks, and lasted until World war I. Most of the immigrants, from Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, came with the purpose of making money and returning to thier homeland. The economic hardships of 19th century America, however, prevented them from prospering. As a result the immigrants permanently settled. These immigrants setteld primarily in dearborn (Michigan), Quincy (Massachussets) and Rose (North Dakota).

In 1919, what is most likely the first mosque, was founded by Albanian Muslims in Maine.[7] Construction of mosques sped up in the 1920s and 1930s, and by 1952, there were over 20 mosques.

Native Americans and Islam

There are numerous accounts of Muslims who were integrated within Native Indian tribes pre Columbus, of Turkic, Moorish and African Muslims leaving colonies to live amongst the Native Indians. There are also historical letters and colonial advertisements describing the threat to the colonies of African Muslim Slaves fleeing and integrating with the Native American Indians. There is also the case of Mahomet Weyonomonof the Mohegan tribe, who arrived in Britain in 1736 CE (1148 AH) century to discuss the land grabs by the British.

in the 12th century Al-Idrisi reported in Nuzhat Al-Mushtaq Fi Ikhtiraq Al-Afaq (Excursion of the Longing One in Crossing Horizons), that a group of eight Muslim sailors from North Africa sailed west of Lisbon. After sailing west for more than 31 days, they landed on what must have been an island in the Caribbean. The intrepid explorers were initially imprisoned by Indians but were later released when a translator appeared who spoke Arabic

  • 1310 CE (709 AH) Sultan Abu Bakari of the Mandinka kingdom of Mali sent two different fleets of ships, totalling 2,400 ships, sailing west from Africa. The fleets never returned to Africa.

There are also numerous reports of ‘black skinned’ Indians. For example in Honduras Columbus reported seeing Black skinned Indians. Giles Cauvet’s ‘Les Berberes de l’Amerique’ reported that a pre-Columbian tribe in Honduras was know as the Almamys a corruption of the Mandinka word for the Arabic Imam.

American Treaties and laws with American Muslims

  • Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship signed in Delaware River in 1786 CE (1200 AH) formalize relations between the United States and Morocco.

Several colonial advertisements made direct reference to the integration of African Americans into the Native American communities. For example ..ran off with his Indian wife… had kin among the Indians .. part Indian and speaks their language good.

In South Carolina, colonists became so concerned about the possible threat posed by the mixed African and Indian population that was arising as runaway Africans escaped to the Indians that they passed a new law in 1725 CE (1137 AH). This law stipulated a fine of 200 pounds on anyone who even brought a slave to the frontier regions of the colony. In 1751 CE (1164 AH) the colony of South Carolina found it necessary to issue another law, warning that having Africans in proximity to Indians was deemed detrimental to the security of the colony.

In 1726 CE (1138 AH) the British governor of colonial New York exacted a promise from the Iroquois Indians to return all runaway slaves who had joined up with them. This same promise was extracted from the Huron Indians in 1764 CE (1177 AH) and from the Delaware Indians in 1765 CE (1178 AH). Despite their promises, no escaped slaves were ever returned by these tribes, who continued to provide a safe and secure home for escaped slaves.

And finally a census was undertaken of the Cherokee in 1835 CE (1250 AH) where fully 10% were of African descent

Turkic and Moorish colonies

The Ottoman Navy from late 14th century was one of the main navel powers , and controlled much of the Mediterranean Sea. There where many skirmishes and battles with the European nations, and as such many Turkish sailors where imprisoned and taken to the new world. Once in the New World, these Muslim captives were assigned to slave labor on sugar plantations and in the mining operations of among other places, Cuba and Brazil.

In 1586 CE (994 AH) English pirate Sir Francis Drake commanded thirty English ships, made a daring raid against the Spanish of the coast of Brazil. During this raid, Drake liberated some 400 prisoners, 300 of them estimated to be Moorish and Turkish galley slaves, as well as some South American Indians. On his return he picked up stranded English on Roanake Island, and unloaded around 200 of the captives, returning with the remaining 100 to be ransomed to the Turkish Dominons. On his return two weeks later, the prisoners were gone as where the small rowing boats that where left behind.

The Spanish established the Santa Elena, South Carolina, colony in 1566 CE (973 AH). The colony thrived for more than twenty years until it was overrun by the English in 1587 CE (995 AH).

Many of the Santa Elena colonists were forcibly converted Muslims and Jews (Conversos). In Spain the Muslims were known as Mudajjan. Captain Joao Pardo recruited heavily from the Berber Galician Mountains of northern Portugal in 1567 CE (974 AH).

When Santa Elena fell, its inhabitants-including its converted Jews and Muslims escaped into the mountains of North Carolina.

In Eastern Tennessee in the late 1700, Jonathan Swits an English men married a Mullungeon women and utilized them in his mining operations and these dark skin individuals were known as Mecca Indians and they described them as being good with Silver crafts and this really comes out of Muslim Spain and Muslims were very good in that. He continues to say that they use to fall down in prayer on the ground a number of times during the day facing East.

in 1784, Tennessee governor John Seevier records an encounter with people in the Western North Carolina with Dark reddish brown complexion and he said that they were supposed to be of Moorish decent.

African American integration

An increasing number of primary sources have come to light, detailing the religious make up of the African Slaves brought over from West Africa to the Americas. West Africa included large Islamic Kingdoms and many of the African tribes where Muslim, such as the Mandinka, Fullo, etc. Estimates place the number of Muslim African slaves at 30%. Therefore any evidence of Africans integrating with the native Americans is likely to include Muslim Africans.

The earliest recorded example of African slaves escaping from European colonists and being absorbed by American Indians occurred as far back as 1526 CE (932 AH). In June of that year, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon established a Spanish colony near the mouth of the Pee Dee River in what is now eastern South Carolina. The Spanish settlement was named San Miquel de Gualdape. Amongst the settlement was 100 enslaved Africans. In November 1526 (Muharram 933), the first African slaves fled the colony and was taken in by the local Indians

In 1622 CE (1031 AH) the European colony of Jamestown was overrun by Native Americans. The African slaves did not share the same fate as the Europeans who were killed , but where instead taken and intergrated into the Native American communities.

Several colonial advertisements made direct reference to the integration of African Americans into the Native American communities. For example ..ran off with his Indian wife… had kin among the Indians .. part Indian and speaks their language good.

In South Carolina, colonists became so concerned about the possible threat posed by the mixed African and Indian population that was arising as runaway Africans escaped to the Indians that they passed a new law in 1725 CE (1137 AH). This law stipulated a fine of 200 pounds on anyone who even brought a slave to the frontier regions of the colony. In 1751 CE (1164 AH) the colony of South Carolina found it necessary to issue another law, warning that having Africans in proximity to Indians was deemed detrimental to the security of the colony.

In 1726 CE (1138 AH) the British governor of colonial New York exacted a promise from the Iroquois Indians to return all runaway slaves who had joined up with them. This same promise was extracted from the Huron Indians in 1764 CE (1177 AH) and from the Delaware Indians in 1765 CE (1178 AH). Despite their promises, no escaped slaves were ever returned by these tribes, who continued to provide a safe and secure home for escaped slaves.

And finally a census was undertaken of the Cherokee in 1835 CE (1250 AH) where fully 10% were of African descent

Linguistic similarities

An additional and particularly intriguing piece of evidence attesting to the pre-Columbian presence of Muslims in America can be found by examining the relationship between certain American Indian words and their corresponding words in Turkish and Croation (Croatia and Bosnia being part of the Ottoman empire at the time). For Example Kentucky is supposedly named after an Indian word (Kain-tuck) that means dark and bloody ground The Turkish word Kan-tok means saturated with or full of blood. Another example is Chicago, named after an Indian word meaning a nasty, smelly, uncultivated land. The Turkish Chee-kahkahl has the same meaning. For more examples of place names

Individually these similarities may not hold much weight but Jerard F. Dirks in his book Muslims in American History suggests that taken as a whole they are evidence of Turkish influence on Native Indian culture and linguistics.

There are many more examples, that also correlate ancient Turkish. Which suggests that the Turkish influence was pre-Columbian.

Cultural dress

Turbaned cherokee

In the old books on Cherokee clothing up until the time of 1832, you will see the men wearing turbans and the women wearing long head coverings.

Muslims First Journey To America

There are numerous historical written accounts of Muslims from Africa and from Spain travelling to lands across the Atlantic Ocean as part of geographical explorations from as early as 889 CE (275 AH). At this period Muslims dominated the sea routes, and were experienced ship builders

Khashkash from Cortobas exploration

A Muslim historian and geographer Abu Hassan Ali ibn Al-Hussain al-Masudi871 CE (257 AH) – 957 CE (345 AH) wrote in his book Muruj adh-dhahab wa maadin aljawhar (The meadows of gold and quarries of jewels) that during the rule of the Muslim caliph of Al-AndalusAbdullah Ibn Mohammad, a Muslim navigator, Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad, from Cortoba, Spain sailed from Delba (Palos) in 889 CE (275 AH), crossed the Atlantic, reached an unknown territory (ard majhoola) and returned with fabulous treasures. In Al-Masudi’s map of the world there is a large area in the ocean of darkness and fog which he referred to as the unknown territory

Sultan of Mali exploration

There are two accounts confirming the sultans exploration to a large land mass found whilst crossing the atlantic.

  • In his book Massaalik al-absaar fi mamaalik al-amsaar(the pathway of sight in the provinces of the kingdoms) the Muslim Historian Chihab Ad-Dine Abu Abbas Ahmad bin Fadhl al Umari (1300 CE (699 AH) – 1384 CE (785 AH)) describes in detail the geographical exploration on the other side of the atlantic by the Sultan of Mali Abu Bakari I
  • Sultan Mansu Musa1312 CE (711 AH) – 1337 CE (737 AH) was the Mandinka monarch of the West African Islamic empire of Mali. While travelling to Makkah on his famous Hajj in 1324 CE (723 AH) , he informed the scholars of the Mamluk Bahri sultan court An-Nasir Nasir Edin Muhammad III1309 CE (708 AH) – 1340 CE (740 AH) in Cairo, that his brother, sultan Abu Bakari I1285 CE (683 AH) – 1312 CE (711 AH) had undertaken two expeditions into the Atlantic Ocean. When the sultan did not return to Timbuktu from the second voyage of 1311 CE (710 AH), Mansa Musa became sultan of the empire.

Christopher Columbus

In 1492 CE (897 AH) Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World. He brought with him a copy of Al-Idrissi’s works that mentioned the discovery of a new continent by eight Muslim explorers. He also brought with him some Muslim crew members. However he did not use idrisis map as it was unavailable in europe at that time.

Muslim Crew Members

Christopher Columbus embarked on four journeys to the new World, between 3rd August1492 (29th Ramadhan 897) and 11th January1502 (21st Jumada al-Thanni 907). This was the period between the fall of the Andalus city of Granada and the final expulsion of Muslims from the peninsula 1492 CE (897 AH) – 21st September1609 (21st Jumada al-Thanni 1018). During this period there where an estimated 500,000 Muslims and Moriscos (Muslims who had been forcibly converted to Christianity under the The Spanish Inquisition). It is not suprising that quite a few found their way to the New World.

Pinzon Brothers

On his first voyage he had two captains of Muslim origin, Martin Alonso Pinzon, the captain of the Pinta, and his brother Vicente Pinzon the captain of the Nina. They where wealthy expert ship outfitters who helped organise Columbu’s expedition and repaired the flaship Santa Maria. The Pinzon family were related to Abuzayan Muhammad III the Moroccan Sultan of the Marinid Dynasty1196 CE (592 AH) – 1465 CE (869 AH). Vicente Pinzon also sailed with Colubus during his historic 1942 voyage to the New World and served as captain of the Nina. In late 1499 CE (904 AH) Vicente sailed a second time to the Americas, landing on the Brazilian coast at Santa Maria de la Consolacion. Sailing northwest from his initial landfall in Brazil, he explored the Amazon River estuary and the Gulf of Paria in northeast Venezuela. Vincente made two additional voyages to the Americas before 1508 CE (913 AH). Franciso Pinzon was the third of the Pinzon brothers to sail with Columbus in 1492 CE (897 AH). Franciso served as the pilot of the Pinta

Pedro Alonso Nino

Pedro Alonso Nino sailed with Columbus in 1492 CE (897 AH). He was of African descent, and helped navigate the Atlantic and map the islands of the Caribbean.

Rodrigo De Triana

Rodrigo de Trana also known as Rodrigo de Lepe after a town in Al Andalus sailed with Columbus on his first voyage. He was recorded as being the first on the ship to sight land. Rodrigo was born a Christian, but on his return to Spain in 1493 CE (898 AH) he converted to Islam, and this was against the backdrop of The Spanish Inquisition and the perscution of Moriscos and Muslims


Estevanico also know as Estevan, Esteban, Estebanico, Black Stephen, Stephen the Moor. He was a muslim of Moroccoan descent and his real name was Mustafa Zemmouri

Cabeza de Vaca described his explorer companion as follows: “Estevanico was a large and powerful man, blessed with a shrewd and quick mind.” Estevanico was an excellent linguist and was able to quickly learn the languanges of the Native Americans. Estevanico undertook the role of scout and mediator in the explorations of the Cabeza de Vaca party.

  • 1490: Estevanico was born at Azamor in Morocco, North Africa
  • 1513: Estevanico was captured and enslaved by the Portuguese
  • 1520: Estevanico was purchased as a personal slave by Andres Dorantes de Carranza, a captain in the Spanish infantry
  • 1527: Andres Dorantes de Carranza heard the stories about the New World and joined the expedition, with his slave Estevanico, to the New World which was lead by Pamfilo de Narvaez
  • June 17, 1527: Pamfilo de Narvaez leaves Spain from Cadiz with 300 men, including Andres Dorantes and his slave, Estevanico. The expedition and Estevanico reach Hispaniola where they stay for over 1 month.From Hispaniola they travel to Santiago, Cuba on to Trinidad
  • 1528 April 12: Pamfilo de Narvaez and Andres Dorantes and his slave, Estevanico arrive in Florida in the vicinity of Tampa Bay. The men disembark and the land is claimed for Spain
  • May 1, 1528: Narvaez announces his plans for the expedition to split between land and sea expeditions. Various disasters befall the expedition which eventually result in the party which includes Andres Dorantes and his slave, Estevanico is whittled down from 80 men to 15 men and finally, to an expedition of just four men who are captured by natives
  • The four remaining explorers, thought to include the first Europeans and black slave in Texas, were:
Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca
Alonzo del Castillo Maldonado
Andres Dorantes de Carranza
  • Estevanico and the other survivors live on the Isle of Misfortune as slaves but after a year escape to the mainland. They spend the next eight years in abject hardship exploring the land of Texas and Mexico, living and trading with the natives. Estevanico is viewed as a medicine man by the Avavares tribe
  • January 1536: Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Estevanico, Alonso del Castillo and Andres Dorantes meet Spanish soldiers of New Spain in what is now the State of Sinaloa in northwest Mexico
  • February 1536: The four explorers arrive at Culiacan, a frontier outpost of New Spain
  • July 1536: Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Estevanico, Alonso del Castillo and Andres Dorantes were welcomed to Mexico City by Hernan Cortes and Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain
  • 1536: Estevanico is given his freedom
  • 1539: Estevanicohe accompanies Fray Marcos of Nice as a guide to the Seven Cities of Cibola in western New Mexico
  • 1539: Leading the expedition as a guide he reached Hawikuh which was the southern-most of the seven cities
  • 1539: Estevanico is killed by the natives in Hawikuh, New Mexico

Slavery in the Americas

The Muslim Factor

contempory estimates of the slaves brought to the new world range from 15-20 million. Of those 15-20 million estimates of the number who were Muslim range from 10 -30%. This is based on the recording of the areas and tribes of those who were brought over, and the percentage of those tribes that were Muslim. Transit records, and Plantation records normally recorded either the area or the Tribe.

Muslim Demographics in Africa

From the various tribes, i.e Fulbe, Fulani, Tukoor, Mandinka, Soninke, Hausa, Taureg, Songhai, Kasonke, Kanuri, Mandara, Wolof, Vai, Nupi, Susa, Ashanti and Yourba, the percentage of Muslims were as follows

  • 50% of Yourba,
  • 90% of the Hausa
  • 90% of the Mandinka,
  • 95% of the Fulani

Revolt and Rebellion

The enslaved Muslims where prone to uprising and revolt. This threatened the European Colonists hegenomy of the New World and as such they introduced numerous legislation to counter this threat.

  • 16th September1501 (22nd Safar 907) King Fernado issued a royal decree to SirNicolas Ovando, forbidding any Muslims to enter the Spanish Colonies. More specifically, the king’s decree stressed that the only African slaves that should be allowed into the colonies were those who were not Muslims.
  • 11th May1526 (19th Rajab 932) After the Wolof rebellion in Hispaniola, a Spanish royal decree singled out the Wolof Muslims as being especially difficult to keep enslaved. The royal decree also forbade,the importation of African slaves from the Middle East, slaves from Guinea, and slaves that had been raised with Moors.
  • 1531 CE (937 AH) the Spanish decree labeled the Muslim Wolof as being disobedient and rebelious, and the importation of the Wolof, Moriscos and other Muslims to the Americas was once again banned.
  • 14th August1543 (3rd Jumada al-Ula 950) another law forbidding muslims slaves in the Americas.
  • 16th July1550 (20th Jumada al-Thanni 957) another law forbidding muslim slaves in the Americas.
The Amistad Revolt

Evidence the Africans where Muslims

  • Richard Madden, who testified on behalf of the Africans in Connecticut on 11th November1839 (4th Ramadhan 1255) Said

He spoke with one of them and repeated in the Arabic language a Mohammedan form of prayer and the words ‘Allah Akbar or God is Great were immediately recognized by the negro, and some of the words of the said prayer were repeated after him by the negro. That deponent addressed another negro, standing by the former, in the ordinary terms of oriental salutation “Salaam Aleikoum” or peace to you and the man immediately replied “Aleikoum Salaam” or with you peace

  • One of the young men Ba-u (Ba) being a Pulo name , said that hs father was a Marabout
  • Lewis Tapan, the cheif abolitionist wrote in a letter on 9th September1839 (29th Jumada al-Thanni 1255) That he visited the African prisoners in their cells after they had been provided with Western clothing. He noted that :

The three females, two of whom were Mandinka wore calico frocks and had tied the little shawls given them into turbans; Most of the men had been circumcised, according t the report of the physician who examined them; and most of the slaves were Mandinka

Nearly all Mandinka where Muslim, and according to Sylvian Diouf in her book slaves of Allah only the Muslim women wore turbans.

The Haitian and Dominican Revolts

Like other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, the history of Islam in the Dominican Republic began with the importation of African slaves, which first arrived to the island of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and DR), beginning in 1502. These people arrived with a rich and ancient culture, although brutal repression and forced conversions gradually diluted their original cultural identity and religions. The first recorded instances of resistance were in 1503, when Nicolás de Ovando, Hispaniola’s first royal governor, wrote to Isabella requesting that she prevent further shipments to the colony of enslaved Black ladinos, or persons possessing knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese languages and cultures, but who also often had connections to either Senegambia, Islam, or both. De Ovando had arrived earlier in April 1502 and was already complaining that the ladinos on the island were “a source of scandal to the Indians, and some had fled their owners,” establishing maroon communities in the mountains.

Slave Revolt of 1522

The first large-scale slave revolt recorded in the Americas occurred in Santo Domingo in 1522 and was led by a group of enslaved Muslims from the Wolof nation. Intent on spreading sedition throughout the island, the insurrectionists moved to mobilize an equal number of coconspirators on neighboring establishments. Machetes in hand, they dismembered plantation personnel and livestock as they proceeded, initiating a “wild and bloody expedition under dawn’s early light.” In their wake lay torched houses and fields, while “here and there in the open ground lie the decapitated bodies of unfortunate whites who [the insurgents] were able to catch off-guard.” On December 28, 1522, they reached the cattle ranch of Melchoir de Castro, upon which they may have been planning an assault. By then, however, they no longer enjoyed the element of surprise; a mixed force of Europeans and indigenous persons under Melchoir de Castro’s leadership, both militia and volunteers, attacked the desperate band of Africans, effectively ending the revolt. Those not immediately killed took to the hills, only to be captured within a week. When the dust settled, some fifteen bodies were recovered, including those of at least nine Europeans. Diego Columbus reflected that if the uprising had not been quickly quelled, many more “Christian” lives would have been lost.


The Bahia Revolts
  • Hispaniola 1522 CE (928 AH) – 1532 CE (938 AH)
  • Mexico 1523 CE (929 AH)
  • Cuba 1529 CE (935 AH)
  • Panama 1550 CE (956 AH) and 1582 CE (989 AH)
  • Venuzuela 1550 CE (956 AH)
  • Peru 1560 CE (967 AH)
  • Ecuador 1599 CE (1007 AH)
  • Guatemala 1627 CE (1036 AH)
  • Chile 1647 CE (1056 AH)
  • Marinique 1650 CE (1059 AH)
  • Florida 1830 CE (1245 AH) – 1840 CE (1255 AH)

From the 1500s through the 1800s, European nations were engaged in a tragic and barbaric practice known as the slave trade. During this period, over 12 million Africans were boarded onto ships and taken to North and South America to work as slaves. The legacy of this inhumane treatment lives on today, in the form of racism and economic disadvantage for blacks in the Americas, and disunity and war in Africa. One aspect of slavery that has been overlooked in historical studies is the impact of slave revolts. Needless to say, the African slaves did not go willingly to their new lives. In many cases, they fought back against their masters, refusing to accept the life they’d been thrown into.

One of the most notable (and successful) of these rebellions was the Bahia Revolt, which took place in 1835 in Brazil. This revolt, unlike some others, was planned and led entirely by Muslims. The story of how they were able to plan a revolt in such horrid conditions and have such a large impact is remarkable. The most interesting and defining factor of the revolt was its Islamic character.

Organizing Revolt

In 1814 and 1816, the Muslims of Bahia attempted to organize a revolt against the Portuguese. They wanted to overthrow the local law enforcement, free all the slaves, and commandeer ships back to Africa. Unfortunately, some slaves were serving as informants to the local police, and the revolt was crushed before it even started, with its leaders being killed. Over the next 20 years, intermittent minor revolts by Muslims and non-Muslims alike were met with no success in bringing freedom to Bahia’s slaves.

Before discussing the revolt in 1835, we must understand the unifying factor Islam played in the organization of the slaves. The Wolof, Mandinke, Hausa, Nupe, and Yoruba all spoke different languages. While some people have ignorant ideas about Africa being one monolithic entity, it is a diverse continent of different people, cultures, and nations. These Muslim slaves in Bahia were as diverse as a group of French, German, Russian, and Greek speakers. Despite their ethnic differences, the unifying factor between all of them was Islam. Islam provided them with a common language to speak (Arabic), common customs, dietary habits, and behaviors. The Muslims of Bahia would be much more connected to fellow Muslims of a different ethnicity than non-Muslims who spoke the same language as them. Throughout Islamic history, unity such as this has led to greater strength and solidarity.

Muslim slaves in Bahia, Brazil

The failed revolts of 1814 and 1816 forced Bahia’s Muslims to go into hiding. Outward expressions of Islam were repressed by the authorities. Despite this, throughout the 1820s and 1830s, the Muslim leaders and scholars focused greatly on converting other Africans (be they Catholic or animist) to Islam. Even the Brazilian authorities noticed an increase in the number of people practicing Islam, but did not pay it much attention.

The people who organized the revolt were exclusively Muslim scholars. Due to the strength of the Muslim community, they were well respected by the people and held in a position of honor and esteem. Among these leaders were men such as:

Shaykh Dandara – a wealthy freedman who was an imam

Shaykh Sanim – an elderly slave who established a school to teach people about Islam

Malam Bubakar Ahuna – the leading scholar throughout Bahia, who organized Muslim community events

These Muslim scholars, as well as many others, used the mosques as a base of operations. There they discussed plans for revolt, stored weapons, and educated the local Africans. It was through these mosques that Malam Bubakar distributed his call to jihaad (holy struggle, or military resistance). He wrote out a document in Arabic that called on Muslims to unify in preparation for the coming revolt against their Brazilian masters.

The Revolt

The authorities had received some information that a rebellion was brewing, so they took proactive steps and exiled Malam Bubakar 6 months before the revolt was scheduled. Despite this, the plans for the revolt were already finalized and distributed to Muslims throughout Bahia.

A copy of Surat al-Qadr from the Quran. It belonged to one of the revolting Muslim slaves of Bahia and is written in a traditional West African style of Arabic.

The revolt was to take place after the fajr (dawn) prayer on January 25th, 1835, which was the 27th of Ramadan, 1250 in the Muslim calendar. Some Muslims consider the 27th to be the most probable date for Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power, when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. The Muslims of Bahia chose this date in the hopes that the heightened spiritual state of the community would lead to greater chances for success.

Because of the massive size of the planned revolt, word was bound to reach the Bahia police about the revolt. The night before the revolt was scheduled to take place, they raided one of the local mosques and found Muslims armed with swords and other weapons. The fight that ensued led to the death of one officer. Thus, the revolt had to start early.

Albeit a few hours early, the Muslim revolutionaries from this mosque marched out of the mosque, ready to begin the revolt in the dead of night. They were dressed in long white thobes (tunics) and kufis (skullcaps) that clearly identified them as Muslims. Because the revolt was scheduled to begin at dawn, not all the mosques came out in revolt at the same time. Regardless, those that did start the revolt around midnight marched throughout the streets of Salvador, gathering other slaves (both Muslim and non-Muslim) to join them in their revolt. Before the rest of the mosques even joined, there were about 300 slaves and freedmen marching through the city.

Eventually, the governor of Bahia managed to mobilize the local armed forces to confront the rebels. The few hundred Africans now met over 1,000 professional soldiers with advanced weaponry in the streets of Salvador. The battle lasted for about an hour, and led to the death of over 100 Africans and 14 Brazilian soldiers. The Brazilian authorities clearly won the battle. The revolt never managed to overthrow the local government, nor to board ships headed back to Africa. It appeared to be a failure.


The leaders of the revolt, the Muslim scholars, were put on trial and killed. The numerous slaves who took part in the revolt were given punishments ranging from imprisonment to lashings. Although on the surface the revolt appears to be a failure, there is more to it than that.

After the revolt, a general fear of Africans, particularly Muslims, gripped the people of Brazil. The Brazilian government passed laws that led to a mass deportation of Africans back to Africa. One of the original goals of the Bahia Revolt was to be returned to Africa, so this can be seen as a partial victory for the rebellion.

More importantly, however, the Bahia Revolt spurred the anti-slavery movement throughout Brazil. Although slavery continued to exist in Brazil until 1888, the revolt began the public discussion about the role of slaves and the benefit or detriment they provided to Brazilian society. It is seen as one of the most important events in leading towards freedom for Brazilian slaves.

It is important to note that the single defining factor for the Bahia Revolt was its Islamic character. It was organized and led by Muslim scholars, planned in Muslim mosques, and supported by a largely Muslim African population. Without Islam as a unifying factor, such a revolt never would have been possible, nor would the effect it had have been so great.

Furthermore, Islam continued as a strong force in Brazil for decades. The violent Brazilian reaction to oppress Islam in the aftermath of the revolt did nothing to stamp out Islam. It is estimated that in 1910, there were still over 100,000 Muslims throughout Brazil. This is a testament to the strength of the Muslim community of Brazil and their dedication to Islam.

Any discussion on the history of Islam in the Western Hemisphere must include the heroic actions of these Muslims. Islam is not a new religion in North and South America, brought by recent immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia, as many tend to believe. Rather, it is a religion that has greatly influenced the course of North and South American history in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.


Islamic place names in America

Salih Yucel a religious official at the Redfern mosque in Sydney, spent time in America researching the early islamic influence on America

One of his findings was that many of the Americas place names have islamic roots, and where named before the arrival of the Europeans, thus strengthening the evidence of the existance of west african , and uthmanic muslims in the Americas before Columbus
“The names of 565 places, 484 of them being in the US and 81 in Canada, such as the names of villages, towns, cities, mountains, lakes, and rivers, come from Islamic and Arabic roots. These places were originally named by local people before Columbus ever set foot in America. Some of these names are even Islamic place names, examples such as:

  • Mecca (with a population of 720) in Indiana; founded in 1873 CE (1289 AH) by Arab Muslims
  • Medina ( with a population of 2100) in Idaho;
  • Medina (with a population of 8,500) in New York;
  • Medina (with a population of 1,100) in North Dakota
  • Hazen (with a population of 5,000) in North Dakota;
  • Medina (with a population of 17,000) and
  • Medina (with a population of 120.000) in Ohio
  • Medina (with a population of 1,100) in Tennessee
  • Medina (with a population of 26,000) in Texas
  • Medina (with a population of 1,200) in Ontario
  • Aria (with a population of 700) in Ontario;
  • Mahomet (with a population of 3,200) in Illinois;
  • Mona (with a population of 1,000) in Utah. When the indigenous tribe names are examined in the US, it is understood that most of them derive from Arabic and Islamic roots. These are names such as, Anasazi, Apache, Arawak, Arikana, Chavin, Cherokee, Cree, Hohokam, Hupa, Hopi, Makkah, Mahigan, Mohawk, Nazca, Zulu, Zuni.

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