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The Spread of Islam to the Americas via the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Its Civilizational Legacy, Indigenous Encounters and Implications for American National History and Identity1

R. Charles Weller


     Every semester for the past seven years (2012–2019) I have shown a brief video on 'the Islamic Golden Age' (c. 750 – 1250 CE) and its medical, scientific, technological, philosophical and artistic contributions to the European Renaissance.2 (I then follow this with a series of two interactive lectures.) And every semester I ask how many among the roughly 200 students that I teach knew anything about this subject before seeing the video. In spite of the litany of videos, newspaper, magazine and journal articles as well as edited volumes and full-length studies which have been made available on this subject – both long before but now with renewed vigor after September 11, 20013 – the prevailing response, semester after semester, is that the vast majority – some 90–95 percent – have never heard anything about it.4 Most of the few who say they have learned about it point to an Advanced Placement World History course in their high school as the source of their knowledge.

     As a topic, Islamic contributions to medicine, science and technology within world history is, in and of itself, important – for proper understandings of: (1) the nature and history of the Islamic world,5 (2) the continuous interdependent exchange of medicine, science and technology among the peoples and cultures of the world,6 (3) the substantial non-Western sources which contributed to 'the rise of the West'7 and (4) contemporary Western-Islamic (and other cultural-civilizational) relations, all viewed in global historical (cf. 'globalization') perspective. Be that as it may, it is not the subject of my essay here. But it does provide a necessary link and launching point for yet another largely 'lost' or 'stolen' strand of the world history storyline,8 namely: the spread of (Black African) Islam to the Americas via the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This is my main topic, with emphasis upon three aspects of this Transatlantic exchange: (1) the heritage of the Islamic Golden Age in the Americas, (2) the interaction of Black African Islam with indigenous (i.e., Native) American traditions and (3) the implications of this particular path of Islam's world historical spread for American national history and identity. While most of what I will say has application to North, Central and South America, I will focus my discussion on the United States in both its pre- and post-independence periods.

     One of the more important works to-date which treats the spread of Black African Islam to the Americas via the Transatlantic Slave Trade is Sylviane A. Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas.9 A fifteenth anniversary edition of this work was published in 2013, after the title won the American Library Association's Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award in 1999, following its original publication in 1998.10 Diouf notes how "Muslims have been conspicuously absent from works relating to African Americans. …Lack of resources cannot explain this phenomenon, because an abundance of published records exist on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Muslims in the United States."11 Continuing into the twentieth century, she makes passing reference to a few minor studies from the 1920s and 1940s and then goes on to highlight a 1967 work by Philip Curtin which includes material on four black Muslim slaves, a 1977 biography of a black Muslim Prince among Slaves by Terry Alford, followed by the 1984 work of Allan Austin, African Muslims in Antebellum America, which was "[t]he first comprehensive study devoted to African Muslims in the United States."12

     While recognition of this topic has been slowly increasing thanks to the efforts of scholars like Curtin, Alford, Austin, Diouf and a others,13 it remains, like the Islamic Golden Age, largely unknown among the broader public and even educational world and still goes unacknowledged in the majority of specialized sources treating the transatlantic slave trade.14 It is likewise absent (or at best seriously lacking in representation on one occasion) in most world and American history texts.15 Even scholars treating the global spread of Islam fail to include this essential thread of Islamic world history within their narratives. Like works covering the transatlantic slave trade or world history more broadly, they treat Islam within Black Africa, but fail to follow its spread via those Black African Muslims who were taken in the transatlantic slave trade to the Americas.16

     Undergirding this storyline are the total estimated number of black African Muslim slaves imported into the Americas. In attempting to provide an estimate for this particular group, Diouf cautions that "[s]uggesting figures for the Muslim presence in the Americas is," for various complicating reasons, "highly problematic and risky." Nonetheless, after calculating percentages based on available records as accurately as possible, she suggests 15–20 percent overall.17 In other words, "the total Muslim population was very significant."18 This estimate applies to all of the Americas – north, central and south. With respect to (what eventually became) the United States, there was, in many of the southern states, "'a heavy but non-quantifiable bias toward Senegambia and Sierra Leone,'" which had large Muslim populations.19 This means the totals could be slightly (or perhaps significantly) higher there.

     Against this backdrop, I will first discuss the heritage of Islamic Golden Age learning in the Americas via the black African Muslim slaves. Diouf distinguishes the educational levels of men and women, noting that enslaved Muslim women were both fewer in number in the Americas and "generally…less educated than the men." She makes clear, however, that "less educated" does not mean entirely 'uneducated'. In certain cases, some among them would even have been elites who were more highly educated. Among the men, "many had a strong education."20 Many of the men and women were, at the very least, literate and multi-lingual. Beyond this, particularly in the case of the men, these educations included, to varying degrees, Islamic medicine, science and/or technology. It should be remembered that Timbuktu was a center of Islamic education, with similar schools and libraries of varying size spread throughout the black African Muslim regions.21 If not consigned to slavery by white racist profiteering, then, in the case of those with educations like the 'Prince among slaves', Ibrahima abd al-Rahman (1762–1829), they could have been professors at any college or university of their day. Even with comparatively lesser education than such figures, many of these Muslim men and women were still more educated than their white masters and those within their broader communities. They could have at least taught at local or state schools, or contributed to the upbuild of American society in numerous other ways. This accentuates the loss and poverty of racism and slavery. Their full potential has been forever lost to history, both in the Americas and their own African homeland.

     But this also raises the question as to what they (together with other non-Muslim slaves) may have in fact contributed to the logistical, financial, managerial and/or technological development of the plantations (and other domains) where they served. As Shontavia Johnson points out, "[d]uring the 17th and 18th centuries, [when] America was experiencing rapid economic growth [, b]lack inventors were major contributors… – even though most did not obtain any of the benefits associated with their inventions since they could not receive patent protection. Slave owners often took credit for their slaves' inventions."22 Likewise, in a recent seminal study, Daniel Rood details how

after the Age of Revolutions, ambitious planters in the Upper US South, Cuba, and Brazil forged a new set of relationships with one another to sidestep the financial dominance of Great Britain and the northeastern United States. They hired a transnational group of chemists, engineers, and other 'plantation experts' to assist them in adapting the technologies of the Industrial Revolution to suit tropical needs and maintain profitability. These experts depended on the know-how of slaves alongside whom they worked. Bondspeople with industrial craft skills played key roles in the development of new production technologies like sugar mills. While the very existence of skilled enslaved workers contradicted the racial ideologies underpinning slavery and allowed black people to wield new kinds of authority within the plantation world, their contributions reinforced the economic dynamism of the slave economies…23

     Neither Johnson or Rood make any mention of Islam or Muslims, so I cite their work only to support my suggestion that educated Muslim slaves were most likely among those who contributed in these and other ways on the plantations and elsewhere at each stage of development historically. As Johnson and Rood demonstrate, this holds true for all slaves, Muslim or not, but my main purpose here is to highlight the American legacy of Islamic education in particular. Much like Islamic contributions to 'the Rise of the West', or the contribution of women or others involving discrimination throughout history, slaves – particularly in this case Muslim slaves – were seldom, if ever, credited with the inventions and other contributions that they surely must have made to the plantations and broader economic as well as cultural worlds of their day.

     As just one example of perhaps the Muslim slaves' greatest cultural contribution which reaches beyond the United States to the entire world, Diouf, citing multiple studies by musicologists, concludes that the blues are quite uniquely "an African Islamic-derived music" tradition.24 This evidence requires a recasting of the relationship between the blues, spirituals and Christianity – not to the total exclusion of the latter, but to the inclusion of black African Islam within the American, transatlantic, Islamic and broader world history storylines.25 What contributions black African Muslims have made in technology and other fields remains still shrouded in mystery, awaiting further research. But that research cannot take place until the sheer fact of their presence is first rightly recognized and incorporated into the various narratives.

     With regard to their presence throughout the broader Americas, it runs from the 1500s down to at least the early 1900s and, in the case of the United States, down to the present. The original forms of Black African Islam eventually died out in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as they underwent transformation in the course of cross-cultural encounter as well as suppression within a predominantly white European Christian environment. Nonetheless they served as an explicit, direct source of inspiration for the various forms of Black Islam which arose and took shape across the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries.26

     Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832–1912) was the key link in this chain by way of his writings and lectures on Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race. The latter served as the title for the main collection of those writings and lectures. While the collection was originally published in 1887 and reprinted numerous times thereafter, it contained writings by Blyden which dated back to 1871. Blyden was born a free black in the Virgin Islands. After being denied enrollment in Rutgers Theological College and two other U.S. educational institutions in 1850 on grounds of race, and fearing enslavement due to the Fugitive Slave Law issued by the U.S. Supreme Court that same year, he moved to Liberia.27 These experiences profoundly impacted his views of the racial issues of his day. He went on to earn his doctoral degree and serve as a professor and statesman in various capacities.

     Regarding Blyden's message, Samuel Lewis, a black Christian lawyer and mayor of Freetown in Sierra Leone, explained in the "Introductory Biographical Note" which he penned in 1886 for Blyden's collection: "Many enlightened Africans are inclined to think, on grounds which are sufficiently explained in this volume, that Islam is, at the present moment, able to do more for the Pagan Negro than its great rival [Christianity]." The choice between these two respective faith traditions – the one undergirding black (West) African and the other white European civilization – would, according to Lewis, play a crucial role in "the solution of the great problems which beset the work of the civilisation of Africa, and the genuine progress of humanity." Thus, as Blyden argued in an article originally published in 1875:

When we left a Pagan and entered a Mohammedan community, we at once noticed that we had entered a moral atmosphere widely separated from, and loftier far than, the one we had left. We discovered that the character, feelings, and conditions of the people were profoundly altered and improved. …and no one will doubt that Islam as a creed is an enormous advance not only on all idolatries, but on all systems of purely human origin—those tribes must advance beyond their primitive condition. … The Koran is, in its measure, an important educator. …It has furnished to the adherents of its teachings in Africa a ground of union which has contributed vastly to their progress. … there are numerous Negro Mohammedan communities and states in Africa which are self-reliant, productive, independent, and dominant… [Islam] strengthened and hastened certain tendencies to independence and self-reliance which were already at work. … No sooner was he converted than he was taught to read, and the importance of knowledge was impressed upon him. … but no amount of allegiance to the Gospel relieved the Christian Negro from the degradation of wearing the chain which he received with it, or rescued him from the political and, in a measure, ecclesiastical proscription which he still undergoes in all the countries of his exile.28

     While penning the various articles which eventually made up his 1887 collection of writings, Blyden made twelve trips back to the United States between 1872 and 1890.29 "Blyden perceived his mission" both in the U.S. and beyond "as not only to challenge the negative assumptions about the Negro race but also to instill a sense of pride in black people in Africa and diaspora: 'As a race you are independent and distinct, and have a mission to perform.' His ideas anticipated as well as helped spark the black cultural renaissance of the twentieth century."30 Indeed, in his 1915 book on The Negro W.E.B. DuBois "extolled Blyden as 'the prophet of the renaissance of the Negro race'."31 Barbara Celarent assessed Blyden's significance in similar fashion by concluding that he "was the forerunner of later radical theorists of domination like Antonio Gramsci and Frantz Fanon…one of the great figures of 19th-century social thought."32 With regard to Islam in particular, Blyden significantly influenced the Black Muslim movement which branched off in various directions within the United States across the 20th-century. He thus forged global historical links spanning some 1400 years, from the Middle Eastern rise of Islam and its later Golden Age of learning, across North Africa and the Sahara into black Africa, finding its way to the Americas via the transatlantic slave trade, only to be transformed in the later 20th-century Black Muslim movement, with certain branches thereof eventually reconnecting with Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants to the U.S. along the way.

     While the history of the Black Muslim groups in 20th-century America are well known, their historic heritage in black Muslim Africa and its spread to the Americas via the transatlantic slave trade remain, for the most part, 'lost' (or rather ignored) threads of American, transatlantic, Islamic and broader global history. Even more shrouded, however, are the interactions of Black African Muslim slaves with Native Americans. These exchanges are part of another largely 'lost' thread within the broader global narrative, namely that reflected in the title of an important documentary: Black Indians: An American Story.33 Among numerous other important aspects of the history behind this fascinating and little-known subject, the video noted in passing the cooperative interaction which took place between runaway Black African (American) slaves of Senegambian origin and the Seminole Indians of Florida in the early 1800s in their mutual struggle against white American colonial settler encroachment. Being already familiar with the history of black African Muslim slaves in the Americas, the reference to Senegambia in the Black Indians video caught my attention.

     Based on initial limited searches, it appears that no research has yet been done on the history of cross-cultural contact and exchange between Black African Muslim slaves and Native Americans, particularly within colonial American and early U.S. history (ca. 1650–1850). I have found several studies which explicitly note the connection between the Florida Seminole Indians and Black African slaves from Gambia, Senegal, Mali, and/or Senegambia or the Jamaican Maroons.34 But none of these sources mention "Islam" or "Muslim(s)" in any way. The same can be said for Diouf, Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons, which is the one scholar we might otherwise expect some kind of recognition from.35 She is certainly aware that a number of the runaway slaves she treats within her book are in fact Muslim, but she shows no interest in the question of how the religious beliefs and traditions of these people might have interacted with Native Americans. Indeed, Diouf made the editorial decision to exclude "[t]he well-known maroons of Spanish Florida" from her study "because they were officially recognized as free…by Spain who offered sanctuary to runaways from the British colonies and later United States." But this was only until 1819 when John Quincy Adams signed the Florida Purchase Treaty. Diouf, like the others, was simply not concerned with the question of what kind of religious-cultural exchanges may have taken place between black African Muslim slaves and the Florida Seminoles, or any other Native American groups.

     The nearest connections made between Islam coming into contact with Native Americans via Black African (American) slaves are Rebecca B. Bateman, "Naming Patterns in Black Seminole Ethnogenesis," who merely likens certain Christian naming traditions to "the Arabic or Hebrew patterns,"36 and the "Black Seminoles" article on Wikipedia, which simply notes in the sidebar that their "Religion" included "syncretic Islam," without providing any analysis (or even mention) within the article, or any reference to any specific studies which provide further analysis.37

     The interactions of these Black Africans from Muslim backgrounds with Native Americans represents new vistas of research emerging from two still fledgling fields of study: Black African Muslims in the Americas and Black Indian studies, particularly again in colonial and early post-independent U.S. history. The subject remains essentially unexplored. Given that documentary evidence is most likely scarce, the most fruitful avenues of research would appear to be comparative anthropological and ethnographic studies drawing on oral histories, some of which among Black Muslim slave descendants were recorded, for example, in the "American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1940" as part of F.D. Roosevelt's New Deal.38 If similar beliefs and/or practices were to be discovered among the Black Muslim slave populations and Native Americans groups with whom they had interaction, the question of possible influence in either direction would still need to be verified in some way, whether via anthropological/ethnographic data which predates their encounters or otherwise.

     But such hypothetical questions are secondary until and unless some scholars and/or institutions take up this challenge. Part of the problem facing the exploration of this essentially untouched field of study, as well as the question of black Muslim slave contributions to American national life, is not the validity or importance of the respective subjects. They are, just like any other aspect of Black and/or Native American history, an integral part of the American, transatlantic, Islamic and broader global history storylines. I rather suggest that, just like the long fight to gain recognition, and with it funding, for those two previously long neglected fields, this particular topic involves the added question of Islam, particularly in this case Black Islam. Indeed, the implication of the spread of Islam to the Americas via the transatlantic slave trade and the subsequent, historically-related development of Black Islam in the 20th century is that Islam is a genuinely American religion, an integral part of American national history and identity from the colonial period down to the present. But given the current (cf. post-9/11) climate of 'Islamophobia' combined with resurgent racism against Blacks, undergirded by white nationalist as well as political and academic efforts to revive the teaching of traditional 'Western Civilization' narratives throughout the American educational system and broader society,39 the debated politics of American history and identity leaves the odds stacked against such an otherwise noble and worthwhile undertaking. As noted in the Black Indians documentary, the continuing resistance of certain Black and/or Native American peoples to what they might perceive as the potential diluting of their 'pure' identity ethnically and/or religiously also fosters resistance. In spite of these obstacles, these topics deserve attention – in our teaching, research and publications. And thus I write this essay, not because I myself am Black, or Native American, or Muslim, but simply a historian who wishes to know the full story, and all the diverse identities, of the nations and broader world we all share. The contribution of each deserves rightful recognition and inclusion in the narratives.

R. Charles Weller (Ph.D., Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, KZ) is a clinical assistant professor in the Roots of Contemporary Issues and Asia programs at Washington State University and a non-residential visiting researcher at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He specializes in (historiography of) religious-cultural relations and identity within Central Eurasian, Middle Eastern, Western-Islamic and world/global history. Among numerous publications in both English and Kazakh, his most recent is as the editor of 21st-Century Narratives of World History: Global and Multidisciplinary Perspectives (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). He can be contacted at


1 This article serves as part of an initial draft of a chapter for a volume I am currently writing. The volume is tentatively titled Islam in Global History: Its Spread among the World's Peoples and Cultures. It is due out sometime in 2020. My thanks to Candice Goucher as well as the two blind peer reviewers at WHC for offering critical comments, Candice on an early draft of this piece, and the WHC reviewers on the expanded pre-press version. I of course take full responsibility for its final form and content.

2 "Baghdad, City of Scholars and Science," in Islam: Empire of Faith, prod. and dir. Robert Gardner (Boston, MA: PBS Video, 2000, 2009). URL:; Accessed Dec 18, 2018.

3 Chronologically, these include but are not limited to: W. Montgomery Watt, The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1972); Katherine Bullock, "Retelling the History of Political Thought," The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Vol 19, No 1 (Winter 2002): 29–49; Robert van der Weyer, The Shared Well: A Concise Guide to Relations between Islam and the West (Washington: Brassey's Inc., 2002); T. Wallace-Murphy, What Islam Did for Us: Understanding Islam's Contribution to Western Civilization (London: Watkins Publishing, 2006); M. Graham, How Islam Created the Modern World (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 2006); G. Saliba, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007); S. Attar, The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl's Influence on Modern Western Thought (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007); Brett Bowden, "The River of Inter-Civilisational Relations: The Ebb and Flow of Peoples, Ideas and Innovations," Third World Quarterly, Vol 28, No 7 (2007):1359–1374; J. Freely, Aladdin's Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe through the Islamic World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009); and Nayef R.F. Al-Rodhan, ed., The Role of the Arab-Islamic World in the Rise of the West: Implications for Contemporary Trans-Cultural Relations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

4 On the general lack of attention offered to Islam in American world history (and other) textbooks, see Tamim Ansary, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes (PublicAffairs, 2009), xiv–xv.

5 I use the term 'Islamic world' loosely, since it consists of a wide diversity of peoples, cultures, languages, etc.

6 See esp. Scott L. Montgomery and Alok Kumar, A History of Science in World Cultures: Voices of Knowledge (Abingdon, UK and New York, NY: Routledge, 2015).

7 See esp. J. M. Hobson, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

8 See esp. M. H. Morgan, Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2007) and Jack Goody, The Theft of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

9 Sylviane A. Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (New York: New York University Press, 1998).

10 Sylviane A. Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, 15th Anniversary Edition (New York: New York University Press, 2013) See URL:; Accessed Dec 18, 2018.

11 Diouf, Servants of Allah (1998), 201. All refs from here forward to Diouf, Servants of Allah, will be from the 1998 edition.

12 Diouf, Servants of Allah (1998), 201–203, referencing: Philip Curtin, Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967); Terry Alford, Prince Among Slaves: The True Story of an African Prince Sold into Slavery in the American South (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, 50th anniversary edition 2007). Allan Austin, African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Sourcebook (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1984).

13 Among the "others," see esp.: Mary Granger, Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes (Ashland, OH: Library of Alexandria, 2012, originally published by Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1940); Samory Rashid, “Towards Understanding America’s Islamic Legacy,” Islamic Studies Quarterly Journal, Vol. 38, No. 3 (1999): 343-366 (along with other works by Rashid); Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003); Clyde-Ahmed Winters, "Afro-American Muslims from Slavery to Freedom," Islamic Studies, Vol 17, No 4 (1978): 187-205; Jane I. Smith, Islam in America, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, [1999] 2009); Edward E. Curtis IV, Muslims in America: A Short History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); and Kambiz Ghanea Bassiri, A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). I appreciate not only the additional references to the works by Granger, Rashid, Turner and Winters which were supplied by of one of the blind reviewers at WHC, as well as the suggestion of the reviewer to “undertak[e] a more thorough literature review on the subject of enslaved Muslims in the Americas, establishing what the strengths and weaknesses of that literature are to date, and then identifying a number of target regions and/or themes of investigation.” This, however, would result in a fundamentally different article with a different aim and focus. In spite of the additional references, my point still stands: specialized studies are clearly available and even growing, but attention to this important narrative thread and its various implications remains lacking in transatlantic and world as well as American and Islamic history texts and teaching, with the latter resulting from the former.

14 Among major recent works which entirely pass over the subject are: Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra and Erik R. Seeman, eds., The Atlantic in Global History, 15002000 (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), including in particular the chapters by Pier M. Larson, "African Diasporas and the Atlantic" and Jason Young, "Black Identities in the Formation of the Atlantic World." The second edition of this work, published in 2017, mentions "Islamic Senegalese slaves" enroute to Chile whose mutiny "connects the histories of various north Americans with "the African Muslims" and thus "show[s] that antebellum nineteenth-century U.S. history makes sense only when painted on a much larger canvas" (p. xviii). But this passing reference appears only in the "Introduction to the Second Edition" when discussing recent scholarship which is not actually part of the revised volume. David Eltis, Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008) also passes over the subject entirely.

15 The only world history text to my knowledge which includes reference to black African Muslims as part of the slave trade is R.W. Bulliet,K. Crossley, D.R. Headrick, S.W. Hirsch, L.L. Johnson and D. Northrup, The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History, 6th ed (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2014). The only thing they include, however, is an excerpt from the diary of one black Muslim slave in an appendix to the chapter as one of the primary source readings (p. 572). While this is certainly better than nothing, it leaves the reader with the impression that this is a unique case, especially since the subject is entirely passed over in the main narrative, in spite of their treatment of "Africa, the Atlantic, and Islam" within the main chapter.

16 Most works on 'Islamic history' fail to cover anything beyond the Middle East and North Africa, with Mughal India only being included as one of the three 'gun powder empires' together with the Ottoman Turks and Persian Safavids. The several works that do cover the historical spread of Islam beyond those limited domains make no mention of the spread of black African Muslims reaching to the Americas as part of the transatlantic slave trade. The only work to my knowledge which makes brief passing mention of them is George W. Braswell, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics, and Power (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 210–11. There he suggests that "[p]erhaps a fifth all slaves brought to the Americas from Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were Muslims, but most of these converted to Christianity." He notes that these "Muslims may have entered the Americas as early as 1717" and references "''Moors' living in South Carolina in the 1790s'." Among non-slaves, he points to "'several Muslims [who] came to the United States to help introduce camels to the Southwest'" in the 1850s. The latter two references are drawn from: Newell S. Booth, Jr., "Islam in America," in Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience, ed. C.H. Lippy and P.W. Williams, V2 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988), 725. Braswell taught at the Faculty of Islamic Theology of the University of Tehran from 1968 to 1974, during the Pahlavi years, and later at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

17 Cf. Braswell, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics, and Power, 210, who says "[perhaps a fifth," i.e., 20% (see near end of n14 above).

18 All three quotes to this point in paragraph from Diouf, Servants of Allah, 47–48.

19 Diouf, Servants of Allah, 47, citing Curtin, Africa Remembered, 158; cf. also "Senegambia, the Gold Coast, and the Bight of Benin," in The Abolition of the Slave Trade, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library (URL:; Accessed Dec 29, 2018).

20 Diouf, Servants of Allah, 62–63; cf. Johnson, Drums & Shadows, pp. 7, 63, 67, 158; Alford, Prince Among Slaves, pp. 12-14; Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience, p. 37. Note that while Islamic education was centered on Qur’anic exegesis, hadith study, and related ‘sacred’ subjects, the sciences of history as well as astronomy, mathematics, finance/accounting, linguistics and more were well established in Islamic tradition. Given that most of one’s education was pursued at younger rather than older ages, those taken into slavery would, for the most part, have already received a fair amount of their education prior to captivity. How far this was passed down from generation to generation once they were transported to the Americas is difficult to say. Certainly restrictions on slave education would have erected significant barriers, as well as the breaking apart of families, particularly children from their parents. None of these points, however, should lead to the conclusion that the subject is not worth further exploration. The aim and scope of this article is not to engage in that exploration, but draw the attention of the world history community to these and other issues as part of an essential thread within the world historical narratives we about which we write and teach.

21 See esp. Joshua Hammer, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016); Robin Walker, Blacks and Science: Volume Two: West and East African Contributions to Science and Technology and Intellectual Life and Legacy of Timbuktu (London: Reklaw Education, Ltd., 2016); and Ousmane Oumar Kane, Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa (Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2016). The debate over ‘the decline of the Islamic Golden Age’, especially as it pertains to Timbuktu, should of course be taken into consideration here. In exploring the region in the late 1890s, the French Major Albert Félix Dubois (1862-1945) notes a work by Abderrahman Sadi, History of Sudan, written in the 1650s by the imam of the mosque of Jenne, as well as a book titled Diwan of Kings, a book of the Sultans of the Sudan, whose author was unknown. These works, and others like them, were obviously still available in the late 1890s. Nonetheless, Dubois suggested that “[i]ntellectual decadence has made rapid strides since the eighteenth century, and the author of the Diwan states in his first pages: ' The men of my generation have arrived at the point where their intellects possess nothing. As for the old men, those who know the deeds of their ancestors are few and far between, and those possessing any intelligence at all are equally rare. When I question them concerning what is passing in the town, they are incapable of making a response of any interest'.” Dubois likewise quotes from the title-less history of Mouley Rhassoun, who covers events up to 1769. Rhassoun records the reply of “marabuts at Timbuctoo” sometime between 1747 and 1769 as follows: “’Nor can we devote ourselves exclusively to science; we cannot buy books nor travel to complete our learning in Cairo, Fez, or elsewhere, for to-day we are the poorest people in the country. …For Ahmed Baba had taught the importance of the science of facts and dates’.” (Félix Dubois, Timbuctoo, the Mysterious, tr. from French by Diana White, New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896, pp. 312-318; cf. Walker, Blacks and Science, p. 82). But Dubois fails to critically analyze the context of such claims as made within the sources he cites. They appear, in fact, to be devices employed by youthful authors attempting to promote their own works as ‘revivalist’ literatures of sorts. The critique of learning offered in these works, thus, serves as a call to not only embrace the author’s own new work, but to revive a rich educational legacy. Dubois offers no assessment of what impact that call may have had, but rather simply takes the declarations at face value, perhaps in part because they agreed with European assessments of Islamic science in the Middle East at the time, as they still do in large measure in the early 21st century.

22 Shontavia Johnson, "America's always had black inventors – even when the patent system explicitly excluded them," The Conversation, Feb 14 and 19, 2017. (URL:; Accessed Dec 20, 2018)

23 Daniel Rood, The Reinvention of Atlantic Slavery: Technology, Labor, Race, and Capitalism in the Greater Caribbean (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), publisher description.

24 Diouf, Servants of Allah, 273.

25 Cf. e.g., James H. Cone, The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1972).

26 See esp. Patrick D. Bowen, A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States: Volume 2: The African American Islamic Renaissance, 19201975 (Leiden: Brill Academic).

27 Hollis R. Lynch, Edward Wilmot Blyden: Pan-Negro Patriot, 18321912 (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), 4.

28 Edward Wilmot Blyden, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, [1888] 1994), 7–13.

29 Thomas H. Henriksen, "African Intellectual Influences on Black Americans: The Role of Edward W. Blyden," Phylon, Vol 36, No 3 (1975): 284.

30 Ibid., 284.

31 Ibid., 282, citing DuBois, The Negro (New York, 1915), vii.

32 Barbara Celarent, "Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, by Edward Blyden," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 120, No. 4 (January 2015), 1293.

33 Black Indians: An American Story, dir. and prod. Chip Richie (Dallas, TX: RichHeape Films, 2004) (URL:; Accessed Dec 22, 2018). The documentary is also available as part of the Trail of Tears: A Native American Documentary Collection (Golden Valley, MN: Mill Creek Entertainment, 2010).

34 Among these were: Alcione M. Amos, "Black Seminoles: The Gullah Connection," (Black Scholar, volume 41, no. 1, spring 2011, 32–47) and Daniel L. Shafer, "'Yellow Silk Ferret Tied Round Their Wrists': African Americans in British East Florida, 1763–1784" in The African American Heritage in Florida, ed. D.R. Colburn and J.L. Landers (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1995). Likewise, Kevin Mulroy, Freedom on the Border: the Seminole Maroons in Florida, the Indian Territory, Coahuila, and Texas (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1993) includes clear reference to the "Maroons" in his title and throughout his book.

35 Sylviane A. Diouf, Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons (New York: New York University Press, 2014).

36 Rebecca B. Bateman, "Naming Patterns in Black Seminole Ethnogenesis," Ethnohistory, Vol 49, No 2 (Spring 2002): 236; cf. 254n14.

37 "Black Seminoles," Wikipedia (URL:; Accessed Oct 3, 2018).With respect to further avenues of exploration of this subject, the second of the two blind reviewers for WHC suggested “linguistic analysis of the sort that Winter, Rashid, and Schaffer make reference to, as well as…investigation into the intellectual influence of Islamic ideas, naming patterns, and dietary practice, just to name a few.” This is certainly part of what this article seeks to encourage, but is beyond the aim and scope of the article itself.

38 "American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1940" (URL:; Accessed Dec 22, 2018); cf. Curtis, Muslims in America, 16.

39 See R. Charles Weller, "'Western' and 'White Civilization': White Nationalism and Eurocentrism at the Crossroads," in 21st-Century Narratives of World History: Global and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, ed. RC Weller (Palgrave, 2017), 35–80.

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