International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

by Cem Nizamoglu Published on: 24th March 2024

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"United Nations (UN) General Assembly Resolution 62/122 that established the Outreach Programme on the transatlantic slave trade and slavery, also designated 25 March as the annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Day is observed with ceremonies and activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and at United Nations offices around the world." To commemorate this day please find some related articles from Muslim Heritage and other websites:

Public Domain

Slaves on the West Coast of Africa, c.1833 (oil on canvas) by Biard, Francois Auguste (1798-1882); 64×90 cm; © Wilberforce House, Hull City Museums and Art Galleries, UK; French, Wikipedia

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve,
an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab
nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab;

also a White has no superiority over a Black
nor a Black has any superiority over a White
except by piety and good action…”

The Last Sermon of Prophet Muhammad, 623

“The Spread of Islam to the Americas via the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Its Civilizational Legacy, Indigenous Encounters and Implications for American National History and Identity” by R. Charles Weller

[… As a topic, Islamic contributions to medicine, science and technology within world history are, in and of itself, important – for proper understanding of the nature and history of the Islamic world, the continuous interdependent exchange of medicine, science and technology among the peoples and cultures of the world, the substantial non-Western sources which contributed to ‘the rise of the West’ and 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, 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: the heritage of the Islamic Golden Age in the Americas,  the interaction of Black African Islam with indigenous (i.e., Native) American traditions and 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.  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. 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 18th-19th century Muslims in the United States.” 

… 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.” 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 centre of Islamic education, with similar schools and libraries of varying sizes spread throughout the black African Muslim regions. 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…]

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“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…”
Edward Wilmot Blyden, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, 1888

“Muslims arrived in America 400 years ago as part of the slave trade and today are vastly diverse” by Saeed Ahmed Khan

[… 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.

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.”

Blues has also influenced a host of other American music genres, from country to rock ‘n’ roll, and the most well-known of American musical forms, jazz. The famous jazz player John Coltrane, known for his seminal work “A Love Supreme,” appears to be influenced by the cadence of Islamic prayers and devotionals. Scholar Hisham Aidi, author of “Rebel Music,” along with a host of jazz musicians, argues that Coltrane is singing “Allah Supreme” in the Islamic devotional style of “dhikr,” or remembrance of God…]

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Music

I did a talk a few years ago at Harvard where I played those two things,
and the room absolutely exploded in clapping,
because [the connection] was obvious,

People were saying:
‘Wow. That’s really audible. It’s really there!’
Sylviane Diouf, Scholar at New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Muslim Roots, U.S. Blues by Jonathan Curiel

To many the idea that American blues music has its origins with Muslims and even the Islamic call to prayer is inconceivable. It is also largely unknown that up to thirty per cent of enslaved Americans, the sources of blues music were in fact African Muslims. This fascinating article delves deeper into the historical input of Muslims to the American blues genre.

Sylviane Diouf knows her audience might be sceptical, so to demonstrate the connection between Muslim traditions and American blues music, she’ll play two recordings: The adhan, the Muslim call to prayer that’s heard from minarets around the world, and “Levee Camp Holler,” an early type of blues song that first sprang up in the Mississippi Delta more than 100 years ago.

“Levee Camp Holler” is no ordinary song. It’s the product of formerly enslaved people who worked moving earth all day in post-Civil War America. The version that Diouf uses in presentations has lyrics that, like the call to prayer, speak about a glorious God. But it’s the song’s melody and note changes that closely resemble one of Islam’s best-known refrains. Like the call to prayer, “Levee Camp Holler” emphasises words that seem to quiver and shake in the reciter’s vocal cords. Dramatic changes in musical scales punctuate both “Levee Camp Holler” and the adhan. A nasal intonation is evident in both.

It’s really there thanks to all the enslaved Muslims from West Africa who were taken by force to the United States for three centuries, from the 1600s to the mid-1800s. Upward of 30 per cent of the enslaved Africans in the United States were Muslim, and historians now say an untold number of them spoke and wrote Arabic. Despite being pressured by slave owners to adopt Christianity and give up their old ways, many of these slaves continued to practice their religion and customs, or otherwise melded traditions from Africa into their new environment in the antebellum South. Forced to do menial, backbreaking work on plantations, for example, they still managed, throughout their days, to voice a belief in God and the revelation of the Qur’an. The practice of these enslaved peoples’ eventually evolved — decades and decades later, parallel with different singing traditions from Africa — into the shouts and hollers that begat blues music, Diouf and other historians believe…

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(Left) A Muslim and a Christian playing a duet on the lute in 13th-century Spain. This work was dedicated to Alfonso the Wise, the Christian ruler of Castile, Leon, and Galicia (Right) Imaginary Potrait of Ziryab – An Anonymous Personality in European history (Source)

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Voice:
Took a walk with Spirit today.
A time of total enchantment,
because the spirit was called Sisterhood.
As we went along,
she spoke of the great female teachers,
of sub-saharan Africa:
but most of all,
she spoke of Nana Asma’u…

Natty Mark Samuels’ Articles

Ode to Nana Asma’u: Voice and Spirit

Nana Asma’u sits in the pantheon, of the great educators of Africa. Taught by female scholars – such as Aisha – in her family, as well as by her more well known father (Usman dan Fodio), uncle (Abdullahi dan Fodio) and older brother (Muhammed Bello), she gained a deep knowledge of Quranic teachings, as well as four languages – Arabic, Fulfude, Hausa and Tamachek: a paramount aid, in her pioneering educational endeavours.

Ode to Ahmad Baba Al-Massufi

Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Ahmad al-Takruri Al-Massufi al-Timbukti, otherwise commonly known as Ahmad Baba for short, was a well-known teacher, professor, philosopher, Arabic grammarian and an author of over forty books and various works.

Ode to Sheikh Abdul al-Amawi: The Old Man of Barawa

In this article, Natty Mark Samuels explores the life and contributions of 19th Century Abdul Aziz al-Amawi. Abd al Aziz al-Amawi originated from Barawa, Somalia and his subjects of expertise included theology, law, Sufism, grammar, rhetoric, and history. What is more, he composed an unfinished Swahili-Arabic dictionary. Dedicated to Mohamed Kassim and Bradford G. Martin. Ahmad Baba’s work ranged from biographies to commentaries[1] – and he was one of the most celebrated professors. He was also the last Chancellor at the University of Sankore, Timbuktu.

Song of Suwari: Ode to West African Scholars

Although some contemporary historians may argue otherwise, in the past, particularly in places such as West Africa, Muslims and non-Muslims lived together in relative harmony and prosperity. The positive impact of the spread of Islam on West Africa, in particular on Mali, was noticeable to explorers.

Sub-Saharan Centres of Learning

Though we may think of Timbuktu as the pre-eminent site of pre-colonial West African scholarship, we must remember that there were other places spanning across the Western and Central Sudan that were renowned for their tradition of teaching. One such place was the capital city of the Kanem Bornu state, Birni Gazargamu. This first great centre of Islamic learning in Central Sudan produced such outstanding figures as Idris Alooma, the pioneering 16th century mai (King) who improved governance and infrastructure. A scholar himself, he funded scholarship and the copying of sacred books. An earlier product of this stimulating aura was Ibrahim al-Kanemi, the first known Sub-Saharan writer (12th century) to have written in Arabic.

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Ibn Battuta, described Kilwa [present day southern Tanzania] as
‘one of the most beautiful and best built towns’
that he had witnessed on his many travels throughout much of the world

Technology in sub-Saharan Cultures by Khaleel Shaikh

Genetic and paleontological findings have concluded that Africa is the birthplace of the entire human race. Africa is often thought of as a continent rich in natural beauty and culture. However, little is known or understood about the technology and innovation which was present throughout its history and the role in which it contributed to what we have today.

There are a limited number of resources on significant, evidential technology in sub-Saharan cultures. However, one noteworthy study is that of Graham Connah’s “African Civilisations: an Archaeological Perspective”. This short article relies heavily on this archaeological work.

Technology is an important part of developing cultures and is usually introduced as a result of the needs and wants of a progressing society. If it is accepted that the human pedigree originated in Africa, then naturally we should expect that tools, and hence technology, which accompanied human development, must have also originated from there. This article looks at pre-colonial, sub-Saharan Technology, dating as far back as the second millennium BCE and spread across the entire region of the African continent.

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“Africa and its people are the most written about
and the least understood of all of the world’s people.
This condition started in the 15th and the 16th centuries
with the beginning of the slave trade system.
The Europeans not only colonialized most of the world,
they began to colonialize information
about the world and its people.”
John Henrik Clarke

Sylviane A. Diouf’s “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” Review by Amina Wadud

Servants of Allah is an important contribution to the history of Islam in America. In particular, Sylviane Diouf focuses on “the peculiar institution” of American slavery and shows how distinct this practice was in comparison to other experiences of slavery. Some of her descriptions of American slavery were painfully graphic. Her command of historical details is precise and her use of these details is powerful. Diouf brought things to life for me that I have yet to find revealed in other considerations of the relationship between, Islam, Africa, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Although there is evidence of the existence of Africans in the Middle East, as well as in Europe. for over a thousand years prior to the lucrative and cruel trade of humans, this book helps clarify the role played by Islam in that slave trade. As a religious worldview with its own self-reflected historical memory, Islam is antedated by centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which dates roughly from the 1500s. Diouf helps dispel misconceptions about the significance of Islam as a factor, either in the prior history of slavery or of this horrific development between Africa and the Americas. Indeed, Islam has been blamed for the slave trade by pointing to its historical acceptance of slavery. While slavery was in no way unique to Islam, African Muslims were willing to sell other Africans to European slave traders. Arab traders were also engaged in the trade of African slaves both in the West and in their own lands in the East. Skilled in Islamic and pre-Islamic Middle Eastern history, Diouf enables her reader to locate the African continent and its peoples and to form a more cohesive picture of the actual relationship of Islam and the Atlantic slave trade. Slavery has existed the world over. Sometimes it has been practiced among persons of the same ethnic background. Sometimes the masters have regarded the ethnic or cultural difference of the slave as the rationale justifying the status of slaves. The existence of slavery even in the most “civilized” social contexts goes back even further than the well-known story of Moses and the exodus from the land of bondage to the land of freedom. The Egyptian slave masters justified the enslavement of the Hebrews on the grounds of ethnic and…

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salih2

“It affords an idea of the degree of education among the Moslem blacks,
when we see a man like this able to read and write a language so different from his own native tongue.
Where is the youth, or even the adult, among the mass of our people who is able to do the same in Latin or Greek?”
Theodore Dwight (1803-1895), The Methodist Quarterly

“Five African Muslims: Their Experiences in the American South” by LDHI

[Once they arrived in America, African Muslims’ stories and experiences varied widely. Many of their accounts disappeared from the historical record, as is the case with so many enslaved people in United States history. However, a number of prominent African Muslims, particularly men, are documented through personal notes, unpublished autobiographies, memoirs, newspaper articles, and public records. Many were literate in Arabic, which was sometimes their third, fourth, or fifth language. Their literacy indicates that they most likely received formal Islamic schooling prior to being forced into the trans-Atlantic trade. The experiences of these influential African Muslims in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the American South and Lowcountry provides a window into the world of the first Muslims who arrived on American soil.]

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Muslims in America: A forgotten history by aljazeera.com >>>

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Wedgwood anti-slavery medallion, produced in 1787 by Josiah Wedgwood (Wikipedia)

“When people thought of a Muslim at that time, they thought Arab, they thought Ottoman, they thought Middle Eastern… Enslaved Africans did not fit within that racial ethnic caricature or form.”
Khaled Beydoun, an author and law professor at the University of Arkansas

“It challenges this notion of this being a Christian nation…
It opens us up to understanding that there were non-Christians present at the founding of this nation [United States], and not only at the founding of this nation, but that helped build this nation…

It challenges the idea that this was a quote ‘Christian nation’ from the beginning.”
Zaheer Ali, an oral historian at the Brooklyn Historical Society and project director of the Muslims in Brooklyn project.

academia.edu

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“Let not any one of you say, my slave or my slave girl,
All of you are the slaves of God,
Instead say that this is my young lady, my young man…
… they are merely your brothers that Allah has placed under your care,
let him feed him what he eats,
let him dress him with what he dresses himself,
do not burden him beyond his scope and…”

Prophet Muhammad, 570-632

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How African Muslims “Civilized Spain”

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The Moors invaded Spain in 711 AD and African Muslims literally civilized the wild, white tribes. Recent scholarship now sheds new light on how Moorish advances in mathematics, astronomy, art, and philosophy helped propel Europe…

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Constantine the African and the Qayrawani doctors: Contribution of the ‘Phoenicians’ of North Africa to Latin Medicine in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

by Charles Burnett Published on: 10th September 2018

When a sixteenth-century medical writer referred to Phoenicians, alongside Arabs, as exceptionally important medical sources, he was probably referring to the Muslim and Jewish doctors of Qayrawan, who were writing in Arabic in the tenth…

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