Dr. Aneesah Nadir –
Sadly, the social climate and the messages we see in the media and hear from high-profile politicians make us feel as though we don’t belong. Many of us believe that Muslims are newcomers, don’t have roots in America and that home is thousands of miles away.
As an African American and a Muslim American this is my home. I believe that I have a claim to America. I know that my ancestors’ blood, sweat and tears helped build this country. I know that they suffered under the cruel slave system in America and survived it. I know they fought the injustice of segregation and institutional racism to make a better place and an opportunity for me. I saw the harsh treatment of those who participated in nonviolent demonstrations to obtain our civil rights and our right to vote. I know they had a dream for a better tomorrow for my children and me.
As a Muslim American and a student of Islam in America I learned that Muslims traveled to establish trade ties with early Native American peoples as early as the ninth century. I learned that Mansa Abu Bakr of Mali traveled from west Africa to the Gulf of Mexico in 1312. In 1527 Moroccan guide Estevan came to Florida from Spain with the de Narvaez expedition, and in 1539 he participated in the exploration of what is presently Arizona and New Mexico. I learned that as many as 10 to 30 percent of the total African slave population in the Americas were Muslim and that 7-8 percent of the West Africans enslaved in America from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries were Muslims. I learned that African Muslims in America were statesmen and Qur’an scholars and businessmen and military leaders in their homeland. They were strong men and women who kept Islam alive and passed it on as much as they could despite the harsh laws that prohibited them from doing so.
Prince Abdul Rahman bin Ibrahim Sori Mawdo, a Fulani army colonel, born in Timbuktu and sold into captivity in 1788, was an African Muslim Qur’an reciter and scholar of Islamic sciences, religious and civil law, geography, astronomy and mathematics. Alex Haley told the story of his African Muslim ancestor Kunta Kinte and his determination to maintain his Islam. They were among the many African Muslims who helped to build the foundations of the United States we enjoy today.
Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Congressman John Lewis, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik Shabazz), Muhammad Ali, Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, Sister Clara Muhammad, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, Congressmen Keith Ellison and Andre Carson and many other African-American Muslims and Christians laid the foundation and built the social capital that enables Muslim Americans today, no matter where our parents are from, to practice our religion, vote, receive a quality education, live where we want to live, enjoy public accommodations. Thank Allah for their struggle and determination which allows us to continue to make positive and lasting contributions to this country and call America home.