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Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas

Sylviane A. Diouf
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 265
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  • Book Info
    Servants of Allah
    Book Description:

    Despite the explosion in work on African American and religious history, little is known about Black Muslims who came to America as slaves. Most assume that what Muslim faith any Africans did bring with them was quickly absorbed into the new Christian milieu. But, surprisingly, as Sylviane Diouf shows in this new, meticulously researched volume, Islam flourished during slavery on a large scale. Servants of Allah presents a history of African Muslim slaves, following them from Africa to the Americas. It details how, even while enslaved many Black Muslims managed to follow most of the precepts of their religion. Literate, urban, and well traveled, Black Muslims drew on their organization and the strength of their beliefs to play a major part in the most well known slave uprisings. Though Islam did not survive in the Americas in its orthodox form, its mark can be found in certain religions, traditions, and artistic creations of people of African descent. But for all their accomplishments and contributions to the cultures of the African Diaspora, the Muslim slaves have been largely ignored. Servants of Allah is the first book to examine the role of Islam in the lives of both individual practitioners and in the American slave community as a whole, while also shedding light on the legacy of Islam in today's American and Caribbean cultures. Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 1999.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8530-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: An Understudied Presence and Legacy
    (pp. 1-3)

    For three hundred and fifty years, Muslim men, women, and children, victims of the general insecurity that the Atlantic slave trade and the politico-religious conflicts in West Africa fostered, were sold in the New World. They were among the very first Africans to be shipped, and among the very last. When they reached the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, after a horrific journey, they introduced a second monotheistic religion (after the arrival of Catholicism and before Protestantism) into post-Columbian America. Islam was also the first revealed religion freely followed—as opposed to imposed Christianity—by the Africans who were...

  5. 1 African Muslims, Christian Europeans, and the Atlantic Slave Trade
    (pp. 4-48)

    When the first Africans were shipped to the New World, beginning in 1501, Islam was already well established in West Africa. The religion revealed to the Arabian trader Muhammad between 609 and 632 c.e. had been introduced to North Africa as early as 660. South of the Sahara it had been known since the eighth century through contacts with merchants from the north. Islam in its orthodox Sunni form started to spread, however, after the conversion of the two rulers War Diaby, from Takrur in northern Senegal—which, by applying thesharia, or Islamic law, became the first West African...

  6. 2 Upholding the Five Pillars of Islam in a Hostile World
    (pp. 49-70)

    Scattered across every region of the Americas, the Muslims entered a hostile world—a world that enslaved free Muslim men and women; a white Christian world determined to wipe out any trace of “paganism” or “Muhammadanism” in the newly arrived Africans.

    It was essential that the new land become Christian as quickly as possible, because evangelization was a large part of the justification for the enslavement of the Africans. Moreover, as stated earlier, the fight against the possible spread of Islam had been an intense preoccupation in the Spanish colonies since the beginning of the sixteenth century. All the conditions...

  7. 3 The Muslim Community
    (pp. 71-106)

    Muslims in America during slavery strove hard to keep their religion alive, in both the enslaved community and the larger Christian society. But to be a Muslim was more than just respecting the Five Pillars of Islam. It implied a distinctive lifestyle. Especially for West Africans, with their community-based traditions, Islam is a highly communal, public, and visible religion. It dictates and regulates the daily life, material culture, and demeanor of the faithful. To be a Muslim entails following strict dietary rules, behaving in a certain way, dressing in a particular fashion, and interacting with coreligionists and non-Muslims in the...

  8. 4 Literacy: A Distinction and a Danger
    (pp. 107-144)

    A large proportion of the Muslims arrived in the New World already literate, reading and writing Arabic and their own languages transcribed in the Arabic alphabet. As other Africans came from exclusively oral cultures, and as learning to read and write was either illegal or actively discouraged for all slaves in the Americas, literacy became one of the most distinguishing marks of the Muslims.

    The Muslims’ literacy clearly set them apart from the rest of the slaves and became as distinctive as a physical trait. A slaveholder was so impressed with his literate slave, for example, that he mentioned only...

  9. 5 Resistance, Revolts, and Returns to Africa
    (pp. 145-178)

    Frugal, serious, and dedicated to hard work in order to get their freedom or reach the upper echelons of the slave structure, the African Muslims may have appeared, at first glance, to be “model slaves.” These characteristics, however, represent only one facet of their experience in the Americas, that which drew on their education and discipline in Africa. They also brought with them a tradition of defiance and rebellion, because as Muslims, they could be only free men and women. They proved antagonistic toward their captors from the very beginning, and from a few years after the arrival of the...

  10. 6 The Muslim Legacy
    (pp. 179-210)

    With a documented presence of five hundred years, Islam was, after Catholicism, the second monotheist religion introduced into post-Columbian America. It preceded Lutheranism, Methodism, Baptism, Calvinism, Santeria, Candomble, and Voodoo to name a few. All these religions are alive today and are followed by the vast majority of the Africans’ descendants, but in the Americas and the Caribbean, not one community currently practices Islam as passed on by preceding African generations. Where orthodox Islam exists in America it has been reintroduced by immigrants from the Middle East, southern Europe, Asia, and, recently, West Africa again. The United States is the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 211-234)
  12. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 235-246)
  13. Index
    (pp. 247-253)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 254-254)