African Muslims Enslaved in the United States and Elsewhere
Between the seventeenth and the mid-nineteenth century, numerous West African Muslims mostly from Senegambia (Senegal, Gambia, Mali, and Guinea) were deported to the United States. They were overwhelmingly young men, most often prisoners of war but also victims of kidnapping. It is difficult to estimate their numbers among the close to 400,000 people who survived the Middle Passage to the United States. But nowhere else in the Americas was the proportion of Senegambians -- 24% -- as high as in this country. Senegambia was the area of West Africa that had been Islamized the longest, beginning as early as 1010.
If most Muslims maintained their faith in secret in the barbaric environment of servitude, others succeeded in living their religion openly. Reports of their religious activities appear in court and police records, plantation logs, newspapers, books, and runaway notices. Their portraits were captured in paintings, prints, daguerreotypes, and photographs; and they have left a few manuscripts written in Arabic.
Omar ibn Said
© Courtesy of Documenting the American South, University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.