The Legacy of Enslaved Muslims
What the lives and struggles of most Muslims were like as they confronted the dreadful reality of enslavement remains unknown, but the successes of a number of them in remaining true to their faith and its rites has been documented. Some fasted during Ramadan, abstained from liquor and pork, gave Muslim names to their children, prayed as many times a day as they could, and had prayer mats and prayer beads. Despite their efforts, West African Muslims in general were not able to pass on their religion to the next generations. Few men could find Muslim spouses, a factor that played a significant role in the demise of the religion, since enslaved children were often cut off from their fathers through sale or residence on other plantations. When close-knit Muslim families existed, as was the case on the Sea Islands, it is often in the third generation that Islam disappeared, especially when churches started to proselytize massively after emancipation in 1865.
Still, the West African Muslims have left an inspiring legacy: dignity, pride in themselves and their culture, strong will, strong faith, a thirst for knowledge, and religious and intellectual pursuit even in the most repressive environment.
Omar ibn Said
© Courtesy of Documenting the American South, University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.