Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas

African Muslim Supremacy over non Muslim Africans 

Muslims who distinguished themselves as literate and educated were lifted out of Africanness and labeled as “moor” or close to Arabness. It was beneficial to white white supremacy to lift singular Blacks out of Blackness than to consider that a Black African could be educated.

S’Quash an African man shipped to South Carolina towards the end of the slave trade in January 1 1808. Very dark and could read and write in Arabic and Greek. Other salves showed respect to him and he refused to marry a native Black woman.

What the whites chose to see was through their own ethnocentric and racist lenses was that he felt uncomfortable around “inferior Blacks”. Thus one can stop being Black and become de facto closer to whiteness as an Arab. As Muslim slaves tried to rise within the ranks of slavery, they looked to reached the position of driver, which Bilali and Salih Bilali both reached. Their job was to carry out the overseer’s instructions. organize work gangs, and act as an intermediaries between the whites and blacks. S’Quash was an overseer. Samba Makumba was the superintendent of of a plantation in Trinidad. While, Abu Bakr Siddiq kept his owners books in Arabic. As trusted and intelligent a slave proved himself; they were too valuable as slaves to be set free.

It is important to not that this superiority was not a creation of European society. Very much so African Muslim thought of themselves as superior in many cases. The reason would range from watching non Muslims eating habits(the consumption of pork and alcohol). Or the lack of education which was very common in some form of African Muslim Slaves. What was a creation of European society was this idea that Black Africans were less African than their non-Muslim counterparts. The African Muslim superiority was based on a religious reasoning, nonetheless, they still considered themselves fully African.

Literacy Among African Muslims

Many male colonists and most women could neither read or write. Literacy in European cultures was reserved for the wealthy males. The farthest European society would go is to allow the poor and women to read was for religious reasons. The movement for mass literacy came in the nineteenth century. Literacy rate in Muslim Africa was much higher than that of Christian Europe. The disparity in education between slave and owner did cause animosity. There was a constant fear of whites not understanding or being afraid of being tricked.

The recorded presence of Qur’ans in Arabic in the hands of Muslims in Georgia. Trinidad, Brazil and Jamaica. Benjamin Lartin, a Mandingo slave in Jamaica hand wrote a copy of the Qur’an and showed it to Richard Madden. Amadu Diallo while in England, wrote three identical copies of the Qur’an without looking at the previous copy.

Foreign language was also equated with revolt. The Bahia Revolt on January 1835, operated out of Qur’an schools which were found after the revolt.

Resistance and Revolts

The Senegalese led the first slave revolt in America. In 1522 on Hispaniola, The Wolof revolted on the sugar plantation of Admiral Don Diego Colon, the son of Christopher Columbus. Their refusal of their new situation was translated into disobedience and rebelliousness. Muslim introduction into what is now Latin America was shunned as the Spanish Crown did not want Islam to spread or rebellion on their hands. Another issue was African Muslims knew how to handle horses. Horses were introduced in West Africa well before Europe. West African Muslims who were captured in war and brought to the Americas; were very well versed in horse lead warfare. 

Important to Remember…

The Jolof Empire established in the 13th century along the Senegalese River. The first group of slaves to be sent to the Senegambians(recently lost a war and war captives). Nasr-al-Din a Berber launched a jihad that reached Senegal in 1673. The movement was to implement a more Orthodox form of Islam as he denounced the Kings for selling their people into slavery. Nasir-al-Din was welcomed into lands where the people were scared and demoralized by the rampant development of the slave trade. He took over the Kingdoms of the Futa Toro, Jolof, Kayor, and Walo.

Overview of the Book

Sylviane Diouf once again delivers excellent research and writing in Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. Spanning six chapter including chapters on Muslim literacy in the Americas and African Muslim resistance and revolts; this book does not disappoint. As always Diouf uses language that is heavily academic and appeals to an academic audience. This does not mean that only historians can enjoy this book; Servants of Allah is very well organized thus easy to read. More applause is due for Diouf as she gives the readers a look into European fear and anxiety. European slave owners were very weary of slaves who were literate, especially in languages outside of the European world. This book is recommended to anyone who is interested in Islam, African/African American studies, and American studies in general.  


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