Early history

History is a narrative of events and stories and a chronological record of those events. We as Muslim Americans have a long and insightful history with many contributions to the American society in which both the public and many Muslim Americans are not aware. Example under the concept of liberation it was a Muslim Country (Morocco) that first acknowledged America’s freedom as an independent country. They also have the longest standing treaty with the United States. We have Muslims and people with Islamic last names fighting in the Revolutionary War: for that matter in all the wars in the United States.  Even before the Revolutionary war, there were two Muslims, Abdel Conder and Mahamut who came from As-Sali, Morocco, they petition the government in South Carolina for their freedom in 1753  and won. There was also a group of Muslims from Morocco known as the (South Carolina 10) in 1790  that won their freedom. We additionally find in American history a descendant of a Muslim family from Ghana named ‘Paul Cuffe,’ who was the first African American to petition the ruling powers in 1815 to free every slave and to allow every colored man desiring to leave America the freedom to do so. He had taken at least 38 people to Sierra Leone. We also find at least two Muslims being liberated for their taqwa (Faith, Love, and Belief in Allah), Ayub ‘Job’ Ibn Solomon DiJallo in 1730 and Ibrahima Abd Ar-Rahman known as ‘Prince’ who gained his freedom in 1828. 

The Early Wave Pre Columbus: They came as explorers.
The Muslim historian Abdul-Hassan Ali Ibn Al-Hussain Al-Masudi of 871-957 CE wrote in his book, Muruj adh-dhahab wa Maadin al-Jawhar that Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad, the Muslim navigator from Cordoba, Spain sailed from Delba (Palos) in 889 CE, crossed the Atlantic and reached an unknown territory and returned with fabulous treasures.

The famous Muslim geographer and cartographer Al-Sharif Al-Idris 1099-1166 CE wrote in his book, Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq (Excursion of the longing one in crossing Horizons). That a group of seafarers from North Africa sailed into the sea of darkness and fog (The Atlantic Ocean) from Lisbon (Portugal), they reached an island that had people and cultivation on the fourth day, and a translator spoke to them in the Arabic language. In 1291 CE (690 HE) Shaikh Zayn Eddine Ali Ben Fadhel Al-Mazandarani traveled from Tarfaya (South Morocco) to Green Island in the Caribbean Sea. The details of his travels are found in many Islamic references books. In the book, Massaalik al-Absaar fi Mamaalik al Amsaar (The pathways of sights in the provinces of Kingdoms) by Chihab Ad-Dine Abdul Abbas Ahmad ben Fadhl Al-Umari described the geographical explorations beyond the sea of the fog and darkness of the Mali’s Sultan travels.

The Sultans’ famous brother, the Mandinka Hajj Mansu Kankan Musa, informed the scholars of the Mamluk Bahri Sultan court judge, Nasir Edin Muhammad III in Cairo, that his brother, Sultan Abu Bakari had undertaken two expeditions into the Atlantic Ocean. From the second voyage in 1311, the sultan did not return to Timbuktu.

Anthropologists Clyde Ahmad Winters in his work, Islam in Early North and South America, proved that the Madinkos under Abu Bakari explored many parts of North America via the Mississippi and other rivers systems. At Four Corners, Arizona, writings show that they even brought elephants from Africa.  

After the Spanish Inquisition, Columbus and the early Spanish and Portuguese explorers were able to voyage across the Atlantic, thanks to the Muslim’s geographical and navigational information. They received maps made from Muslim traders and the book Akbar Az-Zaman (The History of the World) by Al-Masudi, which was based on information and material from Africa and Asia.  Columbus even had two captains of Muslim heritage with him on his first voyage, Martin Alonso Pinzon was the captain of the Pinta and Vicente Yanez Pinzon was the captain of the Nina. They were wealthy expert ship outfitters who helped Columbus organize and prepare the Santa Maria. The Pinzon family were related to Abu Zayan Muhammad III, the Sultan of Morocco during the Marinid dynasty (1196-1465).

In Nigel Davies’ book, Voyagers to the New World, he reports that Columbus recorded in his papers that on Monday, October 12th1492 while sailing near Gibara on the north-east coast of Cuba. He saw a Mosque on top of a beautiful mountain and ruins of Mosques and Minarets with inscriptions of Quranic verses was found in Cuba, Mexico, Texas, and Nevada.  In Patrick Huyghes’ book, Columbus Was Last, he reports that during Columbus second voyage he was told, by Indians in Espanola (Haiti) that black people had been on the Island before him. They presented Columbus with spears of these African Muslims. These weapons were tipped with a yellow metal that the Indians called Guanin, a word from West Africa meaning ‘gold alloy.’  The word Guanin is related to the word Ghinaa, which means wealth. This metal was later discovered to be 18 parts gold, 6 parts silver, and 8 parts copper, which was the same ratio as the metal produced in metal shops in Guinea, Africa.

In Barry Fell’s book Saga of America, he points to evidence supporting the arrival of Muslims centuries before Columbus. He discovered the existence of Muslim schools in Valley of Fire, Allan Springs, Logomarsino, Keyhole, Cayon, Washoe, and Hickison Summit Pass, Nevada; in Mesa Verde, Colorado; Mimbres Valley, New Mexico; and Tipper Canoe, Indiana dating back 700-800 CE. He found engravings on rocks in the barren western US texts, diagrams, and charts representing fragments of what was once a system of schools at both an elementary and higher level. He points out the language of instruction was North African Arabic written with old Kufic Arabic scripts.

Dr. Fell reports that the southwest Pima people possessed a vocabulary which, contained words of Arabic origins. He also reports that in Inyo County, California there exists an early rock carving which stated in Arabic “Yasus ben Maria,” (Jesus, son of Mary). The descendants of the early Muslims to the Americas married and lived among many native Indians. Some were members of the present Algonquin, Anasazi, Hohokam, Iroquois, and Olmec people of the Americas. In Dr. Sertima’s book African Presence in Early America, he points out that he found a dot-and-crescent script in the Reef Bay Valley at St. John’s US Virgin Island, that states, “Plunge into cleansing and dissolve away impurity and trouble; this is water for ritual ablution before devotions.”

Reference Sources:
Muruj adh-dhahab wa Maadin al-Jawhar, Abdul-Hassan Ali Ibn Al-Hussain Al-Masudi 871-957. Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq, (Excursion of the longing one in crossing Horizons), by Al-Sharif Al-Idris 1099-1166. Massaalik al-Absaar fi Mamaalik al Amsaar (The pathways of sights in the provinces of Kingdoms), by Chinab Ad-Dine Abdul Abbas Ahmad ben Fadhl Al-Umari. Islam in Early North and South, by Clyde Ahmad Winters; African Presence in Early America, Dr. Ivan Sertima; Saga of America, by Barry Fell; Columbus Was Last, Patrick Huyghes; Africa and the Discovery of America, Leo Wiener; and Voyagers to the New World, Nigel Davies’.

Post Columbus and Early Settlements

Historical records document that from 1492 through the early 1600’s an estimated 500,000 Jews and Muslims were exiled from Spain and Portugal through a religious witch-hunt known as the Spanish Inquisition. In Spain, the Muslims were known as ‘Mudajjan’, Moors, and Moriscos. Records show that wherever these exiles traveled they identified themselves as ‘Portuguese,’ so much so the term became almost synonymous for both the Muslims and the Jews who had been exiled during the Inquisition. As the Inquisition grew in power, even the Christianized Moors and Jews were forced into exile. They became known as the ‘Conversos.’ Many of the early Muslim settlers from 1500–1700 came from the Spanish Inquisition, and some came from the Barbary Coast Wars.

Estevanico came from Azamore, Morocco in 1527 with the Spaniards as part of the remaining crew of Panfilo de Narva’ez expedition. Estevanico was among the first of two people to reach the west coast of Mexico in an expedition overland from Florida to the Pacific coast. In 1538, he led an expedition from Mexico with Friar Marco where he discovered Arizona and New Mexico.

In the 1550s, Nassereddine the Egyptian settled near the Hudson River in the Catskills region of upstate New York. He was called Prince Nassereddine. He fell in love with a Native American princess named Lotwana, who married someone else of her choice and tribe. The report has it that he poisoned Lotwana on her wedding night by giving a gift with a poisonous snake inside. The warriors of the Mohawk tribe captured him and burned Nassereddine at the stake.

In  Puerto Rico at the 1500 era built ‘Fort of the Moors’ Arabic writings has been found on one of the walls of the fort. Even in Old San Juan downtown, we found a restaurant storefront decorated in Arabic tiles.

In 1566, the Spanish and Melungeons had their earliest settlement in Santa Elena, South Carolina, which flourished until the British overran them in 1587. The Moriscos became known as Melungeons. They were the first people, aside from Native Americans to penetrate deeply into the Appalachian region. The word Melungeon has both Arabic and Turkish roots, meaning ‘cursed soul.’ In Portuguese ‘Melungo’ means shipmate. In Arabic ‘Mudajjan’ Melun means, one that carries bad luck and ill omen, and “Can” in the Turkish language means soul. In the Turkish language “Melun-can,” means one whose soul is a born loser. The Melungeons lived in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky. In William Harlen’s report “Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States: Annual Report Smithsonian Institution,” he states that the principal family names of the Melungeons of Virginia and Tennessee are Adams, Adkins, Bell, Bolen, Collins, Denham, Fields, Freeman, Gann, Gibson, Goins, Gorvens, Graham, Lawson, Maloney, Mullins, Melons, Noel, Piniore, Sexton, and Wright.

In 1586, the English pirate Sir Francis Drake proceeded to raid his Spanish and Portuguese enemies on the coast of Brazil. During the raid, Drake liberated or captured 400 Portuguese and Spanish held prisoners, including an estimated 300 Moorish and Turkish galley slaves who were captured in Mediterranean Sea battles, as well as several dozen South American Indians, a smaller group of West African Muslims, and a few Portuguese soldiers. Drake had planned to arm and release the Turks and Africans on Cuba, but heavy storms forced them to continue up the coast of North Carolina. Drake finally landed on Roanoke Island, North Carolina where he met some stranded English settlers pleading for a ride home. Reports have it that he left at least 200 of the Moors, Turks, West Africans, Portuguese soldiers, and South American Indians there on the Island.

 In 1639, the first black Moor known to arrive in the Delmarva area was named Anthony who lived in the Wilmington, Delaware area. In 1654, the English explorers reported a colony of bearded people wearing European clothing, living in cabins, smelting silver, and dropping to their knees to pray many times daily, wherever they might be.

They encountered them in forests where they preferred the freedom of the wilderness to the safety and comfort of Jamestown. In 1670, the Virginia General Assembly passed the 1670 Act declaring who would be slaves, excluding the Turks and Moors, whose countries had amity with the King of England from Virginia General Assembly records 1733 and 1752.

By 1684, reports began to come in of Moors arriving and living in the Delaware area. The group was known as the ‘Moors of Delaware.’ They lived in Kent County, in Cheswold near Dover, Delaware and in Bridgeton, and in southern New Jersey. The Moors arrived in the area from the mid to late 1600s. These Moors had mixed and married among the Nanticoke Indians. The Moors of Delaware principal family names are Carney, Carter, Carver, Coker, Dean, Durham, Hansley, Hansor, Hughes, Morgan, Mosley, Munsee, Reed, Ridgeway, Sammons, and Seeney.

A smaller group called the ‘Laster Tribe’ lived just outside the town of Hertford, NC in Perquimans County. They are known to be a mixed tribe who has a tradition of descent from a Moorish sea captain who married a white woman and settled in the area. The Laster’s principal family names are the Coe Clan, Pools, Slaughters, Van Guilders, Goins, and Maleys.

According to William Harlen in Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States: Annual Report Smithsonian Institution” other known groups were the Arab’s of Summit, in Schoharie County, New York, The Mecca Indians, the Hassanamisco Nipmug of Massachusetts, the Turks of South Carolina, the Brass Ankles of South Carolina, and the Seminoles of Florida. These were among the many different groups found here in America.

In the book Pirate Utopias’ Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes, by Peter Lamborn Wilson, he sites that in 1627 Muslim pirates from as-Sali, Morocco in the Barbary Coast attacked Baltimore, Ireland and held it for 68 days. At the time, the southern and western parts of Ireland were infested with pirates just as the Barbary Coast. A poem was also written about it called “The Sack of Baltimore.” There was also a famous woman pirate named Grace O’Malley who ruled her own little kingdom in Mayo. In B. Quinn’s book, he points out those pre-Celtic tribes of Munster was called the Hibernii; they were assumed a branch of the Iberii from Spain.

The reason why I mentioned the Muslims in Ireland is three things. The Muslims from As-Sali Morocco, as well as the one, found living in South Carolina, and many African-Americans during slavery and right after slavery married Irish indentured servants, including my own African enslaved ancestor. Third, we found more than a dozen people in the US 1800s census that came from Ireland with Islamic last names such as Islam and Mohamed.

Reference Sources:
“Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States: Annual Report Smithsonian Institution”, by William Harlen; Delaware’s Forgotten Folk, The Story of the Moors & Nanticoke’s, C. A. Weslager; Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America, by E Hirschman;The Melungeons: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America, by N Brent Kennedy; and Pirate Utopias’ Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes, by Peter Lamborn Wilson.