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November 25, 2011

The American Revolution and the Foot-Imprints
of American Muslims- Part III

By Syed R. Mahmood

While the Americans of the thirteen colonies were fighting their Revolutionary War during the period of 1775 - 1783 against the Tyranny of the King of Great Britain, one of the most powerful Muslim Empires, the Ottomans, were ruling a vast area of land in Europe and the Orient (modern day Middle East and beyond). The people of Europe and the American colonies had very little or only biased understanding of Muslims and Islam. There were deliberate efforts by some Orientalists (European Christian scholars of the Orient) to demonize Islam.

After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, some members of the powerful Christian Clergy of the United States carried out the same attitude about Islam and Muslims. On the other hand, in the Ottoman’s Domain, Christians and Jews were interwoven into the fabric of the Ottoman Empire. After the tragedy of 9/11, American Muslims were collectively blamed and targeted by the anti-Muslim forces in the United States.  American citizens of every religious background were killed by that terrorist act, including fifty-nine Muslims. This tragedy provided an excuse for the Right-wing anti-Muslim extremists, pro-Israeli Zionists and some Christian Fundamentalists to launch an abusive and insulting onslaught against the American Muslims. People like Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, Steve Emerson, Ann Coulter, the Fox News and Rev. Pat Robertson of the Christian Collation made it their business to disparage Islam, offend Muslims and spread fear among the Americans by demonizing Islam. Even before 9/11, it was their everyday entertainment episode.  During the hysteria of a prospect to build a mosque near the “ground zero” location in New York, towering political personalities and presidential candidates, like Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin’s statements sounded more like anti-Muslims and anti-Islam. Mike Huckabee referred to American Muslims as “Foreigners.”

The anti-Muslim, prejudicial attitude and hatred is spreading against American Muslims. Their children are growing up in a society which is contaminated by a false perception of a great religious society, Islam. It is very destructive for the prosperity and progress of our great nation, the United States. One of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, wrote in the Declaration of Independence that, “All Men are Created Equal”. Presidents Bush and Obama have also discouraged this anti-Islamic propaganda.

American Muslims are not alien to the American society. They have the same rights and claims on America, as other Americans. Researchers and historians have discovered that the first known footprints of Muslim Immigrants started on American soil in the year of 1312. The first Muslim explorers reached the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River. 

In the year 1492, when Christopher Columbus came to America, he brought eight Muslim explorers with him. Among them were two Muslim brothers: Martin Alonso Pinzon, the captain of the Pinta and Vicente Yanex Pinzon, the captain of the Nina. Both of them were independently wealthy and good ship navigators.  He also had a Catholic convert from Jewry who also spoke Arabic and would be useful as an interpreter when the ships may reach the Far East – not knowing about reaching America.

 In 1527, Estevanico, a Muslim Arab Negro from the coast of Morocco, took part in a voyage from Spain with a fleet of five ships with six hundred people bound for America. Some of their ships were destroyed by a hurricane and many of the people were killed by Indians. Estevanico, with his companion, arrived at the West Coast of Mexico.

During the uprising of Alpujarra, Spain, in 1568 by the Moriscos, Muslims and Jews were forced to accept Catholicism.  A good number of the Moorish Muslims migrated to America, the new world. Some of them were Portuguese. It is reported that in 1600, many members of Melungeons, of Portuguese ancestry, were living in the area of the Appalachian Valley. English explorers from Jamestown reported about a town of bearded people (Muslim Moors from Spain). They were in the silver smelting business. In 1684, Moors were also living in the areas of Delaware and in the Southern parts of New Jersey, in Bridgetown.

The trade of enslaved Africans started in the American colonies in the year 1619. Other than labor, they also brought new cultures, languages, music and religion. Among them were people of many skills, including farmers, teachers, students, carpenters, scholars and princes. Some of them were able to read and write Arabic. The total estimate of the number Africans in their transatlantic voyage from Africa to America was around fifteen to twenty million. About one fourth of them were Muslims. Some scholars and researchers claimed that this number is thirty percent. At any rate, a good percentage of the West Africans were Muslims.

The intensive hard work of the enslaved Africans made their owners very rich and powerful, particularly in the South. The cotton industries, tobacco and sugar plantations generated a great deal of wealth for the slaveholders. They were able to influence the political process of the government. Due to their political power, the support of slavery was very strong in the south. Very few of the enslaved Africans were able to practice their religion. They were forced to change their names and give up their faith. Millions of Muslim and non-Muslim Africans lost their identity. Families were broken; children were sold without the consent of their parents. Husbands and wives were forced to be separated. This was the price enslaved Africans have paid to bring prosperity and progress to this great nation of the United States.

Other than the enslaved Africans, a great number of Muslims have since come from different parts of the world to this new world. Some American researchers have discovered from the United States Armed Services records that Muslim Veterans fought in American Wars: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I and World War II.

 Yousuf Ben Ali (aka) Joseph Benhaley fought under the command of General Sutter (1732 -1774). Corporal Bampett Muhamed and many more also fought during the Revolutionary War. According to the records of the Civil War, at least 292 Muslim Veterans’ names were found. In the Draft and Enlistment registration records of World War I around 5,470 Muslim Veterans names were listed. World War II records shows the names of 1,575 Muslim Veterans (information is incomplete).

During the War of 1812, enslaved Salih Bilali defended the Sapelo Island with his eighty enslaved Muslim men against the British and he warned them that they will defend the Island with their life and property.

Presently, out of six million American Muslims, around two million African-American Muslims continue to be working hard to make America prosperous. Their ancestors have given their blood and sweat in the last few centuries to build this nation.

On August 3, 2011, President Barrak Hussain Obama addressed a gathering of Muslim diplomats, prominent Muslim Americans and members of Obama’s cabinet and other legislatures in the White House to celebrate the Muslim holy month of fasting -- Ramadan. President Obama said, “Indeed, the contributions of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog, because Muslims are so interwoven in the fabric of our communities and our country. American Muslims are successful in business and entertainment; in the arts and athletics; in science and in medicine. Above all, they are parents, good neighbors, and active citizens.” 

Syed R. Mahmood is the founder President of American Institute of International Studies.

Read earlier parts of the article:

The American Revolution as affected by the Muslim World – Part I

The American Revolution as affected by the Muslim World – Part II