The Harbinger Online

Muslim Mindset: Slavery and Islam

One of the narratives often overlooked in study of the American slave trade was the predominance of Muslim slaves. At the time that Africans were taken prisoner and transported to the New World, West Africa had a thriving Islamic civilization. People were well educated and able to read and write in Arabic as well as their native African languages.


An estimated 10 to 20 percent of those captured were Muslim. Many were forced to convert to Christianity, the religion of their captors. The spiritual practices of their Muslim ancestors faded as time progressed.

They adopted the surnames of their owners and became submissive to them. However, here and there remnants of Islam remained. One of the most famous slave revolts, the Malê Revolt was led and organized by Muslims in Brazil in 1835. Unfortunately the uprising was not successful but it showed the influence Islam had over its followers.

Muslims will not submit to any human being; only to God. This made the religion problematic to those trying to take ownership of people. This goes back to the advent of Islam when an Afro-Arab slave named Bilal Ibn Rabah adopted Islam and was subsequently tortured to renounce his religion.

No matter what was done to him, he would not reject his faith. His limbs were stretched in four different directions. He was whipped. His skin was burned with red hot sand. After hearing of this torture, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent his companion Abu Bakr to buy Bilal and set him free. Bilal ended up becoming a loyal companion to the prophet and was the first person to call the Adhan (call to prayer).

Centuries later, thousands of African Muslims were brutally captured and shipped like cargo to the Caribbean and North and South America. Their culture, faith and way of life were destroyed. Then, in 1930, came the Nation of Islam, founded by an East Indian immigrant. It began as an Afro-centrist movement mixed in with some Islamic teachings.

It attracted many disillusioned African-Americans, who were angry with their marginalized position in society. Though the Nation of Islam is ultimately a black-supremacist group, the NOI empowered many economically, socially, and spiritually. One of these adherents was Malcolm X, a young convict who adopted the religious movement while incarcerated.

It taught him morals, self control and gave him an identity. The X took the place of the name given to him by a white slaveowner. His original African surname was lost. He became one of the most renowned speakers in the entire Nation of Islam and soon gained huge popularity.

He preached black nationalism and the right for Black Americans to fight back against their White aggressors. As time progressed, Malcolm became more and more disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and started practicing mainstream Sunni Islam. He made the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964. He saw Muslims of all creeds and colors praying together, both the blackest of the black and the whitest of the white. He saw that people of all races can live together and coexist if they all share mutual beliefs.

When Malcolm X returned to America and started speaking out against the Nation, he was murdered. This created great division within the group and eventually, after the death of its leader Elijah Muhammad, the majority of the Nation converted to mainstream Sunni Islam. To this day, African-Americans are the largest Muslim demographic in the United States.

When you enter any mosque in the US, you will see people of all races bowing and prostrating to the creator of the universe. They are all slaves: not slaves to other humans, materialism, or perception, but slaves to Allah.

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Will Brownlee

Will is a senior at East and a recent convert to Islam. Read Full »

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