When did Muslims first come to America?

When did Muslims first arrive in the United States? On one hand, until a few years ago, Islam recieved little attention in America. Right now, Islam is often portrayed as very hostile and alien - or at best - complete newcomers to the fabric of American society. But haven’t Muslims lived in America for decades?

Now the “Nation of Islam” dates from the 1930’s- which as far as I know is indigenous to the African American community - and was for many years widely considered to be outside of the global Islamic faith or perhaps even a complete misinterpretation of Islam. In the 1960’s and 1970’s many of these “N.O.I.” Muslims broke from the Farrakhan faction and moved to mainstream Sunnite Islam. I am asking about Sunnite, Shi’ite, or other sects of Old World origin, not about the controversial Afrocentric groups which are considered “Islamic” by Muslims, including 5% Nation, Gods and Earths, and so on…

I do know Lebanese and Syrians immigrated to America many years ago, but they were all or mostly Christian. I do not believe Muslims were ever speifically excluded from immigrating to America, and there are Muslim peoples in Europe and the Ottoman Empire that would have been able to immigrate at nearly any point in history. But what year does Islam in America date from?

I meant to say controversial Afrocentric groups which may or may not be considered Islamic by Muslims…I do believe ‘mainstream’ Muslims frown on any sect that uses any form of racial distinctions.

Here ya go: http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itsv/0397/ijse/hadad.htm

“Some scholars are exploring the possibility that Muslims even preceded the Plymouth Plantation and the Virginia settlements. We have historical evidence that some of the Moors who were expelled from Spain somehow made their way to the islands of the Caribbean, and from there to the southern part of the United States. There’s a book on the Melungeons who came to North America prior to the 1600s. So there are some Muslims now who are looking at this history and seeing themselves as part of the founding of America. It’s sort of the Spanish version of the founding of America. We also know that a substantial number of the African Americans who were brought as slaves to the United States were Muslim, and were converted to Christianity. Some continued to practice Islam until the early part of this century. They lived on the outer banks of Georgia, on the periphery. So there are different ways of looking at the history. Generally speaking, we talk about steady emigration in the 1870s and 1880s when the Muslims from Lebanon and Syria came to the United States.”

The first Muslims to arrive in numbers ( excluding a few moriscos that came with the Spaniards ) were probably African slaves from West Africa ( mostly the far west in this case ). They would have represented a minority of slaves imported and it is likely for most ( probably almost all ), their faith did not survive multiple generations.

If we exclude early conversions and proselytizing in the black community ( not just the NOI, but also by such heterodox sects as the Ahmadiyya from India, who made some converts in the U.S. in the 1920’s and 1930’s ), the first significant influx of immigrants from Muslim regions began in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, the ones you noted as coming mostly from Syria/Lebabnon - Though many were Christian, not all were and some small Muslim communities were established in such unlikely seeming places as Ross, ND and Cedar Falls, Iowa. A couple of immigration acts in 1924 pretty much ended this wave. After those acts were amended in 1952 and then further loosened in 1965, Muslim immigration really took off.

So excluding the NOI and similar native movements or conversions among the black community in the U.S. ( for example the rather heterodox Indian-origined Ahmadiyya sect was another that proselytized in that community in the 1920’s and 1930’s ), most Muslim immigration into the U.S. dates froms the 60’s and later.

  • Tamerlane

Sorry for repeating myself there. I sort of was working on the post from two different directions and ended up patching them together :).

  • Tamerlane

Don’t leave out the slaves. How can you forget the slaves? You have heard of Kunta Kinte, haven’t you? There are lots of Muslims documented among the slaves in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Some of them were Islamic scholars who wrote works in Arabic while in captivity in America. One was an African prince who had been sold into slavery.

There are records in the African kingdom of Mali that in the 14th century Abubakari the king of Mali sent an expedition west across the Atlantic ocean who came back and reported another continent. Abubakari abdicated his throne and led another expedition there. He was succeede by his brother Mansa Musa who is remembered by historians as the most famous king of Mali.

There might have been some Muslims among the 500 slaves abandoned by Sir Francis Drake at the coast near Roanoke in 1586, although the Turks among his many prisoners were perhaps too valuable to lose.
(Turkish prisoners could sometimes fetch a ransom from the Ottoman Empire.)
There were several earlier spanish settlements, which may have brought in Muslim galleyslaves.

Jomo Mojo: Who left out the slaves? Not me :slight_smile: ( see my first paragraph above ).

I am more than a little sceptical of the claim for Mali though - We’re not talking about a state with much of a history of maritime interest, despite their tie to and control over a riverine trade network on the Niger. That much is obvious by their continued reliance on the trans-Saharan trade routes, rather than coastal trade via Senegal. There is also a difficulty with the naval technology that would have been available to them at the time.

Though anything is possible, I suppose.

  • Tamerlane

I don’t really believe this story. It is theorectically possible for them to have done so, but under 14th century African shipbuilding technology, they likely never would have returned, if indeed they arrived alive.

Plus, everybody and their brother claims their nation got to the new world first nowadays.

I’ve seeen it widely speculated that at least some members of Columbus’ crew were Andalusian Moors. One in particular, Luis de Torres, was along as an Arabic-speaking interpreter, although most sources identify him as Jewish, not Muslim.

Short answer is "The earliest group of Muslims to arrive in America in significant numbers came from West Africa from 1530 to 1851, because of the slave trade. They comprised an estimated 14% to 20% of the hundreds of thousands of West Africans forcibly removed from their homelands.
The next sizable number of Muslims immigrated to the United States during the early 20th century. They came from Lebanon, Syria and other countries across the Ottoman Empire.
The post-World War II era, during the 1960s and '70s, saw the third substantial wave of immigrants from all parts of the Islamic world. This wave included large numbers of Muslims who came to study at American universities.

A more scholarly history can be found here. Which even suggest " Portuguese Muslims … had sailed to the New World in the 12th century."

This Department of State article states, “While there were some Muslims among the African slaves who came to work in plantations in the American South in the 18th and 19th centuries, very few retained an Islamic identity. Most scholars of Islam focus, then, on the immigrant Muslims who arrived in the West from the Middle East in the latter part of the 19th century.”

To answer the OP, there were incidents of Muslims in America very early but the surviving Muslim communities did not arrive until the late 1800s.

Harder is finding the earliest Mosque in America. Many websites claim that their mosque is the earliest. IIRC, the earliest Muslim community was in the midwest in the the late 1800s but I can’t find a cite and dang if I can remember where I read it.

Here is a site which describes Muslim communities earlier than the 1800s. Included in the paper is this statement:
“The exhibit traces this presence all the way back to 1492, documenting the presence of Muslim captains commanding the Nina and the Pinta, two of the three ships with which Christopher Columbus first set sail to the Americas.”
But the paper is best for describing very early small Muslim communities.

By the way, to clarify the last paragraph in my last post, that community in the midwest had, IIRC, a mosque that still exists today. However a distinction should be made between a mosque as a place of worship for a community and what most people think of as a mosque with a minuet or tower for the calling to prayers.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the Melungeons were descended from Muslims, or if indeed they were present in America before the 1600s.

Here’s an article about Muslims in Canada that claims the earliest North American mosque, in 1938.

This article says that Muslims were worshipping in a rented hall in Cedar Rapids, IA, the community already mentioned by Tamerlane by 1920, and that community was able to build their mosque in 1935.

Acidkid, your “more scholarly article” claims bold-faced an early Muslim American who died at the age of 130, so I’m having a little trouble taking it seriously. But great research.

Messed up my Canadian link.

try http://www.islamicpopulation.com/canada_muslim.html

True, more researched would be a better term for that article than scholarly. He lumps Warith Deen Muhammad in with Louis Farrakhan in one paragraph and then later explains W. D. Muhammad’s organization with the words, “less spooky.”

Here is the Canadian government web site info about the Edmonton mosque. It says it is the oldest mosque in North America but I’ve found other cites claiming the oldest mosque is the Moslem Temple near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The temple, which opened on Feb. 15, 1934, is generally believed to be the oldest existing purpose-built mosque in North America.

This article claims the first Muslims in America were in 1178.