History of Islam in the United States of America

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The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world and houses many different ideologies. As the world becomes more increasingly globalized, one ponders of all the different ideologies and ideas of this time. There are too many to learn and there is not enough time. People do their research over the most influential ideologies and ideas of the world, but one cannot ignore the impact and growth that Islam has over the last 1400 years. There is an estimated 1.8 billion Muslims in the world and it is expected to increase dramatically, according to the Pew Research Center. With the rise in the Muslim population, people ponder over the fact of where Islam originated from and that is in the Arabian Peninsula; however, it is currently known as the country of Saudi Arabia today. Moreover, America houses an estimated 3.45 million Muslims and that number is expected to increase. In addition to the Islamic presence in the United States, one must understand where the religion of Islam had originated, how the US came in contact with Islam, and current day Islam and its adherents in America today.

When people think of Islam, they think of the Middle East because the contents of the holy scripture of the Muslims is the Quran and it is in the Arabic language. People look towards Saudi Arabia as the hub for Islam as it had originated there and the country contains the city of Mecca. The city of Mecca is considered to be the holiest city to the Muslims where they journey to once in a believer’s life to conduct the pilgrimage. People will proclaim that the religion of Islam was founded by a man named Muhammad that lived in the early Arabian Peninsula around the seventh century, but to an adherent of the faith, this religion was the same religion that was practiced and preached by the prophets and sages of old.

The adherents of this faith believe that the man named Muhammad was a prophet of God that received divine revelation at the age of forty. Muhammad would often retire to a cave, just outside the city of Mecca, to pray, fast, give alms to the poor. He would often ponder and worry about his perceived crisis that Arabian society had changed due to the influx of wealth that had arisen in Mecca due to trading with other countries. This caused the tribesmen to break their nomadic codes of looking after the weaker in the tribe. The Quraysh (the tribe of Muhammad) were now focused on making money at the expense of the less fortunate and weaker members of the tribe (Armstrong 4).

Furthermore, the religion of Islam came to help stabilize the political region within the Arabian Peninsula while also revitalizing the lost sense of spirituality. Karen Armstrong writes that “a muslim was a man or a woman who had made this submission of their entire being to Allah and his demand that human beings behave to one another with justice, equity, and compassion” (5). This is what defines a Muslim and was the goal of the religion of Islam to those who declared it their faith. In addition, the revelation of Islam spanned from the years 610-632 C.E. During this time, there was much hesitation and resistance to this way of life that challenged the ways of the Quraysh. Due to the resistance and cruelty that Muhammad and his followers were subjugated to were forced to flee from their hometown of Mecca and escape to a city what is known today as Medina. There Muhammad was appointed the head of the city and established an ummah, a nation. He would continue to face resistance from his home tribe of Mecca as they tried to thwart Muhammad’s plans (13-15).

During this time period, Muhammad started the initiative to send delegates out to neighboring tribes in the area to invite them to Islam or establish an allegiance with those neighboring tribes. Towards the end of his life, he would return to Mecca with an army of 10,000 men to conquer the land of his birth. After the conquest of Mecca, Muhammad and his adherents destroyed the idols that filled the Kabah, the symbolic center point of the religion in which Muslims face in the direction of when praying their ritual prayers. It was then that Muhammad had proclaimed the city of Mecca will only be a center for Islam and its believers (16-23). It was for the first time in history that the Arabian Peninsula was united due to the efforts of Muhammad.

Secondly, Islam has been in America since its founding; however, the history is unknown to many. There are debates at the number of Muslims that were in America in its early days. The reason for the occurrence of America containing Muslims in this country was the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Between the early 1500s and 1866, more than 12.5 million Africans were transported to the Americas in the slave trade, but an estimated 10.7 million survived the journey. As majority of the enslaved were sent off to the Caribbean and Brazil, a portion was sent over to North America. Between 1751 and 1775, the remaining portion are estimated at 375,000 or so enslaved Africans that were sent over to North America. From that number, “applying the conservative estimate that 15% (some estimates suggest 30%) of African slaves imported to the Americas were Muslim, at least 68,000 Muslims arrived in North America as slaves” (Halverson 414). The tragedy of the slave trade caused thousands of Muslims to enter America in its early days. Many of the slaves arrived in South Carolina to be sold, traded off, and then disembarked from that location.

Additionally, due to the slave trade, Jeffry R. Halverson notes and writes, “’exigencies of the slave trade did not allow the preservation of family or kinship ties…the study of religion, as it is the family unit that has always assumed the primary role of religious instruction and the perpetuation of religious identities around the world” (415). This made it extremely difficult to pass down and teach culture and religious traditions to the children of slaves. Moreover, majority of the slave owners were Christian and as a means to attain peace within their circumstances, many of the slaves converted to Christianity and adopted the religion of their masters. However, many of the traditions survived through that age of brutality, including Islam.

Furthermore, Halverson also writes, “Discussing the great importance of proselytizing to the slave population in South Carolina, the author of a tome published in 1823, who identified himself only as “A South Carolinian”, warns his Christian readers to note that: “Most of our imported Negroes are Muhammedans [i.e., Muslims]” (420). Although, many of the slaves that were Muslim that ostensibly adopted the religion of their masters, illustrates that this country had Muslims in it from its early days and that Islam has deep roots embedded in this country’s history.

Meanwhile, in the current time of the United States, the religion of Islam has received a mixed reputation amongst the citizens of this country. After the occurrence of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, the perspective of Muslims to the people of America changed drastically. After this instance, a sudden surge of Islamophobia occurred with people unsure if their safety was in danger. Stephen Schwartz writes in his article “Islamophobia: America’s New Fear Industry,” that “Knowledge of the religion of Islam was sparse; most Americans seemed to have discovered the existence of Islam and Muslims in the aftermath of one day” (1). Not many people knew of the existence of Islam until after that event and were left with an undesirable taste of Islam. If one looks at current media, the majority of major news stories that is aired on news stations that are associated with Islam is that of a terror attack. People have come to a point that if a terrorist attack had occurred people have been conditioned to immediately think that this was due to a Muslim extremist.

However, this carved a path for Muslims to enter the political spectrum and ignited a purpose to fight for social justice and equity. The majority of Muslims in this country live their daily lives like the common American, striving for opportunity and a better future for them and their families. There are organizations that have taken the opportunity because of the United States for “political Muslims to emerge and introduce a new kind of politics. The biggest beneficiary of this trend is the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a Los Angeles-based organization that seeks to protect and advance the interests of the United States and its Muslims” (Khan 3). MPAC is a wonderful example that demonstrates a rise against fears of a minority group. This organization has four main areas of focus: “combatting Islamophobia in the United States; countering efforts by some U.S. agencies that sometimes violate the constitutional rights of Muslims; working with the U.S. government to limit radicalism among Muslim youth; and helping to shape a foreign policy that defends U.S. national interests without demonizing Islam and Muslims” (4). Situations such as these gives the opportunity for people to extend a positive perspective and educate those around.

Also, the one’s affected mostly by Islamophobia are Muslim women, specifically the ones who wear the hijab, a religious head scarf. People have preconceived notions that need to be cleared away. Muslim women tend to get stared at if they are wearing their hijabs in public, but others say that the hijab is a form of oppression for women. In the article, “Muslim Women in America and Hijab: A Study of Empowerment, Feminist Identity, and Body Image,” Anderson Beckmann Al Wazni talked about how women wearing the hijab were harassed and some took off the hijab after the 9/11 incident, but he also conducted a survey asking women that if Muslim women who wear the hijab were oppressed or controlled by men. “All participants stated in response to this question that this notion was completely false and was a result of ignorance and misinformation” (5-7). Muslim women wearing the hijab are forced to go through some of the harsh treatment here in America on a daily basis making them feel uncomfortable at times, but they still hold their heads up high and look towards a bright, positive future.

Ultimately, Islam has been present in the United States since before its founding. It is undeniable that Islam is talked about in the media negatively, but that does not stop organizations to do their best to prevent those negative images of Islam from being ingrained into the minds of the American people. Muslim Americans are just normal people living their daily lives in America like the citizens of this country.

Work Cited

  1. Armstrong, Karen. Islam: a Short History. Thorndike Press, 2002.
  2. AL WAZNI, A. B. Muslim Women in America and Hijab: A Study of Empowerment, Feminist Identity, and Body Image. Social Work, [s. l.], v. 60, n. 4, p. 325–333, 2015. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 26 jan. 2019.
  3. Halverson, Jeffry R. “West African Islam in Colonial and Antebellum South Carolina.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, vol. 36, no. 3, Sept. 2016, pp. 413–426. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13602004.2016.1212497.
  4. KHAN, M. A. M. Political Muslims in America: From Islamism to Exceptionalism. Middle East Policy, [s. l.], v. 22, n. 1, p. 32–40, 2015. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 26 jan. 2019.
  5. Schwartz, Stephen. “Islamophobia: America’s New Fear Industry.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum, vol. 90, no. 3, Fall 2010, pp. 19–21. EBSCOhost,
  6. Mohamed, Besheer. “A New Estimate of U.S. Muslim Population.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 3 Jan. 2018, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/03/new-estimates-show-u-s-muslim-population-continues-to-grow/.

Cite this paper

History of Islam in the United States of America. (2021, Aug 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/history-of-islam-in-the-united-states-of-america/

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