George Washington Was a Friend of Muslims

George Washington John Vanderlyn (1775-1852 American)

President George Washington

Source: Huffington Post:


George Washington’s birthday, celebrated annually on Febr. 22nd, is an opportunity to reflect upon his exemplary character and the example he set for future generations of Americans. While much is known about Washington’s military service and political career, less is known about his attitude towards religious freedom and his relationships with Muslims. Looking closely at his personal documents, letters, and activities, we can see that Washington was indeed a proponent of religious tolerance and a friend to the Muslims in his midst.

When Washington completed his second term as the first President of the United States of America, he retired to his estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his life in the company of his slaves. We know from a 1784 letter to Tench Tighman, who inquired as to what type of workmen Washington wanted at Mount Vernon, that Washington cared for “good workmen.” He confirmed, “they may be of Asia, Africa or Europe. They may be Mahometans [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any sect, or atheists.”

The archaeological records at Mount Vernon show that some of Washington’s slaves were, in fact, Muslims or at least descendants of Muslims from west and northwest Africa. A tithe table from 1774 documents the 7th century Muslim-sounding names of “Fatimer” and “Little Fatimer,” which appear to be a reference to the name “Fatima,” the name of the daughter of Prophet Muhammad. In another instance, a young woman named Letty, one of Washington’s slaves who was released upon his death, gave birth to a girl she named “Nila.” A scholar of Mount Vernon, Mary V. Thompson, argues that “Nila” is the phonetic spelling or an adaptation of a Muslim woman’s name, “Naailah,” which means “someone who acquires something.” Thompson speculates that “Nila” was a name remembered from Africa, and that Letty wanted her daughter to carry the name into newfound freedom. The fact that these slaves were able to retain their Muslim-sounding names is evidence of Washington’s tolerance for non-Christian influences at Mount Vernon.

The most interesting story regarding Washington’s slaves is that of Sambo Anderson. Mary Thompson suggests that Sambo, whose name was common in modern northwestern Nigeria and southern Niger during the 18th century, was likely a descendent of the West African Hausa people, who, she writes, “bore a strong Islamic influence” that had come to them from Mali, perhaps as early as the 14th century. The Art and Life in Africa Project at the University of Iowa also provides a link to Sambo’s Islamic background. On its website, the project states that early Islam in Hausaland “proceed peacefully … In many cases, the ruling elite were the first to convert to Islam.” Thompson also found that Sambo spoke about being of royal lineage. He had facial cuts, which denoted tribal affiliations and had tattoos and gold rings around his ears, which marked him as royalty.



Categories: Americas, Awareness, Belief, Highlight

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