What Happened to America’s First Muslims?

Huff Post: What does it mean for a religion to be woven into American history?

The presence of Muslims in the early United States is well known to scholars — historians have put their population in the tens of thousands — yet when President Obama noted last month that “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” he was greeted with incredulous outrage.

There was controversial Christian historian David Barton scoffing that Islam’s influence could be seen mainly in the role followers of Muhammad played in the slave trade and the Barbary Wars, while South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan wondered if the president’s “Jakarta elementary education” might be responsible for his view of the past.

An editor of a Catholic newspaper put doubts about the president’s historical literacy plainly when he asked, “Is he high?”

But it’s not up for argument that this majority Christian nation has a spiritual history much more diverse than usually supposed.

As Obama’s critics have noted, there were, of course, no Muslims among the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both owned copies of the Quran, but they may have been as unaware of Muslims living in the young United States as David Barton and Jeff Duncan are today.

Muslims’ presence here is affirmed in documents dated more than a century before religious liberty became the law of the land, as in a Virginia statute of 1682 which referred to “negroes, moores, molatoes, and others, born of and in heathenish, idollatrous, pagan, and Mahometan parentage and country” who “heretofore and hereafter may be purchased, procured, or otherwise obteigned, as slaves.”


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