By Amir Nashid Ali Muhammad
November 22, 2002
History shows that Muslims came to the Americas in four different waves, the first as explorers, then those fleeing the Spanish inquisition, during the Barbary Coast Wars and the enslavement of Africans, and by immigration starting in the mid-to-late 1870s.
Historical Points (1312 – 1684)
In 1312, African Muslims arrived in the Gulf of Mexico for exploration of the American interior using the Mississippi River as their access route. These Muslim explorers were from Mali and other parts of West Africa. The brother of Mansa Musa, Abu bakari, was one of the first to set sail to America from Africa.
In 1492, when Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, he was strongly influenced by the geography of the 13th-century Arab scholar, Al-Idrissi, who served as an adviser to King Roger of Sicily. Columbus had with him a copy of Al-Idrissi’s works mentioning the discovery of a new continent by eight Muslim explorers. He also had some Muslim crew members with him for translation and other services.
Columbus had two captains of Muslim origin during his first voyage, one named Martin Alonso Pinzon, the captain of the Pinta, and his brother Vicente Yanex Pinzon the captain of the Nina. They were wealthy expert ship outfitters who helped organize Columbus’s expedition and repaired the flagship Santa Maria. The Pinzon family was related to Abuzayan Muhammad III, the Moroccan Sultan of the Marinid Dynasty (1196 – 1465).
October 21, 1492, Columbus admitted in his papers that while his ship was sailing near Gibara on the northeast of Cuba, he saw a Mosque on the top of a beautiful mountain. Ruins of Mosques and minarets with inscriptions of Qur’anic verses have been discovered in Cuba, Mexico, Texas, and Nevada.
In Dr. Barry Fell’s book Saga America, he reports that the southwest Pima people possessed a vocabulary which contained words of Arabic origin. Dr. Fell also reports that in Inyo County, California, there exits an early rock carving which stated in Arabic: “Yasus ben Maria” (“Jesus, Son of Mary”). Dr. Fell discovered the existence of schools in Nevada. Colorado and New Mexico.
In 1527, the Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narva’ez left Spain for the Americas. In his fleet he had five ships and six hundred people in his company. The expedition met with many hardships. Several ships were destroyed by a West Indies hurricane and a group of Indians killed a large number of the remaining members of the party. Afterward, when only a few members of the expedition were left, Cabeza de Vaca, the former treasurer of Narva’ez took up the leadership of the remaining members of the party with Estevanico being among them.
Estevanico was called an Arab Negro, a Muslim who came from Azamore on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco. He was one of first two persons to reach the west coast of Mexico in an exploring overland expedition from Florida to the Pacific Coast. It’s reported that Estevanico acted as a guide and it took them nine years to reach Mexico City where they told stories of their travels.
In 1538, Estevanico led an expedition from Mexico with Friar Marco, in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibolia, in which time he discovered Arizona and New Mexico. He was the first member of a different race reported to have visited the North Mexican Pueblos. He was killed in the city of Cibolia, one of the Seven Cities of the Zuni Indians, which is now New Mexico. Friar Marco, while following Estevanico’s trail to Cibolia learned of his murder from an Indian messenger.
In 1539, Estevanico was one of the first of three Americans to cross this continent. At least two states owe their beginning to this Muslim, Arizona and New Mexico.
From 1566 to 1587, Spain kept and maintained a military outpost and settlement called Santa Elena on the southern tip of Parris Island, South Carolina. Portuguese were known to be among the Spaniards at Santa Elena. Today the Island is known as Saint Helena, South Carolina where they have an annual Gullah festival.
In Spain in 1568, the Alpujarra uprising of the Moriscos (Muslims who were forcibly converted to Catholicism) gave cause to another wave of Portuguese Moriscos to leave Spain.
In 1600, the first Melungeons were reported in the southern Appalachian valleys. As English and Scotch-Irish settlers moved in, they pushed the Melungeons into the mountains of North Carolina, and into Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The Melungeons were the first people, aside from Native Americans to penetrate so deeply into the Appalachian region. Many of the Melungeons were of primarily Portuguese ancestry, with North African and Indian traits. Among the early Portuguese were the Moriscos of Spain who were escaping persecution. Today there are still some Melungeons living secretively and many have assimilated into the American culture.
The Melungeons operated rich silver mines in the area of Straight Creek in the Cumberland Plateau, near Pineville, Kentucky. They minted silver coins in the area for their own use. By the time Kentucky joined the Union and became a Commonwealth, the independent secretive life of the Melungeons came to an end.
In 1600, The Indians told Jamestown residents that with only a six- day walk to the west, there were “people like you,” who wore their hair short and built log houses.
In 1639, The First black recorded by name on the Delmarva Peninsula was called Anthony. He was delivered near present day Wilmington. He was often described as “an Angoler or Moor,” and called “Blackmoor”. (From the “Delaware’s Forgotten Folk” The Story of the Moors &Nanticokes by C.A Weslager).
In 1654, English explorers from Jamestown reported finding a colony of bearded people “Moors” wearing European clothing, living in cabins, engaging in mining, smelting silver, and dropping to their knees to pray many times daily in the mountains of what is now, North Carolina.
In 1670, Virginia General Assembly 1670 Act declared who will be slaves, excluding Turks & Moors, whose countries were in amity with the King of England. (Page 491 of Virginia General Assembly 1733 and 1752 records).
In 1684, Moors are reported to have arrived in Delaware near Dover, and in Southern New Jersey near Bridgeton.
The descendants of some of the early Muslim visitors of North America are members in many of present day Indian tribes. Some of the tribes are the Alibamu tribe of Alabama, the Apaches, Anasazi, Arawak, Arikana, Black Indians of the Schuylkill river area in New York, the Cherokees, Creeks, Makkahs, Mahigans, Mohanets, Mohegans, Nanticokes, Seminoles, Zulus, and the Zuni.
The Moors were inhabitants of Delaware near Dover, and of Southern New Jersey near Bridgeton, and in parts of Southern Maryland; the Melungeons of Tennessee and Virginia; the Guineas of West Virginia; the Clappers of New York; the Turks of South Carolina; and the Laster Tribe near Hertford, NC. It is reported that the Laster Tribe were descendants from a Moorish captain who married a white woman and settled in the area.
Many African Americans are descendants of Muslims who came to America’s shores after being enslaved in West Africa and some from losing in the Barbary Coast Wars in North Africa.
Summarized from: “Muslims in America” By: Amir Nashid Ali Muhammad