“We’ve had Muslims in America since George Washington.” So claimed Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate. This was part of her response to Donald Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigration, which appears to have metamorphosed into “extreme vetting.”
Some analysts trotted out the familiar lines about Muhammad Hamilton and Abdullah Hancock. At the risk of stating something I may not have stated before, Mrs. Clinton was right. Muslims who had been enslaved by other Muslims (against the dictates of Islam not to enslave fellow believers), as well as Muslims kidnapped and press-ganged into slavery by non-Muslims, were enslaved in the US at the time of the Founding.
Like many others I found her comment strange in isolation, as a defense against Mr. Trump’s previously proposed ban. Many things have been around for a long time. Some are good. Some are bad. Some we want more of, some less. The relevant question isn’t whether Islam and Muslims have been in America since the time of Washington, but what their presence has brought to America.
If Common Core history books, funded by Libya, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, are to be believed, Islam has been nothing but a force for good, everywhere in the world. Nothing different will be presented in most college courses dealing with Islam. One interesting tidbit from a recent study on academics is that history is in fact the most imbalanced academic discipline, with a ratio of 36 liberals to every one conservative.
Since our history books and education more generally tend now towards whitewashed disgrace, it’s worth digging into the history with a critical eye.
To read a general history of slavery in the US, of course, you would find no mention of Islam’s central role in the slave trade. But as readers of this website know well, Islam prescribes slavery for infidels, not only for hard labor but also for sex. It should come as no shock, then, that Islam was heavily implicated in the African slave trade flowing East into the Arab Muslim world and West to the Americas. In The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa, John Alembillah Azumah describes in great and compelling detail Muslims’ leading role in the enslavement of Africans, not only non-Muslim Africans as prescribed by Islam, but also Muslim Africans. Islam, of course, makes it clear that Muslim slavers who enslaved kaffirs were not sinning in the eyes of their deity Allah – they were only doing what Allah enjoined.
So, yes Mrs. Clinton, Islam has been around since the time of Washington. At the time, did it bring anything good, or only bad? Islam brought what was bad, facilitating and giving a loathsome divine veneer to slavery that extends into the present day, long past the abolition of slavery in Judeo-Christian societies.
What else did Islam and Muslims bring to the US during the time of the Founding? All readers of this website and anyone who has studied the Qur’an and Qur’anic commentaries are nauseatingly familiar with the hatred and harshness that Islam mandates towards unbelievers. It will also come as no shock, then, that this hatred comes through in the admittedly scant evidence we have from Muslim slaves. Bilali Muhammad, a Muslim slave elevated to the role of slave driver on his owner’s plantation, is the most prominent and clear example of this hatred. During the War of 1812, the British promised freedom to any American slaves who fought with the redcoats. Bilali made clear that he and his coreligionist fellow slaves would be loyal to the Americans, telling his owner that he could “answer for every negro of the true faith, but not for the Christian dogs you own.”
Sylvia Diouf’s Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas is replete with other examples of Muslim slaves’ supremacist attitudes towards non-Muslims. Of course, Ms. Diouf makes her position as one of the 36 liberal historians clear by whitewashing the true reason for Muslim slaves’ self-perceived superiority over non-Muslims, hiding the real reason behind a fog of potential other factors: their high levels of literacy, for instance (although it is not clear if that literacy extended beyond the ability to read and write verses of the Qur’an in Arabic). It is clear to anyone familiar with Islam what the motivation was behind calling Christians dogs.
Islam brought more that was bad, importing supremacist attitudes reeking of dhimmitude that rival anything Jim Crow served up many years later.
In addition to slavery and hatred of non-Muslims, what else did Islam and Muslims bring to the US during the time of the Founding? Our encounter with the swashbuckling Muslims of North Africa, the Barbary Pirates, began in 1784, when the pirates first captured a US-flagged merchant ship and began enslaving Christian sailors. Over several decades, the US government paid a regular series of tributes, rightly thought of as waterborne jizya, to the Barbary States.
Islam brought still more that was bad: divinely sanctioned piracy and pillage that we see repeated in the present day with jizya for “peace” to enemies such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where Christians are still considered dogs (“street sweeper” in Pakistan) and blacks (“raisin-heads” as Muhammad referred to them) are still enslaved.
It’s fair to ask whether these things are only clear in hindsight, or if the Founders themselves knew well Islam’s various prescriptions for slavery, hatred of infidels, war with infidels, pillaging of infidels, Arab Muslims’ reference to blacks using the same word as “slave” in Arabic (Abd / Abid), and so on. Unwittingly, historian Denise Spellberg makes this clear in her information-filled but horribly biased book Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an that the Founders were in fact quite aware of these things. Spellberg makes the case that the Founders simply didn’t understand Islam, hence their negative opinions of it. One imagines that Spellberg might be camped out pre-debate with Mrs. Clinton, advising her on a proper understanding of Islam and its history in the US.
Or, perhaps Mrs. Clinton is just relying on a tack taken centuries earlier by Emperor Askiya Muhammad of the Songhai Empire in tropical Africa. Azumah writes the following:
Askiya Muhammad from the outset of his rule espoused Islam as a state policy and adopted a process of appeasement towards the Muslim divines of Timbuktu. Having no legitimate claim to the throne, Askiya Muhammad could not count on the indigenous community for support and had to seek this from the largely immigrant Muslim community.