Muslims Played Seminal Role in United States’s Founding and History

Posted on January 19, 2011


By Thomas Bonner – Special to The Herald

and republished in

Beginning in the 16th Century, Muslims made contributions in what would become the United States even before our country officially gained her independence from Great Britain. Estevanico of Azamor, a Berber from North Africa who was sold into slavery in Spain, and though he converted to Catholicism upon enslavement, is the first known Muslim or African to set foot in what is now the United States. He was one of four survivors of expeditions that explored Florida, the Gulf Coast, southern Texas, the Southwest and the west coast and central regions of Mexico from 1527 to 1539.

Did Muslims fight on the Continental side in the Revolution? I do not know; however, it is possible. One veteran of the battles of Concord and Bunker Hill was a freed slave named Peter Salem, who is alleged by some historians to have been Muslim, based on his last name, which is similar to the Arabic name Saleem. Other Continental soldiers with Islamic names include Salem Poor, Yusuf Ben Ali, Bampett Muhamed, Francis Saba and Joseph Saba. In 1777, Morocco was the first nation to recognize our fledging country following the Declaration of Independence. In recognition of Morocco’s friendship, in 1790, South Carolina’s Legislature granted special legal protections to a group of Moroccans stranded in our state.

Did Muslims fight in the Civil War in order to end slavery? At least one is known to have done so. Muhammad Ali ibn Said (also known as Nicholas Said), formerly enslaved in the Middle East, immigrated to the U.S. in 1860 and enlisted in the famed all-African-American 55th Massachusetts Regiment in 1863, where he rose to the rank of sergeant before war’s end.

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Posted in: Islam