Islam in Early America
Check out Thomas Kidd's argument. A bigger taste
President Obama created controversy in a recent speech when he asserted that “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.” He followed this statement with rather generic statements about Muslim immigrants coming to America and finding economic opportunity and freedom.
But what about the idea that Islam has been “woven into the fabric” of America since the founding? What role did Islam, and Muslims, play in colonial and Revolutionary America?
Part of the reason that the president gave few details about Islam and the founding era is that most of Islam’s role at that time was either in negative associations, or in real Muslim slaves.
Neither gives much fodder, I’m afraid, for positive examples that the president might cite.
[T]he typical Muslim appearing in Anglo-American writing during the Revolutionary period was not an African slave; more likely he would have been a Barbary pirate or a Middle Eastern despot. A close look at the uses of Islam in the Founding period and early republic shows reveals a well-established political and literary tradition: citing the similarities between an opponent’s views and the “beliefs” of Islam as a means to discredit one’s adversaries.
"... a Barbary pirate or a Middle Eastern despot..."
It's interesting that in response to Jon's post on Muslims in America before and during the founding, you choose to highlight this section of Kidd's work, thereby juxtaposing the vicious and brutal and institutionalized acts of slave trading and slave owning practiced by many of the most prominent of Americans at the time. Good work. A bit Zinn-like though.
"What role did Islam, and Muslims, play in colonial and Revolutionary America?"
Well, I'd say that their main role....as slave labor...was to help build an economy and a nation. Of course, in the peculiar circumstances of the nation, there were also freed blacks, some presumably Muslim or descendent from Muslims, also participating in nation building.
The necessary distinction is between Muslims and Islam itself. Islam itself is nowhere to be found, except pejoratively.
Maybe in a few years American public schools will be celebrating "Muslim History Month" when we can find out more.
We'll only need about an hour.
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