Slaves or Enslaved, What Does our Word Choice Imply?


The recent events of the Black Lives Matter movement have prompted teachers everywhere to reconsider their curriculums and find ways to teach children about the impact of racism in our society.  My book, Islamic American Heritage: Prominent Slaves and Our Founding Fathers, the second volume of a three-part series of textbooks that focus on the history of Muslims in America, gained some interest for many teachers.

One teacher wrote me to say that I should consider using the word “enslaved” instead of the word “slaves.”  I found this to be a very interesting request and promised I would address the request in my blog.  Honestly, like many others who use the word, I had no ill-intent, and my use of the word was simply a result of my experience in the society in which we live.  In actuality, I sought to shed light on the contributions of these African Americans who had given their lives for the foundation of our country.  Regardless of ill-intent or not, I was reminded by this request that words shape the way we think and the way we think is expressed in words.  ‘Enslaved’ made me consider the inhumanity and racially driven motives of plantation slavery of the South, while ‘slavery’ made me consider the normalcy of the practice in the context of the time period that it was practiced, unfortunately, somehow making it somewhat excusable.

After giving the idea some thought, I was reminded of several complexities surrounding slavery around the world in history.  Research for my book taught me that slavery around the world and within various places in the United States was not the same.  We cannot judge slavery as it was practiced around the world with the same light that we view human rights today.  Not all slaves were captured while living in peace, and not all slaves who were brutally captured while living in peace were Black.  Not all enslaved people were required to work whenever their owner requested, and not all slaves were denied an opportunity to gain their freedom.

Most students, and teachers for that matter, don’t realized that, in the past, slavery was commonly practiced around the world and within most accepted forms of slavery, it was acceptable to:

  1. Take slaves as a result of losing a war, as a result of committing a crime, or if money was owed. Many times, slaves were taken at sea as part of a privateering practice that was used from the late 1500’s to the early 1800’s and an accepted form of warfare.
  2. Offer a slave a chance to earn his or her freedom for ransom money given by his or her family or by providing a designated number of years of work.
  3. Free children of freed men born to enslaved women.
  4. Have the opportunity to work alongside their owners.
  5. Be afforded time off which could be used for soliciting their skills for extra pay or producing and trading their self-raised products.
  6. Have time limits on the hours of hard labor that are required.
  7. Enslave those who were not educated.

What we learn from comparing southern slavery to slavery practices around the world is that for the most part, plantation slavery was horrific even for the standards of the times.  Unfortunately, the image of plantation slavery is the only picture we see through movies and not therefore, the more common practices of slavery around the world become overlooked.

So, when studying the lives of the enslaved, it is important for students to consider two questions:

How were the civil rights of the enslaved person violated in the context of norms of the time he or she lived?

 Was that experience particular to that group of people (systemic racism), or did other people also experience the same injustices?

First, let’s consider how slaves were brought into servitude.  The word “enslaved” lends to a vision of a person living in a peaceful community in his or her village and then is brutally captured without warning.  Not all Africans were captured this way, and not all people who were enslaved this way were Africans.  Some Africans who were enslaved and brought to the U.S. were captured after losing battles with neighboring African tribes and the person who sold the slaves to the slave traders was an African himself.  Omar Ibn Said’s enslavement is a good example of this manner of enslavement.  In history, we can also find instances where people of other civilizations were also brutally captured while living in peace.  For example, in Australia, South Sea Islanders were reported to have been brutally captured and taken to Australia for slave labor to work alongside British convicts. Even privateers of north African countries would brutally capture white colonists and Europeans and enslave them in North Africa.  However, white enslavement is not comparable to the African slave trade.  It is estimated that 12.5 million Africans were placed on slave ships as part of the transatlantic slave trade, and that only 10.5 million even survived the journey.  Some historians compare this number to the number of whites captured by North Africans, which is estimated to be around a million between the years 1530 and 1780 to show that the enslavement of Africans in America was not particular to Black Lives.  However, in these cases, the legality of the capture of the white slaves was disputed by North Africans and Americans.  While Americans saw the capture as illegal, and thus a result of piracy, North Africans saw their capture as legal and within the norms of privateering, a common practice of warfare at the time.  More historical research is needed to establish the numbers of those captured while living in peace compared to those who were captured under disputed standards of the times in order to determine the degree of the injustice practiced.

Next, let’s consider the concept of redemption.  (Redemption here is not to be confused with the Catholic term used to refer to salvation of humanity by Jesus to free a person from the enslavement of his or her sins.  It is also not meant to be confused with emancipation, which is a policy of freeing enslaved people, or reparation, which is the repayment of descendants of slaves in an attempt to equalize the social and economic disadvantages caused by the history of slavery in their family).   Redemption is the opportunity for an enslaved person to negotiate his freedom.  Islam is recognized by historical American political figures to be credited with establishing redemption for slaves. Yarrow Mamout, a resident of Georgetown, was able to use redemption to gain his freedom even though he was an enslaved American. To achieve redemption, he was required to make enough bricks to build a home.  Charles Sumner, a congressman who served just before the Civil War, highlighted the crime of the South to deny the enslaved the right of redemption.  He orated on the Senate floor that redemption was a standard set by Muslims several hundreds of years earlier.  So, more important than how the people were enslaved was the concept of redemption and whether it was afforded to the enslaved.

Finally, in studying slavery, we can consider the conditions in which the enslaved lived and the rights that they were afforded.  Not all enslaved lived in equally brutal conditions.  For example, Bilali Muhammad was placed by Thomas Spaulding as the overseer of all of the slaves on Sapelo Island.  The slaves on Sapelo Island were allowed to practice the religion of their choice and continue to speak their native tongues (usually Fula or a combination of Fula and English).  Additionally, they required to work a limit of 6 hours of hard labor a day.  They could use the rest of their time to fish or raise crops and trade their goods with each other.   The Gullah of Sapelo Island provided a source of rich cultural contributions to American culture that we may overlook if we only teach one picture of slavery.

So, in summary, here are some rhetorical questions we can leave you with when teaching students about slavery in history:

  1. Was all slavery wrong in the context of the times it was practiced?
  2. Whose rules do we use to determine whether slavery was justified?
  3. What risks do we take when only portraying or considering one view of slavery in history?
  4. How can studying a diverse representation of slavery practices bring us together? How could studying only one view of slavery divide us further?
  5. Are people still enslaved today? What does this form of slavery look like?
  6. How can we rectify in the future the injustices of the past?

Private Mohammed Kahn, Civil War Hero


Little was known of Private Mohammed Kahn until a technician named Jesse Willinski took the time during his lunch breaks to scan the record of a pension application into the U.S. Archives digitized collection of Civil War documents, and his co-worker, Kate Mersiolvsky, wrote about the documents on the Archives website in 2017.  In order to prove that he deserved a pension, Private Kahn had to describe his experience in the Civil War in detail.  Descriptions of his heroism, loyalty, and injuries would give greater evidence of his right to a pension and disability payments.  Despite his heroism, Private Kahn was eventually given disability, but no pension. 

Private Mohammed Kahn was also known as John Ammahail, John Ammahie, John Amamahe, Grey, Smith, John Kahn, and John Emahe.  He was born in Persia between 1823 and 1830, and migrated to the U.S. in 1861 with an American official.   Others described him as having a dark complexion, standing about 5’5″ or 5’6″ tall, and speaking imperfect English.  Private Kahn enlisted after a night out with is friends who convinced him to join.  He first served in the 43rd New York regiment, which was a white regiment, and he fought along side other Union soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  Soon after that battle, he became separated from his regiment because the train carrying his regiment left without him when he was sent to run an errand for the Quartermaster.   He went to Hagerstown, Maryland to attempt to reunite with his regiment, but once he arrived there, he was arrested.  He tried to explain that he was a member of the New York 43rd Regiment, but no one believed him.  Officials sent him to work with escaped slaves in Pennsylvania.  

Private KahnKahn was relentless in his attempt to find his regiment.  He searched for months asking everyone he could about the whereabouts of his regiment.  

Finally, just before the end of the war, Private Kahn heard that the 14th New York regiment was on a train headed toward the Battle of Wilderness in Spotsylvania, Virginia.  He caught a train with them.  Once in Spotsylvania, he was able to join his regiment at last, after 19 months and 2 days of separation.  Just 15 minutes into the battle, he was shot in the left hand.  He was sent to the hospital and while on furlough from the hospital for 30 days, he reported that he begged and slept on the streets. His wounds soon healed, and he continued to serve as a sharpshooter for the remainder of the war.  When asked why he didn’t say in the hospital where he could get a good meal and a bed, he remarked that he was a,  “dammed. fool.”

Private Kahn wrote several letters to apply for his pension over a time span of 10 years.  He also obtained doctor reports and affidavits from friends and doctors he had seen to support his case.  His own letters are believed to have been transcribed by a scribe who left his mark on is work.  Private Kahn was initially denied his pension because he was reported to have deserted his regiment.  He tried persistently to correct this error.  He explained the factors that contributed to the delay in rejoining his regiment right away, citing the problems caused by his skin color and his inability to read and write in English.    In 1876, it actually took an act of Congress to order that his records be corrected and his pension granted, but the records still were not corrected and no pension was awarded.  In 1884, Congress refused in enforce the order, but no one is really sure why.

Private Kahn died in 1891 in Brooklyn, NY  and was buried at the Cyprus Hill Cemetery at the age of 61.   In the pension letters, Private Kahn describes his personal life after the war.  He reported that he married his wife in Asia just before coming to the US, and he sent for her shortly after he arrived, but he didn’t see her until he returned to Boston from the war in 1865.  The couple lived in Boston until about 1869 and had 2 children.  One documents says that while living in Boston, he grew his hair long and he made his living selling beads and baskets. Several documents also mention that he had an herbal doctoring business there.  One person reported that Kahn helped him read the Koran.  When his children were just one and two years old, his wife died on a trip to Rhode Island.  Kahn had her body brought back to Boston, and she was buried there.

Kahn then moved to Washington, DC and married a lady named Miss Kenney from Charlottesville, Va.  She was described as a “bright looking mulatto” who made and sold beadwork. There are records of a Mohamed Dean Kahn who lived in Washington, DC and worked as a physician in 1879 and 1880 and another Mohamed Kahn, perhaps his son, who worked as a clerk in Washington, DC in 1882.

 Kahn claimed several types of disability including rheumatism and heart disease brought on by exposure to the elements during the war, a head injury and a broken nose from a rifle butt to the head, and limited mobility in his hand due to the bullet injury he sustained.  Some have questioned the role race played in Kahn’s requests for his pension.  One pension officer investigator described Kahn’s as a, “lazy freeloader,” who was being helped by a network of Black friends.  Whether or not race played a part in the decisions to grant the pension of Private Kahn, his documents paint a picture of a the life of a man caught between two worlds, the East and the West, as well as an America divided by racism.

  1. How did Private Kahn arrive in the US?
  2. What was Private Kahn’s role in the Civil War?
  3. Why did Private Kahn become separated from his regiment?
  4. What struggles did Private Kahn face as a person of color at the time?

The Role of the Qur’an in the Caning of Charles Sumner

***Please Note: This post is for older children with the guidance of their parents.***


Some may know the story of caning of Charles Sumner.  Charles Sumner was a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who strove to end slavery. His comments were so insulting to the South, that he was attacked on the floor of the Senate on May 22, 1956 by Senator Brooks from South Carolina.  Brooks used his cane to nearly beat Sumner to death.  The sketch of Sumner being caned has forever been ingrained in the American history as one of many events that led to the Civil War.

So what did Sumner say that was so offensive? What did the Qur’an have to do with any of this?  Sumner, like many scholars of law before him, had a copy of the translation of the Qur’an because scholars of law viewed the Qur’an as a book of laws.  He recognized the significance that the Qur’an played in building great Arab civilizations during the Middle Ages.   The translation by George Sale was the same as the translation that was owned by Thomas Jefferson.  Sumner used the translation of the Qur’an compare Southerners to Muslims.  This was a great insult, as the pirates of Barbary States had been taking whites Christians as slaves in the name of religion for hundreds of years.

While many people of the West continue to see Islam as a barbaric religion, Sumner saw Islam in another light.  He understood that Islam put laws in place to gradually eradicate slavery in a time where slavery was a norm in every country in the world.  Sumner highlighted for the Southerners that Islam provided protections for slaves in the 6th century that the slave owners of the South did not give their slaves in the 20th century.   The fact that some Barbary states had ended slavery before the South did was a greater insult to injury. Sumner insulted the people of the South by claiming that they were the real barbarians.

The most important point that Sumner made in reference to the Qur’an was that Islam established redemption for slaves. This means that it created a way for slaves to work for their freedom and encouraged slave owners to have compassion for slaves by making it easy for slaves to obtain their redemption.  He quoted on the Senate floor in a speech in 1853 verse 33 from Surah 24 from the Qur’an on the redemption of slaves.  But the greatest insult that Sumner made was in a speech in 1856 called, The Crime Against Kansas.  In this speech, he accused Andrew Butler of wanting to continue slavery because he wanted to be able to commit adultery with his slaves. He referred to slavery as Butler’s “harlot.”  He pointed out how uncivilized it was to enslave one’s children. By having children with their own slaves and then enslaving these children, he claimed that the Southerners were committing disgusting crimes.  He knew that Islam forbade the enslavement of one’s own children.  To top all of these disgusting acts, Sumner criticized the South for justifying their treatment of slaves in the name of Christianity.

Senator Brooks, being the proper Southern gentleman, felt that he must defend the pride of his cousin, Senator Butler, and all Southerners by attacking Sumner on the floor of the Senate with his cane.  However, rather than giving a Sumner a chance to face Brooks, he attacked him from behind.  Sumner had no chance of defending himself.  As a result of the caning, Sumner was unable to serve for three years.  He became a hero of the North. Southerners took pride in the act by wearing souvenirs made out of the pieces of the cane to show solidarity for Brooks.  The event had marked a clear division between the North and the South that ultimately led to the Civil War and eventually the end of slavery.  The most remarkable thing was that the Qur’an’s reference to redemption for slaves played a large part in the unfolding of these significant events in American history.

  1. Who was Charles Sumner?
  2. Which verse did Sumner quote on the Senate floor?
  3. How did Islamic laws attempt to gradually end slavery?
  4. How did Charles Sumner insult Southerners?
  5. What were the consequences of Sumner’s insult of the South?


Islamic Influence on American Liturature

Although most Muslims don’t realize it, American Literature has been highly influenced by Islam.


Ibn Tufail’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is one of the most influential books in American philosophy in the 1600’s. Ibn Tufail was a philosopher in Muslim Spain. His book, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan was about a boy who is raised on a deserted island by a gazelle. The boy grows up to be very curious and learns about God and science through his own discoveries and explorations of the island. He becomes a self-taught philosopher, independent of previous philosophers. The story suggested that people do not need organized religion or institutions to become enlightened. John Locke, Isaac Newton, and many of our founding fathers embraced this philosophy. The story has also been said to inspire Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe.


Most of us who live in Dallas know about Irving, TX. Muslims around Dallas often visit the Irving Mosque and may notice that the neighborhoods and streets around the mosque are named after Muslim scholars. The names of some of the roads include Alhambra Dr., Biruni St., and Al Razi St. Most would think that the Mosque was the one who influenced the names of these streets and neighborhoods. However, Washington Irving, the person for whom the town of Irving, TX was named was known for his interest in Islamic Spain. Washington Irving is one of the most iconic American authors. He is most commonly known for short stories such as the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. However, he is also well known for several books that were inspired by his years in Spain, where he was a diplomat. In 1850, he published, The Life of Mohamet and his Successors, which became the first biography of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) written in English. His books, Tales of a Traveler, Tales of the Alhambra, and Tales of Granada also referred to the lives of Muslims in Islamic Spain. So it makes sense that areas around Irving, TX would have names inspired by Islamic Spain.

Unknown-2Finally, who hasn’t graduated from high school without reading works by Ralph Waldo Emerson? Emerson’s transcendentalist poetry was inspired in large part by the Qur’an, the Sirah, and by the Muslim Persian poets, Hafiz and Rumi. In many cases, Emerson’s work often reflected many of the messages of Rumi. Emerson was particularly interested in the enthusiasm that Prophet Muhammad’s message had on the Arabs. He was also intrigued by the messages in the Qur’an that were equivalent to the transcendental belief that the world has order and purpose. He quoted twice from the Qur’an in his Representative Men, which emphasizes the importance of the spiritual leader who tackles the problems of existence. Emerson admired Islam’s emphasis on education and knowledge as a means for fulfilling an individual’s human needs. Emerson found in Islamic literature and history examples of the virtue of temperance demonstrated by Muslims leaders such as Omar Ibn Khattab and Ali ibn Abu Talib. He termed this virtue as “temperance troops” that was motivated by high enthusiasm and faith. In addition, he found in Muslim leaders heroism, self-reliance, and humor, all of which are character qualities he cherished and tried to portray in his poetry.

The following are some quotes from Emerson’s poetry that were inspired by Islam.



I was a gem concealed;

My burning ray revealed.


From: Love, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every great and commanding moment in the annuals of the world is the triumph of some enthusiasm. The victories of the Arabs after (Muhammad), who in a few years, from a small and mean beginning, established a larger empire than that of Rome, is an example.

From Heroism, by Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. How did Ibn Tufayl’s work influence the enlightened period?
  2. What are some of the works by Washington Irving that were influenced by his time in Spain?
  3. What are some of the themes that drew Ralph Waldo Emerson to admire Islamic teachings and heroes?
  4. Who are some of the Islamic poets that were reflected in Emerson’s poetry?

Benjamin Franklin Quoted The Prophet Muhammad (SAW)


Although most Americans don’t realize it, Benjamin Franklin quoted Prophet Muhammad SAW in 1764 as an example for Christians to follow.  How he came to learn about the teachings of Prophet Muhammad is not known.  However, the fact that he actually quoted the Prophet (SAW) shows the range the diversity and openmindedness his knowledge on topics of religion, politics, and law.

In 1763, American colonists were involved in a war with the Native Americans.  As settlers moved westward, they encountered more and more hostility from Native Americans, creating hatred between the Natives and the colonists.  However, some Natives were peaceful and refused to engage in war.  They sought refuge in the homes of the Quakers and other sympathizers who were willing to protect their lives.

One group of discontent colonists referred to as the Paxton Boys captured several peaceful Natives and killed them after taking them as captives. The Paxton Boys then marched into Philadephia demanding that anyone harboring Native Americans hand them over at once.  Benjamin Franklin was appointed by William Penn to hear the Paxton Boys’ case.  Rather than sympathize with them, Franklin was disgusted by their behavior and wrote a document chastizing them for their inhumane treatment of war captives.

Being the satirist that he was, Benjamin Franklin used examples of how Muslims treated their war captives.  He knew that examples of Muslims showing humanity to their enemies did not fit the colonists’ view of Muslims.  The colonists thought that anyone who did not accept Christianity was barbaric and a heathen.  After hearing Franklin’s response to their requests, The Paxton Boys had no choice to return to their homes in shame.

Benjamin Franklin’s quotes of Muslims treating their war captives with humanity can be found in the document, A Narrative of the Late Massacres.   In this document, Franklin writes:

Thus much for the Sentiments of the ancient Heathens. As for the Turks,5 it is recorded in the Life of Mahomet, the Founder of their Religion, That Khaled, one of his Captains, having divided a Number of Prisoners between himself and those that were with him, he commanded the Hands of his own Prisoners to be tied behind them, and then, in a most cruel and brutal Manner, put them to the Sword; but he could not prevail on his Men to massacre their Captives, because in Fight they had laid down their Arms, submitted, and demanded Protection. Mahomet, when the Account was brought to him, applauded the Men for their Humanity; but said to Khaled, with great Indignation, Oh Khaled, thou Butcher, cease to molest me with thy Wickedness. If thou possessedst a Heap of Gold as large as Mount Obod, and shouldst expend it all in God’s Cause, thy Merit would not efface the Guilt incurred by the Murder of the meanest of those poor Captives (Franklin, 1906).


Benjamin Franklin went on to give three more examples of how Muslims have continued to practice the protection of their war captives.   The last example he gave was of a Moor who lived in Spain.  The Moor was sitting in his garden when a Spanish Cavelier jumped over his garden gate and into the garden of the Moor unexpectedly.  The Spanish Cavelier explained that he was running from some other Moors who were his enemies and he begged for protection.  The Moor gave him a peach to eat from his garden and locked the Cavelier in his garden apartment, explaining that he would take him to safety in the morning.  Just as he returned to his home, some people came knocking on his door.  Some fellow Moors explained that his son had been killed by a Spanish Cavelier and that they were in pursuit of his killer.  The Moor realized that the Cavelier in his garden apartment was his son’s killer.  However, in the morning, the Moor took the Cavelier to safety.  When they departed, the Moor said, “You are indeed guilty of my Son’s Blood, but God is just and good, and I thank him that I am innocent of yours, and that my Faith given is preserved.”

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  1. Why did Benjamin Franklin choose to quote the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)?
  2. Summarize the story behind the hadith (quote from the Prophet) that Franklin quoted.
  3. Why did Benjamin Franklin refer to Muslims as heathens? Do you think that he really thought they were heathans? What makes you think that did not?
  4. Why didn’t the Muslim Moor turn in his son’s killer?

The Statue of Liberty, an American Symbol? Not Originally…


Most people associate the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of American freedom that was meant to welcome immigrants to a land of opportunity.   In fact, the statue was originally inspired by large ancient Egyptian statues after Bartholdi, the original designer the statue, visited Egypt.  He had an idea to build a huge statue, and his motivation was fame and wealth.  The statue began as a fellah, or an Egyptian slave girl, and was to be called, “Egypt Enlightening the World.”

At the time, Egypt was building the Suez Canal, and Bartholdi thought he could sell the idea of a large lighthouse statue to be placed at the opening of the Suez at Port Said.  The canal took 10 years of forced labor, and many forced laborers died in the process of building it.  The British opposed the building of the canal because of the forced labor, and armed Beduins in Egypt, who started a revolt.  As a result, The Egyptian viceroy had to end involuntary labor.  The slave girl was supposed to symbolize the freedom he gave to the slaves, even though he never really eradicated slavery in Egypt. When Bartholdi proposed that his statue guard the Suez Canal, Egypt turned down the proposal due because it was too costly.

Bartholdi had to change his plans.  He and a French man named Labourlaye formed an organization and collected funds from private individuals rather than government funds, as most people incorrectly assume. Labourlaye was originally inspired by the freedom given to the African Americans after the civil war when he got involved in the project.  However, he later changed the idea to a general symbol of American freedom.  Bartholdi changed the plan for an Egyptian slave girl to a Greek goddess of Liberty.  The funds for the pedestal were collected with the help of Joseph Pulitzer, a publisher.  He decided to use an old sonnet written by a Jewish woman named Ms. Lazarus, who wrote about the bondage of her ancestors as the inscription on the bottom of the statue.  Because of the sonnet, people began to associate Lady Liberty with immigration to the US.

Bartholdi had to change his plans.  He and a French man named Labourlaye formed an organization and collected funds from private individuals rather than government funds, as most people incorrectly assume. Labourlaye was originally inspired by the freedom given to the African Americans after the civil war when he got involved in the project.  However, he later changed the idea to a general symbol of American freedom.  Bartholdi changed the plan for an Egyptian slave girl to a Greek goddess of Liberty.  The funds for the pedestal were collected with the help of Joseph Pulitzer, a publisher.  He decided to use an old sonnet written by a Jewish woman named Ms. Lazarus, who wrote about the bondage of her ancestors as the inscription on the bottom of the statue.  Because of the sonnet, people began to associate Lady Liberty with immigration to the US.


So Statue of Liberty is one that was built on inspirations of oppressed people from all over the world.  These people are the Beduins of Egypt, the African American slaves of America, the freedom of Jews, and the freedom sought by immigrants.  Americans should keep this in mind when attempting to define what makes America great.


  1. Some people say that the Statue of Liberty was, “born Muslim.”  What do they mean by that?
  2. What is a fellah?  How was a fellah dressed? Why is a fellah assumed to be a Muslim?
  3. What was the original inspiration of the sonnet written on the statue’s base?
  4. What is the connection of the end of the Civil War in the US to the Statue of Liberty?

Hi Jolly, Muslim American Hero

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Hi Jolly is an Americanized version of the name Hadji Ali, a Muslim who served the United States Army between 1856 and 1861, when the US Civil War caused the United States to abandon the project. It is believed that Hadji Ali was born to a Christian Syrian father and a Greek Christian mother and that he converted to Islam as a young adult. As a citizen of the Ottoman Empire, he and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, thus earning the title, “Hadji.” Upon arriving in the US, Americans had difficulty pronouncing his name and called him Hi Jolly instead. Although he married a Christian and used the name Phillip Tedro during his marriage, it is presumed that he did this because the church would not marry them otherwise. His neighbors, who adored him, reported that he was often “kneeling and fasting.” They knew him to have been a Muslim and honored him with a memorial that is now listed in the National Registry of Historical Landmarks. This memorial is located in Quartzite, Arizona, which is just off Interstate Highway 10 about half way between Phoenix and Los Angeles.

In 1848, Mexico ceded the territory that later became California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and much of New Mexico. However, the United States Government struggled with establishing communication, transporting goods, and maintaining control over these territories due to a lack of transportation over the very arid lands. Railroads had not yet spread to the area, and roads were not yet built. The United States Army needed surveyors to create roads through the area. The Secretary of War at the time, Jefferson Davis, was appointed by President Pierce in 1953 to begin the Pacific Railroad Survey. Jefferson had an idea to create a Camel Corps to help the United States government to achieve its goals for expansion in the area and was granted $30,000 to begin the project.

In 1856, 33 camels and 8 Greek or Turk camel drivers were brought to Indianola, Texas. Later, 44 more camels were purchased and transported to Camp Verde, Texas, which was designated as the camel station. Hi Jolly was hired as the lead camed34c3a_50dfb9d74b17452db3dd647643c86db4-jpgl driver for the project. In 1957, President Buchannan ordered that the Camel Corps assist former Navy Lieutenant, Edward Beal, to take 25 of the camels trough the southwest to carry supplies to Fort Defiance in California. When they arrived there successfully, Beale used the camels on his ranch near Bakersfield for various purposes. The remaining camels in Camp Verde were used for reconnaissance of several areas in the southwest.

When the Civil War started in 1861, the project was abandoned. Some of the camels were sold back to overseas destinations. Hadji Ali came to acquire a few of the camels and attempted to start his own transport business, which failed, likely because the railroads were starting to fulfill the same need more efficiently. He released his remaining camels into the wild and for several years afterward, people reported sightings of the feral animals and their descendants. Hi Jolly left his wife and children to prospect as a miner. He also occasionally continued to work for the US government as a scout. He eventually settled in Quartzsite, Arizona where he died in 1902. Although he became a US citizen in 1880, he was not given a military pension because he was not a citizen while he was serving in the military.  He died a poor man, living on the support of some friends.  He is reported to have died searching for one of his camels in the desert. The US Department of Transportation erected a monument over his grave. Today, Hi Jolly Cemetery is the burial spot for several American pioneers.unknown-3

Study Questions:

  1. How did Hi Jolly serve the US military?
  2. Where is Hi Jolly buried? Where did he arrive in the US?
  3. What evidence is given to support the claim that Hi Jolly was a Muslim?
  4. What evidence is given to support the claim that Hi Jolly honored and liked by his neighbors?
  5. Why did the Camel Corps and Hi Jolly’s transport business eventually fail?
  6. What happened to the camels of the Camel Corp?


Meme Campaign

I didn’t even know what a meme was a year ago.  Today memes send powerful messages, especially among our youth. Unfortunately, people who want to spread negative propaganda know very well the power of a meme.  I’ve learned that there is no real way to take down memes that are prejudice, but we can drown them out with positive memes. I want to help empower our youth to confront the false image of Muslims in America’s history. To do this they can use this blog to copy memes and post them to their own social media or to send them to friends.  Feel free to comment on the attached memes and post them to your own social media.

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South Carolina Muslims of 1790’s


No one has really been able to determined why a crescent, an iconic Muslim symbol, is on the South Carolina state flag.  However, there is evidence that Muslims lived in Sumter, South Carolina. Referred to as the Turks of Sumter County, several census documents, land deeds, The Moor Sundry Act of 1790, and official released state legislative committee reports provide evidence of this.  General Thomas Sumter and other heroes of the Continental Army were rewarded land just after the American Revolutionary War.  General Sumter was known to be a quiet man who lived alone with his servants and employees.  One of his employees, Yusef Ibn Ali, who later came to be known as Joseph Benenhaley, was listed as a soldier of the Continental Army and came to live on Sumter’s land as a wheelwright.  He was reported to have learned the craft before coming to America.  In 1815, Joseph Benenhaley was deeded 33 acres by Thomas Sumter. Joseph Benenhaley and his family were recorded in the South Carolina census since 1800.  In the 1920’s about 300 Benenhaley individuals were recorded to be living in Sumter County, South Carolina.  The Benenhaley family is cited by family descendants *, the Smithsonian Institution, and several other sources to have been Turks of South Carolina.

* to have been Turks of South Carolina.

In 1790, the South Carolina state legislature passed the Moor Sundry Act of 1790.  In this Act, the Free Moors, Francis, Daniel, Hammond and Samuel petitioned on behalf of themselves and their wives Fatima, Flora, Sarah and Clarinda to be recognized by the state as, “free people of color.” During the colonial, and until the civil rights movement, a person’s race would dictate who one could or could not marry, if he could vote, the laws that were used to indict him in courts of law, and his general overall status in society.  Therefore, if one was not white, but also was not black or Native American, it was not clear if this person would have the same rights as a white man. While petitioning the courts, these Turks explained how they came to live in South Carolina.  They explained that they were defending their country when they were captured by an African king. While there, a Captain Clark promised to take them to England where they could be redeemed by the Moroccan ambassador.  However, instead, he took them to South Carolina and sold them as slaves. After a few years, they purchased their freedom. They reasoned that the court should award their request to be considered “free people of color” because the United States had just entered an alliance with the Prince of Morocco.  They claimed to be subjects of the Prince of Morocco.  Some people believe that it is possible that these Turks may have been retired pirates as well.

After the Moor Sundry Act was passed, several other people also requested to be considered free people of color.  In addition, in 1830, descendants of David Scott, a free person of color went on to ask to be exempt from the tax placed on Free Blacks, in view of his service in the military in the American Revolutionary War.   The committee report was titled: “Committee of Ways & Means: Report on the Petition of David Scott & Sundry Citizens of Sumpter Dist asking that the Descendants of David Scott may be exempted from paying the tax on Free Persons of Color.”  In 1950, the Turks of South Carolina petitioned the Federal District Court to allow them to go to school with the white students at Hillcrest High School after graduating from Dalzell grade school.  The Sumter School District contested the case, saying that these people had Negro blood, but they were able to prove that they did not have Negro blood, and were allowed to attend any white school in the state.

Tody, people with the following surnames consider themselves to be descended from the Turks of Sumter Co: Benenhaley, Buckner, Deas, Hood, Jolly, Oxidine, Pitts, Ray, and Scott. Although these people did not all have Arabic sounding last names, many European pirates converted to Islam and considered themselves to be subjects of the Ottoman or Moroccan Empires.  In addition, many others may have adopted European names due to the level of discrimination that existed over time.  In addition, by 1900, the Long Branch Baptist Church was established, and the citizens mostly became Christian.

You can read a whole timeline of events related to the Turks of South Carolina by reading, Sumter’s Turks by S. Pony Hill.  This document can be found on

  1. What symbols appear on the South Carolina State Flag?
  2. Name three noted Turks who lived in South Carolina.
  3. How did Turks of South Carolina argue for their rights and freedom over time?
  4. Why were these people taken as slaves if they were not Black and did not have any “Negro blood”?
  5. Why was it important to define your race during this era in history?
  6. Why might have some of these Turks had European sounding names?

Notable Slaves Who Helped Build Our Country

Enough can not be said about the sacrifice slaves gave to our country.  Without all of the stolen labor, the United States of American would have never built the wealth that it did.  Historians and scholars debate the percentage of slaves who were Muslims, but most agree that somewhere between 10 to 30 percent of slaves who were brought to America were Muslims. The event of transporting Muslim slaves was made famous by the book by Alex Haley, Roots.


Ayuba Suleiman (b. 1701 and d. 1773), also known as Job Solomon, was born in Senegal, was believed to have come from a prominent Muslim family. He was captured and sold as a slave, then shipped to Annapolis, Maryland. Ayuba was known to have known how to read and write Arabic, refuse wine when it was offered to him, and to have fled from his slave owners home when a child made fun of him when he prayed.  He was later purchased by a man named Oglethorpe.  In England, a man named Hans Sloane, who made him a translator, and Ayuba translated a number of Arabic documents for the British Museum.  He was given a high status when he was made a member of the Gentleman’s Society of Spalding. Unfortunately, he was captured as a slave again by the French just before he passed away. Ayuba’s memoirs were published by a friend of his, Rev. Thomas Bluett, who had helped him gain his freedom.


Sambo Anderson, also referred to as Uncle Sambo or Samuel Anderson, was one of George Washington’s most coveted slaves.  Purchased around 1750, he was trained as a carpenter, and built and repaired several wooden structures at Mt. Vernon. George Washington was known to allow his slaves autonomy to keep their own religion and even gave Sambo permission to use his boat to go visit his family at a neighboring farm.  Other slaves, by the name of Fatima and Nila were also believed to have been slaves on Washington’s property as well, and may have been related to Sambo.  Washington gave his slaves their freedom upon his death in his will.  (I find it interesting that it is an Islamic tradition to free one’s slaves upon your death.)  As a free man, he hunted and sold wild game.  He was able to earn enough money to purchase the freedom of some of his family members, including his daughter, Charity, and several of his grand children.  When Uncle Sambo, when himself had passed away, an obituary was written about him in the Alexandria Gazette. 


Yarrow Mamout was a promenant figure in Georgetown in the early 1800’s. Mamout worked as a bricklayer, but was also known to have made money making charcoal, weaving baskets, and loading ships. He was freed when he was 60 years old and believed to have owned his own home on Dent Place in Georgetown, where he believed to be buried. Mamout was known to have swam in the Potomac River for exercise, have never consumed alcohol or pork, and to have walked the streets of Georgetown singing praises of Allah. His portrait is on display at the Georgetown Library.


Omar Ibn Said was known as a slave of General Owen in North Carolina.  He wrote 14 manuscripts in Arabic.  One of them was the biography of his life, which was written in communication with Sheikh Hunter. However, several others were inscriptions of Qur’anic text, which he had memorized before becoming a slave. Francis Scott Key was known to have given Ibn Said a bible in Arabic. His owners were also known to have given him a Qur’an in English to help him learn English.  Although many claim that he converted to Christianity, some others say he may have been a Mason, or have even continued to practice Islam afterwards. Today, his manuscripts are stored in the Wilson Library at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

  1. What kinds of jobs did many slaves of early days of America have?
  2. Why was it a benefit to have been able to read and write if you were a slave?
  3. How is Omar Ibn Said similar to another prominent slave, Bilali Muhammad?
  4. Which of the slaves mentioned were known to have had family?
  5. What kinds of Islamic traditions did these slaves try to preserve?