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?

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, it is well known that several 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 quite 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.

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?


The Wahab and Farrow Family Legends of The Outer Banks of North Carolina

The outer banks of North Carolina are barrier islands full of rich history.  You may have heard of, or even been to, Cape Hatteras, Roanoke Island, or Ocracoke.  These islands are known for their pirate history.  During the early 1700’s, pirates used these islands as their stomping grounds. Even though these pirates were a threat to the colonial exports, colonial governors did not crack down on them because they often received kickbacks from the pirates themselves.  In 1718, England decided to wage war against the pirates.  One of the most famous battles from that war was the battle between Blackbeard and Lt. Robert Maynard.  In this battle, Lt. Maynard killed Blackbeard and hung his head from the mast of his boat.

The Wahab family has a rich history on  Ocracoke Island. However, no one is really sure how the Wahab family came to live there.  Of course the Wahab name sounds very Arab, with Wahab being one of Allah’s 99 names. The legends have it that the family is descended from an Arab who was washed ashore after a pirate ship wrecked in a storm.  In an interview with Myra Wahab, Dr. Zogby reported that Mrs. Wahab exclaimed that the name was Arab and that the family was very proud of their Arab heritage. However, other Wahab descendants have used DNA tests to prove that the name is in fact Scott Irish, and trace their name to a version of the Celtic name, “Wauchopes.”

A 2005 National Park Service publication, Ethnohistorical Description of the Eight Villages adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Interpretive Themes of History and Heritage, addresses the legends about the Outer Banks Arabic heritage:

“Another famous castaway was known as ‘Pharaoh Pharaoh,’ ‘Pharaoh Farrow,’ or simply, ‘that A-rab.’ This man was the founder of the ‘Farrow family’ who emerged from the wreck of the Prince of India in 1737 (MacNeill 1958, 67). Although there is ‘no documented record that the Prince of India ever existed,’ it held as its cargo an archetype of Outer Bank origins: Arabian horses (MacNeill 1958, 65). The horses and ‘two Arabian youths’ are said to have washed ashore on the north end of Ocracoke, giving Bankers their first wild ponies. One of the youths ‘must have been Egyptian,’ as an itinerant clergyman named him ‘Pharaoh.’ This youth was later known as ‘King Pharaoh,’ as he came to own much land and numerous slaves, ‘all of whom had been brought here by storms’ (MacNeill 1958, 67). The other youth, simply known as ‘A-rab,’ ‘A-hab,’ and later ‘Wahab,’ is cited as the founder of the Wahab family of Ocracoke.

The writer of the website writes about the mystery of the Wahab and Farrow family names and the research he did to attempt to determine the origin of the name.  He writes that a member of the Wahab family wrote showed him a letter written by Eugenia Wahab Hill, who died in 1926, that stated: “the first Wahab (so the story goes) was supposed to have been sent from Arabia by the reining monarch to establish Mohammedanism in the country. The boat was wrecked in a storm off Ocracoke, where he was washed ashore on a piece of the wrecked ship.”

Another explanation is that the settlers of the outer banks of North Carolina are actually descendants of the lost colony of Roanoke. Of course, I’ve already discussed this story and the fact that John White reported that 200 Moors were on his ship as slaves.

There seems to be too much coincidences to ignore this story. We know many European pirates had converted to Islam, that the Barbary Coast was famous for its piracy, that many pirates used the North Carolina outer bank islands as stomping grounds, that several legends of Arabs landing on these islands have been told in family traditions, and that names like Wahab and Farrow were used.  The fact of the matter is that little is known about the pirates that dominated that area. It seems unusual, however, that one of the largest superpowers of the time, would not have a least a few Muslims land in the Americas.

  1. What are the names of the islands of the outer banks of North Carolina?
  2. Why were pirates able to use the outer banks of North Carolina as stomping grounds?
  3. Why is it not unlikely that the Wahabs and Farrows could have in fact been Muslims or Arabs?