Today is the start of Ramadan.One fourth of the world observes this Muslim fast, and I miss being in a culture where I could regularly witness the very happy fast-breaking at sundown; having grown up in a faith that fasts, I always felt especially sympathetic to the guys who worked in restaurants and delis and the like.
Social scientists estimate that 15 to 30 percent, or, “[a]s many as 600,000 to 1.2 million slaves” in antebellum America were Muslims. 46 percent of the slaves in the antebellum South were kidnapped from Africa’s western regions, which boasted “significant numbers of Muslims”.
So of course significant numbers of slaves were Muslim, and they were practicing, too:
In addition to abstaining from food and drink, enslaved Muslims held holy month prayers in slave quarters, and put together iftars – meals at sundown to break the fast – that brought observing Muslims together. These prayers and iftars violated slave codes restricting assembly of any kind.
For instance, the Virginia Slave Code of 1723 considered the assembly of five slaves as an “unlawful and tumultuous meeting”, convened to plot rebellion attempts. Every state in the south codified similar laws barring slave assemblages, which disparately impacted enslaved African Muslims observing the Holy Month.
Therefore, practicing Islam and observing Ramadan and its fundamental rituals, for enslaved Muslims in antebellum America, necessitated the violation of slave codes. This exposed them to barbaric punishment, injury, and oftentimes, even death. However, the courage to observe the holy month while bonded, and in the face of grave risk, highlights the supreme piety of many enslaved Muslims.
And while this all makes perfect sense, it had never occurred to me, certainly. Do go read the rest of the piece by Khaled O Beydoun. American cultural and religious diversity continues to amaze me; so many things we consider “imported” in recent history – Islam and Socialism, for starters – have really been part of the American fabric for more than a hundred years. It does make you think about who has framed the narrative of America, and why.
One Reply to “Ramadan’s American History”
Fascinating. Who indeed, wrote our narrative? I watched a piece on prisons and solitary last night and it made me wonder out loud how easily we swallow the trope “Land of the free”.
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