History of Muslims in USA



African slaves started to arrive in America through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. During this trade more than 10 million Africans were brought to the Americas out of which at least 10% were West African Muslims. They worked on plantations and made a huge contribution to the American economy.



Estevanico, a man of Muslim origin from Morocco, was enslaved and brought to Florida with the Spanish expedition of Narvaez in 1527.  He along with three others became the first to cross the continent reaching the Spanish forces in New Mexico City.  Two states, Arizona and New Mexico, owe their beginnings to him and he is also referred as a ‘discoverer of New Mexico’. He was enslaved by the Portuguese and is believed to have been converted into Christianity.


Anthony Van Salee arrives in New York and becomes the first known Muslim settler in the New World.  He was forced to move from Lower Manhattan to the other side of the river becoming the first settler of Brooklyn on a land later called as the ‘Turk Island’.



Ayyub Sulaiman Diallo, a Muslim slave in Maryland, in one of the rare cases is set free by James Oglethorpe (founder of Georgia). He traveled to England before returning to his original life in his homeland in Africa.



United States gets independence from Great Britain


Moors from Morocco are reported living in South Carolina and Florida.  A petition by some of them to the South Carolina House of Representatives has been recorded.




President Jefferson arranged a sunset dinner for the Tunisian envoy, Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, making it the first known ‘iftarat the White House



Yarrow Mamout, was an African Muslim slave, who worked hard and was set free at the age of 60. He rose to become a financier owning stocks in Columbia Bank.  There is speculation that he lived up to the age of 128 which would make him the oldest recorded person in America.  There is a famous portrait of his, which was painted by Charles W. Peal in 1819.  The portrait is kept in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. There is another portrait by James Simpson completed in 1828. 


US Federal Law passed by the US Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves into America.  The illegal importation of slaves continued and slave trade within the country continued for many more decades to come.



Omar ibn Said was re-enslaved in Charleston after running away.  He was taken from jail by John Owen and placed on the Owen plantation. John Owen later became Governor of North Carolina. Omar was a rare slave who could write.  He  ‘converted’ to Christianity but his letters written much later after his ‘conversion’ had Islamic invocations and Quranic excerpts on them.



Bilali Muhammad, a slave in Georgia, writes the Bilali Document which is considered as the ‘Mother Text’ of Islamic Literature in the United States. It was written by him from memory and was based on a popular religious text from West Africa.



Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, was a former prince from West Africa who was enslaved and put on a Georgia plantation.  He was freed by the Presidential Order of President John Quincy Adams after living in slavery for 40 years.  Due to his royal background, he was well educated and wrote two autobiographies.  His writings give a rare insight to the slaves of that time.


Sayyid Sa’id, ruler of Oman, sends his ship The Sultanah to America which reaches the port in New York on April 30, 1840. The first Arab diplomat Ahmad bin Na’aman comes on the same vessel.



The United States cavalry hire a Muslim Hajj Ali, who was sent from the Ottoman empire on the request of the US army. He managed the camel regiment.


At the end of the American Civil War, the scorched earth policy was put in force against Confederate properties. It resulted in destruction of a large number of properties. During one of these the University of Alabama was burnt but only one book, a translation of the Quran, was saved as a souvenir on the request of the librarian Andre Deloffre. This event is almost a legend in Tuscaloosa.


Reverend Norman, a Methodist missionary, becomes the first recorded American to convert to Islam. He had gone to Turkey as a Christian missionary but converted to Islam and came back to America to start preaching his newly acquired faith.


webbAlexander Russel Webb a journalist and then an American diplomat to the Philippines converts to Islam. He is one of the first few Anglo-American converts and became an outspoken proponent of Islam in the nation.


Muslim immigrants from the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, etc. arrive in North America. They are mainly Turks, Kurds, Albanians, and Arabs.



Inayat Khan migrates from India to the United States and establishes probably the first Sufi Order in the US.



Timothy Drew establishes an organization in Newark which later came to be known as the Moorish Science Temple of America. This was probably the first organized Black Muslim movement in America attempting an American version of Islam based on Drew’s personal beliefs.  At its peak it had 30,000 black converts.


The first Islamic associations are formed in the United States as Albanian Muslims build a Masjid in Maine and soon another one in Connecticut. 


A chapter of the Ottoman Red Crescent, modeled after the International Red Cross, is established in Detroit.


A quarterly journal The Moslem Sunrise is published to to counter misrepresentations of Islam. It was established by the Dr. Mufti  Muhammad Sadiq, a missionary of the Ahmadiyya community. He also established a branch of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Chicago.  Many African Americans convert and join this movement.


The Johnson-Reed Act passed to restrict the immigrants coming from Asia. It significantly put a quota restriction to stop the immigrants coming in from Asian countries resulting in significant impact on Muslim immigrants.


The Nation of Islam (NOI) is founded by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in Detroit for African Americans. It becomes one of the most significant organizations among American Muslims .  A high number of African Americans join the movement. It used symbols and motifs from mainstream Islam, but its core beliefs differed from it on many points.



Elijah Muhammad becomes the leader of Nation of Islam after the sudden disappearance of Fard Muhammad.  He started establishing places of worship called as Temples.



Malcolm X, who joined Nation of Islam while serving in prison, is released on parole. He quickly rose to become a prominent figure in the movement almost rivaling Elijah Muhammad.


The Federation of Islamic Associations of the U.S. and Canada is established in Chicago. Abdullah Igram, a World War II veteran convened the first meeting.


Islam is recognized as a religion in the US armed forces after Muslims in the Armed Services request President Eisenhower to allow them to bear the badge with letter the ‘I’ for Islam. This was similar to being done for Christian and Jews so that it allows a proper burial in case of death on the battlefield. 



The Islamic Center of Washington D.C., which becomes the largest mosque in the western hemisphere at that time, is opened. President Dwight Eisenhower attends the dedication ceremony.



The newspaper Muhammad Speaks is launched by Nation of Islam. It became one of the most widely circulated newspapers produced by an African American organization, reaching a readership of 800,000 readers at its peak. It was later called as the Muslim Journal.


The Dar-ul-Islam movement is founded in Brooklyn with its roots in the State Street mosque in New York. It initially focused on exclusive membership of African American converts. It advocated the transformation of the African Americans in their culture and practices. 



The Muslim Students Association (MSA) is established as an organization to help Muslims students in their religious practices in college campuses across USA and Canada. MSA rose to have more than 100 branches nationwide. In later years it gave birth to many other organizations across the social and professional communities – Islamic Medical Association, The Association of Muslim Social Scientists (1972), and the Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers (1971).  



Cassius Clay, the new world heavyweight champion, joins Nation of Islam. He changes his name to Muhammad Ali




Malcolm X is assassinated in New York.



The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) is established. Its initial membership was mostly dominated by Muslims of South Asian origin before it attempted to diversify.


Lew Alcindor converts to Islam and takes the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  He goes on to become one of the most famous basketball player in sports history creating many sporting records.



Warith Deen Muhammad, son of Elijah Muhammad, after the death of Eljiah takes over the leadership of the Nation of Islam. He changes the Nation of Islam to the World Community of al-Islam and leads its followers to mainstream Islam.  



The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is established in Plainfield, IN as an an umbrella Muslim organization. It traces its origin to MSA and its 1963 convention as its first convention.  It is widely regarded as the largest Muslim organization is North America.



Imam Siraj Wahhaj becomes the first Muslim to offer the opening prayer of the United States House of Representatives. 


Charles Bilal is elected as the mayor of Kountze, TX becoming the first Muslim mayor of an American city. He probably becomes the first Muslim to a major elected office.



Imam Warith Deen Mohammed becomes the first Muslim to offer the opening prayers to the US Senate.



Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is established in Washington D.C. It goes on to become the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties advocacy group. 


First Lady Hillary Clinton hosts the White House’s first Eid celebration. This started a tradition of hosting the White House Iftar every year going forward which has been followed by Clinton, Bush and Obama.



Ahmad H. Zewail becomes the first American Muslim to be awarded the Noble Prize. He is awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his groundbreaking work in femtochemistry. 



The U.S. Postal Service issues a stamp celebrating the Islamic holiday of the two Eid


Al Qaeda executes four coordinated terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC killing about 3000 people. The subsequent US response has far reaching impact within US and beyond.

Within the country, its impact is felt in particular by the Muslim community with various surveillance programs launched covering institutions, civilians and mosques.



Keith Ellison becomes the first Muslim to be elected to US Congress. He represents the house from Minnesota.


Anti-Islam proponents launch protests against the building of mosques in Manhattan (2011) and Murfreesboro (2012).  The Federal judge dismisses the case against opening of the Murfreesboro mosque citing that the mosque cannot be subjected to more requirements than required from any other religious organization.



New York City announces the addition of two holidays to the public school for the two Eids (Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha). For the first time all NYC schools to close on Sep 24th on the occasion of Eid-al-Adha.



Zaytuna College becomes the first accredited Muslim College in USA.  It is based on Holy Hill in Berkeley, CA. It was started as Zaytuna Institute in 1996 by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Hisham Alalusi. It was later established as a college by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian.