While some of the slaves brought to colonial America from Africa arrived as Muslims, Islam was stringently suppressed on plantations.
From the 1880s to 1914, several thousand Muslims immigrated to the United States from the Ottoman Empire, and from parts of South Asia; they did not form distinctive settlements, and probably mostly assimilated into the wider society.
American Muslims come from various backgrounds, and are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States according to a 2009 Gallup poll. Native-born American Muslims are mainly African Americans who make up about a quarter of the total Muslim population. Many of these have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prison, and in large urban areashas also contributed to its growth over the years. The immigrant communities make up the majority, with mainly people of Arab and South Asian descent.
The Muslim population of the U.S. increased dramatically in the 20th century, with much of the growth driven by rising immigration, and a comparatively high birth rate. About 72% of American Muslims are immigrants or “second generation”. In 2005, more people from Islamic countries became legal permanent United States residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades. In 2009, more than 115,000 Muslims became legal residents of the United States.
Pre-Columbian Islamic contact theories
The date of the first Muslim visit to the Americas, or to what is now North America, is unknown. There are popular theories that the first Muslims landed or visited the territory long before Christopher Columbus.
“The story of Islam in America antedates the European conquest of the continent. Some say that Andalusian Muslims visited the American continent long before Columbus, as reported by al-Sharif al-Idrisi in the twelfth century. Others claim that adventurers from the Muslim kingdoms of West Africa had visited the Caribbean. Furthermore, it is alleged that the Portuguese and Spanish discoverers were led by Andalusian Muslim mariners who were familiar with the high seas. Some of the discoverers were said to be Moriscos (Spanish Muslims who pretended to be Christians). Andalusian Muslim immigrants of Rabat and Salé in Morrocco led the fight against Spanish and Portuguese navies in the Caribbean.”—Caesar E. Farah
Earliest records and early national period
The history of Islam in the United States can be divided into two significant periods: the post World War I period, and the last few decades, although some individual members of the Islamic faith are known to have visited or lived in the United States during the colonial era.
Estevanico may have been the first Muslim to enter the historical record in North America. Estevanico was a Berber originally from North Africa who explored the future states of Arizona and New Mexico for the Spanish Empire. He was raised as a Muslim, but converted to Roman Catholicism upon enslavement.
American views of Islam affected debates regarding freedom of religion during the drafting of the state constitution of Pennsylvania in 1776. Constitutionalists promoted religious toleration while Anticonstitutionalists called for reliance on Protestant values in the formation of the state’s republican government. The former group won out, and inserted a clause for religious liberty in the new state constitution. American views of Islam were influenced by favorable Enlightenment writings from Europe, as well as Europeans who had long warned that Islam was a threat to Christianity and republicanism.
When Benjamin Franklin helped establish a non-denominational religious meeting house in Philadelphia, he emphasized its non-sectarian nature by stating that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service”. Franklin also wrote an anti-slavery parody piece claiming to be translation of the response of a government official at Algiers to a 17th-century petition to banish slavery there; the piece develops the theme that Europeans are specially suited for enslavement on cultural and religious grounds, and that there would be practical problems with abolishing slavery in North Africa; this satirizes similar arguments that were then made about the enslavement of Blacks in North America.
Peter Salem, a former slave who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, is speculated to have Muslim connections based on his Islamic-sounding name. “Saleem” means “one who is peaceful” in Arabic and is related to the word salaam. Salem’s name was said by a Jewish man to be similar to the word shalom, which also means peace. Other American Revolution soldiers with Islamic names include Salem Poor, Yusuf Ben Ali, Bampett Muhamed, Francis Saba, and Joseph Saba. Another theory on the origins of Peter Salem’s name is that he or his owner’s family was from Salem, Massachusetts which was named for city of Salem (more commonly referred to as Jerusalem) in the Bible.
Between 1785 and 1815, over a hundred American sailors were captive in Algiers for ransom. Several wrote captivity narratives of their experiences that gave most Americans their first view of the Middle East and Muslim ways, and newspapers often commented on them. The views were generally negative. Royall Tyler wrote The Algerine Captive (1797), an early American novel depicting the life of an American doctor employed in the slave trade who becomes himself enslaved by Barbary pirates. Finally Presidents Jefferson and Madison sent in the Navy to confront the pirates, and ended the threat in 1815.
Bilali (Ben Ali) Muhammad was a Fula Muslim from Timbo, Futa-Jallon in present day Guinea-Conakry, who arrived at Sapelo Island during 1803. While enslaved, he became the religious leader and Imam for a slave community numbering approximately eighty Muslim men residing on his plantation. During the War of 1812, Muhammad and the eighty Muslim men under his leadership protected their master’s Sapelo Island property from a British attack. He is known to have fasted during the month of Ramadan, worn a fez and kaftan, and observed the Muslim feasts, in addition to consistently performing the five obligatory prayers. In 1829, Bilali authored a thirteen page Arabic Risala on Islamic beliefs and the rules for ablution, morning prayer, and the calls to prayer. Known as the Bilali Document, it is currently housed at the University of Georgia in Athens.
In 1776, John Adams published “Thoughts on Government,” in which he praises the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a “sober inquirer after truth” alongside Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, and other thinkers.
In 1785, George Washington stated a willingness to hire “Mahometans,” as well as people of any nation or religion, to work on his private estate at Mount Vernon if they were “good workmen.” It was a rhetorical statement, as he hired no such people.
In 1790, the South Carolina legislative body granted special legal status to a community of Moroccans. In 1797, President John Adams signed a treaty declaring the United States had no “character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen”.
A group of immigrants, most wearing fezzes, surrounding a large vessel which is decorated with the star and crescent symbol of Islam and the Ottoman Turks (1902-1913)
In his autobiography, published in 1791, Benjamin Franklin stated that he “did not disapprove” of a meeting place in Pennsylvania that was designed to accommodate preachers of all religions. Franklin wrote that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”
Thomas Jefferson defended religious freedom in America including those of Muslims. Jefferson explicitly mentioned Muslims when writing about the movement for religious freedom in Virginia. In his autobiography Jefferson wrote “[When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom… was finally passed,… a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it should read ‘a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.’ The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination.” While President, Jefferson also participated in an iftar with the Ambassador of Tunisia in 1809.
However, not all politicians were pleased with the religious neutrality of the Constitution, which prohibited any religious test. Anti-Federalists in the 1788 North Carolina ratifying convention opposed the new constitution; one reason was the fear that some day Catholics or Muslims might be elected president. William Lancaster said:.
- Let us remember that we form a government for millions not yet in existence…. In the course of four or five hundred years, I do not know how it will work. This is most certain, that Papists may occupy that chair, and Mahometans may take it. I see nothing against it.
Indeed, in 1788 many opponents of the Constitution pointed to the Middle East, especially the Ottoman Empire as a negative object lesson against standing armies and centralized state authority.
19th and 20th century
Alexander Russell Webb, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, a Protestant who converted to Islam.
There are recorded instances of Muslims in the United States military during the American Civil War. Muhammad Ali ibn Said (also known as Nicholas Said), formerly enslaved to an Arab master, came to the United States in 1860 where he found a teaching job in Detroit. In 1863, Said enlisted in the 55th Massachusetts Colored Regiment in the United States Army and rose to the rank of sergeant. He was later granted a transfer to a hospital department, where he gained some knowledge of medicine. His Army records state that he died in Brownsville, Tennessee in 1882. Another Muslim soldier from the Civil War was Max Hassan, an African who worked for the military as a porter.
A Muslim named Hajj Ali (commonly spelled as “Hi Jolly”) was hired by the United States Cavalry in 1856 to raise camels in Arizona and California. He would later become a prospector in Arizona. Hajj Ali died in 1903.
During the American Civil war, the “scorched earth” policy of the North destroyed churches, farms, schools, libraries, colleges, and a great deal of other property. The libraries at the University of Alabama managed to save one book from the debris of their library buildings. On the morning of April 4, when Federal troops reached the campus with order to destroy the university, Andre Deloffre, a modern language professor and custodian of the library, appealed to the commanding officer to spare one of the finest libraries in the South. The officer, being sympathetic, sent a courier to Gen. Croxton at his headquarters in Tuscaloosa asking permission to save the Rotunda. The general’s reply was no. The officer reportedly said, “I will save one volume as a memento of this occasion.” The volume selected was a rare copy of the Qur’an.
Alexander Russell Webb is considered by historians to be the earliest prominent Anglo-American convert to Islam in 1888. In 1893 he was the only person representing Islam at the first Parliament for the World’s Religions. The Five-Percent Nation was a black Muslim group founded by Clarence 13X.
Turkish immigrant in New York (1912)
Dr. Mufti Mohammad Sadiq, first missionary of the Ahmadiyya movement, who established a mission in 1920
Small-scale migration to the U.S. by Muslims began in 1840, with the arrival of Yemenis and Turks, and lasted until World War I. Most of the immigrants, from Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, came with the purpose of making money and returning to their homeland. However, the economic hardships of 19th-Century America prevented them from prospering, and as a result the immigrants settled in the United States permanently. These immigrants settled primarily in Dearborn, Michigan; Quincy, Massachusetts; and Ross, North Dakota. Ross, North Dakota is the site of the first documented mosque and Muslim Cemetery, but it was abandoned and later torn down in the mid 1970s. A new mosque was built in its place in 2005.
- 1906 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) in Chicago, Illinois, started the Džemijetul Hajrije (Jamaat al-Khayriyya) (The Benevolent Society; a social service organization devoted to Bosnian Muslims). This is the longest lasting incorporated Muslim community in the United States. They met in Bosnian coffeehouses and eventually opened the first Islamic Sunday School with curriculum and textbooks under Bosnian scholar Sheikh Ćamil Avdić (Kamil Avdich) (a graduate of al-Azhar and author of Survey of Islamic Doctrines).
- 1907 Lipka Tatar immigrants from the Podlasie region of Poland founded the first Muslim organization in New York City, the American Mohammedan Society.
- 1915, what is most likely the first American mosque was founded by Albanian Muslims in Biddeford, Maine. A Muslim cemetery still exists there.
- 1920 First Islamic mission station was established by an Indian Ahmadiyya Muslim missionary, followed by the building of the Al-Sadiq Mosque in 1921.
- 1934 The first building built specifically to be a mosque is established in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
- 1945 A mosque existed in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Arab-American population in the U.S.
Construction of mosques sped up in the 1920s and 1930s, and by 1952, there were over 20 mosques. Although the first mosque was established in the U.S. in 1915, relatively few mosques were founded before the 1960s. Eighty-seven percent of mosques in the U.S. were founded within the last three decades according to the Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey. California has more mosques than any other state.
Chinese Muslims, known as Hui, have immigrated to the United States and lived within the Chinese community rather than integrating into other foreign Muslim communities. Two of the most prominent Chinese American Muslims are the Taiwan National Revolutionary Army Generals Ma Hongkui and his son Ma Dunjing, who moved to Los Angeles after fleeing from China to Taiwan. Pai Hsien-yung, son of the Chinese Muslim General Bai Chongxi, is a Chinese Muslim writer who moved to Santa Barbara, California after fleeing from China to Taiwan.
According to the U.S. Department of State, the largest ethnic groups of American Muslims are those of South Asian, Arab and African-American descent
Paterson, New Jersey, within the New York City Metropolitan Area, is becoming an increasingly popular destination for Muslim immigrants.
The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious identification. Various institutions and organizations have given widely varying estimates about how many Muslims live in the U.S. Tom W. Smith, author of “Estimating the Muslim Population in the United States,” said that of twenty estimates he reviewed during a five-year period until 2001, none was “based on a scientifically-sound or explicit methodology. All can probably be characterized as guesses or assertions. Nine came from Muslim organizations such as the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Student Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Muslim Council, and the Harvard Islamic Society or unspecified “Muslim sources.” None of these sources gave any basis for their figures.”
Others claim that no scientific count of Muslims in the U.S. has been done, but that the larger figures should be considered accurate. Some journalists have also alleged that the higher numbers have been inflated for political purposes.
According to a 2001 study written by Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, of Americans who convert to Islam, 64% are African American, 27% are White, 6% are Hispanic, and 3% are other. Around that time increasing numbers of American Hispanics converted to Islam. Many Hispanic converts in Houston said that they often had been mistaken as of being of Pakistani or Middle Eastern descent, due to their religion. Many Hispanic converts were former Christians.
Since the arrival of South Asian and Arab communities during the 1990s there has been divisions with the African Americans due to the racial and cultural differences; however, since September 11, 2001, the two groups joined together when the immigrant communities looked towards the African Americans for advice on civil rights.
According to a 2007 religious survey, 72% of Muslims believe religion is very important, which is higher in comparison to the overall population of the United States at 59%. The frequency of receiving answers to prayers among Muslims was, 31% at least once a week and 12% once or twice a month. Nearly a quarter of the Muslims are converts to Islam (23%), mainly native-born. Of the total who have converted, 59% are African American and 34% white. Previous religions of those converted was Protestantism (67%), Roman Catholicism (10%), and 15% no religion.
Mosques are usually explicitly Sunni or Shia. There are 1,209 mosques in the United States and the nation’s largest mosque, the Islamic Center of America, is in Dearborn, Michigan. It caters mainly to the Shi’a Muslim congregation; however, all Muslims may attend this mosque. It was rebuilt in 2005 to accommodate over 3,000 people for the increasing Muslim population in the region.Approximately half (50%) of the religious affiliations of Muslims is Sunni, 16% Shia, 22% non-affiliated and 16% other/non-response. Muslims of Arab descent are mostly Sunni (56%) with minorities who are Shia (19%). Bangladeshis (90%), Pakistanis (72%) and Indians (82%) are mainly Sunni, while Iranians are mainly Shia (91%). Of African American Muslims, 48% are Sunni, 34% are unaffiliated (mostly part of the Community of W.Deen Mohammed), 16% other (mostly Nation of Islam and Ahmadiyya) and 2% Shia.
Tucson Islamic Center, Tucson, Arizona
In many areas, a mosque may be dominated by whatever group of immigrants is the largest. Sometimes the Friday sermons, or khutbas, are given in languages like Urdu, Bengali or Arabic along with English. Areas with large Muslim populations may support a number of mosques serving different immigrant groups or varieties of belief within Sunni or Shi’a traditions. At present, many mosques are served by imams who immigrate from overseas, as only these imams have certificates from Muslim seminaries.
Education and income
Contrary to popular perceptions, the condition of Muslims in the U.S. is very good. Among South Asians in the country, the large Pakistani American community stands out as particularly well educated and prosperous, with education and income levels exceeding those of U.S.-born whites. Many are professionals, especially doctors, scientists, engineers, and financial analysts, and there are also a large number of entrepreneurs. There are more than 15,000 doctors practicing medicine in the USA who are of Pakistani origin alone and the number of Pakistani American millionaires was reported to be in the thousands. 45 percent of immigrant Muslims report annual household income levels of $50,000 or higher. This compares to the national average of 44 percent. Immigrant Muslims are well represented among higher-income earners, with 19 percent claiming annual household incomes of $100,000 or higher (compared to 16 percent for the Muslim population as a whole and 17 percent for the U.S. average). This is likely due to the strong concentration of Muslims in professional, managerial, and technical fields, especially in information technology, education, medicine, law, and the corporate world.
In 2005, according to The New York Times, more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent United States residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades. In addition to immigration, the state, federal and local prisons of the United States may be a contributor to the growth of Islam in the country. J. Michael Waller claims that Muslim inmates comprise 17-20% of the prison population, or roughly 350,000 inmates in 2003. Waller states that these inmates mostly come into prison as non-Muslims. He also claims that 80% of the prisoners who “find faith” while in prison convert to Islam. These converted inmates are mostly African American, with a small but growing Hispanic minority. Waller also asserts that many converts are radicalized by outside Islamist groups linked to terrorism, but other experts suggest that when radicalization does occur it has little to no connection with these outside interests.
There are 2.6 million Muslim adherents across the country in 2010. Islamic populations are 0.8% of the US population per Fareed Zacaria quoting Pew Research Center, 2010.
|State||Adherents per100,000 people|
According to the 2000 United States Census, the state with the largest percentage of Muslims is Michigan, with 1.2% of its population being Muslim. New Jersey has the second largest percentage with 0.9%, followed by Massachusetts with 0.8%.
48% of Arabs lived in just five states in 2000: California, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, and Florida. Just three states had an Arab population of over 100,000: California, New York, and Michigan.
New York City had the largest number of Muslims with 69,985. In 2000, Dearborn, Michigan ranked second with 29,181, and Los Angeles ranked third with 25,673; although Paterson, New Jersey, in the New York City Metropolitan Area, was estimated to have become home to 25,000 to 30,000 Muslims as of 2011. Of cities with at least 100,000 people, Jersey City, New Jersey rank second and third with 3% of their populations. Dearborn, which had a population of 98k, had an Arab population of 30%, the largest concentration of Muslims in the United States.
The number of mosques in the United States in 2011 was 2,106.
The top five states with the most amount of mosques were: 1. New York-257 2. California-246 3. Texas-166 4. Florida-118 5. Illinois-109 5. New Jersey-109
Islamic Society of Northern Wisconsin Mosque in Altoona, Wisconsin
Muslims in the United States have increasingly contributed to American culture; there are various Muslim comedy groups, rap groups, Scout troops and magazines, and Muslims have been vocal in other forms of media as well.
Within the Muslim community in the United States there exist a number of different traditions. As in the rest of the world, the Sunni Muslims are in the majority. Shia Muslims, especially those in the Iranian immigrant community, are also active in community affairs. All four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) are found among the Sunni community.
Some Muslims in the U.S. are also adherents of certain global movements within Islam such as the Salafi, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Gulen Movement, and the Tablighi Jamaat.