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    Default How enslaved Muslims in the Americas fasted in Ramadhan

    How enslaved Muslims in the Americas fasted in Ramadhan

    There is no doubt that the strains of living as a slave were many and the conditions brutal. One had their days and nights planned out by their masters from the day they were born until the day they died, albeit the Muslims talked about here were born free and then enslaved. Whether one was born free or born a slave, you were not in control of your daily life. There were certain aspects that West African Muslim slaves did try to control once they came to the Americas. For example, enslaved Muslims found the nakedness they were forced into humiliating and offensive to their religion. They looked to make head wraps and long garments from anything from old blankets or hand-me-downs from their owners.

    Where slaves could find autonomy they exercised it; one of these was adhering to the Islamic dietary laws. One of these laws was abstaining from alcohol even though it was widely available and consumption was encouraged. Ayuba Suleyman Diallo, from modern day Senegal, was enslaved in Maryland for two years before being sent to England. It was in Maryland that Diallo was interrogated about a crime and was offered alcohol to ease his fears about the situation, he flatly refused. Diallo was not alone in his refusal of alcohol; Ibrahima Rahman, also refused alcohol.

    Unfortunately, there was less control over the types of meat that was given and available to eat. The cheapest meat of the day was pork and was found in abundance. There were instances such as Nero, a Muslim slave who was the bookkeeper for the William Ball plantation in South Carolina. Nero was allowed to draw his meat rations from beef rather than pork. This may be a privilege of being a bookkeeper (a prestigious job that a slave could have) and less his owner being concerned with Islamic dietary law. Diallo, not only refused alcohol (as mentioned before) but, would only eat halal meat. The other option would be to forgo the consumption of meat, which is what Salih Bilali and other enslaved Muslims did on the Hopeton Plantation in Georgia.

    Enslaved Muslims living on Sea Island, Georgia also fasted when they could and the women on the island would fix rice cakes known as saraka to the non-Muslim observers. Saraka was a variation of the word sadaqah in Arabic meaning non-obligatory charity. The son of Salih Bilali was sent to a plantation on Saint Simmons Island, Georgia but, he kept his Islamic faith and not only fasted but made saraka for other slaves, Muslim and non-Muslims. Omar ibn Said, a Muslim slave in North Carolina was said to have been a “staunch Mohammedan and the first month of the year kept his fast of Ramadan with strictness.”

    Enslaved Muslims could have chosen not to fast during Ramadan but, there are a few reasons why they may have chosen to. It is important to acknowledge that each plantation had to have their own moon sighting to keep track of the Islamic months. Enslaved Muslims were looking to keep their Islamic identity in enslavement just as they would have if they were slaves in their respective homelands. Enslaved Muslims were fighting this idea of not only being slaves but, being legal property with little to no rights. Muslims could not justify neglecting their religious duties because of the social conditions. This was not a phenomenon only in the United States but, wherever West African Muslims landed there was an attempt to hold onto their religious duties. Muhammad Kaba for example, a Muslim slave in Jamaica, would pretend to be sick whenever he wished to observe fasting.

    In the hostile world that Muslims found themselves in following their religious customs was a way to stay connected to home and worship. The eagerness to follow their religious rituals and laws was seen in the United States, South America, and the Caribbean. Individual Muslims, families on plantations, and entire communities in Brazil, looked to salvage the little autonomy they had by following through with their religious obligations the best they could.


  2. #2
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    African Slaves Were the 1st to Celebrate Ramadan in America

    By Khaled A. Beydoun

    This past weekend marked the beginning of Ramadan. Nearly one-fourth of the world will observe the annual fast and 8 million Muslims in America will abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during the holy month. A grueling task at any time of the year, Ramadan this year will be especially daunting during the long and hot summer days.

    Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the nation, and the second-most-practiced faith in 20 of these united states. And these demographic shifts prompted a prominent Los Angeles-based imam to comment recently that "Ramadan is a new American tradition." The cleric's forward-looking pronouncement marks Islam's recent arrival in the U.S. But this statement reveals a pathology afflicting a lot of Muslim Americans today-an inability to look back and embrace the opening chapters of Muslim-American history, one that was written by enslaved African Muslims.

    Social scientists estimate that 15 to 30 percent, or "as many as 600,000 to 1.2 million," slaves in antebellum America were Muslims. Forty-six percent of the slaves in the antebellum South were kidnapped from Africa's western regions, which boasted "significant numbers of Muslims."

    These enslaved Muslims strove to meet the demands of their faith, most notably the Ramadan fast, prayers and community meals, in the face of comprehensive slave codes that linked religious activity to insubordination and rebellion. Marking Ramadan as a "new American tradition" not only overlooks the holy month observed by enslaved Muslims many years ago but also perpetuates their erasure from Muslim-American history.

    Between Sunna and Slave Codes

    Although the Quran "allows a believer to abstain from fasting if he or she is far from home or involved in strenuous work," many enslaved Muslims demonstrated transcendent piety by choosing to fast while in bondage. 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 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.

    Practicing Islam, therefore, 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.

    Ramadan was widely observed by enslaved Muslims. Yet this history is largely ignored by Muslim-American leaders and laypeople alike-and erased from the modern Muslim-American narrative.

    Rewriting the History of Ramadan in the U.S.

    Muslim America was almost entirely black during the antebellum era. Today it stands as the most diverse Muslim community in the world. Today African Americans make up a significant part of the community, along with Muslims of South Asian and Arab descent. Latin Americans are a rapidly growing demographic in the community, ensuring that Muslims in America are a microcosm of their home nation's overall multiculturalism.

    In the U.S. today, Ramadan dinner tables are sure to include staple Arab or Pakistani dishes. Yet many Muslim Americans will break the fast with tortas and tamales, halal meat loaf and greens. Muslim diversity in this country has reshaped Ramadan into a multicultural American tradition. The breadth of Muslim America's racial and cultural diversity today is unprecedented, making this year's Ramadan-and the Ramadans to follow-new in terms of how transcultural and multiracial the tradition has become.

    This Muslim-American multiculturalism comes with many challenges: Namely, intraracism, Arab supremacy and anti-black racism prevent cohesion inside and outside American mosques. These deplorable trends perpetuate the erasure of the Muslim slave narrative. Integrating this history will not only mitigate racism and facilitate Muslim-American cohesion but also reveal the deep-rootedness of the faith, and its holiest month, on American soil.

    This Ramadan, honoring the memory of the first Muslim Americans and their struggle for freedom-and sharing their story with loved ones at the iftar table-seems an ideal step toward rewriting this missing chapter of Muslim-American history into our collective consciousness.



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