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Though it may come as a surprise to some, particularly in light of the current political climate in the United States, Islam and Muslims have a longstanding history of relations with the US, one that is as old as the country itself. 

Here are 9 things you probably did not know about the long-standing relationship and history between America and Muslims:

1. The first ever nation to seek diplomatic relations with the United States, was the Muslim country of Morocco, in 1777. To this day, the treaty remains the longest unbroken treat of its kind in US history.

George Washington Letter Morocco

Letter of George Washington to Mohammed ben Abdallah in appreciation of the signature of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in Marrakech in 1787.

2. Thomas Jefferson, principle author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), purchased a copy of the Qur’an in 1765 and began teaching himself Arabic while studying law. It can be found in the Library of Congress among the books sold to the institution by the former president, and remains among the nucleus of books from which the rest of the library holdings were developed. 

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson. Credit: CC Political Graveyard via Flickr

3. The first recorded Muslim to enter the shores of America, did so in 1528; a Moroccan  slave, called Estevanico, was shipwrecked near present-day Galveston, Texas. He travelled through much of the American southwest.[1]

4. There are at least a dozen places in the United States named Medina and at least eight named Mecca. Medina, Ohio, founded in 1818, was originally called Mecca; the name was changed to Medina when it was discovered that a nearby city had the same name.

City of Medina, Ohio

City of Medina, Ohio. Credit CC: OZinOH via Flickr

5. Records from the American Revolutionary War show that a number of Muslims fought for America. Among the recorded names of American soldiers are Yusuf ben Ali and Bampett Muhamed.[2]

6. Islam is one of the epochs depicted in ‘The Evolution of Civilization,’ a mural on the dome of the main Reading Room of the Thomas Jefferson Building in the Library of Congress. Its contribution to human progress is represented as Physics. 

Evolution of Civilization dome, Library of Congress

Evolution of Civilization dome, Reading Room, The Library of Congress. Credit CC: www.GlynLowe.com via Flickr

7. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is represented among the great lawgivers of history on a wall of the U.S. Supreme Court building placed halfway between the allegorical figures of Philosophy and Equity.

Prophet Muhammad, Supreme Court frieze

Frieze depicting Prophet Muhammad in the United States Supreme Court

8. The first significant number of Muslims arrived in America more than 400 years ago. It is estimated that there were between 600,000 to 1.2 million African slaves of Muslim heritage in the United States. One congressman’s grandson described slaves on their plantation as having been “fresh from the darkest Africa, some of Moorish or Arabian descent, devout Mussulmans, who prayed to Allah in the morning, noon and evening.

Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori

Drawing of Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, a Muslim prince from West Africa who was made a slave in the United States.

9. Officers of the Marine Corps carry the Mameluke Sword originally given to Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon in 1805 by a Mameluke chieftain in North Africa after the historic battle of Derna.


Further reading

Find out morehttp://www.mpac.org/publications/policy-papers/muslims-and-the-making-of-america.php


[1] Manseau, Peter (February 9, 2015). “The Muslims of Early America”. New York Times. Retrieved February 12, 2015.

[2] Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History. Retrieved March 5, 2015.


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