The American Revolution as affected by the Muslim World – Part I
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The Declaration of Independence, a collection of profound and comprehensive statements of grievances and causes of the American Revolution, is the only one of its kind, a document in our recent history which is written by a revolutionary leader. It reflects the passion and pain of the suffering of the people of the thirteen colonies under the ruthless imperial rulers of Great Britain at that time.
The question is, by whom, and how was Jefferson influenced to produce a political document of this magnitude. He was an intellectual and an enlightened person. For the record, Jefferson did not have any religious affiliation. By birth, he was an Episcopalian, and later in his life he showed his interest to be in Unitarian doctrine and English Deist sects, but he showed a great respect for religious scriptures of all faiths.
A Deist does not believe in the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity. They deny that Jesus was the son of God. Also they do not accept the idea of a revealed religion. They reject the belief of Jews, Christians and Muslims or that the Holy Scriptures are the word of God. A Deist believes in the existence of God solely upon the evidence of reason. Some American historians claim that other than Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and another great American Leader and a founding father Benjamin Franklin were all Deists.
Jefferson wrote that the teachings of Jesus contain the “outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man.” He also wrote, “I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.” Source: “Jefferson’s Religious Beliefs.” By Rebecca Brown, Monticello Research Department, August 1997.
Jefferson purchased a copy of the Muslim’s Holy book, the Quran, when he was getting ready to prepare for his bar examination in 1765. George Sale’s Quran was the first English version copy of the holy book, which was translated directly from the Arabic Language. He referred to the Quran as a book of religion, law and culture. In the early part of the 1770’s Jefferson developed an interest in learning the Arabic language and grammar. He made serious efforts to study and understand Islamic laws. His personal copy of the Quran is in the library of Congress. The first elected Muslim member of the U.S. Congress is from Minnesota. Keith Ellison took his oath on this copy of the Quran on January 4, 2007. The “AL-Quran,” very explicitly advocates, not to accept “Oppression.”
Thomas Jefferson has used the Muslim Holy book, the Quran, as a source of information to enlighten his legal knowledge and history of religion. (If readers would like to read a detailed informative article about Jefferson and his interest in the Quran, they should read “How Thomas Jefferson Read the Quran.”) Written by Kevin J. Hayes, University of Central Oklahoma.
One can conclude and say that this great historical draft of “The Declaration of Independence,” is the reflection of Jefferson’s comprehensive understanding of religious scriptures.
American Colonies and Muslim Heritage
After the independence, the first country to recognize this new nation was the Muslim State of Morocco. At the beginning of the American Revolution there were about 400,000 black Africans living in the thirteen American Colonies. Over 90 percent of these Africans were slaves. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned some slaves; however, they thought slavery is not a good practice. Many other leaders of the Revolution also realized that slavery was against the American ideals of Freedom, Liberty and Justice for all.
The common perception that Muslims have had no part in the American Revolution is simply not true. According to an estimate in 1776 there were hundreds of thousands of Muslim Slaves present in the United States. A good number of slaves also fought in the war. Jefferson fought for religious freedom in Virginia, he demanded recognition of the religious freedom for the Jews, Pagan and the “Mahamdan,”(the Muslims).
Jefferson’s friend and ally, Richard Henry Lee made a motion in Congress on June 7, 1776 that American colonies declare their independence. “True freedom,” Lee asserted, “embraces the Mahomitan (Muslims) and the Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion.” On one occasion, President Washington declared that he would welcome “Mohometans” (Muslims) to Mount Vernon if they were “good workmen.” Probably he meant African Slaves or other Muslims. There are many more examples available. Source: The Founding Fathers and Islam, by James H. Hutson, Chief of Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
This Muslim heritage began even earlier than the establishment of the Colonies. In 1492 Christopher Columbus brought two Arab Muslim captains with him on his first voyage to the new world. A Muslim Arab Negro came from Azamore on the Atlantic Coast in 1538 to lead an expedition from Mexico, he discovered Arizona and New Mexico. In the 1550’s an Egyptian called Prince Nassereddine settled near the Hudson River. He fell in love with Lotwana, a Native American princess and presumably married.
The early colonists acquired their slaves on occasion by other than the “traditional” slave ships. In 1586 an English explorer, Mariner and a pirate Sir Francis Drake raided Spanish and Portuguese ships and librated or captured hundreds of prisoners. He left more than 200 Moors, Turks, West Africans and Portuguese on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.
A very famous African American is Alex Haley, the author of “Roots”, which is the story of Alex Haley’s ancestor Kunta Kinte. He was a Muslim born in 1750 in Gambia, captured and enslaved and brought to Annapolis, Maryland in 1767. He was forced to give up his Islamic faith.
By this time, America was home to the enslaved population and who now had a feeling of patriotism. Peter Salem (Saleem), a former slave from Framingham, Massachusetts, a Revolutionary War decorated hero, fought in the month of June, 1775 in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Later he also fought in the battle of Saratoga. He had audience with George Washington for his bravery.
Researchers were able to find at least six additional Muslim names who fought in the Revolutionary War from 1774 – 1783. These included Yousuf Ben Ali aka Joseph (Benenhab) Benhaley who fought with General Sumter in South Carolina, Bempett Muhamed who was a corporal, Francis Saba, a sergeant and Joseph Saba were with the Continental Troops from 1775 to 1783.
There are hundreds of historical documents, available to support the claim of researchers that American Colonies had a very sizeable number of Muslims present, before and after the Revolutionary War. Like other settlers from the other parts of the World, Muslim settlers also came from Africa, the Ottoman Empire and other Arab nations in search of the new world..
American Colonies and Anti Islamic Sentiments
The American colonies inherited misinformation and a prejudicial attitude towards the Muslims and Islam through the Oriental writers from Europe. In 1697, an English Orientalist, Humphrey Prideaux, author of “The True Nature of Imposture fully displayed in the Life of Mohomet” used his book to disseminate misleading information regarding Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.
Protestants, Anglican Clergymen and parishioners of the American Colonies were provided copies of this book in very large numbers. This book was reprinted multiple times. Colonial religious scholars, Cotton Mather and John Edwards defamed Islam as a false faith. Harvard president Samuel Langdon called Prophet Mohammad a counterfeit prophet. In 1649 Alexander Ross published an English translation of the Quran, full of blasphemies and obscene languages.
There are many examples of Orientalists, they made deliberate efforts to mislead their readers and defame Islam and the Prophet Mohammad. May be it was their sense of insecurity or the reaction of the Crusade Wars between the Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem. Some writers may have thought reading the Quran and books about the life of Prophet Mohammad could be hazardous to their Christian faith.
John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, son of a former President and one of the founders of the United States, expressed his views that Islam is a “fanatic and fraudulent” religion.
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