Muslims are a part of our American heritage - updated 10/11/12

Muslims are a part of our American heritage

by Sheila Musaji

A friend received an email letter entitled “MUSLIMS A PART OF OUR HERITAGE…..ALWAYS…...I THINK NOT” which was sent to him by someone calling himself Mr. Sheldon.  Jamal responded to him from the point of view of a Muslim in the U.S. military. (Both Mr. Sheldon’s original letter and Jamal Baadani’s response are at the bottom of this article.)  I would also like to respond.  I had previously received this as an email quoting the source as Patriots for America, but have found the posting on sites all over the web.  So, we have yet another of those viral emails that are really from an anonymous and therefore cowardly source. 

This letter is yet another in a long list of bigoted propoganda stating some “fact” that “everyone knows” which is quite simply not a fact at all.  The most commonly repeated claims about Muslims are that “everyone knows” that most or all terrorists are Muslims, and there are no Christian and no Jewish terrorists (or terrorists of any other religious stripe).  Everyone also knows that Muslims are not equivalent to real Americans, that they are the enemy within, that good Muslims can’t be good Americans, that they are all militant,  that Islam is “of the devil”, and an “evil encroaching on the United States”, and this is a Christian nation, which everyone knows the Muslims are trying to take over, starting with getting an Eid stamp which is the first step towards shariah law.  Everyone knows that Muslims are given a pass by the elite media.  It’s “us versus them”, and even those Muslims who do speak up or seem moderate are simply lying or practicing taqiyyah.  The problem is that what “everyone knows” is wrong.  These self-righteous and incorrect statements are usually followed by a demand that the Muslim community do something about whatever is the false flag of the day or face the inevitable consequences.   

There may not have been any Muslims who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights (as most Muslims in America at that time were slaves) but Muslims are still defending those documents.  You can read about some of those Muslim slaves here.

There were Muslims in the “wild west”, for example“There is one further story, that of Hajj Ali, the only truly legendary Old West figure of Arab origin. Born in Syria, he arrived at Camp Verde with the second shipment of camels in 1857 and helped the Americans handle their camels on Beale’s trek to California. His easygoing nature—and Americans’ ignorance of Arabic—left him with the nickname “Hi Jolly,” and after the westward trek he took part in numerous camel projects throughout California and Arizona. After the auctioning of the camels, Hi Jolly prospected for gold, hauled freight and scouted for the US Army. Granted citizenship in 1880, he married Gertrude Serna of Tucson and had two daughters with her. However, in the tradition of the solitary Old West adventurer, he returned to the desert in his late years to prospect alone near Quartzsite, Arizona. He died in 1902. Legendary for his skill with animals, he was cared for in his final days by ranchers and prospectors.”

You can see a photograph of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King together here and read something about their struggle for civil rights for African-Americans.  You can go here to see a photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King giving his I have a dream speech, and see how many Muslims (the folks with the white hats) are immediately surrounding and protecting him.  I am a pretty ordinary person, but was in college in the 60’s and was a small part of the Civil Rights movement as were many other Muslims.

You can read an article by Dr. Shafeeq S. Shamsid-Deen which points out:  “Did you know that in 1492 an Afro-Spaniard named Pedro Alonzo Nino accompanied Christopher Columbus on his fist voyage to the Americas?  Did you know that in 1522, Muslims were at the forefront of the freedom struggle of slave’s throughout the Americas? Most of these revolts were unsuccessful as far as freedom was concerned. These freedom fighters were ruthlessly crushed, hanged, burned and even thrown in boiling oil.”  So, a Muslim was here before those Pilgrims first landed, and were already engaged in a struggle for civil rights 400 years before the civil rights movement of the 20th century, and 300 years before the Civil War.

You might check out the Muslims in America exhibit currently at Shaw University in Raleigh NC.  According to a local news article about this exhibit:  “The exhibit, “Muslims in America,” demonstrates that Muslim explorers may have predated Christopher Columbus and that Muslims fought in every U.S. war since the Revolutionary War. Census records show nearly 300 men with surnames from Muslim areas fought in the Civil War, for example.”  You can read about Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. military here

You might check out this collection of Muslim voices denouncing terrorism, extremism, and violence which absolutely shows your claim that Muslims do not denounce terrorism, and did not denounce 9/11 to be a lie.

You might read this article with a partial list of Muslims who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks (over 50), including a pregnant Muslim woman on American Airlines Flight 11.  As noted in the article

Imagine being the family of Salman Hamdani.  The 23-year-old New York City police cadet was a part-time ambulance driver, incoming medical student, and devout Muslim.  When he disappeared on September 11, law enforcement officials came to his family, seeking him for questioning in relation to the terrorist attacks.  They allegedly believed he was somehow involved.  His whereabouts were undetermined for over six months, until his remains were finally identified.  He was found near the North Tower, with his EMT medical bag beside him, presumably doing everything he could to help those in need.  His family could finally rest, knowing that he died the hero they always knew him to be.

Or imagine being Baraheen Ashrafi, nine months pregnant with her second child.  Her husband, Mohammad Chowdhury, was a waiter at Windows of the World restaurant, on the top floors of Tower One.  The morning of September 11, they prayed salaat-l-fajr (the pre-dawn prayer) together, and he went off to work.  She never saw him again.  Their son, Farqad, was born 48 hours after the attacks—one of the first 9/11 orphans to be born.  In an interview with CTV Canada, she relates that in the months to follow, she mourned for her husband and endured the hostility of some ignorant people around her.  “When they saw me ... I’m wearing a scarf. There is a hate look.”

Or consider Rahma Salie, a passenger on American Airlines #11 that crashed into the North Tower.  Rahma, a Muslim of Sri Lankan origin, was traveling with her husband Michael (a convert to Islam) to attend a friend’s wedding in California.  Rahma was 7 months pregnant with their first child.  According to the Independent UK (October 11, 2001), Rahma’s name was initially put on an FBI watch list, because her “Muslim-sounding” name was on the passenger manifest, and her travel patterns were similar to those of the hijackers (she was a computer consultant living in Boston).  Although her name was eventually removed from the list, several of her family members were barred from taking flights to her memorial service.  Her mother, Haleema, said, “I would like everyone to know that she was a Muslim, she is a Muslim and we are victims too, of this tragic incident.”

You might also read about Shahram Hashemi.  In 2002, Shahram received the F.H. LaGuardia Association Memorial Award for his exemplary academic record and his volunteer rescue effort at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11th in New York, an event which served as the catalyst for his commitment to human rights.  Or, you might read about the four police officers and one firefighter who assisted in the rescue operations after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11.  At a ceremony honoring these men,  Ralph Boyd, assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice said: “This is a reminder to Americans of what it means to be American.  In addition to suffering alongside the rest of us, our Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters were also involved in rescue operations in the aftermath of the horrific attacks on our country.”

You might read about Abdulrahman Zeitoun who voluntarily stayed behind in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, America’s largest natural disaster to selflessly help his neighbors.  Or Hassan Askari who saved three Jewish men being attacked inn a N.Y. subway.

You might read my article Muslims Who Fought Against the ‘Real’ Fascists for some understanding of just how marginal the Mufti mentioned in the email was (his views like those of Henry Ford did not represent the majority opinion). 

You might read Muslims in American History: A Forgotten Legacy by Jerald Dirks where you would learn:  “In reality, there is a centuries long history of the Muslim presence in America, which is all too often overlooked or misidentified. Written documentation, linguistic evidence, and reports of early Spanish explorers of the New World suggest Muslim contact with the Americas prior to Columbus. Muslims and Moriscos sailed with Columbus and were part of many of the Spanish explorations of the New World. Muslims comprised a significant percentage of the enslaved Africans who were brought to the Americas, and many Islamic residuals have found their way into contemporary African-American life and culture. At least one Muslim fought for American Independence during the Revolutionary War, and many other Muslims were prepared to fight to keep American independence during the War of 1812. Another prominent Muslim was part of the taming of the Wild West. Beginning in the late 19th century, successive waves of Muslim immigrants enriched America, and phenomenon of Americans converting to Islam became increasingly widespread. In reviewing this history, the author presents a series of brief biographies of individual Muslims to illustrate the Muslim presence at each stage in American history.”

You might read Shahed Amanullah’s article Muslims in the military: Crescents among the crosses at Arlington Cemetery discussing some of the Muslims buried at that national cemetery.  Or, you might visit any local military cemetery and notice the crescents designating a Muslim soldier buried there.  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.

The Muslims in America 1700’s site lists Peter Salem (Saleem) born (1750?-1816) a former slave who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Whether or not he was of Muslim descent is debated, but it is certainly possible.  They also note that

From 1774–1783 there were at least six people with Islamic names who fought in the Revolutionary War as colonial soldiers. One of them was Yusuf Ben Ali, also known as Joseph (Benenhali) Benhaley, who fought with General Sumter in South Carolina. After the war, General Sumter took Joseph Benhaley with him inland to Stateburg where they settled down. Joseph Benhaley’s name appeared in the 1790 census of Sumter County. Revolutionary records also show that there was a Bampett Muhamed who was a Corporal in the Revolutionary Army, from 1775-1783 in Virginia. Francis Saba was listed as a sergeant with the Continental Troops in roll 132, 1775-1783, and Joseph Saba was listed as a Fifer in the Continental Troops roll 132, 1775-1783.

UPDATE 9/5/2012

Pamela Geller was horrified by comments reportedly made at the recent Jumah at the DNC event.  She comments on an article in the Washington Times that quoted one of the organizers, Jibril Hough,  as saying:  “Muslims visited America prior to Columbus. It was a Muslim who guided Columbus on his voyage to the new world.”  Geller finds this a “desecration of American history”, and “Islamic supremacist historical revisionism”.  I responded to her false claim in a new article Moriscos, Marranos, Columbus, and Islamophobes in which I discussed at length the fact that “Whether or not Jibril Hough’s comments are accurate historically is certainly a matter of debate for historians.  There are many theories about Norse, Irish (St. Brendan), Chinese, Phoenician, African, Arab, Japanese, etc. groups having reached North or South America prior to Columbus.  None of these claims can be proven absolutely, and some have more evidence than others to be considered as possibilities.  There is certainly no supremacism involved in believing that any of these might be true.”

1492, the year of Columbus’ voyage was the same year that Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Reconquista and captured Granada. At that time Muslims and Jews were given a choice to either convert, go into exile, or face the Inquisition.  Among both communities some became Moriscos (Muslims) or Marranos (Jews) who chose “conversion” to Christianity.  In some cases they were actually converts, but more often only pretended to convert in order to save themselves.  There have been many claims by both the Jewish and Muslim communities that there were Moriscos and/or Marranos who were on Columbus voyages.  In fact, some have even claimed that Columbus himself was a Marrano.  See the article for many references.

UPDATE 10/11/2012

An article by Lynn Parramore on Alternet Right-Wingers Would Be Shocked to Learn That Islam Has Been Part of American History Since Its Founding contained information about an early American Muslim that I had never heard of before.  The author said:

Anthony “The Turk” Janszoon van Salee, son of the president of the Republic of Salé in Morocco, was among the earliest and richest settlers of Manhattan island, a devout Muslim, and the ancestor of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Whitneys, Humphrey Bogart, and, according to family lore, Jacqueline Bouvier. That’s right: the Lady of Camelot apparently had a mixed-race Muslim as an ancestor! One of van Salee’s first properties was a farm in lower Manhattan acquired in 1638 located on the north side of the stockade along present-day Wall Street, just blocks from the Park Place Islamic center characterized by Geller as a foreign presence on sacred American soil. A defender of minorities, van Salee became the first settler of Brooklyn. Coney Island, which abutted his property, was known as “Turk’s Island” until the 19th century.

I decided to do a little more research, and discovered that although some of the biographical information is disputed, the author was basically correct about the fact that van Salee was a Muslim.  van Salee was born in1607 in Spain, came to New Netherlands in 1630, and died there in 1676. 

An article by Guy Adams in The Independent notes that “One of the most powerful figures in 17th-century New York was a Muslim: Anthony Janszoon van Salee was a wealthy Dutch Moroccan landowner and merchant whose father was an admiral in the Moroccan navy. Van Salee was also one of the first settlers of Brooklyn.”

A map on the Welcome to Brooklyn website has the following bit of historical information in the notes on the area:

New Utrecht, one of the original six towns settled on Long Island, was in the Bensonhurst area (84th Street between 16th and 18th Avenues, roughly). Jacques Cortelyou, a surveyor, began selling lots in the area to create New Utrecht starting in 1655-1657. One of the first, if not THE first, houses built in the town was the Nicasius De Sille house which stood at (roughly) 18th Avenue and 84th Street. Anthony Janszoon van Salee was a free black Moroccon who settled in New Utrecht in 1630 and became a prominent merchant and landowner, and who may have been the first Muslim settler in the New World.

PBS’ Frontline has an online page The van Salee family which says:

Anthony and Abraham van Salee were the ancestors of the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Humphrey Bogart.

They were among the earliest arrivals to 17th century New Amsterdam. In a number of documents dating back to this period, they are both described as “mulatto”. From what scholars have been able to piece together about their background, they appear to have been the sons of a Dutch seafarer by the name of Jan Jansen who had “turned Turk” and become an admiral in the Moroccan navy.  With the Port of Salee as the base from which it harried European shipping, references to the fleet he commanded are salted away in the old English sea shanties that are still sung about the Salee Rovers. The mother of his two sons was probably a concubine he had while trading in this part of the world before his conversion to Islam.

As a result of the anti-social behaviour of his white wife, Anthony van Salee was induced to leave the city precincts of lower Manhattan and move across the river, thus becoming the first settler of Brooklyn. Since Coney Island abutted his property, it was, until sometime in the last century, also referred to as “Turk’s Island”; the word, “Turk”, being a designation of his which the records used interchangeably with, “mulatto”. According to the documentation that people like Professor Leo Hershkowitz of Queens University have sifted through, it would seem that Anthony van Salee never converted to Christianity. His Koran, in fact, was in a descendant’s possession until about fifty years ago when, ignorant of its relevance to his family’s history, he offered it for sale at auction.

The Van Salee history also includes a more contemporary black collateral branch in the U.S. Anthony’s brother Abraham fathered an illegitimate son with an unknown black woman. The son became the progenitor of this side of the family. Although having to face constraints that their “white” cousins could at best only imagine, two of these van Salees nevertheless left their mark in the annals of African American history.  ...

UPDATE January 2013

TAM has added a collection of materials titled HISTORIC EVENTS AND PEOPLE THAT SHAPED THE AMERICAN MUSLIM COMMUNITY which lists individuals and events with links to sources and documentation.

UPDATE February 2013

MPAC has just published “Muslims & the Making of America”, a 92-page PDF report by Precious Rasheeda Muhammad which contains a great many details about particular incidents in the history of Muslims and America. 



American Muslim History, Fareed Numan 
Archive of Muslim American History and Life
The Islamic Community In The United States: Historical Development, Muhammed Abdullah Ahari
Timeline of Islam in the U.S.

Jamal Baadani’s response

Dear Mr. Sheldon: Your facts regarding Muslim Americans are incorrect, here’s why!

I read your impassioned letter (copy of letter is below) to our President and Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Hussain Obama regarding Muslims in America titled “MUSLIMS A PART OF OUR HERITAGE…..ALWAYS…...I THINK NOT”......., and as a Patriotic American who has fought for this country since June 1981 - your characterizations regarding Muslims are wrong.  You need to have some facts clarified.  I have sent attachments to you personally via email to support my point.

As a Muslim American Marine, I have lead Marines in combat on numerous occasions and since 9/11, I have participated in counter-terrorism operations to pursue those terrorist bastards who attacked our country - I didn’t wait for my country to call, I asked to be deployed.  While waiting for six months to be deployed, my personal possessions were put in storage, and I moved out of my home and rented a room from a friend so that when my turn was called I would not waste valuable time preparing - I was prepared and deployed at a moments notice. 

The terrorists used Islam to justify their horrific and cowardly acts on 9/11.  As Americans, Arabs and Muslims packed their bags, as I did, to get some pay back against the terrorists who struck our country.  The attack on our country was not a Christian thing, it was not a Muslim thing, it was not a Jewish thing, and surely it wasn’t a white, black, yellow, or brown thing.

It was terrorists who hated us for a multitude of reasons that struck our country on 9/11 - all of which transcended color, race, religion, and nationality.  In doing so, the terrorist killed individuals who were from over 87 countries and of many religions at the World Trade Center, and my fellow brothers and sisters in Arms lost their lives in the Pentagon.  Muslims were among the dead both in the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The first documented Arab American immigrant - Private Nathan Badeen - from Syria died in the revolutionary war on May 26th, 1776, Private Nathan Badeen was with the 18th Continental Army of Massachusets.  He died fighting for a cause of freedom - two months prior to seeing the Declaration of Independence issued to the British.  So yes, there were Arab Americans and Muslim Americans who also died in the revolutionary war, as documented in the attachments - in addition to Private Nathan Badeen.

Over 5,000 Muslim and Arab Americans fought on both sides of the civil war - can you imagine Arab and Muslim Americans who were rebels, and on the other side Arab and Muslim Americans with the Union fighting to end slavery.

Over 15,000 Arab Americans fought in WWII to help rid the world of a Tyrant.

Since 9/11 Muslim and Arab Americans have given their lives serving in the US Military in Iraq and Afghanistan - Captain Khan saw the threat of a vehicle in Iraq approaching dangerously towards the check point manned by his fellow Army Soldiers - Captain Khan ran outside of the wire to a safe distance away from harms way to his soldiers and jumped in front of the vehicle so it could detonate before it got to his troops.  Captain Khan was months away from his Doctoral Degree when 9/11 happened, but held off getting his degree so he could join the US Army and serve his country in time of need. 

The attachments I sent you will give you some other information regarding Muslim patriotism in helping defend our country.

President Barak Hussein Obama in his Cairo speech was right, Muslims have been a part of America’s history.

Jamal Baadani is the founder of The Association of Patriotic Arab Americans in Military

The anonymous letter Mr. Sheldon forwarded:


OBAMA said, in his Cairo speech: “I know, too,  that Islam has always been a part of America’s story.

Dear Mr. Obama:

Were those Muslims that were in America when the Pilgrims first landed?  Funny, I thought they were Native American Indians.

Were those Muslims that celebrated the first Thanksgiving day? Sorry again, those were Pilgrims and Native American Indians.

Can you show me one Muslim signature on the United States Constitution?  Declaration of Independence? Bill of Rights? Didn’t think so.  Did Muslims fight for this country’s freedom from England? No.

Did Muslims fight during the Civil War to free the slaves in America? No, they did not. In fact, Muslims to this day are still the largest traffickers in human slavery. Your own ‘half brother’  a devout Muslim still advocates slavery himself, even though muslims of Arabic descent refer to black muslims as “pug nosed slaves.” Says a lot of what the Muslim world really thinks of your family’s “rich Islamic heritage” doesn’t it Mr.Obama?

Where were Muslims during the Civil Rights era of this country?  Not present. There are no pictures or media accounts of Muslims walking side by side with Martin Luther King Jr., or helping to advance the cause of Civil Rights.

Where were Muslims during this country’s Woman’s Suffrage era? Again, not present. In fact, devout Muslims demand that women are subservient to men in the Islamic culture. So much so that often they are beaten for not wearing the ‘hajib’ or for talking to a man that is not a direct family member or their husband. Yep, the Muslims are all for women’s rights aren’t they?

Where were Muslims during World War II? They were aligned with Adolf Hitler.  The Muslim grand mufti himself met with Adolf Hitler, reviewed the troops and accepted support from the Nazi’s in killing Jews.

Finally   Obama, where were Muslims on Sept. 11th, 2001? If they weren’t flying planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or a field in Pennsylvania killing nearly 3,000 people on our own soil, they were rejoicing in the middle east. No one can dispute the pictures shown from all parts of the Muslim world celebrating on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and other news networks that day. Strangely, the very “moderate” Muslims who’s asses you bent over backwards to kiss in Cairo, Egypt on June 4th were stone cold silent post 9-11. To many Americans, their silence has meant approval for the acts of that day.

And THAT,  Obama,  is the “rich heritage” Muslims have here in America. 

And now we can add November 5, 2009—the slaughter of American soldiers at Fort Hood by a muslim major who is a doctor and a psychiatrist who was supposed to be counselling soldiers returning from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.  That,  Obama is “muslim heritage” in America.



Islam in America article collection

first published 11/21/2009.