Said, Omar Ibn

Omar Ibn Said (ca. 1770–1864) was born in present-day Senegal. He was a Muslim scholar who spent 25 years of his life studying with prominent Muslim scholars in Africa. In 1807, he was captured and enslaved in the U.S. state of North Carolina, where he remained until his death. He is particularly remembered for the autobiographical essay he wrote in Arabic.

Born (ca. 1773) in Futa Turo, a region between the Senegal River and Gambia River in West Africa, Omar Ibn Said spent 25 years of his life studying with prominent Muslim scholars in the region. In 1807, he was captured during a military conflict, enslaved and taken across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. He first escaped from a cruel master in Charleston, and journeyed to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he was captured and later sold to James Owen. Said lived into his mid-nineties and was still a slave at the time of his death in 1864. Omar Ibn Said was also known as Uncle Moreau and Prince Omeroh.

During his lifetime, he continued to write in Arabic. According to Marc Ferris (1998), who writes in American Legacy, Omar ibn Said left behind at least fourteen Arabic manuscripts.

His autobiographical essay, written in Arabic in 1831, is the most famous of several manuscripts Ibn Said is known to have authored. It describes some of the events of his life, reflecting, among other things, his steadfast adherence to Islam throughout his long years, along with openness towards other ‘God fearing’ people. On the surface the document may appear to be tolerant towards slavery. But in fact, Ibn Said begins it with Surat Al-Mulk, a chapter from the Qur’an, which states that only God has sovereignty over human beings.

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