Webb, Mohammed Alexander Russell: IN MEMORIUM 1846-1916
Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (November 9, 1846 - October 1, 1916) was born in Hudson, New York to Mr. & Mrs. Alexander Nelson Webb. He was the editor of St. Joseph Gazette and of Missouri Republican before he was appointed by President Cleveland to be Consular Representative to the Philippines. The following year in 1888, he publicly declared himself a Muslim. He was among the first Anglo-American converts to Islam. He founded the American Islamic Press as well as one of the earliest mosques in New York City. His organization Muslim Mission, which he founded in Manhattan in 1893, was among the first Islamic Missions in the United States.
He was the only Muslim represented at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions. On September 20th and 21st, 1893, he gave two speeches. His speeches were entitled: The Influence of Islam Upon Social Conditions and The Spirit of Islam and were published in the large two volume proceedings of the Parliament called The First World’s Parliament of Religions (1894).
For the rest of his life he was the main spokesman for Islam in America. Many of America’s most prominent thinkers heard him speak on the Islamic Faith, including Mark Twain.
From 1898 to the time of his death on 1st October 1916, he lived in Rutherford, New Jersey. He died at the age of seventy and was buried in Hillside Cemetery on the outskirts of Rutherford. After his death his efforts were largely forgotten. There continued to exist a vague coming to Islam in the African American community and there exists some lines in the writings of the first American Islamic Nationalist, Noble Drew Ali, showing that if he hadn’t met Webb at least he had heard of his efforts.
The following is Muhammad Webb’s account of his journey to Islam as reported in the abridged version of “Islam - Our Choice” published by Begum Aisha Bawani Wakf, Karachi, 1970:
I have been requested to tell you why I, an American, born in a country which is nominally Christian, and reared under the drippings, or more properly perhaps the driveling, of an orthodox Presbyterian pulpit, came to adopt the faith of Islam as my guide in life.
I might reply promptly and truthfully that I adopted this religion because I found, after protracted study, that it was the best and only system adapted to the spiritual needs of the humanity. And here let me say that I was not born as some boys seem to be, with a fervently religious strain in my character. When I reached the age of twenty, and became practically my own master, I was so tired of the restraint and dullness of the Church, that I wandered away from it and never returned to it…
Fortunately I was of an enquiring turn of mind - I wanted a reason for everything, and I found that neither laymen nor clergy could give me any rational explasm and monads (explanation of this faith), and yet not one of them could tell me what were mysterious or that they were beyond my comprehension.
About eleven years ago I became interested in the study of Oriental religions… I read Mill [J.S., died1873] and Locke [J., d. 1704], Kant [I., d.1804], Hegel [G.W.F., d.1831], Fichte [J.G., d. 1814], Huxley [A., d. 1963], and many other more or less learned writers discoursing with a great show of wisdom concerning protoplasm and monads, and yet not one of them could tell me what the soul was or what became of it after death…
I have spoken so much of myself in order to show you that my adoption of Islam was not the result of misguided sentiment, blind credulity, or sudden emotional impulse, but it was born of earnest, honest, persistent, unprejudiced study and investigation and an intense desire to know the truth.
The essence of the true faith of Islam is resignation to the will of God [Allah] and its corner stone is prayer. It teaches universal fraternity, universal love, and universal benevolence, and requires purity of mind, purity of action, purity of speech and perfect physical cleanliness. It, beyond doubt, is the simplest and most elevating form of religion known to man.
He is buried in Hillside Cemetery, Lyndhurst, N.J.
Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah has recently completed a book about the life of Alexander Russell Webb entitled “Islam in Victorian America: The Story of Alexander Russell Webb.”
Duke University has a Guide to the Alexander Russell Webb Journals, 1892 http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/webb/ The collection contains Webb’s “Journal No. 1, From Manila to Calcutta” (142 pp.), Aug. 29-Oct. 19, 1892, and his “Journal No. 2, From Calcutta to Bombay and Agra” (144 pp.), Oct. 20-Dec. 15, 1892. This is the first journal that Webb ever wrote (Vol. 1, p. 1). His journal continued beyond Vol. 2; the last sentence was continued elsewhere, and no pages appear to be missing from this volume. A later volume or volumes contained the account of the rest of his journey which is incomplete here.
A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb [Hardcover] by Umar F. Abd-Allah http://www.amazon.com/Muslim-Victorian-America-Alexander-Russell/dp/0195187288
Webb Foundation http://www.webbfound.org/about/
Wikipedia entry on Webb http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Russell_Webb
NOTE: It has been reported by the Message, but with no documentation or additional sources that the first recorded American convert to Islam seems to have been a European American, the Reverend Norman, a Methodist missionary. He went to Turkey for missionary work and later he himself became Muslim in the 1870’s. The next famous convert is Alexander Russell Webb. He was a journalist and son of a newspaper editor and publisher in Hudson, New York. In 1887, he was posted as American Consul General in the Philippines. From Manila he corresponded with Badaruddin Abdullah Kur, a prominent Indian Muslim official of the Municipal Council of Bombay and in the process he converted to Islam in 1891. He resigned his diplomatic service, toured India and met Muslim leaders and scholars for two months. He returned to New York in early 1893 and founded an organization in the same year called, American Islamic Propaganda Movement. He wrote three books and articles on Islam. He established seven branches called, Circles of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the East Coast and Mid-Western cities. He died in 1916. From http://www.messageonline.org/2002junejuly/cover5.htm