Arab and Muslims in North America-Part One
Hasan Yahya, Ph.D
In 1955, Italy celebrated the five hundred anniversary of Columbus’s birth. A fair displayed his belongings, which included an Arabic book by Al-Sharif al-Idrisi, an Arab Muslim geographer, which is said to be what inspired Columbus to seek the New World. The first nation in the world officially to recognize United States independence was Morocco, an Arab country, in 1787 (Mehdi, 1978)
Oman was the first Arab Muslim nation to have trade relations with the United States government; a trade treaty was signed by Sayyed Said and the United States in 1834. An Omani ship arrived in New York in 1940 to deliver the first cargo of goods (Mehdi, 1983).
The first African Muslim group came to the United States in 1717. Religious words such as “Allah” and “Muhammad” were circulated among the Arabic-speaking slaves, and a refusal to eat pork was identified with specific names like Omar, Ben Ali, and Ibn Sa’id (Mehdi, 1978)
In 1856, five Muslims (two Turks and three Arabs) came to the United States to care for a cargo of 33 camels brought from Arabia to serve the nations’s army in the Southeast. One of these Arabs became well-known by the nickname “Hadji Ali,” which later became “HI Jolly” (Makdisi, 1959; Mehdi, 1969, 1983).
The literature on Muslims in North America showed that beginning of Islam was made in 1887 by an American convert, Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb. The American Consul in Manila, who embraced Islam and established an office in New York City called the Oriental Publishing Company. In 1893, the first issue of Muslim World appeared (Makdisi, 1959).
Ross, North Dakota, is the earliest recorded place where Muslims organized for communal prayer in private homes before a mosque was built in 1920 (Mehdi, 1978). The group later was completely integrated in the host society, and in 1948 the mosque was abandoned. The first recorded attempt to build a mosque in America was made in Highland Park, Michigan, 1n 1919. Latter became a church (El-Kholi, 1966).
The mosque that was built in 1924 and still exists today was built in Michigan City, Indiana. Other mosques were built later in such areas as Detroit, Michigan (1922); Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1934), known as the mother mosque (Mehdi, 1978); Washington, D. C. (1952); Toledo, Ohio (1955); and East Lansing, Michigan (1979)
On the local level, Muslim associations and organizations were established in many places. For example, an Islamic association was established in Highland Park in 1919. Another association, the young Men’s Muslim Association, was established in Brooklyn in 1923 (Haddad, 1983).
On the national level, the Federation of Islamic Associations (FIA) was established in the United States and Canada by the efforts of Abdullah Ingram of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, through a personal request to president Eisenhower in 1952. The wave of Arab nationalism led to the creation of the Organization of Arab Students (OAS). Unlike the FIA, the OAS leaders were non-American-born Arabs and advocated nationalist and socialist objectives (Hadda, 1983). The Arab Muslim Brotherhood and non-Arab Indo-Pakistani Jamaati Islam formulated a new Association opposing the OAS objectives. On the first day of January 1983, a new organization called the Muslim Student Association of the United States and Canada (MSA) was announced (Haddad, 1983).(547 words)