Date of Award

5-2017

Document Type

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Department

History

Advisor

Ryan Irwin

Abstract

Islam has been a part of America since colonial times. “Hundreds of thousands” of Muslim slaves were brought to the shores of the New World as part of the transatlantic slave trade.1 While many of these slaves were prevented from outwardly practicing their religion, some of them managed to assert their religious identity and practice their religion despite the control of their masters. In this paper, I examine the story of two such slaves, Bilali Muhammad and Salih Bilali, and the role Islam played in their personal lives. Islam, at once, gave these slaves their own sense of identity, allowed them to reject the identity set for them by white society, and comforted them against the hardships of forced servitude. Ironically, in the case of these two slaves, it also brought them the respect of their masters.

For a long time, Islam has been left out of the conversation regarding slave religion. For much of the twentieth century, the scholarly debate centered on the extent to which the Christianity of slaves resembled that of whites. On one side of the debate, John Boles argued that “in no other aspect of black cultural life than religion had the values and practices of whites so deeply penetrated.”2 On the other side, Sterling Stuckey argued that slaves adopted “a Christianity shot through with African values.”3 Bilali and Salih challenge Boles’s argument that slaves were engulfed in white religious values, but they also contradict Stuckey’s argument that slaves brought their own values into Christianity. Bilali and Salih did neither. Notwithstanding decades under servitude, they remained firm adherents to Islam, uncompromising in their practice, unwavering in their belief, and unshaken in their faith.

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