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Saturday, Nov 01 , 2014 ( Muharram, 1436)

Updated:10:00 PM GMT

US Museum Explores Muslim Roots

OnIslam & News Agencies
Muslim Heritage Museum
Bilali Muhammad 1829 Arabic booklet in display case.

WASHINGTON – Digging into the history of early Muslims who came to America centuries ago, a new Islamic Heritage Museum has opened recently in Washington DC in a new attempt to fight misconceptions about Muslim roots.

“So many times people, Americans and non-Americans, Muslims and non-Muslims, have misperceptions of Muslims saying they came from the Nation of Islam or that they came through the immigrations in the 60s and the 70s,” co-founder and curator Amir Muhammad told Press TV on Friday, August 5.

“Muslims have been a part of the American fabric since its conceptions.”

The museum, located on 2315 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, traces the history of Muslims in America.

Stories begin with African Muslims like Estevanico, a servant to the Spanish explorers in the early 1500s- to Muslims living amongst Native American tribes in the eighteenth century.

The museum also traces some early Muslims who came to settle in the States to start their own business in the new world.

Muhammad Ali bin Said is an example.

Bin Said came to the United States of his own free will in the nineteenth century and settled in Detroit in 1861.

The museum also focuses on the presence and contributions of African-American Muslims in the 18th and 19th centuries with pieces gathered from university collections, census records, newspaper archives, state historical societies and private collections.

It also tells the stories of early Muslim communities in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, and Illinois.

The museum also offers stories of the enslaved Muslims and their adeptness to keep their faith to demonstrate the diversity with which Islamic principles became a part of the American fabric.

Fighting Islamophobia

Founders felt that it was necessary to establish the museum in Washington DC to offer non-Muslims a credible source about US Muslim roots.

“We felt there was a need being here in Washington DC to have a place that the public could come to learn about Islam, and learn about Muslims and learn about the history of Muslims in America,” Muhammad said.

The Museum began as a traveling exhibit called “Collections and Stories of American Muslims” which went on display in mosques and university campuses.

According to its website, the exhibit has traveled across the country, including stops at the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Cultural Center in New York, Harvard University, University of Florida, The Smithsonian's Anacostia Museum and The State Department's International Visitor Program.

The museum is not the first trial to trace roots of US Muslims.

In 2010, Dr. Edward E. Curtis, Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis issued a book titled “Muslims in America”, in which he traces the history of Islam in America and explains how there has been a Muslim presence from the nation’s earliest years.

The book traces Muslim tales, from African American converts to Islam in the 1920s, to the post-1965 wave of professional immigrants from Asia and Africa, to Muslims in post 9/11 America.

Professor Sulayman Nyang, chairman of the African Studies Department at Howard University in Washington, also traced the history of Islam in America, even before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

In his book, “Islam in the United States of America”, and many essays, Nyang concluded that the origins and presence of Islam in America did not begin with people like Malcolm X or Mohamed Ali Clay.

The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of nearly eight million.

A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.

A recent Gallup poll, however, found 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least “a little” prejudice against Muslims.

Related Links:
Islam in America… Long, Forgotten History
Anti-Islam Campaign Galvanizes US Muslims
America Fetes Muslim Civilization
Latino Muslim Converts Find Roots

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