America prides itself on being a pluralistic society — a society of many different peoples living together peacefully. Islam has been part of American pluralism for some time. We often speak of “Islam and the West” but should also speak of “Islam in the West,” since Islam and Muslims are with us and among us and, in fact, have been with us and among us for hundreds of years.
Some scholars believe that Muslims came to America from West Africa and Europe (Muslim Spain and Portugal) long before Columbus. The theory is still not widely accepted, but it is based on interesting evidence.
There is no doubt that Muslims made up a considerable portion of the West Africans who were enslaved and brought to North, South and Central America during the four grueling centuries of the Atlantic slave trade. Conservative estimates say they made up one out of every 10, but sometimes (in states like South Carolina and Louisiana) they made up as much as one out of every three.
The Muslim slaves of antebellum America left some of their culture behind. Many musicologists believe that the American blues and jazz traditions owe much to West African Muslim folk music, especially the beautiful West African Muslim songs sung with the 21-string kora…