Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Life of A Muslim Slave in America

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by Jonathan Curiel

It’s a summer night at the Civic Center in downtown Atlanta, and the guests, dressed in suits and evening gowns, walk amid glass cases displaying artifacts from America’s slave period (pic, right). There are the tall, wooden “Doors of No Return” from a 17th-century slave-trading fort in Ghana. There is a plantation’s whip. There are iron shackles. And there is a hush around these objects; they bring tears to the eyes of some visitors.

At a case titled “Cultural Gifts From Africa,” the mood changes to upbeat. Among the objects it displays is a small, yellowed, 15-page manuscript written in Arabic. Its owner, Derrick Beard, tells passersby that it was written in 1831 by a Muslim scholar, a slave from West Africa, named Omar ibn Said, who was more literate than many of the slave masters he encountered in the Carolinas. Listeners tend to repeat the same interjection: “Really?”

Beard is used to it. Said’s brief autobiography, The Life of Omar ben Saeed, is the only one known to have been penned in Arabic by an American slave. The manuscript’s inclusion in the “America I AM: The African American Imprint” exhibition, which has toured the United States since early last year, is giving new audiences a firsthand look at a document Beard says “has more relevance today than it did in 1831.”

Despite being enslaved by Christians, Said saw the importance of co-existence between Islam and Christianity in America. Addressing his words directly to Americans—but also indirectly to Muslims—he states that, despite the existence of the institution of slavery, there are nonetheless good people in the United States, notably his owners, whom he calls “a very good generation.” Beard sees Said’s manuscript as the first plea for religious co-existence written by a Muslim in America. Said had lived for 61 years when he wrote it; he had been a slave for 24 of them.

“This manuscript is important because here’s a man who’s advocating having an interfaith dialogue,” says Beard, a collector of African–American history who acquired Said’s autobiography at a 1996 auction. “What else could be more appropriate to bring to the public today?”

For almost 200 years, those familiar with Omar ibn Said have debated how complete or genuine his supposed conversion to Christianity was. Said began his autobiography with the 67th surah of the Qur’an, Al-Mulk (“dominion” or “ownership”). Starting, as do all surahs but one, with Bismillah (“In the Name of God…”), its text continues, “Blessed be He in Whose hands is Dominion; and He over all things hath power….” Said’s meaning is clear: It is God who holds sway over creation.

Compared to other slaves, Said was treated well by his owner, James Owen, a prominent North Carolinian whose brother had been governor. Said was excused from manual labor on the plantation belonging to Owen, “who does not beat me, nor call me bad names,” he wrote. “During the last twenty years I have not seen any harm at the hand of Jim Owen.”

From his retention of Arabic—which even after decades in America he could write complete with the diacriticals that indicate short vowels—to his relatively friendly relationship with the Owen family, everything about Said was exceptional, and this drew public attention to him across the United States during his own lifetime, too.

In the 1820’s, Francis Scott Key, who authored America’s national anthem, sent Said an Arabic-language Bible, hoping it would help convert him to Christianity. Newspapers wrote about Said, including one article from 1825 that described Said as “good natured” and speculated that he had been a prince in Africa, because of his “dignified deportment.” Around the mid-1850’s, when Said was over 80 years old, a daguerreotype of him was taken, followed a few years later by an ambrotype. These images, like those made of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, cemented the public’s perception of Said as an important African–American figure.

Muslims comprised upward of 20 percent of African slaves brought to the United States, and like Said, a number of them impressed white Southerners with their proficiency in Arabic and their desire to maintain their observance of Islam’s requirement of five daily prayers. Both of these traits humanized them in the eyes of their owners—sometimes sufficiently to lead the owners to infer they were Arabs or noble Africans deserving of better treatment than other slaves, according to historian Allan D. Austin, who authored two books on the subject. What made Said more exceptional still was his maturity: When a warring African army captured and sold him in 1807, he was already 37 years old.

Born in Futa Toro (“the land between two rivers”), in what is now northern Senegal, Said came from a large, prosperous, pious family. In his Life, Said wrote that he “continued seeking knowledge for twenty-five years,” learning from his brother Muhammad and two other “shaykhs,” a word that can mean “learned men.” He claimed 15 siblings, and he waxed proud of his adherence to Islam in Africa—ablutions, prayers and alms “every year in gold, silver, harvest, cattle, sheep, goats, rice, wheat and barley.” He was, Austin says, “a scholar and a teacher.”

Like many other Muslim slaves in the antebellum south, Said was under powerful pressure to adopt his master’s religion. By 1831, Said was attending church and reading the Bible—in Arabic. However, his written emphasis on Quranic surahs convinces Alryyes that Said “was playing an in-between game,” professing enough Christianity to pass as a convert without denying Islam.

The night I interviewed Beard and saw Said’s manuscript behind glass was the opening night of the “America I AM” exhibition in Atlanta. The night had the feel of an Academy Awards ceremony. By special invitation, guests heard live African music and speeches (paraphrasing W. E. B. Du Bois, organizer Tavis Smiley asked, “Would America be America without its Negro people?”), then walked through an exhibition whose entry mirrored those of traditional mud-and-timber buildings in West Africa. Images of famous African Americans adorned the walls, from Frederick Douglass to Barack Obama—and including Omar ibn Said.

It’s not only here that Said is remembered, but also in southeastern North Carolina. A few years ago, Adam Beyah (pic), a member of a Fayetteville mosque named the Masjid Omar ibn Sayyid, drove about an hour south to the small town of Bladenboro, where “Owen Hill”—Said’s plantation—had been located. Beyah and his companions were seeking Said’s grave, but they found that the plantation had disappeared, covered over by smaller, subdivided properties. “We were driving down the street, and we saw a lady in the yard,” says Beyah. “We pulled over and she asked what we were looking for. We told her, ‘Omar.’ She said, ‘Oh, you’re talking about the Prince?’”

She pointed Beyah to a nearby property, which they explored until they found “remnants of an old house and some grave stones,” says Beyah. “I’m not going to say it was Omar’s grave. I don’t know whose grave it was.”

According to research by Thomas C. Parramore, a North Carolina historian and professor who died in 2004, Said’s tombstone, which read “Omar the Slave,” disappeared many years ago.

Said died in 1864, one year before Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment that officially abolished slavery in the United States.

Adapted from Aramco magazine, April 2010. The writer is the author of "Al’ America: Travels Through America’s Arab and Islamic Roots" (2008, New Press), which won an American Book Award.

Mamat Behrang Sudah Berang, Pegi Kuala Berang

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Ini gambor Beckham, masalah rambut gugur

Saya tidak fikir rakyat Perak boleh percaya Jamaluddin ditawarkan menjadi Menteri Besar Perak oleh Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Pimpinan PKR Perak dan Pusat sangat tahu latar belakang Jamaluddin. Usahkan Menteri Besar, menjadi wakil rakyat dan EXCO yang baik pun tidak ada pada batang tubuh Jamaluddin.

Peringkat awal semua parti ada calon MB Negeri Perak, DAP pun ada calonnya. Tetapi Undang-undang Tubuh Negeri Perak tidak membolehkan orang bukan Melayu dilantik MB Perak. DAP akur dengan peruntukan dalam Undang-undang Tubuh Negeri Perak. Nama Jamaluddin juga disebut bakal MB Perak dari PKR kerana dalam PKR dialah yang agak senior dalam parti berbanding adun yang lain.

Ini pun bermasalah rambut gugur.

Saya masih ingat lagi, malam menyambut kemenangan di Ipoh, semua pimpinan tertinggi ketiga-ketiga parti berkumpul di Ipoh, mesyuarat diadakan di pejabat PAS, beberapa nama dikemukakan oleh parti untuk dipilih sebagai Menteri Besar. 6 orang....LAGI

 Gugur sebab kuat berangan-angan

Ndak jugak tu..
Gheti ke yob..thee he he
Bukan senang jadi menteri yob..

Bukan macam menunggang motor..
Bukan mcm tunggang motor bawak kotak merah..thee he he
Rasa penat, rasa malas, boleh mengulor bawah pokok..
Boleh hisap rokok sampai biru lebam bibir..

POS M'sia dah nak di'private'kan sepenuhnya..thee he he
Dah hantar surat permohonan?
Jangan mohon jadi menteri POS..mat bijaN tak nak bagi lah!

Mintak la post..
Post Chief Posman!!

Shrek-less United Lose Ground. MU 1-2 Chelsea.

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APRIL 3 — Can anyone really recall a season as dramatic as this? I never thought I would ever say this but, boy am I tired from watching all the roller-coaster action of the top three clubs in the English Premier League (EPL) this season, let alone their exploits in the Champions League.

Seriously, I dare say that most Manchester United fans ‘felt’ a tinge of hurt in their own leg as they watched Wayne Rooney pull-up injured, then hobble off the pitch in the last few minutes of Tuesday’s match at the home of Bayern Munich.

Even the negative score-line would really have escaped their thoughts as they worriedly pondered on the extent of injury their hero had suffered.

I know that because the same pain rushed through my leg the next day as Cesc Fabregas almost ...MORE

Ini baru bola..
Stadium lawa, padang lawa, penonton penuh

Bukan stadium besar gedabak tak tentu arah..
Jamban tak cukup..thee he he
Buat bumbung, bumbung runtuh!
Padang tabur pasir, nak bagi lembut..
Rumput tak cukup baja..thee he he
Berlopak2 macamkena bajak time ujan..
Penonton haram tak nak pegi tengok..

Cakap berdegar-gegar..thee he he
First class facility konon..

Hape yang 1st class?
thee he he dgn Laos pun kena kitai..

Ramai-ramai Nanti, Jamban Macamana?

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KUALA KUBU BARU: Two weeks before nomination day for the Hulu Selangor by-election, the rates of highly-sought hotel rooms, shop lots and empty houses have shot up by several times, with some reaching RM20,000 a month.

This small sleepy town, more affectionately known as KKB by locals, has very few hotels and rest house, and the rooms available are less than 50.

“All 21 rooms at Seri Melati were taken up, a day after the member of parliament died. The 12 rooms at the Government Rest House were booked by the Selangor government ...MORE

Hotel jgn amik pusing
Mata ngantok, atas paper pun boleh lelap..thee he he

thee he he jamban macamana? Jamban kena cukup..
Takkan nak tabur kat tepi sungai..gatal..miang kena lalang..
Org P/jaya tak biasa..thee he he

Saiz-pool Baukari mesti ada berkempen..
Kalau dia nak meneran macamana nih?
Jangan paksa dia tahan 2 hari lagi..

thee he he kembong perot!!

Ada Berani Ka?

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