Saturday, July 02, 2005

Islam in American History: The Biography of a Wrongfully Enslaved Muslim

Taken from

The Autobiography of Umar ibn Sa`id ‘t-Turuudi:As Anthropological Evidence of the Rights for Self-Determination for Enslaved African Muslimstranslated byAbu Alfa MUHAMMAD SHAREEF bin Faridat the request of the present possessor of the manuscript Yushu`a Rabah

Umar ibn Sa`id ‘t-Turuudi
Following is a translation of the famous letter or autobiography of the enslaved Muslim Umar ibn Said. [1]
In the name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful, may Allah bless our master Muhammad.
Blessed is He in Whose hands is the kingdom, and He has power over all things. [1] Who created death and life is order to try you - which of you is best in deeds. And He is the Mighty the Forgiving. Who created seven heavens one above another. You do not see any inconsistency[52] in the creation of the Rahmaan. Return the sight, do you see any rupture. Then return the sight again and again, your sight will return back to you afraid[53] (rejected) and it is assembled (exhausted). And definitely We have beautified the lower heavens with lamps and made them missiles against the devils. And We have given[54] (prepared for) them the punishment of roasting. And for those who disbelieve in their Lord the punishment of Hell and an ill-fated destiny. When they will be folded[55] (thrown) therein, they will hear the grumbling of it[56] as it boils.[57] Almost bursting from the fury. Each time a group is thrown therein, its custodian[58] says to them, ‘Did not a warner come to you?’. They will say: ‘Of course! A warner came to us and we rejected him (and)[59] said: ‘Allah has not revealed anything. You are merely in enormous error’.’ They will say: ‘If we had only listened or used our reason we would not be among the punishment (companions) of the burning fire.[60] Then they will acknowledge their sins, but remote will be the companions of the burning fire.[61] Verily those who fear[62] their Lord in the unseen[63], for them will be forgiveness and a tremendous rebuke (reward).[64] And conceal your words or say them out loud[65], truly He knows the contents of the breast. Does He who creates not know?! He is the Subtle[66] the Aware. He it is who made (the earth)[67] smooth for you, so go through[68] its spacious sides therein and consume from His sustenance. To Him is the final return.[69] Are you so safe from He in the heaven that He should not make the earth swallow you up? Suddenly it is[70] in confusion. Are you so safe from He in[71] the heaven that He should not send down upon you stones. Then you will know how was My warning. Those before them denied, then how was My disapproval. Have they not seen the birds above them expanding and advancing (contracting)[72]. Nothing upholds them except the Rahman. Truly He sees everything. (Who is it that will be supports for you who will assist you except the Rahman. Truly the disbelievers are only in deception).[73] Who is it that[74] will provide for you if He were to withhold your sustenance. Rather! They continue[75] in their ridicule and distaste. Is he who goes prone upon his face better guided or he who[76] walks upright upon a straight path? Say: He is the One who originated you[77] and made for you hearing, sight and perception. Little thanks do you give. Say: He it is who scattered you (multiplied you)[78] in the earth and to Him you will be gathered. And they say: When will this[79] threat come, if you are truthful? Say: The[80] knowledge of this is only with Allah and[81] I am only a plain warner. But when they will see it approaching, the faces of those who disbelieve will be in sorrow[82]. It will be said: This is what you used to call for. (Say: do you see if your water were to dwindle, who is it then that will)[83] Say: Have you considered if Allah were to destroy me and those with me, or if He were to show us mercy - yet who will back up (protect)[84] the disbelievers from a severe punishment? (Say: He is the Rahman. We believe in Him and upon Him do we rely. You will soon know who is truly in clear error.)[85]. Say: do you see if your water were to dwindle, who are it then that will bring you flowing water?[86]
O shaykh Hunter, I am unable to write (about) my life. I have forgotten most of my language as well as the language of Arabic. [1] O my brothers, do not blame me.[87] All praises are due to Allah with much praises. He provides from blessings to those who increase in good.[88]
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent the Merciful. All praises are due to Allah the Possessor of good, generosity, bounty, adoration and munificence from before endless time. All praises are due to Allah who created creation for His worship, even the provision of their actions and words.
It is from Umar to shaykh Hunter. You asked me to write down my life. Truly I am unable to write (about) my life. For I have forgotten much of my language as well as the language of Arabic. I have studied only a little grammar as well as a little linguistics. Therefore O brothers, I ask you by Allah, do not blame me. My eyes are weak as well as my body.
My name is Umar ibn Said. [1] The place of my birth was Futa Toro[89] (which lay) between the two rivers[90]. I sought knowledge in Bundu[91] and Futa[92] with my shaykh, whose name was Muhammad Said, my brother, shaykh Sulayman Kabah[93], and shaykh Jibril Abdaal. I was entrenched in seeking knowledge for twenty-five years.[94] I came back to my region and after six years a large army came to our land.[95] They killed many people and seized me bringing me to the great ocean.[96] There they sold me and I was sold into the hands of the Christians. They brought me in the enormous ship on the great ocean.[97] We sailed on the great ocean for a month and a half. We came to a place named Charleston in the language of the Christians.[98] There I was sold and bought by a diminutive, weak and wicked man, named Johnson, a serious disbeliever who had no fear of Allah.
I am a small man and unable to do strenuous work, so I fled from the hands of Johnson. Until (when) the month (arrived) I came to a place called Fayadil. [1] There I saw houses.[99] During the month I entered into one of the houses in order to make the salaat. A young boy riding a horse saw me and he went to his father’s place and informed him, saying: ‘I saw a Black man in the house’. A man by the name of Hunda[100] and another man riding a horse came with many hounds. They seized me and brought me with them for twelve miles to a place called Fayadil. They placed me in a large building which they called jail, in the language of the Christians. They kept me there for sixteen days and nights.[101] On Friday they opened the cells of the huge building and brought me to a place where I saw many men, all whom were Christians. Some of them called out to me, ‘What is your name? Is it Umar or Sa`id?” I did not understand their Christian language. I saw a man called Bob Mumford who spoke to me and led me out of the jail.[102] I was extremely pleased to go with them to their place. I was situated in the place of Mumford for four nights and days. And then a man named Jim Owen, son-n-law of Mumford, having married his daughter Bansah (Betsey?) Mumford.[103] He asked me if I was willing to go to a place called Balden. I said, “Yes.” I was pleased to go with them. I have been situated in the place of Jim Owen until now.
Before I came into the hand of General Owen a man by the name of Mitchell came to buy me. He asked me if I were willing to go to the place of Charleston. I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no, I am not going to the place of Charleston. I will stay in the hand of Jim Owen.”[1]
O people of North Carolina, O people of South Carolina, O people of America all of you: have you among you two good men named Jim Owen with John Owen? [1] These two men are good men. What food they ate, I ate. In what they clothe themselves, they clothe me.[104] Jim along with (my brothers?)[105] recite to me the Injeel of Allah , our Lord, Creator, King; who regulates all our circumstances, our health and wealth, and who bestows His bounties willingly, without constraint according to His power. Open my heart to the way of guidance, to the way of Yusu`a the Messiah, to the tremendous light.[106]
Before I came to the lands of the Christians, my religion was the religion of Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah may Allah bless him and grant him peace. I used to walk to the mosque before the appearance of dawn. I used to wash my face, (wipe) my head and (wash) my hands and feet. I prayed at the time of dhuhr. I prayed the time of asr. I prayed the time of maghrib. I prayed the time of `isha. [1] I gave the zakat every year: gold; silver; seeds; cattle; sheep; goats; rice; wheat and barley. I gave the zakat on all that. I went to the jihad every year against the disbelievers. I went to Mecca and Medina, as all did who were able. My father had six sons and five daughters. Three of these sons and one of the daughters were from my mother. When I left my country I was thirty-seven years old. I have stayed in the country of the Christians for twenty-four years[107].
In the year 1831 of Yusu`a the Messiah.[1]
O people of North Carolina, O people of South Carolina, O all you people of America. The first son of Jim Owen is called Thomas, and his sister is called Masa Jayne (Martha Jane?). [1] These are people are very good people. Tom Owen and Neil Owen have two sons and one daughter. The name of the first son is Jim and the second is John. The daughters’ name is Mulcy (Mercy?).[108] Mister Jim Owen (and his wife)[109] had two sons and five daughters. The first was Tom, then John, Maasa (Martha?),[110] Miriam, Sophia, Maakit (Margaret)[111] and Eliza. These people are very good people.
The wife of John Owen is called Lucy. She is an upright wife. She had three and two children. Three of them died and two are still living.
O you Americans, you people of North Carolina - Are there among you!? Are there among you!? Are there among you!? Are there among you!? - good people who fear Allah much?![1]
Verily I, Umar, love to read the book of the Mighty Qur’an.
General Jim Owen and his wife used to read the Injeel. They read it to me very much. Allah , our Lord, Creator, King; who regulates all our circumstances, our health and wealth, and who bestows His bounties willingly, without constraint according to His power. Open my heart to the way of guidance. All praises are due to Allah the Lord of the worlds, with abundant praises. He is plenteous in blessings and abundant in goodness.[1]
For reason that the law by Musa one must act. Further, the blessing and the truth were by Yusu`a the Messiah.
The first (foremost?) is Muhammad: [1] that he prayed saying “All praises are due to Allah the Lord of the worlds. The Beneficent the Merciful. King of the Day of Judgment. It is You that we worship and You alone that we seek for assistance. Guide us to the straight path. The path of those upon whom You have blessed. Not among those who have earned anger nor who have gone astray. Amen.”[1]
And now the words of our lord[1] Yusu`a the Messiah[112]:
“Our father who are in heaven Holy be Your name. Your kingdom come. You will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us our daily bread. Forgive us as we have forgiven those who have done us harm. Do not enter us into temptations. But redeem us from evils. To You belong the Kingdom and the power, the majesty forever. Amen.”[1]
Truly my residing in my country was by reason of great detriment. [1] The disbelievers seized me unjustly and sold me to the Christians, who purchased me. We sailed a month and a half on the great ocean to the place called Charleston in the language of the Christians. I fell into the hands of a small, weak and wicked man, who did not fear Allah at all. He could neither read nor did he pray. I was afraid to remain with a sinful man who had so many sins. Thus, I fled for a month, when Allah, our Lord, lead me into the hands of a good man, who feared Allah and who loved to do good. His name was General Jim Owen along with his brother whose name was Colonel John Owen. These were two good men. I am presently residing in Bladen County.[113]
I am established in the hands of Jim Owen. He does not beat nor scold. I neither go hungry nor naked, and I have no hard work to do. I am not able to do hard work for I am a small man and feeble. During the last twenty years I have not seen any harm at the hands of Jim Owen.


Anonymous said...

Subhanallah! What a trait and character of mumin to recognize the kindness of his owner (General Jim Owens) during a time when he was enslaved unjustly. Reminds me of the verse "O You who believe! Show integrity for the sake of God, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. That is closer to faith. Heed God (alone). God is aware of what you do." (Qur'an, 5:8) A prudent lesson for our situation as Muslims in the west.

Asif Samad

Anonymous said...

AsSalaam alikum,
You can find more on 'Umar ibn Seid and other enslaved Muslims and their writings in Muhammed al-Ahari's Five Classic Muslim Slave Narrative (Magribine Press, 2006). email: for more details.