Islam: Has It “Always Been Part of America”?

Obama’s mosque speech vs. history.

President Barack Obama spoke for the first time as president at a U.S. mosque on February 3, 2016. His choice was the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque, where he portrayed Islam as having “always been part of America.”

The Islamic Society of Baltimore was established in 1969. If Obama had wanted to speak at “the oldest purpose-built mosque that is still in use today” in the United States, in order to try to demonstrate that Islam has “always been part of America,” he would have found it in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It would not have helped his cause, however. This mosque, known as “the Mother Mosque of America,” dates way back – drum roll, please – to 1934. The oldest mosque in the U.S. was built in North Dakota in 1929.

To provide some perspective on how short a time it has been since the first mosques in the United States were built, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America, was completed in 1763.

Nevertheless, in making the case that Islam has “always been part of America,” Obama noted that Muslims were arriving on our shores as far back as colonial times.

“Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim,” Obama declared.

It is worth recalling the National Prayer Breakfast about a year ago, when Obama charged that “Slavery…all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” He evidently believes that the early waves of Muslims coming to America as slaves were entirely the victims of a Christian-based slavery system. He won’t admit the truth: that their Muslim brethren in Africa had sold some of “the slaves brought here from Africa” in the first place. These Muslim slave traders were jihadists operating in West African territories that had been forcibly taken over by Muslim warriors and turned into Islamic theocracies.

Muslims brought to America as slaves, approximately 10 to 15 percent of the overall slave population, carried with them the attitude of Islamic supremacy that they had grown up with in Africa.

“To live as a Muslim in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century West Africa was to live in an increasingly intolerant society,” Michael A. Gomez wrote in his article entitled ‘Muslims in Early America’ (Source: The Journal of Southern History).  “This was the period of the jihad, of the establishment of Muslim theocracies, of self-purification and separation from practices and beliefs that were seen as antithetical to Islam.”

Some Muslim slaves – “professors of the Mahomedan religion," as a slave owner described them - were placed in positions of authority over their fellow slaves and helped put down slave insurrections. One of these “professors of the Mahomedan religion" referred to non-Muslim slaves as "Christian dogs."

Perhaps such loathing in general for the majority Christian colonial population explains why only four or so Americans with Muslim-sounding names fought for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. By contrast, more than 100 Jews served on the American side, 15 of whom served as officers.

In any event, America’s first war against foreign states since achieving its independence was against Muslim powers. Muslim potentates from the Barbary States - Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripolitania - were plundering American commercial vessels and holding Americans hostage for ransom in the years beginning shortly after the United States won its freedom from Great Britain. They went to war with the United States when their demand for tribute was refused by President Thomas Jefferson. It took two Barbary Wars to defeat this Muslim threat.

Both Jefferson and John Adams had confronted the theocratic ideology of Islamic jihad first-hand years earlier, when they sought to negotiate an end to attacks by the Muslim Barbary Coast pirates and the holding of American captives for ransom. While Jefferson was serving as ambassador to France and Adams was serving as ambassador to Britain, both men met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the ambassador to Britain from the “Dey of Algiers.” They wanted to know why the Muslim rulers were sanctioning attacks on American merchant ships and taking Americans hostage when the young United States had done nothing to provoke any of the Muslim Barbary States.

As Jefferson and Adams described in a letter to John Jay on March 28, 1786, the Muslim ambassador explained that the conduct of the Barbary Coast pirates “was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

In short, when the newly independent United States was at its most vulnerable, our country faced Muslim enemies animated by jihad.  

Nevertheless, in his remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque, President Obama attempted to demonstrate the positive influence of Islam on the Founding Fathers. He alluded to the fact that “Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran.” True, but this tells only part of the story.

For example, Obama neglected to share with his audience the unflattering opinion of Islam that appeared in the preface of the particular edition of the Koran that John Adams chose to purchase:

“This book is a long conference of God, the angels, and Mahomet, which that false prophet very grossly invented … Thou wilt wonder that such absurdities have infected the best part of the world, and wilt avouch, that the knowledge of what is contained in this book, will render that law contemptible...”

John Adams evidently believed what the preface commentary to his Koran had concluded. In a letter that Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson on July 16, 1814, Adams lumped Napoleon, “Mahomet” and other famous warriors in history together under the label “Military Fanatic.” Adams added, as translated from Latin to English: “he denies that laws were made ​​for him, and claims everything by force of arms.”

John Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, was even blunter: “The precept of the Koran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that Mahomet is the prophet of God.”

As for Thomas Jefferson, he studied his copy of the Koran to understand its jurisprudence. He rejected some of the harshest prescriptions of sharia law, such as the cutting off of limbs as a punishment for stealing. Such disproportionate punishments, he said, would “exhibit spectacles in execution whose moral effect would be questionable.”

After further study of the Koran and of various materials about Islam, as well as learning from his experience with the jihadist Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, Jefferson concluded that there could be no negotiation or compromise with the jihadists. As president, as already noted, he launched attacks against the Muslim powers. President Madison’s follow-up attacks led ultimately to the Muslim powers’ defeat.

In his work “How Thomas Jefferson read the Quran,” Professor Kevin J. Hayes wrote: “What Jefferson found most disturbing about the Qur’an was the Islamic claims to its infallibility.”

Apparently, Obama does not share Jefferson’s concerns about rigid Islamic dogma. He continues to harp on his contention that Islam has “always been part of America.” Yet the first major wave of voluntary immigration of Muslims to the United States occurred between 1880 and 1924, while the first wave of Sephardic Jews arrived in the colonies during the seventeenth century.

Obama mentioned during the course of his remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore that “Muslim Americans worked on Henry Ford’s assembly line, cranking out cars.” He offered this as an example of how “Generations of Muslim Americans helped to build our nation.” Jewish immigrants joined Muslim Americans on the assembly line. But it was a Jewish architect, an immigrant from Prussia named Albert Kahn, whom Henry Ford hired to design the first factory where a continuously moving assembly line could be used to manufacture the Model T.

President Obama claimed that Muslim Americans include “scientists who win Nobel Prizes.” As of 2015, only one of the three Muslim Nobel Prize winners for science worldwide is a Muslim American, who won the award in 1999.

The first Jewish American Nobel Prize winner in science, Albert Abraham Michelson, was an immigrant from Prussia. He received the award in 1907. At least 80 Jews who won the Nobel Prize in the sciences have been from the United States.

In the field of law, it took all the way until 1981 for the first Muslim in the nation’s history to serve as a judge. That is when Adam Shakoor, an African-American Muslim, was appointed as a judge of the Common Pleas Court for Wayne County, Michigan. The jihadist Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) honored Judge Shakoor with a banquet in 2015. “I thank Allah, and I thank Allah, and I thank Allah for the service that I have been able to give,” Mr. Shakoor said in accepting CAIR’s award.

According to a recent poll of Muslim Americans, commissioned by the Center for Security Policy, a majority (51%) agreed that “Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to shariah.”     

The first-in-the nation Muslim judicial appointment of Adam Shakoor occurred 71 years after Robert Heberton Terrell, the son of slaves, became the first African-American to serve on a Federal court in 1910. Terrell had delivered a speech in 1903 entitled “A Glance at the Past and Present of the Negro,” in which he said that the descendants of the slaves who came from Africa had “acquired the language and adopted the religion of a great people.” He referred to God five times in his speech, not Allah. He referred to Christianity, not Islam, as a source of inspiration for the liberation of the slaves.

In sum, to single out Islam as an unabashedly positive force that has “always been part of America” is simply not supported by the historical record. No mosques were even built in the United States until the early twentieth century. Muslim slave traders enabled the market for slaves to grow in America. The first war that the young United States fought against foreign powers was against Muslim states. The founding fathers cited by Obama who owned copies of the Koran were not comfortable with the rigidity of Islamic doctrine and its warrior mentality. Muslim Americans’ contributions to such fields as science and jurisprudence, such as they are, did not begin in earnest until well after the middle of the twentieth century.

If Obama decides to speak at another U.S. mosque while he is president, he would do better to focus his remarks on encouraging Muslim Americans to assimilate more fully into American culture. This would include respect for the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land.