Link to the song: https://youtu.be/sdVWP7U9iDs
In the contemporary America imagination, Islam is perceived as a recent phenomenon associated with the influx of immigrants from the Muslim world. However, according to scholars, Muslims may have been in America as early as 1543. Scholars estimate that upwards of 15 percent of the African slaves brought to America were Muslims. Some of these Muslim slaves were seen as a threat to the institution of slavery because they were highly literate in Arabic. Their literacy challenged the premise that slave owners could own black bodies because black people had no civilization and were subhuman. Omar ibn Said was one of these literate African Muslims. Said was born around 1770 in Futa Toro (modern Senegal) where he learned how to read and write in Arabic. He was captured when he 37 years-old, brought to South Carolina and remained in bondage until his death in 1864. Even though he converted to Christianity in 1821, his Muslim faith remained with him for the rest of his life.
The legacy of Muslim slaves in American can be found in music. In a lecture, historian Sylviane Anna Diouf showed her audience the similarities between the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, and American Blues music. Blues is a music genre created by African-Americans who lived in the Deep South. It influenced other genres such as soul. One of my favorite soul songs is “A Change is Gonne Come” by Sam Cooke. The song was inspired by his experiences of racial discrimination in America. Even more than fifty years later, the line “It’s been a long time coming, but I know change is gonna come,” still inspires black people in America to continue fighting for racial justice.
For this last creative piece, I wanted to tell a global story of unity. The title of this song is, “To God We Return.” It begins with the musical introduction from “Tajdar-e-Haram” performed by the Pakistani singer Atif Aslam and the basmala (“In the name of God the merciful and compassionate). Then I recite a translation of verse 2:177 from the Qur’an with Cooke’s song beginning in the background. This quotation identifies qualities of people that cut across religious and cultural lines. Next, I recite a translation of the poem “Andak Andak” by the Persian poet and mystic Jalal ad-din Muhammad Rumi. This poem describes groups of people slowly arriving at the primordial Covenant (Day of Alast) back to God. I end with verse 2:156 “Verily we come from God and to God we return” and the basmala. Even though I am not religious, the message here is, despite all the challenges that we face on Earth, we all came from one God, and the day we will come when we go back to the Day of Alast to join God. Once we are with God, the change will finally come, and we all be free.