News / Arts & Entertainment

One Man’s Passion Births Islamic Museum

Washington D.C.’s Mall is the home of many of the city’s finest museums, housing works of the masters at the National Museum of Art, historic aircraft at the Air and Space Museum and America’s Native heritage at the American Indian Museum.

But one man saw that something was missing: Amir Muhammad couldn’t find a museum that showed Islam’s history in America.  So he started digging.  His results - including photos, artifacts, and displays - have become America’s Islamic Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in Southeast Washington, DC.

Beginnings

A native of Connecticut, Amir Muhammad was raised Baptist. His first experience with Islam was in 1973, under the former Nation of Islam leader Elijah P. Muhammad. He also studied the writings of the late Malcolm X.

But it was some genealogical research that transformed his faith: he found Muslim names in his family tree. He began to search libraries and town records.  He talked to his mother, who gave him vital family information. He began to visit Georgia, where his mother was from trying to get any information he could find.

His search became more focused when he moved from Richmond, Virginia to Washington, DC.

“I felt that if I was living in the DC area, with the National Archives here, if I ever moved, I would feel bad that I didn’t take advantage of it,” said Muhammad.

Through his research, Muhammad came across several Muslim names especially amongst the Gullah people in the lowlands of South Carolina and Georgia. He found stories of Muslim slave managers who helped defend the Sea Islands of South Carolina during the War of 1812.  He found several tombstones with Muslim names, sometimes having to go deep into the woods - and into areas where he did not feel welcome - to find them.

Digging in Earnest

He also found tombstones with the one-finger bas relief, a Muslim symbol meant to signify the oneness of God. He explored the ruins of Gullah slave quarters - called “Tabby Ruins” - and found modern people who carry on the Gullah traditions - like weaving intricate baskets from sea grass.

Muhammad came across Muslim Africans who fought in the Civil War, including Muhammad Ali Ibn Said, who spoke seven languages, fought for the Union in the 55th Massachusetts Regiment and later became a teacher. He found Muslims like Hadji Ali, an Ottoman of Jordanian parents known as “Hi Jolly” who was one of the first camel drivers ever hired by the U.S. Army for its experimental Camel Corps.

Amir Muhammad’s search continued through census records, where he found Muslim names in several documents. His search also led him to sports heroes like Muhammad Ali.  He found Muslim educators, scholars, judges, lawyers, doctors, businessmen and members of the U.S. military - some of whom were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Amir says American Muslims need to know their history to feel part of the country.
“Another thing we talk about is the forgotten roots, because it’s something that’s forgotten,” he said. “People don’t understand that it’s the roots and the core of America,” said Muhammad.

Traveling show

His research was first displayed in 1996 as a traveling exhibit by a non-profit organization called the “Collections and Stories of American Muslims,” or CSAM.

Muhammad and his wife Habeebah - a PhD and Registrar at the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture - took the exhibit to several countries. In Qatar, it was featured in the State Department’s cultural exchange program.

The exhibit also traveled to Nigeria, and made stops in Abuja, Abeokuta, and Kano, where Muhammad personally led tours through the exhibit for visiting dignitaries.

Permanent Home

This year, the Exhibit found a home at the former Clara Muhammad School on Martin Luther King Avenue in Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood. A former carriage and paint shop the building was upgraded to a school and then revamped to accommodate the museum.

The development and cost of the current space was more than $40,000.  The cost for keeping the museum open for the first year is expected to be around $150,000. The facility also hosted four iftars this year - including one sponsored by the Ambassador of the Embassy of Qatar. 

Amir Muhammad’s eyes light up when he talks about his work.  He calls finding Muslims in American history “like a blessing from God.”  But he added that his hope is to one day to join other museums in a prominent place on the Washington Mall.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."