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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings: Nnekai
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
August 26, 2015 2:42 PM
Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.

Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.