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

Ukraine President Appeals for More US Support

Speaking before Congress ahead of meeting with President Obama, Petro Poroshenko urges lawmakers to back Ukraine in its quest for freedom and democracy More

Photogallery Global Audience Watches as Scots Go to Polls

People were almost equally divided over a vote for independence, watched closely by Britain's allies, investors and restive regions at home and abroad More

China to Invest $20B in India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high-profile visit 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Graham Nash has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – once for his work with The Hollies and once as part of Crosby, Stills & Nash. The legendary folk-rocker joins "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his latest project, “CSN 2012,” which captured on video recent live performances by Crosby, Stills & Nash.