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

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes 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.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.

Blogs

African Music Treasures