‘Impossible Documents’ — How An Enslaved Muslim Scholar Illuminates Southern Identity

one of the most fascinating conversations i’ve listened to in a while. about islam and slavery, islam in america, christian hegemony and slavery, a counter narrative offered in/by the arabic language and the only known writing by an enslaved human while they were still in bondage. enriches this moment that we are in by revealing layer upon layer of historical complexity and intersections.

‘In the 1700s, approximately 5% of the pre-colonial United States was Muslim. Most of them were enslaved, and one of the foundational figures of early American Islam lived in North Carolina. Omar ibn Said has confounded scholars and translators for more than a century.

An educated scholar from an aristocratic family, Said was enslaved and brought to the port of Charleston in 1807 from his homelands in the Futa Toro region of modern-day Senegal. His autobiography is written in Arabic with a Southern accent and includes references to West African locations and Sufi literature. In it, Said attacked his enslavers and the conditions of the American South while also illuminating his struggle to overcome the psychological imprisonment of slavery. He wrote because he needed to.’ Listen here.

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