W. Kamau Bell, comedian and television host, recently used an episode of United Shades of America on CNN to claim that Islam played a part in the founding of America. During his show, which regularly spouts anti-Trump and anti-Republican propaganda, Bell claims that Islam has always been an influential force in the United States.
In the latest episode, Bell speaks to a Muslim man from Detroit. The pair speak during an anti-Trump event, where Bell learns that “Islam has always been part of the American fabric.” The Muslim man also claims that while many people think that Islam comes from foreign lands, it’s actually an American religion. He claims that the violent forces in American society are predominantly not Islamic.
Impressed with what he hears, Bell even asks that man why he is not running to be elected mayor, comparing him to a younger version of President Barack Obama.
Is There Some Truth in His Argument?
Technically, there is some element of truth in what was said – but it’s a push. Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum said in 2000 that Muslims did constitute a percentage of the Africans that were brought to the country as slaves. As the most educated of the slaves who were brought to the United States, they did according to Pipes “exert a disproportionate influence on slave life” in the United States.
However, Bell’s claims don’t stand up to what is now known about American history. Islam as a faith did not remain predominant in slave communities, and in most instances, the faith actually disappeared. Very few of the descendants of Muslim slaves in America knew anything about the religion of their parents.
CNN uses this claim that a significant proportion of African slaves were Muslim as the basis of their entire argument. On Saturday last week, Dean Obeidallah, a CNN correspondent, said that Islam has been in America since the days of slavery owing to the fact that up to 15% of the population were Muslim. This, according to Obeidallah, means that Islam has been in the United States since its creation, and helped with the foundation of the country.
A population of Muslim people were living in America during its founding, but Islam as a religion had no influence on the creation of the new civilization. The Founding Fathers were not aware of any influence of the Islamic religion, and none of the ideals of the religion were drawn up in the constitution or other founding documents. Had the Founding Fathers been aware of the faith, and had it exerted any influence on the founding of America, it is likely that a more moderate form of the religion would have thrived in the same way that Judaism did.
Instead, during the early days of American history, there was tension and conflict. The Muslim Barbary pirates forced the United States to build its navy and deploy Marines to battle. Thomas Jefferson, according to Don Yaeger and Brian Kilmaede, was surprised when a Muslim envoy during a 1786 meeting claimed that Christians were “fair game” to be victims of piracy.
During the CNN show, Bell uses that argument that many Muslim Americans have performed good work as evidence that the religion of Islam has had a hand in the country’s founding. Specifically, Bell referenced Malcolm X, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Muhammad Ali has examples of positive Islamic influence. These figures, however, were not present during the founding of America.
Bell even went as far as praising Louis Farrakhan, a man who has made anti-Semitic remarks and incited racism throughout his career.