Amir Abu Husayn Abd’r-Rahman ibn Ibrahim Sori & the Hon. David Walker:‎
‎ ‎
‎by Hei Xuanfeng

An example of the survival of Turudbe’ Fulani descendants of Abraham in the ‘diaspora’ of ‎America was Abu al-Husayn Abd’r-Rahman ibn Ibrahim Sori from Timbo, whose father, ‎Karamoko Ibrahim Sori, consolidated the Islamic confederation of Futa Jallon in 1776. He too ‎was learned in the Islamic sciences and could speak at least 4 different African languages ‎along with Arabic. 1 ‎

In 1781, after returning from study in renowned city of learning, Timbuktu, Abd’r-Rahman ‎joined the armies of his father. He was made the Amir of one of the regiments that ‎conquered the Bambara ruler. 2 ‎

In 1788 at the age of 26 Ibrahim Sori appointed his son, Abd’r-Rahman to head a 2000 man ‎strong army to the coast to protect and strengthen their economic interest. It is clear that ‎the Almamy Ibrahim Sori was preparing his son for leadership. It was during this military ‎campaign that Abd’r-Rahman was captured. ‎

He was sold to the French who brought him to Natchez, Mississippi. Abd’r-Rahman remained ‎a slave for more than thirty-eight years before he was freed from bondage. 3

Again, like ‎Ayyub ben Sulayman, it was Abd’r-Rahman’s knowledge of Arabic language that won him his ‎freedom. His linguistic abilities and erudition, bequeathed by the high civilization of the ‎Turudbe’ literary traditions guaranteed him his freedom and self-determination. ‎

Thus, Arabic was the constituent element of the cultural personality of Abd’r-Rahman that ‎he utilized in his quest for independence. Without this he would not have had any recourse ‎to define himself vis-à-vis his oppressors and captors. His Arabic writing says to his European ‎Christian captors: “I AM what I AM. And what I AM is what ALLAH made me. I AM not what ‎you attempted to make me!” ‎

The ability to speak, write and understand Arabic language for enslaved African Muslims had ‎political implications that determined the nature of their enslavement or their eventual ‎liberty. They were set apart because of their linguistic independence and the countless of ‎African Arabic manuscripts discovered in the western hemisphere confirms their distinction ‎and their desire to be free. ‎

Perhaps no cultural ingredient that binds a people together cohesively is more important ‎than linguistic unity. Through language a people can assert its values using its own internal ‎reference. Through language unanimity, people define themselves, their universe and ‎project themselves and project themselves into the future.

More importantly language ‎allows a people to defend themselves against cultural aggression of all sorts. The measure of ‎their enemy is defined using their own frame of reference and the diameter of their struggle ‎defensively precludes any encompassing by the dogma of their enemies.‎

One of the most effective tools utilized by the Turudbe’ enslaved Muslims in the United ‎States was the religious license of taqiyya (dissimilation). This religious stratagem is a license ‎to pretend to renounce Islam with the tongue, while maintaining firm belief in the heart, for ‎a Muslim who may feel his life is in danger or who desires to be freed from the bondage of ‎the disbelievers.

Allah ta`ala revealed the following verse regarding taqiyya: “Whoever ‎disbelieves after his faith, except the one who is forced while his heart is tranquil in belief, ‎however the one who manifest disbelief upon them is anger from Allah and they will taste a ‎grievous punishment.” 4 ‎

Abd’r-Rahman took advantage of this same license when his enslavers made conversion to ‎Christianity one of the prerequisites for his freedom.

In 1828 while in Philadelphia he was ‎compelled to write down the ‘Lords Prayer’ in Arabic as a testimony of his new ‘faith’. And as ‎the above manuscript demonstrates, Abd’r-Rahman wrote down the first chapter of the ‎Quran called al-Faatiha, as a subterfuge to gain his freedom. [FIGURE 2]‎

The choice of Amir Abd’r-Rahman to write down the first and most important chapter of the ‎Quran instead of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, was not only the essence of taqiyya, but it was an act of ‎defiance as well as a clear demonstration of his disdain for his European captors. The former ‎amir was transmitting the methodology essential for effectively dealing with oppressors.

For more than three years, Abd’r-Rahman was conducted around the east coast of the ‎United States in order to raise the money for his journey back to Africa and to raise money ‎for the manumission of his wife and children.

According to Robert Dannin, Abd’r-Rahman ‎was firm in his Islamic beliefs despite attempts to convert him to Christianity. It is important ‎at this point to cite Robert Dannin’s seminal work, where he describes the persistence of ‎Abd’r-Rahman’s Turudbe’ adherence to Islam.‎

‎“Upon his arrival in Washington, [Abd’r-Rahman ibn] Ibrahima became a ward of the ‎American Colonization Society, a Methodist-dominated organization that was planning to ‎send missionaries to Africa…for [Abd’r-Rahman ibn] Ibrahima soon embarrassed his ‎sponsors by stirring religious controversy everywhere. He relished the opportunity to ‎question Christianity by arguing with religious leaders and insisted that Islam was the only ‎true religion. ‎

Word of his notoriety spread, provoking local churches to retract their welcome and forcing ‎him to lecture either outdoors, as he did in Niagara Falls, or in the Prince Hall lodges in ‎Boston, Hartford, and Providence.

Among freemen and slaves in his audiences, [Abd’r-‎Rahman ibn] Ibrahima’s attitude, as well as his exotic appearance, inspired more than ‎passive curiosity. Some began to recall their own Islamic religious backgrounds. Several ‎publicly reclaimed their African-Muslim names, invoking the wrath of local whites, who ‎branded them as imposters.” 5‎

This is significant, because this demonstrates that this Turudbe’ Muslim performed the same ‎function that his ancestors before him performed throughout the Bilad’s-Sudan. Here, even ‎under enslavement, the descendants of the Turudbe’ remained true to their covenant of a ‎spiritual commitment to be leaders and guides for the righteous. There were perhaps other ‎earlier examples of Islamic invitation, however, this is the first recorded example of the ‎active Islamic Call being initiated in the United States. ‎

Just as the Hebrew Prophets persisted in reminding its People of their former ‘covenant’ ‎during the period of bondage in Babylon, Abd’r-Rahman ibn Ibrahima, eloquently reminded ‎the enslaved and colonized Africans of their former Islamic covenant and sacred Way of Life. ‎Robert Dannin goes on to describe the significance of Abd’r-Rahman’s impact upon the ‎struggle for freedom for Africans in the United States.‎

‎“[Abd’r-Rahman ibn] Ibrahima’s legacy of exclusion from the church pulpit and his ‎affirmation of African-Islamic identity was one of the first publicly documented ‎manifestations of unchurched autonomy. Shortly before sailing for Africa in 1828, [Abd’r-‎Rahman ibn] Ibrahima addressed a meeting at Boston’s African Lodge. Upon his arrival, he ‎was honored by a fraternal committee led by David Walker, the young abolitionist thinker. ‎

Escorting the old Muslim through the crowd of black New Englanders who had come to bid ‎him farewell, Walker seemed deeply affected by the old man’s resiliency after four decades ‎in slavery. Pushed out of the church into the lodge halls, he had stimulated a collective ‎African memory among his constituents, foreshadowing a collective space for black revolt, ‎which found its first genuine voice in Walker’s manifesto of liberation.” 6‎

It was one year later that David Walker composed his famous Appeal to the Colored Citizens ‎of the World, calling enslaved and free Africans alike to take up arms in defense of their ‎freedom. Thus, the first documented and published call to freedom and liberation for ‎Africans in the United States was influenced by a Turudbe’ Muslim former ruler.

Abd’r-‎Rahman manifested the Abrahamic covenant of commanding the good and forbidding evil. ‎He remained true to the Call of Abraham and acted as a Reminder to a African people who ‎had been cut off from their culture and heritage and a proof against the Anglo-American ‎hypocrites. Abd’r-Rahman made scathing attacks against the Anglo-Americans and their ‎hypocrisy in establishing the ‘good principles’ in the Bible. He said: ‎

‎“I tell you the Testament very good law; you no follow it; you no pray often enough; you ‎greedy after money…you want more land, more neegurs; you make neegur work hard, make ‎more cotton…Where you find dat in your law?” 7‎

This disparagement by the Turudbe’ son of Abraham of Anglo-American hypocrisy and ‎injustice is a reflection of the responsibility Allah commissioned the Umma of Muhammad, ‎may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Allah ta`ala says:

“You are the best community ‎which has emerged for mankind. You command the good and forbid indecency and believe in ‎Allah. If only the People of the Book would believe it would be better for them. Some of them ‎believe while most of them are corrupt.” 8 ‎

There is no wonder that Walker was so furious in his attacks against the Anglo-American ‎Christians. The radical influence that the Turudbe’ son of Abraham had upon Walker can be ‎seen throughout his Appeals:‎

‎“The Pagans, Jews and Mahometans try to make proselytes to their religions, and whatever ‎human beings adopt their religions they extend to them their protection. But Christian ‎Americans, not only hinder their fellow creatures, the Africans, but thousands of them will ‎absolutely beat a coloured person nearly to death, if they catch him on his knees, supplicating ‎the throne of grace.

This barbarous cruelty was by all the heathen nations of antiquity, and ‎by the Pagans, Jews and Mahometans of the present day, left entirely to Christian Americans ‎to inflict on the Africans and their descendents, that their cup which is nearly full may be ‎completed!” 9‎

This contemptuous attack upon the self-image of the Anglo-American Christian as being ‎morally decrepit, is significant, and could not have come about except through a profound ‎since of historical conscience and continuity. Walker’s ability to redefine his oppressors in an ‎inferior light had to be placed up against a self-esteem engendered through his encounter ‎with the elderly Turudbe’, Abd’r-Rahman. ‎

Walker’s revolutionary ideas had become shaped and inspired by one of the ‘lost children of ‎Abraham’, who was decidedly aware of himself as a servant of Allah, a descendent of African ‎royalty and an heir of the Abrahamic covenant.

Thus, it was Abd’r-Rahman’s adherence to ‎the Turudbe’ Fulani identity construct that helped launch a cultural revolution that effected the ‎entire African population of the United States. Walker had this to say as a prayer for his ‎Turudbe’ Muslim guest:‎

‎“Our Worthy Guest, who was by the African;s natural enemies torn from his country, ‎religion, and friends, and in the very midst of Christians, doomed to perpetual though ‎unlawful bondage may God enable him to obtain much of the reward of his labor, as may ‎purchase the freedom of his offspring.” 10

On February 7, 1829, Abd’r-Rahman sailed on the ‎Harriet accompanying, Joseph J. Roberts, the future first president of Liberia. 11 ‎

One can but wonder about the dialogue between these two great leaders. Did Amir Abd’r-‎Rahman influence the future president of Liberia in his desire for freedom and ‎independence?

It is amazing how the most important dignitaries in the history of the ‎freedom of African Americans have had some encounter with ‘the lost children of Abraham’. ‎Abd’r-Rahman attempted to reach Timbo, but died before reaching his goal on July 6, 1829. ‎When he died, he bequeathed his Arabic manuscripts to the Turudbe’ scholars and jurist of ‎Timbo. 12‎

There has been this on-going myth among the African American Muslim national minority ‎that during the four centuries of enslavement and domestic colonization that no one from ‎the African continent came to redeem us from slavery or to teach us Islam.

However, the ‎reality is that there was never a period in American history that Islam was not a part of our ‎historical development. Whether it was enslaved Fulani Turudbe, such as Amir Abu Husayn ‎Abd’r-Rahman ibn Ibrahim Sori, Umar ibn Sayyid, Ayyub bin Sulayman, Muhammad Sambo, ‎Bilali Muhammad and others who kept alive the African traditions of Islam; or whether ‎African Muslims in America hid themselves underneath the secretive curtain of Black ‎American masonic groups; or whether they were the dedicated students of African Muslim ‎immigrant proselytizer at the turn of the century, such as Imam Muhammad Satti Majied of ‎the Sudan or Duse Mohammed Ali of the same country; there was always a period in which ‎Islam was impacting the lives of the African American national minority.‎


‎1.‎ Allan Austin, African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and ‎Spiritual Struggles, (New York, Routledge), 1997, p. 126.‎
‎2.‎ Terry Alford, Prince Among Slaves: the True Story of An African Prince Sold into Slavery ‎in the American South, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 16-18.‎
‎3.‎ Ibid. p. 72.‎
‎4.‎ Quran: 16:105.‎
‎5.‎ Robert Dannin, Black Pilgrimage To Islam, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002), p. ‎‎20.‎
‎6.‎ Ibid. p. 21.‎
‎7.‎ Allan Austin, p. 129.‎
‎8.‎ Quran: 3:109.‎
‎9.‎ David Walker, Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, (Boston), p. 28.‎
‎10.‎ Op.Cit, p. 164.‎
‎11.‎ Ibid., p. 77.‎
‎12.‎ Ibid.‎


The Lost & Found Children of Abraham in Africa & the American Diaspora:‎‎_and_the_American_Diaspora‎