Atlantic History Islam and the Atlantic World
Richard Brent Turner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0281


Islam is one of the important religious traditions for understanding the dynamic interactions among empires, cultures, peoples, societies, and identities on the four continents of the Atlantic World from the 15th century to the 19th century. This aspect of Atlantic world history unfolds largely in the experiences of West African Muslims and their dispersals from Africa. Enslaved Muslims from West Africa constituted more than 1 million of the estimated 12 million African people whom Europeans and white Americans forcefully transported across the Atlantic to North America, South America, and the Caribbean islands in the institution of slavery. This article addresses how European and American stereotypes and fantasies of the Islamic world impacted the identities and resistance strategies of Muslims in the Atlantic world. Until recently, historians have ignored the religious significance of Islam in the Atlantic world. However, the scholarship cited and discussed in this article provides diverse viewpoints to understand the cultural and social implications of Islamic experiences and meanings in the Atlantic world. It treats how Muslims indelibly shaped Atlantic history and black racial identities in the modern world and created the first Islamic cultures in the Americas. The African identities of Muslim captives, who were forced to live in transatlantic diasporic spaces, and the circulation of transnational Islamic identities across the Atlantic world by former slaves and by free black people who immigrated to Africa in the 19th century are also key questions explored in this literature. Despite the violence, brutality, racism, and stereotypes that were institutionalized in slavery, enslaved Muslims in the New World possessed considerable agency to practice their religious traditions and to reshape their ethnic identities and resistance strategies in the Americas and the scholarship below brings these issues to the fore. The period covered in Atlantic history in this article is defined as terminating at the US Civil War.

General Overviews

For the most part, the systematic study of Islam in the Atlantic world began in the 1990s and several works that provide a comprehensive overview of Muslim American history have also been published in the 21st century. The important case studies of African Muslim slaves in the United States in Austin 1997 led the way. The comprehensive history and analysis in Turner 2003 demonstrates how African Muslim experiences in the Atlantic world influenced black Islamic religious identities in the 20th century. Diouf 2013 is essential reading in analyzing the African stories, Islamic practices, and resistance strategies of the West African Muslims, who were enslaved by Christians and served Allah in the Atlantic world. Gomez 2005 explores the religious and political histories of African and African American Muslim communities in the larger Atlantic world that encompasses North and West Africa, Europe, and the Americas. GhaneaBassiri 2010 provides a framework to look at diverse Muslim American experiences in the context of the Atlantic world and American religious history. Curtis 2014 is useful for understanding transnational black Islamic identities in the Atlantic world.

  • Austin, Allan D. African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles. New York: Routledge, 1997.

    This pioneering study explores the life stories of urban and literate African Muslims who were enslaved in the Atlantic world and who practiced Islam in the Americas from 1730 to 1860. Based upon the author’s larger book, African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Sourcebook (originally published in 1984), this new book is updated and includes forty-five illustrations.

  • Curtis, Edward E., IV. The Call of Bilal: Islam in the African Diaspora. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

    Based on ethnography and history, this wide-ranging and creative work examines the impact of anti-black racism and transnational diasporic identities on the Islamic practices of Muslims of African descent in the Atlantic world and the Islamic world.

  • Diouf, Sylviane A. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. 2d ed. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

    An elegantly researched book (originally published in 1998) that traces the story of West African Muslims who drew upon Arabic literacy and devotion to the Islamic faith as they continued to practice the Five Pillars of Islam during their enslavement in the Americas. This important historical account of Islam in the black Atlantic world explores a hemispheric perspective to study all aspects of the story in Muslim communities in more than twenty countries/colonies in the New World.

  • GhaneaBassiri, Kambiz. A History of Islam in America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511780493

    A provocative account that analyzes how the economic and political rivalries of the Atlantic world shaped the early history and the poly-religious practices of African Muslims enslaved in colonial America and the antebellum United States. This book includes two chapters on colonial and antebellum America.

  • Gomez, Michael A. Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511802768

    A multifaceted and complex history of African Muslims in the Atlantic world, spanning their experiences in Latin America, Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States. This superb book brings to the fore how the ever-changing and evolving Atlantic world shaped the multifaceted resistance strategies and Islamic practices of Muslim communities throughout the Americas from the early 16th century to the late 20th century.

  • Turner, Richard Brent. Islam in the African-American Experience. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

    This widely used textbook on African American Islam (originally published in 1997) traces the root sources of the religious identities and the resistance strategies of African Muslim slaves to West Africa, the Atlantic world, and antebellum America, and connects their story to the emergence of new urban African American Muslim communities in the 20th century.

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