Voices of Early West African Muslims in the U.S.



West African Muslims, many living in parts of the former Mali empire, were the first Muslims in the United States. Enslaved and transported across the Atlantic, most of these early African Muslims continued to practice their religion albeit under pressure to become Christians. This lesson focuses on seven West African Muslims who lived in the U.S. prior to the Civil War.


Having completed this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Identify West African Muslims as the first Muslims in the U.S.
  • Describe these early West African Muslims as versed in the Koran and literate in Arabic.
  • Describe the enslavement and transport of most early West African Muslims to the U.S. as part of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

Guiding Question 

How were West African Muslims affected by their enslavement in the U.S.?

Essential Questions

  • What are the names, home countries and facts of life of early West African Muslims enslaved in the U.S.?
  • How did they gain knowledge of Islam/Arabic?
  • How did they show evidence of their knowledge of Islam and Arabic in the U.S.?
  • Where were they enslaved and who enslaved them?
  • What were their accomplishments/legacies?

Materials Needed

Instructions for making West African Muslims Badges

Below are instructions for making the West African Muslims Badges for the lesson. 

Materials needed:

  3. Printer
  4. Cardstock
  5. Scissors or a paper trimmer
  6. Hole puncher
  7. Ribbon


  1. Print the FRONTS PDF*Depending on your printer, in the print dialog box, you may want to select the "Print to Fit" option.
  2. Print the BACKS PDF on the back sides of the printed FRONTS pages. *Depending on your printer and how you reinsert the paper into your printer, you may need to select "Reverse pages" in the print dialog box.
  3. Cut out the cards. 
  4. Punch a hole at the top of each card.
  5. Tie a ribbon through the hole and you're done.


Discover Africa in the Americas Website


  1. Create badges of early West African Muslims using information on the attached badges.
  2. Select 7 students to play the roles of early West African Muslims. 
  3. Give the students time to become familiar with the information on their badges.
  4. Call the name in turn of each of the West African Muslims.
  5. Students should share the information on their badges.
  6. Divide the students into 7 groups. Working together, students should research an early West African Muslim using the attached research organizer and  Discover Africa in the Americas as the entry point for their research.
  7. Each student should write an essay that includes answers to the Essential Questions.


Students should present the information they have found about the early West African Muslims in the U.S. in creative and informative ways.