US Library of Congress publishes American Muslim slave’s autobiography online

The US Library of Congress has made the country’s only known surviving slave narrative written in Arabic available on the internet.

According to a statement by the Library of Congress on Tuesday, the Omar Ibn Said Collection consists of 42 original documents, including a 15-page autobiography on The Life of Omar Ibn Said, also known as Uncle Moreau.

The story belongs to Said, a man who was captured in West Africa and brought to the US as a slave in 1831.

A rare example of a slave’s autobiography, this unique collection of texts acquired in 2017 sheds light on the early history of Islam and Muslims in the US.

“The significance of this lies in the fact that such a biography was not edited by Said’s owner, as those of other slaves written in English were, and is, therefore, more candid and more authentic,” says Mary-Jane Deeb, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress.

“It also reveals that many Africans who were brought to the United States as slaves were followers of Islam, an Abrahamic and monotheistic faith. Such documentation counteracts prior assumptions of African life and culture,” she added.

In the autobiography, Said describes himself as a wealthy and highly educated man who was eventually sold into slavery. He is believed to be a member of the Fula ethnic group, according to the Library of Congress. The Fula are the largest ethnic group across the Sahel and West Africa, numbering some 40 to 50 million people today.

In celebration of African American History Month, on February 5 the Library of Congress will host a special public programme and discussion focusing on this unique historical collection.

 
 
 
 
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