The Black Atlantic and the African Diaspora refer to overlapping geographic and historical concepts each representing a complex series of dispersals, connections and reconnections, interactions, engagements and disengagements, and conflicts. As a geographic, spatial, and historical subset of the African Diaspora, the Black Atlantic refers to the sustained contacts and connections among the peoples of Atlantic Africa, Europe, and the Americas beginning with the “Age of Reconnaissance” (1306–1484) and the “Age of Contact” (1482–1621) and extending into the present. One of the first acts in the creation of the Black Atlantic can be located within the story of Mansa Qu, Islamic emperor and explorer from the western Sudanic empire of Mali, who commissioned two oceanic voyages to discover the western extent of the Atlantic between 1307 and 1311. Reconnaissance expeditions of this sort, launched by both Atlantic Africans and later by Iberians in the 14th and 15th centuries, helped create knowledge networks and webs of interconnections that would become critical to the later formation of the Black Atlantic. At the core of many of these earlier efforts to explore the world around them were the religious pursuits and goals—both Christian and Islamic—on the part of Atlantic Africans and Iberians. Delegations of Christian monks and pilgrims from Ethiopia visited the Italian peninsula, Iberia, and other parts of Europe beginning in 1306 seeking pan-Christian alliances against common Muslim foes. These early delegations fueled later Iberian imaginations about the existence of Prester John—an eastern defender of Christendom believed by the early 15th century to preside over an East African kingdom. In part, the protracted search for the mythical Prester John in Africa by the Portuguese after 1415 set in motion sustained contacts between Iberia and Atlantic Africa highlighted by the creation of Iberian-African settlements along the Atlantic African coast and in the Atlantic Islands, the transfer of enslaved labor to the Americas via the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the beginnings of sugar plantations and slave societies in the Caribbean and Brazil by the mid-16th century. Centuries of sustained contact of this nature spawned a range of cultural formations, the processes of ethnogenesis, and the creation of new transnational identities in the littoral regions and beyond of the four continents that frame the Atlantic Ocean. Creolization, the unique confluence of Atlantic cultures, served as the foundation for reinvented peoples across the Western Hemisphere who remembered, activated, and re-created “Africa” while attending to New World realities of racial slavery and hierarchy. This process of creolization created a range of ethnocultural permutations, from Atlantic Creoles to a wide array of neo-African ethnic groups in the Americas (e.g., Eboes, Coromantees, Congos, Nâgos, and Lucumís). Within this diverse cultural matrix and the processes of cultural mixing, religious and spiritual worldviews were among the most significant articulations of Black Atlantic and creole cultures. Indeed, there is no other way to decode the intricacies of Cuban Santería, Brazilian Candomblé, Haitian Voudou, New Orleans Hoodoo, Jamaican Myalism, or Obeah without framing them in the context of the cultural negotiations among many Atlantic African peoples made necessary by the suffocating confines of racial slavery and more recent socio-racial hierarchies embedded within Western Hemisphere colonialism, Jim Crow in the United States, and other manifestations of white supremacy
Walter C. Rucker
During the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved Muslims were brought from North and West Africa to what would become the United States. Many of these African Muslims were literate in Arabic. Even in the face of formative obstacles, enslaved people and their descendants continued to observe their faith and to adapt Islamic and Islamically influenced practices in the United States. In the mid-1800s to early 1900s, Muslims began to immigrate to the United States from the Middle East and South Asia. Muslim immigrants used a variety of tactics to establish communities in the United States while navigating segregation, miscegenation, and restrictive citizenship laws. A few small-scale Muslim institutions were established, including mosques and cultural centers. Prominent Muslim and Islamically influenced movements flourished in the early 20th century, such as the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community movement. The MSTA was an African American–majority movement born of the Great Migration. The Thesophist movement was largely white. Both movements were similar in terms of their exploration of the occult and emphasis on bodily control as a means of spiritual purification. The Ahmadiyya produced and translated much of the religious literature that circulated in the United States across Muslim sects in the first half of the 20th century, including the most popular translation of the Qur’an, often without attribution. Sunni and Shi’i communities were also present in this time period. The Nation of Islam (NOI, 1930–1975) surpassed the MSTA and Ahmadiyya to become the largest and most influential Muslim American movement in the secondhalf of the 20th century. The NOI emphasized communal economic empowerment and self-reliance for Black Americans in order to achieve the goal of separation from Whites as a means of achieving racial justice. Prominent figures from the NOI, such as Malcolm X, are frequently invoked by different Muslim American groups in the 21st century. When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, NOI members went in different directions. Elijah Muhammad’s son, Warith Deen Muhammad, led a large portion of the community to Sunni Islam. Other members joined Louis Farrakhan’s NOI. The Harter-Celler Act of 1965 opened up non-European immigration, leading to a large increase in Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. Due to the law’s stipulations, these immigrants were largely upper-class and well-educated. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was also a push by many different Muslim American groups toward Sunnism. The 1979 Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis increased anti-Muslim hostility in the United States and created the stereotype that all Muslim Americans were immigrants from the Middle East. The 9/11 attacks amplified this backlash, but also led to the creation and strengthening of nationwide Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations. Advocacy campaigns and heated debates have also taken place within the Muslim American community in the 21st century. Professor of Islamic Studies Amina Wadud has been particularly influential in shaping conversations around gender and Islam, both in the United States and globally. Wadud is also well-known for leading a mixed-gender congregational prayer in New York City in 2005, which sparked a global debate over the permissibility of women leading prayer. In the early 21st century, so-called third spaces proliferated, including art spaces and gatherings facilitated through online groups such as Meetup, where Muslims who felt left out of more traditional mosque spaces found community. This entry ends in 2010, almost a decade after 9/11 and before the rising presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump.