|Nashid Ali with his djembe and family lineage. Photo credit to Dana Scherer|
The Gullah communities to which our guest alluded existed in Georgia and South Carolina and maintained a polyethnic West African culture that also mixed with some Western European culture. Due to reasons related to climate and disease, the Africans enslaved in the Gullah regions were isolated from white communities and subsequently were able to preserve their culture in ways not afforded to slaves in other areas. Along with music, dress, and language (there is a unique Gullah patois, for instance), they also maintained vernacular West African Islamic practice. It is this Islam to which Nashid alluded when he spoke to the campers.
While Islam’s presence in Gullah communities was remarkable, it was by no means unique in slave communities in North America. As scholar Kambiz GhaneaBassiri explains in his fabulous primer on Islam in the Americas (A History of Islam in North America, 2010), many slaves from West Africa maintained their Islamic identity and practice following their enslavement in North America. As GhaneaBassiri notes, there are records indicating that enslaved Africans continued to practice Islam until at least around the turn of the twentieth century by using written Qur’anic verses from talisman, as well as memorized ritual practices. And today there are certainly lots of African immigrants, African-Americans, and Blackamericans practicing Islam in North America.
I write all of this to say that, with his remarks about his Gullah roots, Nashid subtly provided a narrative for the students at camp regarding how one’s identity is constructed. Whether he was raised Muslim or converted, Nashid connected in a deeper way with both his religion and ethnic roots by discovering his bloodline to Gullah communities. Seeing as our theme at camp is “identity and home," I think a narrative like this one provided the campers a wonderful example of how someone constructs a part of their identity.
Kenyon College, '14
Summer Intern at Al Bustan