"Since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States," U.S. President Barack Obama said at a 2009 speech in Cairo.
With Islamophobia making headlines time and time again, causing a surge in hate crimes against Muslims in the United States, it's only fitting that we look into what Obama was indicating.
1. The U.S. has been home to Muslims long before its founding
Muslims are known to have entered America at a large scale in the 17th century. An estimated 15 to 30% of the enslaved Africans brought to the United States were Muslim, many of which defiantly practiced their faith in secret. But this wasn't the beginning of Islam's history in America.
One of the earliest accounts of Muslim presence in North America dates back to 1528, when Muslim Moroccan Mustafa Zemmouri (widely known as Estebanico) was enslaved and taken on a Spanish expedition to colonize Florida. Estebanico is considered a discoverer of the state of New Mexico.
Another prominent documented Muslim in early-North America is Anthony Janszoon Van Salee (1607–1676), son of a Dutch man and his unknown Muslim wife. Raised by his mother as a Muslim, Van Salee is considered the first known Muslim settler in America and the first resident of Brooklyn, New York. He is actually the fifth great-grandfather of America's 29th president, Warren Harding.
2. Muslims fought in the American Revolutionary War
Records show that some Muslims fought alongside the Americans during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Among the documented names of American soldiers are Yusuf ben Ali and Bampett Muhamed.
Additionally, Huffington Post reports that Peter Salam (originally Peter Buckminster), disputably a Muslim convert, was a distinguished American soldier who was crowned hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill, after killing a British Major General.
3. Muslim soldiers fought in all of America's major wars
According to Huffington Post, Muslim American soldiers sacrificed their lives during the American Civil War, World Wars and Vietnam war.
The New Yorker reports that over five thousand Muslims fought for America in World War I and the name Muhammad was "so common that it was spelled forty-one ways in military records".
During World War II, more than 15,000 Arab Americans, including several Muslims, fought with the U.S. army in North Africa, Europe and Asia.
Additionally, according to historian Edward E. Curtis, at least twelve Muslim Americans - ranking from private first class to sergeant - sacrificed their lives during the Vietnam War.
4. America's founding fathers held Islam in high regard
Two of the American founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams owned copies of the Islamic Qur'an.
Thomas Jefferson specifically mentioned Muslims in the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a legislation protecting freedom of faith, according to The Washington Post.
In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, the second U.S. president John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." Adams had praised the Islamic prophet Muhammed, dubbing him a "sober inquirer after truth".
5. The statue of liberty was originally designed to be a Muslim Egyptian woman
The statue’s French designer Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi had visualized a monument featuring a woman garbed in the traditional Islamic dress to act as a lighthouse guarding over the Suez Canal in Egypt. The statue was called “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia” in the conceptual stage of the project.
But Bartholdi soon remodeled and Americanized his design after Egyptian ruler Isma’il Pasha rejected the plan, deeming it too costly.