Omar ibn Said, Muslim-American slave, first Muslim slave autobiography
Omar ibn Said Source: Face 2 Face Africa

In 1807, a Muslim scholar from Futa Toro - modern day Senegal - was bought and dragged by force to America on a six-week journey by sea to become a slave. 

Omar ibn Said, 37-years-old at the time, was well-educated and knew how to read and write, but had his life altered after being purchased by a "wicked man" from Charleston, U.S. 

"There, they sold me to a small, weak and wicked man called Johnson, a complete infidel who had no fear of God at all," he wrote in 1831 describing his slave master.

Ibn Said is believed to have been the only Muslim slave who wrote an autobiography in a native language (Arabic), which makes it even more of a precious possession by the Library of Congress

According to CNN, Mary-Jane Deeb, chief of the library's African and Middle Eastern division, said it is important that the autobiography was written in Arabic. 

"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," she said.

Library of Congress, Omar ibn Said, autobiography
A sample of Omar ibn Said's autobiography Source: Library of Congress

Ibn Said was born to a wealthy family sometime around 1770, and was a devoted Muslim and believer till the last day of his life. Even though he is believed to have converted to Christianity later on, scholars still debate this issue. 

In 1810, he escaped the harsh treatment of his master and fled to Fayetteville, North Carolina - where he is said to have been the "most educated slave," according to Davidson College

After being arrested in Fayetteville, he was released the same year and purchased by a new master, James Owen, "owner of Milton Plantation on the shore of Cape Fear River" and a "prosperous politician." Owen's brother, John - who later became governor of North Carolina - along with him, were interested in ibn Said and his education.

"What food they eat they give to me to eat. As they clothe themselves they clothe me. They permit me to read the gospel of God, our lord and saviour and king," ibn Said wrote in his autobiography. 

He was offered a Quran written in English by the Owens in hope of bettering his grasp of the language. A while after, they gifted him an Arabic translation of the Bible - which is now found at the Davidson College Archives. 

Omar Ibn Said, Bible in Arabic
"The restored Arabic cover page to Omar Ibn Sayyid’s Bible," Davison College Archives Source: Davidson College Archives

He lived in good hands and company with the Owens, who treated him decently and respectfully. He remained with them till his last day (1864) and was buried in Owen Hill - where they moved in 1862 - but his tombstone is now lost.

The Futa Toro native wrote his autobiography sometime in 1831 at the approximate age of 60. 

He was fond of Christianity and attended church with the Owens. With some saying he converted to Christianity, a number of modern scholars believe he "continued to be a practicing Muslim, based on dedications to Mohammed written by Omar into his Bible."

He attempted to convert Africans to Christianity, and appealed to the American Bible Society "to send Arabic translations of the Bible to the Muslims of Futa Toro." 

"There is evidence that the society received his letter via James Owen and did attempt to give copies of the Bible to traders passing through Beirut [Lebanon]. Their initial attempts were not successful, most likely due to the poor Arabic translations of the Bible available at that time," explains the Davidson College Archives. 

Omar ibn Said, bible owned by Omar ibn Said
"The cover of Omar Ibn Sayyid’s Bible. Note the layers of cloth covers," Davidson College Archives Source: Davidson College Archives

"Formerly, I, Omar, loved to read the book of the Koran the famous," he wrote, according to CNN"Gen. Jim Owen and his wife used to read the gospel and they read it to me very much -- the gospel of God, our Lord, our Creator, our King."

Ibn Said autobiography was sold at auction for $20,000 and is now available to the public in the Library of Congress. 

In 1991, a mosque in Fayetteville was renamed to Masjid Omar Ibn Sayyid in his honor.