"I Wish to be Seen in our Land Called Āfrikā": ʿUmar B. Sayyid's Appeal to be Released from Slavery (1819)

  • John Hunwick


While Muslims were forbidden to enslave Muslims, in Africa, in battles between Muslims and non-Muslims, sometimes the latter captured Muslims, and sold them to European/American ship crews, who were seeking slaves to take across to America and sell, since Americans could use Muslims as slaves. ʿUmar b. Sayyid (or, more likely, Saʿīd) was captured in Futa Toro in 1806/7, exported, and sold as a slave in South Carolina. Later he was bought by the brother of a subsequent governor of North Carolina and lived with both of them for some thirty years. ʿUmar had learned Arabic in Africa, but as an aging slave forgot some of the rules of the language. Nevertheless, in 1819 he wrote an Arabic document, translated below, in which he quotes many parts of the Koran and seeks return to his homeland in Africa. The Koranic passages surround his statement: “I wish to be seen in our land called Āfrikā”. However, he was forced to stay in America until he died in 1864, long after writing an Arabic autobiography. 

How to Cite
Hunwick, J. (1). "I Wish to be Seen in our Land Called Āfrikā": ʿUmar B. Sayyid’s Appeal to be Released from Slavery (1819). Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, 5, 62-77. https://doi.org/10.5617/jais.4572