The history of the transatlantic slave trade is taught in schools around the world. However, the fact that a significant number of the enslaved individuals were African Muslims is less known and unacknowledged. Unsurprisingly, most European history books are silent on the subject.
Thousands of noble and educated African Muslims were captured and sold into slavery during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the Europeans. As a result, they found themselves working in locations across the Americas, West Indies and Europe. Their lives, stories and tales must never be forgotten nor neglected.
There was only one individual that was able to transcend the untold struggle, hardship and suffering that was endured by millions of enslaved Africans at the time. He was Ayuba Sulaiman Diallo, whose life and career is a shining example of an African who was equally at home in the West.
Ayuba Sulaiman Diallo, better known in Europe and America as Job ben Solomon, was born into a prominent Muslim family in the West African State of Bundu, located today in eastern Senegal. Educated by his father – a scholar in his own right – Ayuba grew to be a respected, likeable character. He undertook the role of Assistant Imam whilst also engaging in business and trade.
Seized for slavery
During one of his business trips to a neighbouring territory, he was captured and sold to Captain Pike, an Englishman who was involved in the slave trade. Although Ayuba hailed from a prominent African Muslim family who had strong links to the rulers of the Futa dynasty, he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite his frantic efforts to communicate with his family to inform them of his trouble, help did not arrive in time. The ship, bound for the United States, set off from Africa with Ayuba on-board.
Resigned to his fate, the long journey across the Atlantic was fraught with considerable hardship and danger for the 30 year old African nobleman, before the ship finally reached Annapolis, located in the present-day US State of Maryland. Along with the other slaves, he was handed over to a trader, and then sold to another trader, before being set to his work.
But Ayuba had never been used to such labour, and struggled with his work. His master was obliged to find easier work for him, and therefore put him to tend the cattle. Being the devout Muslim he was, Ayuba would often withdraw into the woods to pray; but a white boy frequently watched him, and would mock him, and throw dirt in his Face.
Ayuba’s misfortunes were increased by his ignorance of the English Language, which prevented him from complaining, or seeking help.
A plight for freedom
Unable to communicate in English and explain his plight to his master, Ayuba soon escaped from captivity in desperation. After travelling for many days through the local forests and jungles, he found himself in the county of Kent, where he was captured and put behind bars as he could not account for himself.
It was in the local courthouse that a Christian priest and lawyer encountered Ayuba. With the help of a local African interpreter, it became clear that Ayuba was no ordinary slave; rather, he was a learned individual who hailed from a noble African family. His master took pity on the young man and treated him well, encouraging him to write a letter to his father in Arabic.
The letter found its way to James Oglethrope, the Director of the Royal African Company. He was unable to read Arabic, and so sent the letter to John Gagnier, a Frenchman who was then serving as the Laudian Chair of Arabic at Oxford University, for it to be translated into English.
As soon as the authenticity of the letter was confirmed, James Oglethrope took steps to free Ayuba from bondage, which was achieved on the payment of £40 and another £20 was raised to pay for his travel and related costs.
Accordingly, Ayuba boarded a ship called William, and sailed to England in April 1733.
Find out more about Ayuba’s stay in England, his role in arranging Arabic manuscripts at the British Museum, and his eventual return to his native land, Bundu, in “Great Muslims of the West”, by Muhammad Mojlum Khan.