The best known Muslim to pass through the port at New Orleans was Abdul-Rahman Ibrahim ibn Sori, a prince in his homeland whose plight drew wide attention. As one newspaper account noted, he had read the Bible and admired its precepts, but added, “His principal objections are that Christians do not follow them.”

Among the enslaved Muslims in North Carolina was a religious teacher named Omar ibn Said. Recaptured in 1810 after running away from a cruel master he called a kafir (an infidel), he became known for inscribing the walls of his jail cell with Arabic script. He wrote an account of his life in 1831, describing how in freedom he had loved to read the Quran, but in slavery his owners had converted him to Christianity.

The story of Islam in early America is not merely one of isolated individuals. An estimated 20 percent of enslaved Africans were Muslims, and many sought to recreate the communities they had known. In Georgia, which has joined more than a dozen states in the political theater of debating a restriction on judges’ consulting Shariah, Muslims on a secluded plantation are known to have lived under the guidance of a religious leader who wrote a manuscript on Islamic law so that traditional knowledge might survive.