In South Carolina there were active Islamic Centers throughout the state by the start of the twenty-first century, with those in Columbia, York, and Greenville among the largest. In 2000 there were more than five thousand Muslims in the state, and the number continued to grow. Numerous converts to the faith came from within the population of the state’s Department of Corrections.
Islamic roots in South Carolina date to the time of slavery, although there are no direct lines in religious practice from then. About twenty percent of the African slaves were from the Senegal-Gambia region, an area pervaded by Islam. Some of the most desirable slaves were Muslim (followers of Islam), some of whom retained their faith even after being taken to Carolina. Lowcountry planters substituted rations of beef for pork for Muslim slaves. Observations of men facing east to pray five times a day were noted by contemporaries.
Muslims maintain the five Pillars of Islam and surrender to Allah. A Muslim believer recognizes that there is no god but Allah, with Muhammad as his messenger. Muslims pray five times a day in the direction of Mecca, give alms to the less fortunate, and make pilgrimages to Mecca at least once in their lifetimes. Muslims also fast, especially during the month of Ramadan.
Arguments over the nature of the Qur’an, and the legitimate line of succession after Muhammad’s death, led in part to a split between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Unlike the majority, Shi’ites maintained that the first true caliph and imam, or divinely appointed leader, was Ali, cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad. By contrast, Sunnis accepted leadership and authority from outside the family. Most practitioners in South Carolina are Sunni. Sunna means “tradition” and refers to distinctive extra-Qur’anic verbal and practical expressions of Islam that emerged in the seventh and eighth centuries, gaining general acceptance throughout non-Shi’ite Islam.
In the 1960s American perceptions of Islam were altered by the growth of an African American version of the tradition. Known as the Nation of Islam, this movement was in large measure the product of the black experience in America and combined notions of black separatism and supremacy with certain Islamic teachings. Malcolm X became a significant leader in the movement. When he and other leaders discovered orthodox Islam, much of the black Islamic movement moved into greater conformity with orthodox Islam.
Since the 1965 revision of immigration laws, increased numbers of Muslims from the Sunni and Shi’ite lands of Africa and the Middle East have come to America. Although some white Americans have converted through intermarriage, immigration has given Islam a significant and enduring presence in North America. In the 1990s Muslims in America numbered five million, and more than six hundred mosques and centers were established across the United States.
In South Carolina there were active Islamic Centers throughout the state by the start of the twenty-first century, with those in Columbia, York, and Greenville among the largest. In 2000 there were more than five thousand Muslims in the state, and the number continued to grow. Numerous converts to the faith came from within the population of the state’s Department of Corrections. One of twenty inmates practices Islam. Several of the state’s mosques provide education to preschool- and elementary-school-age children. Education classes for adults and children orient believers to the essentials of Islam, how to pray properly, the history of Islam, and how to read the Qur’an in Arabic. Social implications of the faith are also discussed. There is a strong tendency to reconnect modern believers with the African roots of the early slaves in order to commemorate the sacrifices and contributions of Muslims in the state.
Joyner, Charles W. Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.
Kerr, Robert McNab, IV. “Island in the United States: A Case Study of Muslim Space in South Carolina.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1998.
Pluralism Project of the Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University. http://www.pluralism.org/affiliates/stulting/index.php.