By Nisa Islam Muhammad -
Photos by Karim Ali -
WASHINGTON, DC—In 1752 during the height of the slave trade, Yarrow Mamout, a 16-year-old Muslim was captured in Guinea and shipped to Annapolis, Md. where he was bought by the Beall family who moved him to DC. After 44 years as a slave, he was freed and bought a home in Georgetown at 3324 Dent Place.
He is reportedly buried in his home facing Mecca, in the same corner where he prayed. This site is now the focus of an archaeological dig by the DC Historic Preservation Office (DCHPO). August 14, Yarrow Mamout was recognized during a ceremonial funeral prayer and program with The Nation’s Mosque Masjid Muhammad and the DCHPO.
“We have a connection with Bro. Yarrow. We purchased a building from his slave master’s family. We’re going to tear that building down and rebuild to dedicate it to Yarrow,” said Masjid Muhammad’s Imam Talib Shareef.
“He would say his prayers on this property even before Islam was established in America. We are all a composition of who came before us. Together we can reflect the best in each other. He was a major contributor to society. He saved money, invested and then was able to help others with his money.”
Yarrow Mamout was extraordinary for his time. He could read and write in Arabic as well as write his name in English. After slavery he became an entrepreneur, homeowner and financier who owned stock in the Columbia Bank of Georgetown. A portrait of him hangs in the Peabody Room of the Georgetown Library.
Amir Muhammad, curator at the American Islamic Heritage Museum, has been trying for years to make the legacy of Yarrow Mamout known.
“This is humbling,” he told The Muslim Journal. “Allah says out of darkness comes light and through time and patience surely man gets what he strives for. I remember 10 years ago walking around here. I remember there was a Muslim who owned this house who refused to even allow anyone to look at it or investigate it.”
“If it wasn’t for Jim Johnson (author of From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family) last year pushing the city to start and explore this, that’s when it started. With time and perseverance, the story gets told.”
The program included words and attendance from Rev. Donald Isaacs, Director of the DC Office of Religious Affairs, Dr. Ruth Trocolli, archeologist with the 2015 Yarrow Mamout Archeological Project, Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din from the National Museum of African American History, Howard University’s Dr. Sulyman Nyang and Abdul Akbar Muhammad, International Representative of the Nation of Islam. The program was moderated by Muhammad Fraser Abdur Rahim, Ph.d student and part of the archeology project.
Before the traditional Janazah prayer service of the Muslims, Imam Papa Mboup gave a special supplication prayer. He told The Muslim Journal, “We prayed for him but first we prayed for the whole community. May Allah shower His blessings upon him, in His greatness grant him paradise and remove his sins, have mercy on him. May Allah remove all of our obstacles and may we like him die in Islam.”
Prior to giving instructions for the funeral (Janazah) prayer, Imam Shareef, who led the prayer told the crowd, "The ship that brought Yarrow to America in 1752 was called Elijah, and it was the community of Elijah Muhammad that made Islam popular and laid the foundation for the establishment of Al-Islam as an openly practiced way of life in America. It was also his community that established the first Mosque in the Nation's Capital and in America built by descendants of those enslaved."
Former South African Ambassador, Scholar in Residence at Georgetown University Ebrahim Rasool and founder of the World for All Foundation spoke about the celebration of slave ancestry that takes place in his homeland.
He told The Muslim Journal, “You can only be proud of what you have embraced. If you have not embraced your ancestors, if you have not embraced the way you came to America, if you have not embraced the hardships, the humiliation, the degradation and the genocide that was done to your ancestors, you will never be comfortable in your own skin. You will always feel like you’re an imposter in history.”
“In South Africa we not only embrace but we give active thanks to our slave ancestors because they kept the lineage alive, they’ve kept our faith alive, they’ve kept our identity alive and the fragments of memory that they’ve kept forward have kept us believing and kept us hopeful. Despite the best efforts by colonialism, by segregation and by slavery and by apartheid in South Africa transmitted from one generation to the other a set of values that made us an ally in the defeat of apartheid.”
Nihad Awad, head of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) was moved by the ceremony. He told The Muslim Journal, “It was very inspiring for me as a Muslim who defends civil rights for American Muslims. Its very important for us to look at the origins of Islam in America. This brother, may God bless his legacy and bless his soul has contributed so much not only to the making of Islam in America, but to the making of America itself and citizenship. We’re so blessed to be 200 years later on the grounds where his house stood, to celebrate his legacy, his sincerity, his decision and determination to uphold his faith.”
Read more in our print edition.