Muslim Milestones in America
30 Firsts Since 1788
BEFORE THE 19TH CENTURY, MOST MUSLIMS CAME TO the New World as enslaved Africans and were forced to abandon their faith upon their arrival on plantations. There are records that show people with Arabic names fighting on the American side of the Revolution, and the prospect that a Muslim could become president was one reason cited in 1788 for opposition to Article VI of the Constitution, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required” of any elected official in the U.S. The Founding Fathers kept that in. Some other key moments:
Morocco, a Muslim theocracy, is among the first foreign nations to recognize the independence of the United States.
President Thomas Jefferson hosts a Ramadan celebration at the White House while welcoming a Tunisian envoy.
Wallace Fard Muhammad founds the Nation of Islam, a Muslim sect for Black Americans.
The Mother Mosque of America, the oldest continuously operating purpose-built mosque in the U.S., opens in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Dwight Eisenhower is the first sitting president to visit an American mosque when he attended the dedication ceremony for the Islamic Center in Washington D.C.
Omar Sharif is the first Muslim actor nominated for an Academy Award, for his supporting performance in Lawrence of Arabia. (He lost to Ed Begley of Sweet Bird of Youth.)
Muhammad Ali, under the mentorship of Malcolm X, announces his conversion to Islam.
President Lyndon Johnson signs the Immigration and Nationality Act, which significantly expanded the ability of people from Muslim-majority nations to emigrate to the U.S.
Muhammad Ali refuses to be inducted into the U.S. Army, citing religious objections, and is stripped of his heavyweight title.
Charles Bilal is elected mayor of Kountze, Texas, a town of about 2,000 residents, becoming the first Muslim elected to run an American municipality.
First Lady Hillary Clinton hosts the first iftar, the dinner to begin Ramadan. Bush and Obama carried on the tradition; Trump skipped 2017, but resumed in 2018 and 2019.
SEP 11, 2001
Nineteen members of the Islamic terrorist group Al-qaeda crash four planes in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon.
SEP 17, 2001
President George W. Bush visits the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. to urge Americans not to blame all Muslims for the 9/11 attacks.
The U.S. invades Iraq and overthrows Saddam Hussein on grounds, later debunked, that he had an illicit chemical weapons factory and connections to Al-qaeda.
The Islamic Center of America, at 120,000 square feet the largest mosque in North America, opens in Dearborn, Michigan.
Keith Ellison of Minnesota is sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran as the first Muslim member of Congress.
Zaytuna College, the first accredited Muslim liberal arts college in the U.S., opens in Berkeley, California.
The Learning Channel airs All-american Muslim, a reality show centered around Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan.
Farhan Zaidi is hired as the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first Muslim in that role in any American sports franchise.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump calls for a “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”