Muslim Roots Of The Blues

Here is an excerpt from a San Francisco Chronicle article suggesting that the American Blues style of popular music may actually have Muslim slave origins.

BAILEY LIVES ON Georgia's Sapelo Island, where a small community of blacks can trace their ancestry to Bilali Mohammed, a Muslim slave who was born and raised in what is now the country of Guinea. Visitors to Sapelo Island are always struck by the fact that churches there face east. In fact, as a child, Bailey learned to say her prayers facing east—the same direction that her great-great-great-great-grandfather faced when he prayed toward Mecca.

Bilali was an educated man. He spoke and wrote Arabic, carried a Qur'an and a prayer rug, and wore a fez that likely signified his religious devotion. (Bilali had been trained in Africa to be a Muslim leader; on Sapelo Island, he was appointed by his slave master to be an overseer of other slaves). Although Bilali's descendents adopted Christianity, they incorporated Muslim traditions that are still evident today.

The name Bailey, in fact, is a reworking of the name Bilali, which became a popular Muslim name in Africa because one of Islam's first converts—and the religion's first muezzin—was a former Abyssinian slave named Bilal. (Muezzins are those who recite the call to prayer from the minarets of mosques. ) One historian believes that abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who changed his name from Frederick Bailey, may have had Muslim roots.

"History changes things," says Bailey, 59, who chronicled the history of Sapelo Island in her memoir, "God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man."

"Things become something different from what they started out as."

The tiny community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island in Georgia is one of the earliest freed slave settlements, and it is still home to descendants of the original owners. That may change though, as the Gullah-Geechee people in the Hog Hammock community are being forced to sell because of soaring property taxes. The owners aren’t giving up without a fight, though, and are making their story known.

Hog Hammock has a population of less than 50, and according to resident Cornelia Bailey, the people there receive no county services. This makes it difficult for the home and business owners in the community to understand why their property appraisals (and tax bills) are soaring. The community has no school, no police station and only one paved road to maintain.

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