Founded in the early 1800s, one of the first communities of African Muslims in the United States was located on Sapelo Island, off the coast of Georgia, where enslaved African Muslims struggled to hold onto their Islamic roots amidst the dehumanizing institution of slavery. Led by Muhammadu Bilali–a Muslim cleric and skilled agriculturist, the community at Sapelo preserved their Islamic heritage through surnames like Bailey, an Anglicized version of the name “Bilali”, common among the descendants of Sapelo’s Muslims, who often recall the religious piety of their ancestors. Additionally, churches facing east toward Mecca, and the existence of a handwritten Arabic manuscript on Islamic law, authored by Muhammad Bilali himself, are testimony to the persistence of Sapelo’s Islamic heritage. Sapelo, then, was historically a place whose people were at once African, American, and Muslim.
Our use of the term “square” is in reference to the broad notion of a town square as a communal place of gathering, marketplace, and cultural hub for African-descended people. Like these historic sites, “Sapelo Square: An Online Resource for Black Muslims in the United States,” seeks to be a gathering space in the long tradition of Islam in Black America, and an online presence that reflects the vitality of Black Muslim Life.