History of Arab Immigration

  • Early Arab immigrants to the United States included the Wahab Family of Ocracoke Island, Hadj Philip Tedro (or Hi Jolly), and Ahmad Bin Na’man. From the 1880s to the mid-20th Century, many Arabs came to the US to escape hardships at home. Many of these were Christians from Greater Syria. Stories from some of these families about their journey to the US and to becoming residents of North Carolina are told in the recent documentary: Cedars in the Pines: The Lebanese in North Carolina. More recent Arab immigrants have tended to be highly educated, with a keen interest in political activism and civil rights. (Read more about these immigrants on the History of Arab Immigration page.)


Hadj Philip Tedro or Hi Jolly, and the Camel Driver Experiment: One of the early immigrants, Hadj Philip Tedro was a Lebanese Christian hired to work on the Camel Driver Experiment, a project attempting to establish transportation routes cross the desert between Texas and California to support the population moving West during the Gold Rush.



History of Muslim Immigration

  • Before groups of Arabs began immigrating to the United States in the nineteenth century, we know of earlier Muslims who landed in this country. The earliest of these Muslims to come to America are associated with possible pre-Columbian expeditions as early as the 10th century.


Estevanico, or Stephen the Moor: One of a number of Muslim sailors and translators who traveled with Columbus in the late 15th century.

For more information on these early Muslims, see Michael Gomez, Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas (Cambridge University Press, 2005).


  • Muslims also came to the United States as slaves during the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Job Ben Solomon, Adbul Rahman Ibrahima Sori (1762-1829), Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq, Salih Bilali, and Bilali Mohamed were among those who arrived in America by this route. (Read more about these individuals on the History of Muslim Immigration page.)

Omar ibn Sayyid: Undoubtably one of the most famous early Muslims in the United States, he lived between 1770-1864, and left behind at least 14 Arabic manuscripts, including an autobiography.

For more information on Muslim slaves, see Allan Austi, African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles (Routledge, 1997) and Sylviane Diouf, Servants of Allah: Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (NYU Press, 1998).