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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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by Wiley J. Williams, 2006

See Also: Overview of Religion in NC

Mosque. Image courtesy of Library of Congress. Islam is a small but growing religion in North Carolina. Although controversial because a small percentage of its adherents have engaged in deadly terrorist activities in the United States and around the world, it generally differs little from Christianity and other faiths in relation to North Carolina society. In the antebellum period, a few Muslim slaves from Africa won special privileges from their masters. Some of them were converted to Christianity, as, for instance, Umar ibn Said, who joined the First Presbyterian Church of Fayetteville in 1820. Umar apparently remained a "closet" Muslim, faithful to Allah behind a veneer of Christian homilies and activities. To the end of his life, his writings were as likely to include Muslim prayers and verses from the Koran as Christian sentiments.

Before the influx of Asian, Middle Eastern, and African Muslims in the latter half of the twentieth century, a small number of Islamic black nationalist groups-including several incarnations of the Nation of Islam-gathered a following in North Carolina. These groups experienced the greatest growth and influence in the 1950s and 1960s, although high-profile leaders such as Louis Farrakhan continued to make news in the early 2000s.

Beginning in the 1970s, many Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia arrived in North Carolina (and elsewhere in the United States) to further their education, work in high-tech centers, or improve their quality of life. Many became U.S. citizens and formed their own organizations, such as the Muslim Student Associations at Duke University, East Carolina University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. These organizations are affiliated with the Muslim Student Association of the United States and Canada.

Deadly Islamic terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City in February 1993, and, more significantly, on 11 Sept. 2001 placed the Muslim population in North Carolina and throughout the United States in a precarious position. Already a small minority within a predominately Christian nation, many Muslims were forced to convince their fellow Americans that only a tiny fraction of Islamic believers advocated violence and terrorism. After the 11 September attacks, a mosque in Raleigh was desecrated and a Muslim school was forced to close. Other threats to Muslim individuals, organizations, and businesses occurred across the state. Meanwhile, U.S.-based Muslim groups, including the Muslim American Society Imans Consultative Body of North Carolina, denounced terrorism and spread the message that they were as saddened and outraged by the attacks as the rest of the nation. In an effort to open debate about the issue, in May 2002 UNC-Chapel Hill announced its choice of Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations as the mandatory summer reading for incoming freshmen that year. While many considered the selection timely and wise, others viewed it as overtly contentious and inappropriate considering recent events.

In the early 2000s Muslims worshipped in a number of mosques in North Carolina, primarily in the larger Piedmont cities. About half of the state's estimated 50,000 Muslims lived in the Charlotte (7,000), Winston-Salem/Greensboro/High Point (12,000), and Raleigh/Durham (6,000) areas. In addition to mosques, a few Islamic schools have been established in the state.

Image Credit:

Mosque,SOUTHWEST FRONT - Mosque, 2551 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia, DC  Image courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA available from (accessed June 4, 2012).




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