Omar Ibn Said: Unique Slave Narrative

Omar Ibn Said was a wealthy young Muslim in the 19th century. Living in West Africa, he dedicated himself to being an Islamic scholar. One day, he was plucked from his routine and transported halfway across the world. Said was sold into slavery in Charleston, South Carolina.

His first owner was cruel, and after an escape attempt, Said was imprisoned in North Carolina. Contrary to popular belief, slaves were not uniformly illiterate. Said carved Arabicscript on the only surface available—the cell’s walls. It was also his autobiography, which ensured his personal story would survive.

The Owen family purchased Said, and he lived with them until he died. He experienced a relatively good life, during which he produced the 15 pages that described his abduction and enslavement.

Today, the document is invaluable as a rare story sourced directly from the victim. (As it was penned in Arabic, his owners could not edit it.) It remains the only known Arabic slave narrative created in the United States. In 2019, the Library of Congress digitized Said’s pages to bring them to a wider audience.[7]

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