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The Documentary “Prince Among Slaves”: Muslims In America

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The film, “Prince Among Slaves” written and produced by Andrea Kalin, retells the dramatic life story of a stoic leader named Abdul Rahman. The film begins with Abdul Rahman, a 26-year-old Muslim prince, leading a military campaign for his father who ruled over the West African kingdom Futa Jallon. During the return from the successful military campaign, the prince and his men were ambushed, forcefully bonded, and sold into slavery.

This well-crafted documentary provides historic and scholastic commentary about the life as a slave through Abdul Rahman’s journey into slavery. Viewing the nature of the slave trade from Abdul Rahman’s perspective provides insight into the daily hardships experienced by slaves. In this paper, I will be reflecting on and drawing parallels between these insights provided in the film to Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”, Sylviane Diouf’s “Servants of Allah”, and more.

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The documentary “Prince Among Slaves” illustrates how the 17th and 18th century African slave trade dehumanized large quantities of men by forcing them into slavery, removing them their families and completely stripping them of their identity.

The degradation of Africans that occurred during this time reminds me of how politicians and the media denounce Muslims and Islam as being a legitimate enemy of the state. To put this into perspective, “Trump was asked about establishing a possible database of Muslims and Muslims carrying special identification cards in the United States, and his response was: “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely. …. They must be”. This response parallels Hitler’s actions towards the Jewish community by enforcing them to be identified as “jude. Without spending too much time, quickly reflect on the demonizing campaigns against the Jewish during World War 2. Muslims today are marginalized as a collective similar to how the Africans were viewed as a commodity and how the Jewish were viewed as an enemy of the state of Germany. What shocks me, however, is that the current islamophobic trend is nothing new, rather it is a historical overtone of the feelings expressed from the past and an excerpt from the “Servants of Allah” demonstrates this. Diouf mentions that “scattered across every region of the Americas, the Muslims entered a hostile world — a world that enslaved free Muslim men and women and that a white Christian world be determined to wipe out any trace of “paganism or “Mohammadanism” in the newly arrived Africans”. Even though Muslims were often more educated, literate and knowledgeable of cultural differences when compared to the Europeans and Americans, they were still treated as second class citizens. I believe when people emotionally dehumanize a certain group of people with ethnic or religious differences out of fear, greed or power, the actions taken by that society are disturbing and are historically proven to be so. Inequality and injustices run rampant in our country’s history but rather than fading away, these problems continue to be prevalent in America’s recent history.

Less than a century ago, the civil rights movement launched an attack against the unconstitutional treatment of African Americans and less than thirty years ago, African Americans were discriminated against by our law enforcement and legal systems which an established author and civil rights activist named Michelle Alexander blames on Reagan’s war on drugs. I’m shedding light on these two instances in our country’s history because I drew a lot of parallels between the hardships and instances of discrimination faced by Abdul Rahman and the African American prisoners affected by Reagan’s war on drugs. The narrator from “Prince Among Slaves” explained that the second hardship after bondage is that a slave endures being treated as cattle. Slave owners inspect them for disease and infections to then be branded, forced to learn English, and granted a lifetime sentence of physical labor. Inmates too are stripped and shamed, padded down contraband to be officially owned by the prison wardens. Furthermore, inmates can also be “seasoned” to be submissive through physical abuse similar to the slaves in documentary. Once branded with a colored jumpsuit and a numerical identification number, prisoners will be forever haunted by the discriminatory American legal system.

Michelle Alexender, author of the New Jim Crow writes that once a prisoner pleads guilty to a crime they may or may not have committed they become second class citizens to be discriminated against when seeking opportunities for employment, housing, government help. This discriminatory legal system promotes a cyclical caste system of second-class citizens preventing first time offenders from moving forward with life enabling them to become repeat offenders and permanent residents of the caste (Alexander). I find this strongly parallels the bondage system found in historical slave trades; once inmate and slave-captive are oppressed by and held against their will by an authoritative figure, they’re forced to accept their new identity and way of life as second-class citizens.

The documentary “Prince Among Slaves” written and produced by Andrea Kalin provides an insightful story into the life of slave from the perspective of a Muslim prince from West Africa. Upon further analysis of this film and Diouf’s “Servants of Allah”, I reflected upon the dehumanizing behavior required to objectify a human individual and found that the behavior exhibited by imperialistic European’s rival today’s politicians’ attitudes towards Muslims. Despite the three century difference, both behaviors are enabled by the glorification and closemindedness of an ideology: race in justifying slavery and religion in publicly demonizing a faith and its followers. What I found interesting was that the abhorrent behavior of imperialist Europeans meets at the cross-section between slavery and anti-Muslim sentiment during and before the African American Slave Trade which was unbeknownst to me before taking this class and reading “Servants of Allah”. Upon further reflection I also drew parallels between how the lifestyle of becoming a prison inmate compare to that of a slave like Abdul Rahman where both are subjected to second class citizen status in a permanent caste system. Reagan enacted the war on drugs which enabled the discriminatory Jim Crow laws to resurface, and after September 11th, America’s leadership cast out a war on terror extending very similar discriminatory laws targeting Muslims today. America is young and rich with history but the unfortunate truth is that the greatness of this country is the result of the continuous application of power, fear to discriminate against a common enemy.

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