The Bilali Muhammad Document
is a handwritten,
Arabic manuscript on West African Islamic Law. It was written by
in the nineteenth
century. The document is currently housed in the
library at the University of Georgia.
Mohammed was a slave from Sapelo Island, Georgia. Born in Timbo, Guinea around 1770, he was
enslaved as a teenager and was held as a slave for ten years in the
Caicos plantation of Dr. Bell, a Loyalist refugee from the
Revolutionary War, before he arrived in Georgia in 1802.
Georgia he became the head driver on Thomas Spalding's Sapelo
Island based plantation. Upon Bilali's death in 1857, it was
discovered that he had kept a thirteen-page Arabic document. At
first, this was thought to have been his diary, but closer
inspection revealed that the manuscript was a transcription of a
Muslim legal treatise and part of West Africa's Muslim
The first partial translation of the document was undertaken in
1939 in the Journal of
by Dr. Joseph
. In recent years it has been analyzed by Dr. Ronald Judy
, Dr. Joseph Progler 
, Dr. Allan
and Muhammed al-Ahari
A research society named the Bilali Muhammed Historical Research
Society was established in Chicago in 1987 and published a
one-issue journal Meditations from the Bilali Muhammad
in 1988 in Charleston, South Carolina. The research
institute has since been renamed the Muslim American Cultural
Heritage Institute and will have a new board and be incorporated as
a 503c corporation in Chicago in 2009.
The Bilali Muhammad Document
is also known as the Ben
or Ben Ali Journal
. On close analysis, the
text proves to be a brief statement of Islamic beliefs and the
rules for ablution, morning prayer, and the calls to prayer. It
could, justifiably, be called the "Mother Text" of American Islamic
Literature. A comprehensive commentary with citations from
traditional Islamic texts and American Islamic texts with related
subject areas is under preparation by Muhammed al-Ahari
, national secretary of
the Noble Order of Moorish Sufis and long-time researcher on
American Islamic History and Literature. The concept of a Matn
(source text) with several extended commentaries
is a traditional genre in Islamic literature. The commentaries may
be linguistic, spiritual, and even have the function of relating
the text to similar works. Further research on Bilali's life and
his influence upon both American Islamic Literature and to the
dialect of English needs to be carried
out in order to present a complete picture of this unique American
Errors in Prior Research on Bilali Muhammad
Several reviewers of the manuscript have portrayed it as the
scribblings of an old man copying from memory lessons of childhood.
However, actual translations of the text have shown it to be an
original composition that drew from the Risalah
of Abi Zayd of al-Qayrawan as its
inspiration. Past writers, including Reverend Dwight York
(aka Imam Isa) who claimed he was
his great-grandfather, have conflated Bilali Muhammad (aka Ben Ali,
BuAllah, Bilali Smith, and Mahomet Bilali) with individuals with
similar names. He is not the same person as Yusuf Benenhaly
, the Wahab brothers of Ocracoke Island, or Old York whose son traveled with Lewis and Clark.
- Bilali Muhammad: Muslim Juriprudist in Antebellum Georgia,
translated by Muhammad Abdullah al-Ahari, ISBN 0-415-91270-9.
- Muhammed al-Ahari (2006). Five Classic Muslim Slave Narratives.
Magribine Press, Chicago.
- Greenberg, Joseph H. "The Decipherment of the 'Ben-Ali Diary,'"
Journal of Negro. History, vol. 25, no.3 (July 1940): 372-375.
- Ronald AT Judy, (Dis)forming the American Canon: African–Arabic
Slave Narratives and the Vernacular (Disforming the American Canon
- Joseph Progler, “Ben Ali and His Diary: Encountering an African
Muslim in Antebellum America,” Journal of Arab and Muslim
Perspectives (in press for Fall 2004). 
- Joseph Progler, “Reading Early American Islamica: An
Interpretive Translation of the Ben Ali Diary,” Tawhid:Journal of
Islamic Thought and Culture (vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 5-43, Autumn 2000)
- The Wahab family is actually a variant spelling of Walkup or
Wauchope, from Scotland.