Dr. A. Zahoor
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Sequoyah, the Cherokee Native-American leader of the nineteenth century, is best known for inventing Cherokee Syllabary in 1821. He was born near Fort Loudoun, in the village of Tuskegee on the Tennessee river in 1776, and was given the name ‘Sikwoya’. His mother moved to Willstown, Alabama when he was a small boy. Sequoyah served under Andrew Jackson in the battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1812, and fought with Cherokee regiment against the Creek Redsticks during 1813-14. Four years later he was disappointed with a treaty with the U.S. government that took away a large part of the Cherokee (Shar-kee) lands. As a consequence of the treaty of 1816, he migrated with others to Cherokee country of the Skin Bayou region of Arkansas (Ar Kan Sah). [Arkansas officially became part of the U.S. in 1836.]

Historians have suggested that the ancient Cherokee migrated northward from Mexico to the eastern edge of the Great Plains in the region of the Great Lakes. Later, they retreated slowly southward after their defeat by the Delaware and Iroquois Native Americans. A less popular opinion suggests their origin from the basins of the Orinoco and amazon rivers in South America. There were ten million Native Americans in the Americas at the dawn of sixteenth century. Only one million of them survived at the beginning of nineteenth century. The Cherokee people have been known by a dozen names and their language is known to be an aberrant form of the Iroquoian linguistic family. They occupied three distinct geographical regions and spoke three distinct dialects known as Eastern, Middle and Western. The ancient Cherokee identified themselves as Ani'Yun'-wiya, meaning "real or principal people."   Muslim Legacy in Early Americas - W. Africans, Moors and Amerindians.

During the eighteenth century, the Cherokee people were primarily settled in more than forty thousand square miles area comprising the higher regions of the Southeast, the Appalachian (Apa-la-che) mountain ranges in the southwest Virginia, the western North and South Carolina, eastern Tennessee (Tenasuh), northern Georgia, and northeastern Alabama (Allah bamya). This is the same region where a group known as 'Melungeons' had settled. By 1840 almost all eastern Native American tribes were forced to migrate to their territories west of the Mississippi.

Cherokee oral traditions indicate that the Cherokee people had some form of written language, but its use progressively decayed in the period between sixteenth and eighteenth century due to their changing fortunes, subsequent migration to the mountains in the southeast, and continued isolation of their people in various parts of the Americas. By the mid-eighteenth century, most Cherokee had lost all but the oral and phonetic parts of the language.

Recognizing rapidly deteriorating communicative ability of Cherokee Americans and increasing influence of non-native languages among them, Sequoyah became motivated to rescue the Cherokee language then in use. Sequoyah himself did not know how to read or write English or any other language. He began his work in 1809. In the early stages, Sequoyah realized that the Cherokee’s language was made up of particular clusters of sounds and certain combinations of vowels and consonants. He spent several years trying to represent old Cherokee writings in available print symbols. Historians relate that Sequoyah, fascinated by printed and written words in the English language, decided to adopt Roman and Greek symbols. However, it appears that he also used some Arabic alphabets, symbols, and its system of writing. It took a dedicated effort of twelve years, during which he was ridiculed by his people for his preoccupation with the syllabary, and was once declared crazy for neglecting to harvest the corn crop. In 1821, Sequoyah completed the Cherokee Syllabary of 85 symbols that represented almost all the sounds then in use in Cherokee language.

Sequoyah presented his syllabary in a tabular format (on a Tablet) of thirteen rows and six columns. It consists of six vowels, seventy eight symbols representing a combination of consonant and vowel, and an "s" sound. There are no symbols for English letters B, F, J, P, R, T, and X. The six vowels have parallels to those in Arabic language. When read from left to right, each row represented an alphabet with its certain combinations of vowels and consonants, and associated sounds. In fact his thirteen rows represented eighteen alphabets. Sequoyah's system is similar to that used in teaching Arabic language and other Muslim languages which were strongly influenced by universal use of Arabic language among Muslims ever since the seventh century. Sequoyah’s syllabary and its similarities with Arabic alphabets including phonetics is shown below. The Arabic equivalent is shown (not all) to the right of Sequoyah’s symbol and its pronunciation. In the first column where some entries contain more than one symbol, the corresponding Arabic alphabet is shown below that symbol. When compared with their Arabic counterpart, some of Sequoyah’s symbols appear to be either inverted, rotated or both. This may be due to his desire to select his symbols from available printed material....

As the leader of Western Cherokee, Sequoyah was a peace-loving man who strived to make his people literate, and made substantial effort to unite them. He retained his customary turban and long clothing, typical of Muslims, while on official mission to Washington, D.C. for treaty negotiations. He was the subject of lectures by Samuel Lorenzo Knapp. His famous portrait was done in 1828 by Charles Bird King in Washington, D.C. Suquoyah was not alone in wearing Muslim dress. More than a dozen Native-American leaders of other tribes, including Chippewa, Creek, Iowa, Kansas, Miami, Potawatomi, Sauk & Fox, Seminole, Shawnee, Sioux, Winnebago, and Yuchi, wore the Muslim head dress. Some of them wore distinctly Arab head dress. Their famous portraits published between 1835 and 1870 confirm this fact.

In the summer of 1842, Sequoyah left his Oklahoma home for Mexico with eight of his trusted friends with the intention of teaching his syllabary to his fellow Native Americans. His travel route involved hostile territories. [Texas was recently taken by the U.S. from Mexico. Texas joined the U.S. in 1845. Territories of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California, where Native Americans lived, were then part of Mexico but lacking military defense.] Sequoyah faced several unfortunate events on the way and died in 1843 near San Fernando, Tamaulipas in Mexico. His grave has never been located. Sequoyah lived during the most difficult period of the Native-American history. About two decades later, the last Cherokee Native-American chief by the name Ramadhan Ibn Wati (popularly known as Stand Watie [1806-71]; there is no R in Cherokee Syllabary), who served as a Confederate brigadier general, surrendered his command to the United States on June 23, 1865. His son Saladin Watie served on Southern Cherokee delegation to Washington, D.C. to sign a new treaty with the United States at the end of Civil War. He died mysteriously at the age of twenty-one. (Saladin is an anglicized name for Salahuddin, the famous Muslim Sultan who liberated Jerusalem from the crusaders in 1187).

The towering redwood trees of northern California were named after Sequoyah, and his statue is displayed by the state of Oklahoma in the Statuary Hall of the national Capitol.

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Allah: Allah is the proper name in Arabic for The One and Only God, The Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It is used by the Arab Christians and Jews for the God (Eloh-im in Hebrew; 'Allaha' in Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus). The word Allah (SWT) does not have a plural or gender. Allah does not have any associate or partner, and He does not beget nor was He begotten. SWT is an abbreviation of Arabic words that mean 'Glory Be To Him.'


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