Edward Wilmot Blyden (3 August 1832 – 7 February 1912), considered as the Father of Pan-Africanism, was an educator, writer, diplomat, and politician primarily in Liberia. It is in that context that he is listed here as a person, but not as a movement. Born in the West Indies, Blyden was brought to the United States by a prominent White Presbyterian minister who wanted Blyden, because of his exceptional intellect, to study to become a minister. Blyden’s freedom was constantly jeopardized by slave catchers who attempted to kidnap him and force him into bondage. He joined with other free black immigrants from the United States and migrated to the West African country of Liberia, established by the American Colonization Society in 1822 for free Blacks. He taught for five years in the British West African colony of Sierra Leone in the early 20th century. His writings on Pan-Africanism were influential in both colonies. Sierra Leone and Liberia were founded during the slavery years for the resettlement of free blacks from Great Britain and the United States.
His major work, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race (1887), promoted the idea that Islam was more unifying and fulfilling religion for Africans than Christianity. He argued that the latter was introduced to and forced upon enslaved Blacks by European colonizers. He believed it had a demoralizing effect, although he continued to be a Christian and died as Christian. However, he thought Islam was more authentically African, as it had been brought to sub-Saharan areas by people from North Africa.
Edward Wilmot Blyden was one of the first non-Muslim academics to delineate the much greater compatibility of Islam and African culture than Christianity and African Culture. He decried the insistence of Christian missionaries that Africans adopt Western cultural expressions like styles of dress and worship rituals while renouncing African culture as primitive. Blyden praised the emphasis that Islam places on education and learning. Blyden’s praise of Islam and knowledge of Islam was so great, that many Christian theologians believed that Blyden had secretly embraced Islam. Blyden was one of the foremost proponents of Islam and Pan-Africanism on the African continent.
Based on his accomplishments as an ordained Presbyterian minister, noted religious scholar, and pre-eminent architect of doctrine of Pan-Africanism, it is difficult to determine personal failures of Blyden.
Blyden’s doctrine about the compatibility of Islam and African culture is instructive to engage more Muslims of African descent. Similar commonalities between the way Islam does not demand the adoption of Arabic or Desi culture when African Americans embrace Islam were relevant when Blyden made his observations about Islam and African culture.