Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (November 9, 1846, Hudson, New York – October 1, 1916, Rutherford, New Jersey) was an American writer, publisher, and the United States Ambassador to the Philippines.
1881 he started a search for his true faith by reading in books from a well stocked library of over 13,000 volumes that he had access to. He started his study with Buddhism and finding it lacking, he began to study Islam. In 1888, he formally declared himself to be a Muslim.
At that time he had yet to meet a Muslim but was put in contact with several Muslims in India by a local Parsi businessman. A newspaper publisher, Budruddin Abdulla Kur of Bombay, published several of Webb’s letters in his paper. A local businessman, Hajee Abdulla Arab, saw these letters and went to Manila to see Webb.
After the visit, Webb began plans to tour India and then return to the U.S. to propagate Islam. Webb’s wife, Ella G. Webb, and their three children had also accepted Islam. Hajee Abdulla returned to India and raised funds for Webb’s tour. Webb visited Poona, Bombay, Calcutta, Hyderabad, and Madras and gave speeches in each town.
All are published at least once separately and some are published in collection. His Islam in America and all later works were basically derived from rewrites of these successful speeches.
He resigned his post in 1892 and toured India then returned to the U.S. His family stayed in San Francisco until he sent for them.
Settling in New York, he established the Oriental Publishing Company at 1122 Upper Broadway. This company published his writings (including his magnum opus- Islam in America), such as:
Islam in America – contained 70 pages divided into eight chapters namely:
I) Why I Became a Muslim
II) An Outline of Islamic Faith
III) The Five Pillars of Practice
IV) Islam in Its Philosophic Aspect
V) Polygamy and the Purdah
VI) Popular Errors Refuted
VII) The Muslim Defensive Wars
VIII) The American Islamic Propaganda
Along with this venture he started the organ of the American Muslim Propagation Movement called Moslem World. The first issue appeared May 12, 1893, and was dedicated to The Interests of the American Islamic Propaganda and “[t]o spread the light of Islam in America”. It lasted for seven monthly issues (May to November 1893).
In December 1893, John A. Lant and Emin L. Nabakoff broke from Webb’s movement and formed the First Society for the Study of Islam and set up shop in Union Square.
Webb was the main representative for Islam at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. On September 20th and 21st, 1893, he gave two speeches. His speeches were entitled: The Influence of Islam Upon Social Conditions and The Spirit of Islam and were published in the large two volume proceedings of the Parliament called The First World’s Parliament of Religions (1894).
For the rest of his life he was the main spokesman for Islam in America. Many of America’s most prominent thinkers heard him speak on the Islamic Faith, including Mark Twain.
On Broadway, in Manhattan, he founded a short-lived masjid (Mosque). The reasons for the termination of this Masjid are unknown, but it could be due to a lack of financial support from India. Throughout the rest of America he started study circles, i.e. in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Newark, Manhattan, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. They were named Mecca Study Circle No. I (NYC), Koran Study Circle, Capital Study Circle No. 4, etc. Each using an Islamic city or reference in its title. It is likely they studied Webb’s works and those he suggested. The last meeting was in 1943 in Manhattan and was attended by his daughter Aliyyah.
He is also known for his writing of two booklets about the Armenian Genocide from a Muslim point of view: The Armenian Troubles and Where the Responsibility Lies and A Few Facts About Turkey Under the Rule of Abdul Hamid II. He was appointed the Honorary Turkish Consul in New York by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The Sultan had been shown plans by Webb for a Muslim cemetery and Masjid and complimented Webb on them. These plans never materialized.
From 1898 to the time of his death on October 1, 1916, aged 69, he lived in Rutherford, New Jersey. There he owned and edited the “Rutherford Times”. He was buried in Hillside Cemetery on the outskirts of Rutherford.