Samuel Marinus Zwemer was born April 12, 1867 to Adrian and Catherine Zwemer in Vriesland, Ottawa Co., Mich., Apr. 12, 1867. His father, Adrian, was born February 12, 1823 in Oostkapelle, Netherlands. He was the youngest of seven children born to Jacob and Neeltje Janse Zwemer. Early in 1849, he left the Netherlands and settled in Rochester, New York. There he married Catherine Boon (1826-1886), who had traveled in the group with him, in 1849. Adrian moved his family to Holland, Michigan, in 1856. He was ordained by the Classis of Holland, Reformed Church in America, in 1858. His first church was at Vriesland, MI. Adrian and Catherine had 15 children, among them was Samuel. He retired from his last church at Spring Lake in 1898. He died on March 17, 1910 in Holland.
Samuel was educated at Hope College, Holland, Mich. (A.B., 1887), and graduated from New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 1890. Within the same year, he traveled to Arabia to become a missionary for the Reformed Church in America. Samuel Zwemer was called to preach the Gospel to Muslims, and he is without doubt the greatest missionary to the Islamic world. On June 28, 1890, he began his mission, sailing from the United States on a Dutch liner the Obdam. Zwemer stopped in Europe to meet with other evangelical groups and then traveled to Beirut. From 1891 to 1905 he was a missionary at Busrah, Bahrein, and elsewhere in Arabia, and during this time traveled extensively through the peninsula. Samuel married Amy Wilkes, a missionary nurse on May 18, 1896 in Baghdad. The couple had five children, two of whom died in Arabia.
Zwemer's greatest feat was to visit Sana'a in Yemen, a place no lone westerner had ever gone before. He had many adventures in Arabia. In one incident, his life was spared when a Bedouin guide swore a great oath that Zwemer was neither an Englishman nor a government agent. In another incident, a group of Arabs debated whether, or not, they should hold him for ransom. These adversities did not deter Zwemer as he distributed Gospel literature throughout the Muslim world. Zwemer traveled throughout much of the Muslim world proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus including the Balkans, India, China, Africa, the Middle East. On June 28th, 1933, he ventured as far as China to bring the Gospel to the Chinese Muslims.
Zwemer was dedicated to his mission of spreading the good news. He dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel to the Muslims and the created an awareness of the spiritual needs of Muslims in the West. He said: "No agency can penetrate Islam so deeply, abide so persistently, witness so daringly and influence so irresistibly as the printed page." The only thing that stopped Zwemer from distributing Arabic leaflets and Bibles was confiscation. He was organizer and chairman of the Mohammedan Missionary Conference at Cairo in 1906, but resided chiefly in the United States, 1905-10, and did much missionary work in the churches of his denomination. In 1910 he returned to his missionary field on the Arabian Gulf.
In 1929 Samuel, his wife (Amy Wilkes), and their three surviving children the family returned to the United States when Samuel accepted a position Princeton Theological Seminary as Professor of Missions and Professor of the History of Religion. Amy died in 1937 and Samuel married a second time to Margaret Clarke, who died in 1950. Samuel himself died April 2, 1952 in New York City.