His father, Alexander Nelson Webb, was a leading journalist of his day and perhaps influenced his son’s later journalistic exploits.
Webb received his early education at the Home School in Glendale, MassachusettsHudson, New York. He became editor of the Unionville Republican, Unionville, Missouri. His prowess as a journalist was soon apparent, and he was offered the city editorship of the St. Joseph Gazette in St. Joseph, Missouri. Next he became associate editor of the Missouri Morning Journal. Later he became the Assistant City Editor of the Missouri Republican in St. Louis. This newspaper was the second oldest and largest daily newspaper at that time. and later attended Claverack College, an advanced high school near
While working for the Missouri Republican, he was appointed (in September, 1887) by President Cleveland to be Consular Representative to the Philippines at the U.S. office at Manila. According to the editor of his book The Three Lectures, he had given up any concept of religion at least fifteen years before that point.
He started his life as a Presbyterian but found it dull and restraining. As early as 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).
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. 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 GenocideThe 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 from a Muslim point of view: 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.