By Adam Edgerly and Carl Ellis
Muslims make up about 6% of the population in the United States. The majority of conversions to this growing religion is occurring within the African-American community (a little over 11% of America's population).
Many African-Americans view Christianity as the White man's religion and associate conversion to Islam with recovering their ethnic heritage. Thus, to effectively evangelize African-American Muslims, it is crucial to understand the development of the American Muslim movement. The following study examines the rise of the movement and traces its history and theological development.
Like the struggle for freedom and dignity, historic African-American theology developed along two streams, northern and southern. In both cases an over-arching Biblical pattern and theme (paradigm) developed for doing ministry.
Of course, like all other Bible-believing communities, the historic African-American church preached Christ crucified and risen, as well as the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. The ministry paradigm came in the way the church worked out and applied its faith to the surrounding community.
In the ante-bellum South where slavery was king, the theological paradigm was 'Exodus'. The slaves identified with the children of Israel in Egyptian bondage and saw the hand of God at work in terms of their hope in deliverance from slavery. This theology addressed the issues of survival, refuge and resistance to oppression.
In the ante-bellum North where slavery died out, the theological paradigm was the 'Exile'. The freedmen saw the hand of God at work in terms of a special calling they sensed to bring the gospel of Christ to the rest of the 'African Diaspora', people of African descent living in the South, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa. Had it fully developed, this would have been a theology addressing the issues of dignity, African identity, and global significance.
With the official end of slavery in 1865, the former slaves were devastated and confused about their identity in the economy of God. Yet the indigenous African-American church experienced explosive growth. A major contributing factor was the fact that the church in the North and the South adequately addressed the need for a true identity. This was achieved when the church adopted the Northern 'exilic' theological paradigm. They called it 'Pan-Africanism'. Under this banner the African-American church became actively involved in cultural and economic development in the United States and in missions, especially in Africa.
However, three events radically altered the theological direction of the African-American church. They were 1) the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction in the South in 1877, 2) the Industrial Revolution in the North, and 3) the consolidation of European colonialism in Africa as the result of the Congress of Berlin (1878) and the Conference of Berlin (1884-85).
With the end of Reconstruction in the South, the former slaves were subject to racist terrorism and intimidation as White supremacy was re-established. Concurrent with the industrial revolution in the North was a massive wave of European immigration. This led to the rise of the White-only trade unions. The result was the elimination of African-Americans from the skilled labor force.
The consolidation of colonialism in Africa decimated the missions movement of the African-American church.
These traumas forced the church to abandon the Pan-African approach to ministry and revert to the old survival approach which had emerged in the context of slavery. This created a theological vacuum in the areas of dignity, African identity, and global significance.
Several non-Christian attempts were made to fill this vacuum. Among them were 1) W. E. B. Dubois and his advocacy of solidarity through education, 2) a few Black Jewish sects, 3) Marcus Garvey and the United Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.), and 4) several Black nationalist oriented Islamic sects. Islam's attempt to fill the vacuum is discussed in the following pages.
A Religion of Separatism
The first actual African-American Muslim sect was the Moorish Science Temple Divine and National Movement of North America, founded in Newark, New Jersey by Timothy Drew (Noble Drew Ali) in 1913. In 1925, the name of the sect was changed to the Moorish Temple of Science. Drew Ali developed the 'Koran of the Moorish Holy Temple of Science' and taught that Allah had ordained him as his prophet to the dark people of America. Ali stated that Negro and Black signified death and Colored signified something painted. Therefore, the terms Asiatic, Moor or Moorish-American must be used. Ali taught that salvation was found by discovering national origin and refusing to be called Negro, Black, Colored, Ethiopian, etc.
Noble Drew Ali died in 1929, and two of his disciples claimed to be his reincarnation and heir to the leadership of the sect. The first of these disciples was Sheik Timothy Givins El who established a faction called Moorish Temple of Science headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. In 1975, Grand Sheik Richardson Dingle-El founded a splinter group and reverted to the original name.
The second of these disciples was Wali D. Fard, a mysterious White man of Turkish origins, also known as Aka Wali Fard Muhammad. Fard established the Temple of Islam headquartered in Detroit, Michigan. He appeared in the Paradise Valley of Detroit, declaring himself to be the leader of the Nation of Islam. He claimed to have remedies for the social and economic problems facing Americans of African descent. He asserted that he had come to gain freedom, justice, and equality for them.
Fard made his living peddling silks and other artifacts door to door, presenting them as African. In this way, Fard gained access to African-American homes and began propagating his doctrine. Since his audience was familiar with the Bible, he used it as a springboard for his teachings. He then slowly introduced them to the text of the Quran. Fard's message was this
Christianity is a tool in the hands of the White slave masters to control the minds of Black people. White people are devils, the embodiment of evil. The only hope for Black people in America is total separation and self-reliance.
Between 1930 and 1933, Fard recruited 8,000 followers among Detroit Blacks.(1) As a result of the organization's rapid growth, Fard found it necessary to train several ministers to help him. Among these was an unemployed auto worker named Robert Poole.
As the son of a Baptist minister, Poole knew the Bible quite well. Poole, later known as Elijah Muhammad, became the chief minister of the Temple of Islam and Fard's eventual successor. In 1932 , Elijah Muhammad moved to Chicago and founded Temple #2. However, he returned to Detroit to aid Fard, who had been imprisoned. Later, Fard joined Elijah Muhammad at Temple #2 in Chicago, but he was soon arrested there as well. Under the pressure of continued conflict with police, Fard eventually mysteriously disappeared.
Later, the Temple of Islam divided into two factions. One faction, led by Abdul Muhammad, believed that Fard was a prophet of Allah and kept the name Temple of Islam. The most prominent faction was the Chicago-based Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammad. He believed that Fard was Allah in person. Eventually, Abdul Muhammad's faction was reabsorbed into the Nation of Islam.
Elijah Muhammad expounded his doctrine in the book Message to the Black Man in America. Fard's disappearance made his image as a Christ-figure more marketable. Also, Muhammad used his familiarity with the Scriptures to present Fard as the fulfillment of prophecy. 'You must forget about ever seeing the return of Jesus who was here 2000 years ago. Set your heart on seeing the one that he said would come at the end of the present world's time (the White race's time). He is called the 'Son of Man', the 'Christ', the 'Comforter.''(2) Muhammad argued that Jesus did not know the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 2436), thus he could not have been predicting his own return. Muhammad asserted that Fard was the Mahdi spoken of in the Quran.
Elijah Muhammad taught that the ultimate solution to the problem facing the African-American community was total separation from White society and the establishment of a Black Muslim state somewhere in North America or elsewhere. Furthermore, Muhammad taught that integration was a hypocritical and deceptive offer. Its intention was to deceive Black people into believing the opponents of freedom, justice, and equality were now their friends. Elijah Muhammad despised the Christian doctrine of loving one's enemy. In fact, his thinking concurred with W. D. Fard's hostile view of Christianity. Moreover, he saw the Black preacher as the greatest impediment to the progress of the Black race.
The allegation that 'Christianity' had been used to subjugate Black people is undeniable. Although the Quakers opposed slavery early on, staging the first anti-slavery demonstration in 1688, most churches either defended slavery, ignored it, or were divided over the issue.(3) In light of this fact, the teachings of Elijah Muhammad fell upon eager ears. He was preaching to people who were waiting for a claim to dignity and self-sufficiency, as well as for spiritual fulfillment. He convinced them that the answers to their problems were found only in Islam.
A New Theology
Elijah Muhammad's teachings were by no means orthodox Islam. He taught that Allah was a man, W. D. Fard, whom he knew personally. He taught that Black people created and owned the universe and founded the city of Mecca. He also taught that a mad scientist named Yacub created the White race 6000 years ago.
According to Muhammad, Yacub was an exile from Mecca. He determined to take revenge on Allah and on those who exiled him and his 59,999 followers to the island of Patmos. Hence, through crude genetic engineering, he created a race of white devils. After Yacub's death, this devil race returned to Arabia. They began to turn the peaceful society into a hell torn by quarreling and fighting. They were eventually exiled to Europe and penned in to keep them from spreading.
Muhammad also asserted that there are 24 scientists who rule the universe and write a prophetic book of history prior to each 25,000 years. They predicted Yacub would create this race of devils, who would rule the earth for 6000 years. According to Elijah Muhammad, those 6000 years are over. The battle of Armageddon between Blacks and Whites, Muslims and Christians is about to occur.(4)
For the most part, Elijah Muhammad was preaching to uneducated people, unfamiliar with Islam. Just as he twisted passages of the Bible to suit his purpose, he concocted a version of Islam to address what he saw were the needs of Black Americans. The appeal of his new religion was its emphasis on Black self-awareness, self-sufficiency, and the promise that God was on the side of African-Americans in their struggle against racial oppression in America.
The Appeal of the Movement
A demographic study of Black Muslims by C. Eric Lincoln (5) revealed some startling insights into who responded to Elijah Muhammad's message. The majority of those who joined the Nation of Islam were young, economically disadvantaged, African-American males from Christian backgrounds. Up to 80% of a typical congregation were between the ages of 17 and 35. Traditionally, the church in the Black community has had difficulty attracting young males. In an article entitled, 'Why Most Black Men Won't Go to Church,' Reverend William Harris attributes the primary reason to economics
'Many Black males won't go to church because today's church does not address their needs. The Black male needs money, job opportunities, business resources, and relevant skills training. The church collects money, but does little to create opportunities through which he can make more money. Jesus understood the need to feed people before preaching to them. Today's church must likewise set the table for the Black man before asking him to pay to have the dishes done.(6)
Elijah Muhammad's program for economic development played a crucial role in the rapid growth of the Nation of Islam. With the money donated by members, Muhammad purchased land for farms, store fronts, bakeries, apartment buildings and schools. The economic base of the organization grew in proportion to numerical growth. By owning businesses and land, Elijah Muhammad was able to provide both housing and employment for needy followers. Furthermore, the members had the added pride of sharing in the ownership of these various enterprises and being, to a great extent, independent of the broader society. Scarcity of employment for young Black males offers one explanation of why they were drawn to the Nation of Islam in such large numbers.
Men were also drawn to the Nation of Islam because of the emphasis placed on male leadership. African-American churches tend to be dominated by women, with one central male figure, the pastor in the pulpit. As a result, many men do not feel affirmed in the church environment. They see the pastor as a threat and even a rival. Elijah Muhammad was able to criticize the Black male while affirming his role. Thus he challenged men to take the lead, and they responded. 'Unlike the typical Christian church, the Muslim temples attract many more men than women, and men assume the full management of temple affairs. Women are honored and they perform important functions within a defined role.'(7)
The role of women consists of teaching other women and managing the affairs of the home. Ironically, women were also attracted to the Nation of Islam because they appreciated the strength of the men and the protective posture they took towards Black women. As C. Eric Lincoln noted in his research, the Nation of Islam appeals to the young regardless of gender.
'A surprising number of young people are attracted by the Muslims' redefinition of the roles men and women should play in the home and in the religious life of the sect. There is a strong emphasis on the equality of individuals irrespective of sex, but each sex is assigned a role considered proper for itself. The trend in our larger society seems to be towards blurring the distinct line between the traditional social roles of men and women. The Muslims, on the other hand, claim to have restored the women to a place of dignity and respect...Muslim women seem to welcome the security and protection implicit in this arrangement....Children seem to profit most, for among Muslim children, delinquency is unheard of.' (8)
Among people who were not accustomed to the security of a strong nuclear family with well-defined roles, the Nation of Islam provided welcomed structure. The underlying message of the Nation was that the disorder they had experienced up until then had been caused by outside forces beyond their control, evil influences they were now to avoid at all cost.
'Muslim women particularly are forbidden contact with either sex of the White race, on the theory that, 1) 'no White man has honorable intentions toward any Black women', and 2) White women are immoral by nature. White women are said to corrupt the minds of Black women, who then try to imitate them by 'displaying their bodies, neglecting their children and abandoning their men'.(9) Just as Adolf Hitler salved the consciences of the Germans by blaming the Jews for all their economic and political woes, Elijah Muhammad found in the White race the source of every ill within the Black community, especially with regard to the family. Thus the causes for the growth of the movement were both economic and psychological.
A Dynamic Young Spokesman
The greatest period of growth in the Nation of Islam cannot be directly attributed to Elijah Muhammad. In 1948, while serving a prison sentence in Massachusetts, a young man by the name of Malcolm Little became acquainted with the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and was converted. Upon release from prison, Malcolm Little, a former pimp, drug pusher, armed robber, and numbers man, returned to Detroit and began aggressively recruiting for Detroit Temple #1. He received recognition for his efforts from Elijah Muhammad, who changed his name to Malcolm X. 'X' symbolized his original African name, which he never knew, and replaced the slave master's name, Little.(10) This individual bearing the name 'X' would soon make both the name and organization it represented a symbol of freedom for some and fear for others.
Malcolm X frequently visited Elijah Muhammad in his home in Chicago to talk for hours. Because of his aggressive recruiting, new ideas and unyielding devotion to Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm was appointed as national spokesman. 'He was...crisscrossing North America, sometimes as often as four times a week. From Detroit, Malcolm was sent to organize Temple #11. In March 1954, Malcolm moved from Boston to Philadelphia, and in three months Temple #12 was opened....From Philadelphia, Malcolm moved to New York City and became minister of Temple #7.(11) In fact, Malcolm X was instrumental in the establishment of most of the temples in North America, and he took credit for the increase in membership from 400 to 40,000 that occurred within a few years after he joined the Nation of Islam.
Even today, Malcolm X looms larger than life in the African-American quest for the elusive prize of freedom and dignity. He attracted tens of thousands with his emphasis on cultural concerns, discipline, solidarity of the brotherhood, and African identity.
It seems these factors will continue to be a strong draw for young African-American males in the foreseeable future. It is also unlikely that the church will make any significant headway among these young men until it addresses these concerns. The Bible more than adequately addresses these issues, and it is time for Christians to apply God's word.
In 1950, Khalifa Hamaas Abdul Khaalis (Ernest T. McGee) joined the Nation of Islam in an attempt to bring the sect into line with orthodox Sunni Islam. By 1956, he had become national secretary. His efforts proved unsuccessful, so in 1958, he broke with Elijah Muhammad and founded the Al-Hanif, Hanafi, Madh-Hob Center, Islam Faith, United States of America, American Mussulmans. Based in Washington DC, the Hanafis still adhere to the basic tenets of Sunni Islam.
The Hanafi Muslims gained notoriety in 1973 when five members of the Philadelphia Nation of Islam brutally murdered seven Hanafis, including five members of Khalifa Hamaas Abdul Khaalis' immediate family. Again in 1977, the Hanafis captured national headlines when they tried to stop the screening of the movie Mohammed Messenger of God. They did this by seizing three buildings in Washington, D.C., the District Building (City Hall), the B'nai B'rith Building and the Islamic Center. They took several hostages. Several were injured and one was killed. Khalifa Hamaas Abdul Khaalis was sentenced to 21 to 120 years for his role in these seizures.
The Five Percenters
Clarence 13X was a member in the Nation of Islam's Temple #7. He began to teach that the Black man was the god of the universe and had his origins in Mecca. His iconoclastic teachings resulted in his suspension from the Nation of Islam. In 1964, he founded the 'Five Percent Nation of Islam'. In 1969, Clarence 13X died of suspicious causes. Those who followed him referred to him as 'Father Allah'.
The Five Percenters agree with Elijah Muhammad's teaching that the White man is the devil. However, they also include all unscrupulous and deceitful people in this category, regardless of color. They believe that the Black race was the original race and the creator of civilization. For the Five Percenters, the demographics of the African-American community break down as follows
85% - the masses who are ignorant of true 'divine self'
10% - the corrupt rulers over the 85%
5% - the truly righteous followers of Father Allah
The Five Percenters are very influential in today's youth pop culture. Many of the most influential 'Rap' artists today are Five Percenters. Among the rappers who propagate the doctrine of the Five Percenters are King Sun, The Supreme Team, Lakim Shabazz, Rakim Allah, Brand Nubian and The Poor Righteous Teachers.
Malcolm on His Own
With his platform as national spokesman, Malcolm X became an international figure. He was a coveted lecturer at universities, mosques and churches throughout the country. He recruited new leaders to the Nation. He even had a profound influence upon Elijah Muhammad's son, Wallace D. Muhammad (also known as Warith D. Muhammad). For many other leaders of the movement, however, Malcolm was gaining too much prominence too quickly. Many began to view him as a threat to Elijah Muhammad's leadership. He frequently made statements that went beyond the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and was often reprimanded.
There were those within the Nation of Islam who believed that Malcolm was trying to build a financial empire for himself. They began to leave him out of every edition of Muhammad Speaks, the organization's newspaper. Ironically, it was Malcolm who was instrumental in creating the paper. Aware of the controversy surrounding him, Malcolm began refusing interviews. He frequently told reporters, 'Please use Mr. Muhammad's picture instead of mine'.
The tension reached its apex when Elijah Muhammad was implicated by two former secretaries in a paternity suit. Disillusioned, Malcolm X began searching the Bible and Quran for some prophetic explanation for what was happening. This he did with the help of Warith D. Muhammad. He then conducted his own investigation into the allegations, and finally questioned Elijah Muhammad himself. 'I'm David', Elijah Muhammad replied. 'When you read in the Bible how David took another man's wife, I'm David....You read about Lot who went and laid up with his own daughter. I have fulfilled all those things.(12) Malcolm's directness in questioning the 'messenger of Allah' was perceived as overstepping his bounds.
Shortly after that incident, President Kennedy was assassinated. Elijah Muhammad commanded all ministers of the Nation of Islam to refrain from commenting on Kennedy's death. However, when asked his opinion of the assassination, Malcolm X replied, 'I saw it as a case of the chickens coming home to roost'.(13) Warith D. Muhammad and Malcolm X were subsequently suspended from the Nation of Islam. Reflecting upon that time, Warith remarked, 'I was charged with trying to influence Malcolm's theological thinking. I was also charged with giving him personal, private knowledge of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's living, which was a lie'.(14)
Actually, Warith D. Muhammad did have an effect on Malcolm X's theological views. Both men began to lean more toward orthodox Islam. The more Warith read the writings of W. D. Fard, the more he questioned his father's claim to be the 'messenger of Allah'. Warith and Malcolm both concluded that Fard could not have been Allah himself.
Malcolm's ideas were further broadened by his travels. He went on the Hajj and changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz. He met with various African leaders and discussed the conditions in their respective countries. Malcolm's ideological shift was drastic. His intention was to broaden his scope from American Black nationalism to global human rights. He intended to take the case of racism in the United States before the United Nations for action.(15)
On March 8, 1964, while still on suspension, Malcolm X announced that he was leaving the Nation of Islam and forming his own organization. Actually, he started two organizations, Muslim Mosque Incorporated (MMI) and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). MMI was based upon the principles of orthodox Islam. OAAU was an all Black, non-sectarian organization dedicated to creating a society where Blacks and Whites could live in brotherhood. Malcolm contended that Black/White brotherhood could not occur until Black people themselves were united. At that stage Black and White coalitions would be possible. He encouraged Whites to fight racism and was willing to accept aid from White donors.
However, Malcolm's new vision didn't have a chance to take root. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. He was speaking to a group of about 500 people in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Several gunmen opened fire on him from the third row. Three former members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of the crime. One of them, Talmadge Hayer, confessed and implicated the other two. Later he claimed that these two men were innocent, but that four active members of the Nation of Islam had actually helped him. (16)
A New Leader with New Ideas
After a series of suspensions, Warith D. Muhammad was restored to the Nation of Islam in 1969. His father, Elijah Muhammad, restored him to ministry in 1974, giving him freedom to preach what he pleased. On February 25, 1975, Elijah Muhammad died of congestive heart failure. The following day the Nation held its annual Savior's Day Rally in honor of Elijah Muhammad. There they pronounced Warith D. Muhammad as the new leader. W. D. Fard had actually chosen Warith before he was born, by predicting that Elijah Muhammad's next child would be a boy and would succeed his father.
Under the leadership of Warith D. Muhammad, the former Nation of Islam has become an orthodox community of Sunni Muslims. From the moment he took over as leader, he sought to align the doctrine of the organization with the Quran. He did away with Elijah Muhammad's doctrine of racial separation. He struggled to dismantle the cult-like structure. He also restored Malcolm X to a position of honor, naming a mosque after him. Warith began honoring the Constitution and encouraging participation in the political process. Most of the real estate holdings were quickly sold off. He redefined W.D. Fard as a 'wise man', and began to teach the five pillars of orthodox Islam. The name of the organization was changed to the Bilillian Community and later to the World Community Al-Islam in the West (WCIW). Although Warith opened the WCIW to people of all races, its membership remained predominantly Black. They continue to be known as Bilillians. Billal was an Ethiopian Muslim who was born in Circa in 600 AD. Billal was so firm in his convictions that when punished by his slave master after refusing to denounce Islam, he cried, 'Ahad, Ahad' (One, only one God).(17)
Imam Warith D. Muhammad made greater attempts to foster better relations with the United States government and foreign Islamic governments. His most comprehensive changes were in the realm of the family and the roles of women.
In a 1979 interview with Clifton Marsh, Warith D. Muhammad explained some of his views on women in Islam. 'Women in the Nation of Islam had a subordinate role to men. Warith D. Muhammad has changed that role, and in many cases, women are placed over men in administrative roles'.(18) The new structure in the WCIW does not make distinctions based on sex. In the mind of the imam, there was no religious justification for such rigid divisions between men and women. Imam Muhammad studied the role of women in Arabia during the time of the prophet Muhammad. He concluded that the right of women to equal education was protected under Islamic law. He justified the new status of women in the WCIW by saying, 'We cannot make any distinction between men and women in terms of intelligence, spirituality or moral nature. Women are equal to men and they are not to be treated any differently'.(19)
Girls' training courses were changed from home economics to general intellectual development. Women were free to seek employment outside of the home. 'I have looked at the role of women...in the light of what the prophet Muhammad did, to give more freedom, more equality to women'. He noted that women at the time of the prophet owned businesses, employed men, and had equal rights to education. He added that if women pursue higher education, 'how can we expect them to stay home? What is all this education for? You can't keep her at home nursing babies'.(20) This new teaching was a radical departure from the teachings of the Nation of Islam. It also deviated from the traditional expression of Islam in the Middle East.
When asked where he saw the WCIW in the year 2000, Imam Muhammad replied, 'I hope Muslims will be so comfortable in America that they won't have to introduce any structure or anything, just be American Muslims'. This vision has been fulfilled. The structure of the WCIW continued to diminish in scope. The name of the sect was changed to the American Muslim Mission. Their publication The American Muslim Journal was discontinued in 1984. The group was decentralized and absorbed into a larger body of Muslims in 1985, and Warith D. Muhammad became recognized as an Islamic leader by Muslim people of all national origins.
The Old Time Religion
In 1970, toward the closing years of Elijah Muhammad's leadership, a splinter group broke with the Nation of Islam and founded Calistron. This first group saw the need to be more nationalistic than the parent group. However, by 1980, Calistron had disintegrated.
In spite of the restructuring which took place under Warith Muhammad, four reactionary factions within the Bilillian Community remained. They resisted the changes and held to the doctrine of Elijah Muhammad, 'the old time religion'.
The leader of the second splinter group was Silas Muhammad. In 1976 he broke with Warith Muhammad and founded the Lost, Found Nation of Islam. He restored all of Elijah Muhammad's myths and teachings.
The leader of the third splinter group was a former national spokesman for the WCIW, Louis Adul Farrakhan. Farrakhan broke with Warith Muhammad in December of 1977. He now refers to himself as the national spokesman for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. His Black separatist organization first used the name Original Nation of Islam, but is now also known as the Nation of Islam. Minister Farrakhan has received a great deal of media attention for his inflammatory statements. Reporters continue to ask Mr. Farrakhan about his alleged anti-Semitism. In reality, the doctrine to which Farrakhan subscribes classifies all White people, Jews and Gentiles, as devils.
The leader of the fourth splinter group was John Muhammad. In 1978 he broke with Warith Muhammad and founded another Nation of Islam.
The leader of the fifth splinter group was Caliph Emanuel. In 1978 he broke with Warith Muhammad and founded yet another Nation of Islam.
Other Islamic Groups
Some Islamic groups sprang up without growing out of the Moorish Temple of Science. Among them are the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, USA and the Nubian Islamic Hebrews. The Nubians generally address themselves to issues of African-American identity, while the Ahmadiyya generally do not.
The Ahmadiyya Movement itself started in India in 1889. Its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, saw himself as the Madhi (the Messianic savior of Islam). His aim was to bring reformation and revival to Islam. Ahmad's beliefs were expressed in his book Barahim-i-Ahmadtah.
Dr. Mufti Muhammad Sadiq brought the Ahmadiyya movement to the United States in 1921. Muhammad's original intention was to convert Islamic immigrants to the movement, but he experienced great success among African-Americans.
In terms of evangelism, the Ahmadiyyas are among the most aggressive Islamic denomination. Because of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's claim to be the Madhi, the Ahmadiyyas are not regarded as truly Islamic by orthodox sects.
The Nubian Islamic Hebrews were founded in New York City in 1970 by Muhammad Ahmed ibn Abd'ullah. He was Sudanese and his followers believed him to be the Khaliyfa, the expected successor to the prophet Muhammad.
The Nubian Islamic Hebrews believe that the origin of the Nubian [Black] race goes back to Adam and Eve [Hawwah]. They have developed their own twist on 'the curse of Ham myth'. For them, Ham tried to commit sodomy with his drunk and naked father, Noah. The result was Noah's curse upon Canaan, which turned his skin pale. Thus the Canaanites became the father of all pale-skinned races. Some Nubians intermarried with the outcast children of Canaan and produced the Chinese, East Indians, Eskimos, Indonesians, Japanese, Koreans, Malayans, Pakistanis, and Sicilians. Though these races are mixed, they are regarded as Black.
The Nubian Islamic Hebrews also believe that two additional nations came from Ibraahiym [Abraham]. They were the descendants of Ishmael (the Ishmaelites) and the decedents of Isaac (the Israelites). Like the Israelites who were in Egyptian bondage, the Ishmaelites were held in American bondage for over 400 years. Out of this experience came the Nubians [Black people] of North America and the Caribbean. Because of their parallel experience with the Israelites, the American Nubians consider themselves to be Hebrews.
They believe that the beginning of their sect in 1970 was the opening of the seventh seal in Revelation 81. Basically the theology of the Nubian Islamic Hebrews is a mix of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish beliefs. Their current leader is As Siddid Al Imaan, Isa Al Haahi Al Madhi, the great-grandson of the founder Muhammad Ahmed ibn Abd'ullah.
The Present Situation
Today the Islamic sects are all challenging the African-American church for the minds of the next generation. Because of Islam's emphasis on external religious practices, African-American adherents tend to operate on their internal instincts, which are essentially Christian. If the church takes the Muslim challenge seriously and theologically addresses the issues of dignity, African identity and global significance, then there is the potential of a great harvest among these Muslims. If the church fails to take the challenge seriously, then the Muslim presence will become a Muslim dominance and this will be a scourge upon the church.
1 Clifton Marsh, From Black Muslims to Muslims The Transition from Separatism to Islam. Scarecrow Press, Inc. Meteushen, NJ, 1984, p. 53.
2 Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Black Man in America. Muhammad Mosque of Islam No.2 Chicago, 1965, p. 10.
3 W.D. Weatherford, American Churches and the Negro. Christopher Publishing House Boston, MA, 1975. p. 54.
4 Muhammad, pp. 110-126.
5 C. Eric Lincoln, Black Muslims in America. Beacon Press Boston, MA, 1961, pp. 22-26.
6 Upscale Magazine. April/May, 1990.
7 Lincoln, p. 25.
8 Lincoln, p. 33.
9 Lincoln, p.186.
10 Young, Henry. Major Black Religious Leaders Since 1940. Abingdon Nashville, TN, 1979, p.75.
11 Marsh, p. 72.
12 Marsh, p. 78.
13 Marsh, p. 79.
14 Marsh, p. 112.
15 Young, p. 80.
16 Marsh, p. 85
17 Marsh, p. 93.
18 Marsh, p. 96.
19 Marsh, p. 96.
20 Marsh, p. 117.
Adam Edgerly and Carl Ellis are the founders of Project Joseph, a ministry to Black Muslims around the world. One of their goals is to motivate and train the church to reach out to Muslims in the African-American community.
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