The roots of the Nation of Islam can be traced back to
the early part of the 20th century with the emergence of
black militant groups. For the most part, NOI surfaced as a social movement,
"a large organized group of people committed to collective goals and ideals
to preserve or change the existing political economic structure and human
relationships in a society"
In this sense the
Nation of Islam is as much a movement for change as it is one of religious
enlightenment. Movements such as the Nation of Islam arise during periods of
social change and the time period of its formation, circa 1930, was a
crucially dynamic period in the United States. The aftermath of World War I
coupled with the Great Depression combined to create social conditions that
provoked discontent among blacks. Following the Great Migration of southern
northern cities such as Chicago, New York and Detroit, blacks experienced
a period of prosperity and "expected
their status to continue to improve [but experienced the inverse] when their
status dropped after the war, and frustration, anxiety and discontent arose"
In addition to being huddled in crowded, poor urban areas,
blacks had to compete with whites for jobs. These social conditions made
black nationalism an attractive alternative for African Americans. So
it was under these conditions that "the Nation of Islam began in the black
community of Detroit in 1930 during an
era of hunger, discontent, anguish, and disillusionment."
Wallace Fard is officially credited with founding the NOI but much of
the doctrine and beliefs of the NOI stem from the teachings of Noble
Drew Ali and his Moorish Holy Temple of Science." The Nation of Islam evolved
from the Moorish Temple of Science Organization founded by Timothy Drew"
basis of Drew's (later known as Noble Drew Ali) teaching held that
African Americans were actually of
Islamic heritage and therefore should be referred to as "Moors." Drew
taught that Islam, not Christianity was the original, and therefore the
correct, faith of African Americans." Ali also stated that [the terms] 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 orignal and refusing to be called
Negro, Black, Colored, Ethiopian, etc."
Drew also instilled the idea of Moorish
superiority over the white race. Drew continued his teachings until his
mysterious death in 1929. After Drew's death, his following splintered
into numerous fractions. On one side, there is John Given El who believed
himself to be the reincarnation of Noble Drew, on the other there is Wallace
D. Fard who also believed himself to be the reincarnation of Nobel Drew.
The original followers of Drew took two diverging paths. One group followed John
Givens and became the Morish Americans of the Moorish Temple of science based
in Chicago, and the other group following Fard became The Nation of Islam.
Using the foundation laid by Noble Drew, the Nation of Islam was born. In 1930 in Detroit, a door to door salesman, going by the name Wallace Fard, began preaching his remedies for the problems that plagued the black community. His job as a salesman gave him easy access into the homes of blacks throughout the city. While inside the homes he began preaching his doctrine of black separatism, white evil, and Christian manipulation. He used Blacks' familiarity with the Bible as a spring board to his preaching, gradually easing into Qur'anic text.
Fard's three main
concepts, which became the foundation for the NOI ideology, were "Allah is
God, the white man is the devil and the so called Negroes are the Asiatic
Black People, the cream of the planet earth"
Frad preached to his listeners how Christianity
was the white man's religion used to enslave and subjugate the asiatic
(black) man's mind. To him, the Christian faith would never serve to solve
the problems that plagued the black community. In fact,it had often been
used as a device to keep black subordinate. The "Christian religion was
and is the master stratagem for keeping the so-called Negroes enslaved...
[this] 'slave religion' taught them to love their oppressor and prey for
those who persecute them"
One of Fard's First Chief Ministers was a man by the name of Elijah Poole. After
Fard's mysterious disappearance in June of 1934, his most dedicated head minister
Elijah Muhammad (formally known as Robert Pool) took over the movement. The
primary reason for
Elijah's devotion to Fard was that he believed Fard was God in person. In fact,
Elijah is entirely responsible for the deification of Fard as well as the
perpetuation of Fard's beliefs.
After Fards disappearance, Elijah established a second temple in Chicago which
eventually became the main headquarters for the NOI. Elijah was very strict
and authoritative in his role as head of the Nation of Islam.
This strong hold over the organization even held true while Elijah was in
prison serving time for draft evasion during the Second World War. While
incarcerated, Elijah was able to run the NOI via giving his orders to his
wife Clara and his head ministers. So even in prison, the organization never
acted without his direct consent and direction. Under the leadership of
Elijah Muhammad the organization took shape into the beliefs and practices the
NOI is famous for such as their ideas of black racial superiority, and racial
separation. Elijah remained head of the
NOI until his death in 1975 when his son Wallace Muhammad took over the ranks.
Wallace Muhammad and the Reform Era
Wallace Muhammad was never a completely "devout" or "blind faith" follower of the Nation of Islam. In fact, in the years of his involvement with the organization he frequently butted heads with his father Elijah over Islamic ideology.
Wallace was excommunicated and reinstated frequently (at least four times)
One such reason for an expulsion was a revelation that he and his close friend Malcolm X came to. They concluded that Elijah had not only misrepresented both Fard's doctrines and Islam itself, but that Fard could have not possibly been Allah. Another incident which caused tension between Wallace and his father was Wallace's investigation and questioning of Elijah's adulterous affairs.
Although it may seem odd that one who was repeatedly reprimanded for acting out
contrary to the NOI doctrines should take over the organization, it was
prophesized by Fard that Wallace would be the eventual successor. Fard said
that Elijah's seventh child would be a son and that son would be destined to
lead the NOI and because of this vision, Wallace was given leadership.
Immediately after Elijah Muhammad's death, Wallace began implementing drastic
and dramatic changes within the NOI moving it towards traditional Islam. With
the reorganizing, denationalizing, decentralizing, and orthodizing, Wallace
changed the most powerful black nationalist group into an Orthodox Islamic
he changed the name of the NOI, first to the Bilalian Community, then to the
World Community of Al-Islam in the West, to the American Muslim
Mission (1980s), and finally to the Muslim Mission (1990s). "Each change was
an effort to make the organization and it's members adhere to strict,
traditional Islamic principles and to exclude race, nationalism, and
racial images of God and phrophets from theory and worship."
During the time Wallace
Muhammad implemented his orthodizing changes, NOI followers who strongly
believed in the doctrine of black racial superiority and racial separation as
taught by Fard and Elijah Muhammad, left the NOI. They felt that "Muhammad
ha[d] esentially fallen from the African Nationalist ideological tree. The
American Muslim Mission does not represent the ideas of the Honorable
Elijah Muhammad or the founding fathers of the race conscious ideology."
The Nation of Islam deviates considerably from the
teachings of orthodox Islam.
Their idea of black racial superiority and whites as evil is contradictory to the teachings of
racial equality found in Orthodox Islam. Although the title of this group
seems to infer that they are part of the Orthodox Islam religion, this is
not the case. There are significant differences ranging from interpretation
Five Pillars to the perception that the members of the NOI have in
regards to our diverse culture. The NOI is much more inclusive and politically
radical than Orthodox Muslims. Two of the Black Muslims' doctrines are
at the heart of the controversy: their insistence that blacks must separate
themselves from the abhorrent and doomed race and their belief that it is the
manifest destiny of the Black Nation to inherit the earth. These doctrines
are in flagrant contrast to orthodox Islamic ideals of an all-embracing unity
Differences Between the Nation of Islam and the Orthodox Muslim Church:
Followers of the Nation of Islam spiritually believe that:
Black Muslims are expected to pray five times daily: morning, noon, midafternoon,
sundown, and before bed. These prayers must be made facing east (towards
Mecca) only after one thoroughly cleanses the body. They are
required to attend at least two temple meetings per week. Black
Muslims are also forbidden from eating certian foods such as pork and corn
bread, not only because they contribute to a "slow death," but that they
are unclean or foods that constituted part of a slave diet.
There are strict moral codes between the interaction of the sexes and how
the sexes are to act. Muslim women can not wear makeup or tight and
revealing clothes and must not be alone with any man other than their husbands.
Interracial sexual relationships are strictly forbidden and anyone who engages
in such activities faces expulsion from the organization. Clear and obvious
distinctions are made to indicate behavior and social roles appropriate for
males and females. Women learn these rules of conduct during
Muslim Girls Training
while men learn their roles as members of the Fruit of Islam.
The teachings proclaim that the black man is
the original man, ancestor to the entire human race, and that the white
race is the result of an experiment of an evil scientist named Yacub.
Approximately six thousand years ago Yacub used a recessive gene in the
Black race to create the biological mutated Caucasians. These mutated
Blacks were "Bleached of the essence of humanity [and] were without soul."
Members of the Nation of Islam see themselves as "Asiatic," the direct
descendants of the black nation of Asia part of the continent of Africa. "The
Original Man is the Asiatic Blackman, the Owner, the cream of the planet
earth, God of the Universe"
As a social movement, the Nation of Islam primarily has three main goals:
The United Front of Black Men
This is the idea of Black unity: to have all Black men in America reunited with his own. To have all Black men join together under the umbrella of the Nation of Islam to achieve their goals together for there is strength in numbers.
Quite simply, this idea states that there be complete separation of the Black and White races. "Only with complete racial separation will the perfect harmony of the universe be restored."
The ideal of this goal is to have complete economic withdrawal from the White community because white economic dominance gives them ultimate power over blacks. The key to black economic separatism and security lay in five steps labeled the "Economic Blueprint:"
Malcolm Little was born on May 19,1925 to Louise and Earl Little of Omaha, Nebraska. Mrs. Little was a mulatto born in Grenada and his father was a Baptist minister and organizer for Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association.
Malcolm never finished high school and became accustomed to living in a
hustler society. He was nicknamed "Red" because of the color of his hair,
and lived up to this title. He was quick-tempered and able to commit acts
of violence. On February of 1946, Malcolm was convicted on a robbery
charge and sentenced to seven years in prison.
While in prison, Malcolm became a follower of the Nation of Islam. He was initially
introduced to NOI teachings by two incarcerated members of the Detroit Temple
and began a correspondence with Elijah Muhammad. They
communicated through mail and Malcolm became further and further intrigued by
the NOI beliefs.
With the support of his sister and brother, he became a member of the
Nation of Islam. He discarded his master's surname and changed it to X, a
practice done by NOI members that signifies the unknown, true tribal name of
their African ancestors.
After his parole in 1952,
performed organizational tasks for the nation under the guidance of
Elijah Muhammad. Almost immediately, Malcolm became the main spokesman for
Elijah Muhammad. Because of his charismatic speaking and his mass appeal, he
was responsible for dramatically increasing the number of NOI followers
during the early 1960s.
Partly due to tensions within the Black Muslim Movement, Malcolm X became
critical of his leader, Elijah Muhammad. What sparked this criticism was
allegations of Elijah's Muhammad's sexual exploits with many of his secretaries.
What disturbed Malcolm about these accusations was not so much that
Elijah Muhammad was capable of doing such immoral acts, but that he was
denying and even trying to cover up what he had done instead of "facing what
he had done before his followers, as a human weakness or as a fufillment of
prophecy -- which Muslims would have understood...or at least accepted."
Due to this conflict, Malcolm allegedy began recieving death threats from
loyal NOI supporters.The final straw that compounded the tension between
Malcolm and the NOI occurred after he negatively commented on
the assassination of John F. Kennedy, saying that the assassination
was a case of
"the chickens coming home to roost" (the implication being that the President
brought the assassination upon himself). Because of this, he was silenced
for ninety days from all speaking and official duties.
During that period, he left the Nation of Islam and founded the Muslim
Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
In 1964, Malcolm X journeyed on the pilgrimage to Mecca. The hajj forced him to review his ideas on integration and embrace the traditional values of Islam. After the trip, he believed that it was possible for Caucasians to contribute to the struggle. He then adopted the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
On Feburary 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom
in Manhattan while addressing supporters. Three members of the Nation of
Islam were convicted for murder. It has also been suspected by many
of his followers that the government also had something to do with his murder. These accusations have never been confirmed.
Louis Farrahkan is one of the most controversial figureheads associated with
the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan was born Louis Eugene Walcott in Bronx, NY in
1933, but moved to Boston, Mass. with his mother and brother by age four. It was
in the city of Boston that he would be introduced to the NOI. At twenty-two,
he became interested in the organization while Malcolm X was in Boston
establishing Temple No. 11.
Through his dedication to the movement, he eventually became one of the heads of the Boston Temple and remained with the organization until he left in 1977 due to dissatisfaction with the changes implemented by Wallace's leadership. In breaking from the organization he set out to reestablish the legacy of Elijah Muhammad.
At first, Farrakhan went along with the changes implemented by Wallace
Muhammad. But as more and more changes began debunking Elijah Muhammad's
vision, Farrakhan became uneasy. Wallace was destroying the work and the
teachings that Farrakhan believed in. Farrakhan could no longer be a part of
an organization that held different beliefs from him. "Something had to give
and it did. In 1977 after some thirty months of the Wallace reformation,
Farrakhan left Wallace Muhammad's world community of Islam in the West to
rebuild Elijah's Lost Found Nation of Islam."
The ideology of the Nation of Islam under Farrakhan is almost indistinguishable from what it was under Elijah Muhammad, however, there are slight differences. One such change is no longer desiring a separate state, instead the NOI opts for just economic separation.
However controversial Farrakhan may be, to contemporary blacks the social and economic message he preaches is very appealing. Through his messages, he has given many urban blacks a sense of hope and blamed their social and economic condition on the system, and the larger racist white society; but Louis Farrakhan is most notably known for outspokenness and leading of the black community and his inflammatory statements about Jews.
Million Man March
On October 16,1995 approximately a million black men came together for a day of unity, atonement, and reconciliation in Washington D.C. It was a march to strengthen the black community. This movement was envisioned by the controversial Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan organized the march to help dispel the negative image the public has of black males ( 210K AIFF sound or 210K WAV sound). It was a call for black men to take responsibility for themselves and their families. It also advocated a fight against drugs, violence, and unemployment.
One problem some had with the march was not its goal, not its
message, but its messenger Louis Farrakhan. Many view Farrakhan as
numerous Black churches refused to endorse or support the march. Just days prior
to the march, Farrakhan made sweeping anti-Semitic and racial remarks about
Jews, Koreans, and Vietnamese being bloodsuckers who take advantage of the
To many, the march was the beginning. The supporters were challenged to continue this mission and to help make a difference. It has been credited for an increase in voter registration, applicants to adopt black children, a decrease in Black-on-Black crime, and an increased interest in serving the Black community.
Nation of Islam vs Jews
One of the most controversial issues regarding the beliefs of the Nation is their feelings towards the Jewish community. Although the Black Muslims reject the idea that they have a special antipathy for Jews, their actions and statements often prove otherwise.
Much of the context behind Black anti-Semitism is rooted in the 1960s when
there was a drastic erosion of Black-Jewish relations.
One of the issues regarding Jews is their racial classification. If Jews are
thought of as Semites, then they are not really 'white' and should be
considered Arabs and part of the Black Nation.
Deeper animosity towards Jews stems from the ideas that they are attempting
to overpower the black community by undermining them economically.
By many of the Nation's members, the Jews are accused of attempting to
overpower the Black community. The members of the Nation of Islam believe
that the Jews keep a tight hold on public opinion through their control
of mass communication. They claim that the Jewish communities own much
of the television and radio stations and use these methods of communication
to further their cause. Black Muslims also resent the presence of the
Jews in the Black communities. Oftentimes, a Jewish merchant will open a
family business in the lower class community. This is seen as the Jewish
man leeching on the Black community since he will take their money, but
not hire them to work or associate with them.
The book titled The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, written
by the Historical Research Department of the Nation of Islam, explores
its distrust and animosity towards the Jewish Community. Basically, the main
idea is that Jews have been directly linked to participating in and perpetuating
the slave trade. "Jews have been conclusively linked to the greatest criminal
endeavor ever undertaken against an entire race of people -- the Black African Holocaust
The book argues that Jews not only dominated the Atlantic
slave trade but were also major slave traders and slave owners in the south.
In addition, it claims that Jews exploited blacks during and after reconstruction.
the book also claims that Jews, being greedy and money hungry, enjoyed reaping
the financial benefits that such exploitation provided. Allegations such as
these, for obvious reasons, angered and offended the Jewish community. Critics
of the book argue that it is "fictitious, lopsided historical overview...[that]
distorts the complex factors which led to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Sentiment towards the Nation of Islam
When most American (that is, white Americans) think of the Nation of Islam,
the image that strikes them is one of an organization that is racist, anti-white,
and anti-American that is now headed by Louis Farrakhan, a "anti-Semite,
racist, sexist, homophobe, and looney."
The image white American has of the Nation of Islam comes not from first
hand interaction with its members, but from media portrayals of the NOI and
it's leaders such as Louis Farrakhan. Black Nationalism is often interpreted
in the popular media as being anti-white "and is uniformly portrayed as being
bad for American race relations."
What seems to be the real negative feelings behind white America's sentiment
against the NOI is fear: Fear of the NOI's message of being angry and
fed up with white America's treatment of the black man. Their fear can also be
seen as fear of the unfarmiliarity, not only with the organization but also
with the potential power (against whites) that it is capable of yielding. When
a young member of the NOI was invited to a college class room
Farrakhan has received more press coverage than any other African American,
with the exception of Jessie Jackson. The coverage of his statements and beliefs
however anti-Semitic and anti-white they may be, have ironically made him
more sympathetic to blacks. "The irony is this: the more the media portray
Farrakhan as a manace to society, the more sympathetic he seems to African
Farrakhan and the NOI in general, have had a profound impact on the black
youth. "No leader has had more of an impact on the Hip-Hop Generation than
In addition, youth are drawn to Farrakhan because like their predecessors, they too face economic hardships and Farrakhan's message of economic empowerment via economic separation is a welcome remedy to their financial problems.
In an unprecedented event, Minister Louis Farrakhn met with wallace Muhammad on February 25th, 2000. This meeting marked reconciliation between the two opposing groups. The meeting between the two also implied possible acceptance of the NOI under the umbrella of Mainstream Orthodox Islam. This possible acceptance comes after Farrakhan's proclamation of "ending the cycle of violence and hatred" in the world and "uplifting fallen humanity regardless of race, color or creed." Whether or not Farrakhan adheres to this new ideology still remains to be seen.
The Nation of Islam-A History
A very informative page that includes background on the NOI founding and a complete timeline detailing the most important events in the NOI history. The site also contains links to other NOI related topics.
Answering Islam: the Nation of Islam
A site which links to numerous pages including ones that give background information on Fard and Farrakhan.
Black Nationalism A History
This page gives an extended overview of the influence of Black Nationalism on the teachings of NOI beliefs. It also traces the development, influence, and impact of Islam in the African American community.
Black Gods of the Inner City
This site takes an indepth look at the orign of the Nation of Islam but also examines the emergence of othe Black Muslim or Islamic influeced black groups such as the Five percenters.
A Brief look at the Roots and Development of the Nation of
This page dive deeply into the historical roots of the start ot the NOI It includes factors, such as the status of blacks in the US, that lead to the popularity of the Nation of Islam
Nation of Islam Front page
A page that linkes to sites that feature news, articles, and press releases about the Nation of Islam
Nations of Islam at War
This page is part of a site that is maintained by the Village Voice, a New York based liberal paper. It features an article about the power struggles that have gone withing the NOI.
Islam, Nation of
This page gives a brief but informative sum of the NOI. It is good for getting a short sum of the history of the movement.
Scholarly research on Malcolm X, his life and activities. The site looks at his words, both written and spoken, and gives extensive chronology, bibliography of Malcolm X.
The Million Man March
This page whhich is affiliated with the CNN network gives a multituded of links to various aspects of the march. There is a section that has sound bites, pictures, and other multi-media files/images from the march. It also features related sites and stores about the march.
The Million Man March
This site links to a number of other important sites and pages that focus on the March. Linked sites include everything from the intinerary of the march to the goals of the march and even has a link to the inpirational Maya Angelou poem read at the march.
Anti-Nation of Islam LInks
Abusing the Word Islam
This anti-NOI site is maintained by Orthodox Muslims. It makes comparisons between the Nation of Islam and traditional Islam and argues that NOI is misusing the name of Allah.
Lewis Farrakhan and the Nation
Cornerstone Magazine is a publication of an evangelical groups, Jesus People USA. Written in two parte, the examines the history of the Nation of Islam. The second part examines NOI from the perspectives of traditional Islam and Christianity.
The Unislamic Nation of Islam
This page gives an essay on the history of the Nation of Islam's alleged prejudice and hatred towards whites and argues that such a history is inherantly against Islamic belifs.
The Truth About The Nation Of Islam
This page is part of a larger site that addresses the issues of non-mainstream religious groups and organizations. The page on Nation of Islam addresses alleged practices of hatred, comparing the NOI to the KKK.
Anti-Semitism Inquisition and the Nation of Islam
This paper written by a professor at Oxford College of Emory University examines alleged Nation of Islam anti-Semitic beliefs. It is part of a larger site that dealing with anti-Semitism.
"Louis Farrakhn Leader of the Nation of Islam-the Million Man March Assembled at Farrakhn's Fiery Beckoning." Time (June 17, 1996)
Created by Jan Dodoo
Ibid pp. 7
Ibid pp. 17
Ibid pp. 27
Ibid pp. 29
Lincoln pp. 73
Marsh pp. 38
Lincoln and Mamiya pp. 765
Marsh pp. 49
Ibid pp. 39
Ibid pp. 69
Marsh pp. 70
Alexander, ed. pp. 53
Marsh pp. 98
Ibid pp. 108
Ibid pp. 98
Lincoln pp. 221
Ibid pp. 77
Mimiya pp. 766
Alexander, ed. pp 60
Lincoln pp. 79
Lincoln pp. 83
Marsh pp. 43
Marsh pp. 51
Ibid pp. 57
Marsh pp. 58
Lincoln pp. 263
Lincoln pp. 268
Lincoln pp. 163
Lincoln pp. 160
Ibid pp. 161
Brackerman pp. 25
Alexander, ed. pp 103
Ibid pp. 104
Ibid pp. 104
Ibid pp. 25
Ibid pp. 104
Ibid pp. 184
Ibid pp. 186
Special thanks to Loryn Lawson who created an earlier version of this page
For Soc 452: Sociology of Religious Movements
Spring Term, 2000
University of Virginia
Last modified: 05/29/01
Created by Jan Dodoo