African American Muslims in prison
Most African-American Muslims look to mainstream orthodox Muslim organizations such as the Muslim Society of America (Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2002). This includes believers once affiliated with NOI who eventually parted ways with the group due to its emphasis on Black identity. In order to assess the potential threat of radicalism in the African-American Muslim community, it is important to distinguish between the myriad of ideologies that influence the outlook of Black Muslims today from the groups and individuals on the extreme fringe implicated in terrorism.
This holds especially true when one considers social protest movements that fought for racial equality during the U.S. civil rights struggle that continue to wield influence today, such as the Nation of Islam (NOI). Founded in 1933, in its early years NOI encompassed a mix of Islamic discourse and a worldview that held that Blacks were God’s chosen people. Whites were seen as inferior, oppressors and regularly referred to as “devils,” in what many observers contend was a reaction to the ideals of white supremacy that prevailed in society .
NOI borrowed heavily from the beliefs held by the Moorish Science Temple. Founded in 1913 by Timothy Drew, later known as Noble Drew Ali, the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA), as it is referred to today, is regarded as the first major Black identity movement. Islam, Judaism, Christianity and other belief systems shaped MSTA’s worldview. MSTA declared that African-Americans are the descendants of the ancient Moorish Muslim civilization whose culture had been suppressed by the legacy of slavery. NOI helped inspire the radical Black Power movement of the 1960s that broke with the non-violent approach of activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., including the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, later known as the Black Panther Party (BPP). BPP did not rely on religious discourse and instead emphasized popular revolutionary struggle in the name of social justice and Black liberation.
NOI also influenced Black identity movements across the English-speaking Caribbean, Canada and Great Britain. In many respects, the agendas of NOI and BPP converged in a number of areas. The Nation of Gods and Earths, also known as the Five Percent Nation of Islam or simply as the Five Percenters (FP), represents another side of the Black identity movement that mixes aspects of Islam, Judaism, Christianity and other beliefs (http://www.allahsnation.net). FP, which split from NOI in 1964, is adamant that it is not a religion, but maintains that Islam represents a way of life. Its worldview declares Blacks as the original people of the earth and the founders of civilization. FP sees Black men as Gods, which they refer to as ALLAH (Arm, Leg, Leg, Arm and Head), not to be mistaken with the Arabic word for God.
FP ideology also espouses the theory of “Supreme Mathematics,” which among other things maintains that followers represent the chosen five percent of mankind who lead a virtuous life. FP enjoys a large following among popular Hip Hop artists and African-American activists . It also has a following in the U.S. prison system, where some members have been linked with gang activity and violence .
FP made headlines when false allegations surfaced linking convicted Washington DC-area snipers John Allen Muhammed and John Malvo to the group. Muhammed was actually a former member of NOI, but had left the group years before the attacks. Orthodox Sunni Muslim organizations regard MSTA, NOI and FP as heretical cults. India’s Ansar us-Sunnah Library and Research Center refers to NOI as the Nation of Kufr (unbelievers) for its emphasis on Black nationalism and identity and what it describes as a blend of false Muslim and Christian beliefs. The group’s website places NOI alongside Shiites, which they describe as rafidah (rejectors), and other groups they consider heretics such as Sufis, Druze and Amhadis in a section warning Muslims to guard their faith (http://www.allaahuakbar.net).
The NOI continues to grapple with the dilemma of reconciling its origins as a Black identity group with orthodox Islam. This has led to major rifts and splits within the movement over the years. Despite the influence of NOI under the charismatic leadership of Louis Farrakhan, the vast majority of Black Muslims today subscribe to orthodox Islam, a trend that has been growing over the years. Homegrown Terrorism The highly publicized Seas of David case was not the first of its kind. The case of the obscure Jamaat al-Fuqra (Community of the Impoverished, JF), a Muslim association with branches in South Asia and North America, once raised concerns about radical trends in the African-American Muslim community.
1. African Muslims in Antebellum American by Allen Austin, 1984
2. The Arab World Published by the Arab-American Press, 1945
3. African Presence in Early America by Ivan Van Serbia, 1987