|660,000 - 825,000 (est.)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
|African American, Muslim American|
African-American Muslims, also colloquially known as Black Muslims, are a religious minority among both the larger African American and Muslim population of the United States. They are represented in various self-described Muslim sects such as the Nation of Islam. The history of African American Muslims is similar to the broader African-American history, and, too, goes back to the Revolutionary and Antebellum Eras.
- 1 History
- 2 Demographics
- 3 Sects
- 4 Prison conversions to Islam
- 5 Notable African-American Muslims
- 6 See also
- 7 References
Historically, between 15% and 30% of slaves brought to the Americas from West/Central Africa were Muslims. However, most of these captives were forced into Christianity during the era of American slavery. During the twentieth century, some African Americans converted to Islam, mainly through the influence of black nationalist groups that preached with distinctive Islamic practices; including the Moorish Science Temple of America, and the largest organization, the Nation of Islam, founded in the 1930s, which attracted at least 20,000 people by 1963, prominent members included activist Malcolm X and boxer Muhammad Ali. The Indian-originated Ahmadiyya Muslim movement also sought converts among African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s.
Malcolm X is considered the first person to start the movement among African Americans towards mainstream Islam, after he left the Nation and made the pilgrimage to Mecca. In 1975, Warith Deen Mohammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad took control of the Nation after his father's death and guided the majority of its members to orthodox Islam. However, a few members rejected these changes, in particular Louis Farrakhan, who revived the Nation of Islam in 1978 based largely on the ideals of its founder, Wallace Fard Muhammad.
African-American Muslims constitute 20% of the total U.S. Muslim population, the majority are Sunni or orthodox Muslims, some of these identify under the community of W. Deen Mohammed. The Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan has a membership ranging from 20,000–50,000 members.
A Pew survey in 2014 showed that 23% of American Muslims were converts, including 8% from historically black Protestant traditions. 28% of Muslims counted in the survey were black (down from 32% in 2007), and since 2007, the black proportion had shrunk, while the white and Asian proportions had grown, mainly due to immigration as most black Muslims were native U.S. blacks.
During the first half of the 20th century, a small number of African Americans established groups based on Islamic and Gnostic teachings. The first of such groups created was the Moorish Science Temple of America, founded by Timothy Drew (Drew Ali) in 1913. Drew taught that black people were of Moorish origin but their Muslim identity was taken away through slavery and racial segregation, advocating the return to Islam of their Moorish ancestry.
Sunni Islam is the world's largest religious denomination, followed by Catholicism. It is also the largest community of Black Muslims. Sunni is a term derived from sunnah (سُنَّة /ˈsunna/, plural سُنَن sunan /ˈsunan/) meaning "habit", "usual practice", "custom", "tradition". The Muslim use of this term refers to the sayings and living habits of the prophet Muhammad. Its adherents are referred to in Arabic as ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʻah ("the people of the sunnah and the community") or ahl as-sunnah for short. In English, its adherents are known as Sunni Muslims, Sunnis, Sunnites and Ahlus Sunnah. Sunni Islam is sometimes referred to as "orthodox Islam". The Quran, together with hadith (especially those collected in Kutub al-Sittah) and binding juristic consensus form the basis of all traditional jurisprudence within Sunni Islam. Sharia rulings are derived from these basic sources, in conjunction with analogical reasoning, consideration of public welfare and juristic discretion, using the principles of jurisprudence developed by the traditional legal schools. Although many African Americans ancestors were Muslims prior to being kidnapped to America the period of brutal enslavement had done much to rob the cultural and religious identity of many. The story of Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, a Muslim prince from West Africa who was made a slave in the United States and freed 40 years later is a testament to the survival of Muslim belief and practice among enslaved Africans in America. el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz also known as Malcolm X is credited with being the catalyst for bringing the black community to Islam in general and as being the pioneer in leading Black Muslims to Ahlus Sunnah specifically. In the weeks after he left the Nation of Islam, several Sunni Muslims encouraged Malcolm X to learn about their faith. He soon converted to the Sunni faith and was followed by thousands from the Nation of Islam. Warith Deen Mohammed rose to leadership of the Nation of Islam in 1975 following the death of his father Elijah Muhammad and began the groundbreaking and sometimes controversial process leading Black Muslims out of the NOI and into Sunni Islam. As a result of his personal studies of the Quran and thinking he became part of Ahlus Sunnah during a term in federal prison from 1961-1963 for refusing induction into the United States military. Mohammed introduced many reforms and began an information campaign about Sunni Islam much as El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz had years earlier. He stated that Fard was not divine and that his father was not a prophet. All of the over 400 temples were converted into traditional Islamic mosques, and he introduced the Five Pillars of Islam to his followers. He rejected literal interpretations of his father's theology and Black-separatist views and on the basis of his intensive independent study of Islamic law, history, and theology, he accepted whites as fellow worshipers. However, he also encouraged African Americans to separate themselves from their pasts, in 1976 calling upon them to change their surnames which were often given to their ancestors by slave masters. He forged closer ties with mainstream Muslim communities, including Latinos. By 1978 he had succeeded in leading the majority of the original NOI to Sunni Islam which still stands as the largest mass conversion to Islam in the United States. In many urban areas of the United States today many Black Muslims in the Sunni tradition are known and recognized by the hijabs on women and kufi caps and long beards for men. These beards are grown as an adherence to the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad for men to let their beards grow. Commonly called Sunnah beards, and Sunni Beards, among Muslims and more recently known as Philly beards have also gained popularity among non Muslim men emulating Muslim style.
Moorish Science Temple of America
The Moorish Science Temple is an American organization founded in 1913 by Prophet Noble Drew Ali, whose name at birth was Timothy Drew. He claimed it was a sect of Islam but he also drew inspiration from Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and Taoism. Its significant divergences from mainstream Islam and strong African-American ethnic character make its classification as an Islamic denomination a matter of debate among Muslims and scholars of religion.
Its primary tenet was the belief that they are the ancient Moabites who inhabited the Northwestern and Southwestern shores of Africa. The organization also believes that their descendants after being conquered in Spain are slaves who were captured and held in slavery from 1779–1865 by their slaveholders.
Although often criticized as lacking scientific merit, adherents of the Moorish Science Temple of America believe that the Negroid Asiatic was the first human inhabitant of the Western Hemisphere. In their religious texts adherents refer to themselves as "Asiatics", presumably referring to the non-Mongoloid Paleoamericans (see Luzia Woman). These adherents also call themselves "indigenous Moors", "American Moors" or "Moorish Americans" in contradistinction to "African Moors" or "African Americans".
Nation of Islam
The Nation of Islam (NOI) was created in 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad. Fard drew inspiration for NOI doctrines from those of Timothy Drew's Moorish Science Temple of America. He provided three main principles which serve as the foundation of the NOI: "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".
In 1934 Elijah Muhammad became the leader of the NOI, he deified Fard, saying that he was an incarnation of God, and taught that he was a prophet who had been taught directly by God in the form of Fard. Two of the most famous people to join the NOI were Malcolm X, who became the face of the NOI in the media, and Muhammad Ali, who, while initially rejected, was accepted into the group shortly after his first world heavyweight championship victory. Both Malcolm X and Ali later became Sunni Muslims.
Malcolm X was one of the most influential leaders of the NOI and, in accordance with NOI doctrine, advocated the complete separation of blacks from whites. He left the NOI after being silenced for 90 days (due to a controversial comment on the John F. Kennedy assassination), and proceeded to form Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity before his pilgrimage to Mecca and conversion to Sunni Islam. He is viewed as the first person to start the movement among African Americans towards Sunni Islam.
It was estimated that there were at least 20,000 members in 2006. However, today the group has a wide influence in the African American community. The first Million Man March took place in Washington, D.C. in 1995 and was followed later by another one in 2000 which was smaller in size but more inclusive, welcoming individuals other than just African American men. The group sponsors cultural and academic education, economic independence, and personal and social responsibility.
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The Five-Percent Nation, sometimes referred to the "Nation of Gods and Earths" (NGE/NOGE) or the "Five Percenters", is an American organization founded in 1964 in the Harlem section of the borough of Manhattan, New York City, by a former member of the Nation of Islam named Clarence 13X (born Clarence Edward Smith and later known as "Allah the Father"). Clarence 13X, a former student of Malcolm X, left the Nation of Islam after a theological dispute with the Nation's leaders over the nature and identity of God. Specifically, Clarence 13X denied that the Nation's biracial founder Wallace Fard Muhammad was Allah and instead taught that the black man was himself God personified.
Members of the group call themselves Allah's Five Percenters, which reflects the concept that ten percent of the people in the world know the truth of existence, and those elites and agents opt to keep eighty-five percent of the world in ignorance and under their controlling thumb; the remaining five percent are those who know the truth and are determined to enlighten the rest.
United Nation of Islam
The United Nation of Islam (UNOI) is a group based in Kansas City, Kansas. It was founded in 1978 by Royall Jenkins, who continues to be the leader of the group and styles himself "Royall, Allah in Person".
Conversion to orthodox Sunni Islam
After the death of Elijah Muhammad, he was succeeded by his son, Warith Deen Mohammed. Mohammed rejected many teachings of his father, such as the divinity of Fard Muhammad, and saw a white person as also a worshiper. As he took control of the organization, he quickly brought in new reforms. He renamed it the World Community of al-Islam in the West; later it became the American Society of Muslims. It was estimated that there were 200,000 followers of W. D. Mohammed at the time.
W. D. Mohammed introduced teachings which were based on orthodox Sunni Islam. He removed the chairs in the organization's temples, and replaced the entire "temple" concept with the traditional Muslim house of worship, the mosque, also teaching how to pray the salat, to observe the fasting of Ramadan, and to attend the pilgrimage to Mecca.
A small number of Black Muslims however rejected these new reforms brought by Imam Mohammed. Louis Farrakhan who broke away from the organization, re-established the Nation of Islam under the original Fardian doctrines, and remains its leader.
Although at first the Pakistan-originated Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's efforts were broadly concentrated at over large number of racial and ethnic groups, subsequent realization of the deep-seated racial tensions and discrimination made Ahmadi missionaries focus their attention on mainly African Americans and the Muslim immigrant community and became vocal proponents of the Civil Rights Movement. Many Ahmadi Muslims fled countries like Pakistan due to persecution in recent times.
Prison conversions to Islam
Conversion to Islam is a practice which is common to African-Americans in prison. J. Michael Waller found that Muslim inmates comprise 17–20% of the prison population, or roughly 350,000 inmates in 2003. Waller states that these inmates mostly come into prison as non-Muslims. According to him, 80% of the prisoners who "find faith" while in prison convert to Islam. These converted inmates are mostly African American, with a small but growing Hispanic minority. Waller also asserts that many converts are radicalized by outside Islamist groups linked to terrorism, but other experts suggest that when radicalization does occur it has little to no connection with these outside interests.
Notable African-American Muslims
- Ako Abdul-Samad, member of the Iowa House of Representatives (2007–present)
- Charles Bilal, former mayor of Kountze, Texas
- André Carson, U.S. Representative for Indiana's 7th congressional district (2008–present)
- Keith Ellison, Attorney General of Minnesota-elect and outgoing U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 5th congressional district (2007–present).
- Jamilah Nasheed, member of the Missouri Senate (2013–present)
- Larry Shaw, former member of the North Carolina Senate (1995–2009)
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former basketball player
- Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, former basketball player
- Shareef Abdur-Rahim, former basketball player
- Muhammad Ali, former professional boxer
- Nazr Mohammed, former basketball player
- Mike Tyson, former professional boxer
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Estimates of Black Muslim membership vary from a quarter of a million down to fifty thousand. Available evidence indicates that about one hundred thousand Negroes have joined the movement at one time or another, but few objective observers believe that the Black Muslims can muster more than twenty or twenty-five thousand active temple people.
- Clegg, Claude Andrew (1998). An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. Macmillan. p. 115. ISBN 9780312181536.
The common response of Malcolm X to questions about numbers—'Those who know aren't saying, and those who say don't know'—was typical of the attitude of the leadership.
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