What is the Nation of Islam
It’s really two political organziations; one of which no longer really exists
Original NOI was an AA religious-political group that blended Islam, Christianity, and Black Supremacy
- They believed AA were God’s chosen people but that whites (who were devils) had worked for centuries to hide this fact
- This belief has changed over time and would eventually become much softer and more tolerant
- But its core was using self-discipline, community, and economics to both empower and limit injustice to AA’s.
- These were noble goals, but there were some not so noble aspects of the NOI also
- Already mentioned they used to believe Caucasians were devils
- That Caucasians were created through genetic experiments of a mad scientist
- A cultish mentality where high-ranking members abused their power and authority, embezzled funds, and intimidated and even killed dissidents
America in the 1930’s
- Going through the depression
- Bad economy forced many AA to migrate from the south to norther and mid-western industrial cities
- Jobs were scarce there also, and led to antagonism and violence from whites who lived in the cities
- Segregation was legal throughout the south and in practice through much of the north
Segregation laws in some states
All passenger stations in this state operated by any motor transportation company shall have separate waiting rooms or space and separate ticket windows for the white and colored races
The white and colored militia shall be separately enrolled, and shall never be compelled to serve in the same organization. No organization of colored troops shall be permitted where white troops are available, and while white permitted to be organized, colored troops shall be under the command of white officers.
- Since the beginning of the century there had been over 100 documented lynchings
- The federal government often tried to introduce laws criminalizing lynching, but they were blocked by southern states
This is the climate in which the NOI was born
- Began with a man named Wallace Fard Muhammad or Fard Muhammad in Detroit in 1930
- May have been from India or the ME;
- Sold silk and other material from a cart in Detroit, mostly in the black neighborhoods
- Would tell Blacks that they were inheritors of a great legacy and their real faith was Islam
- There are many things separating Orthodox Islam from the NOI, but the main thing is the role of W. Fard Muhammad
- NOI believes he was both the Messiah of Christianity and the Mahdi of Islam
- This ignores that most Sunni Muslims believe the Messiah and the Mahdi are two different men; and not all Muslims believe in the Mahdi
- The NOI also believes that he was Allah in person.
WE BELIEVE that Allah (God) appeared in the Person of Master W. Fard Muhammad, July, 1930; the long-awaited “Messiah” of the Christians and the “Mahdi” of the Muslims.
- Besides this, some of their lifestyle practices are similar to Sunni Islam, particularly no pork and no alcohol and the Islamic greeting “As-Salaamu Alaikum”
- But their observance of Islamic rituals is often very different
- They do make the verbal statement of the Shahadah, but nothing else.
- Five daily prayers is not obligatory, Charity is encouraged but not according to the Islamic standards of Zakah; fasting is optional and done during December, not Ramadan; Hajj is also optional
- It took many years for these things to get developed. But it began when Fard Muhammad attracted a young man named Elijah Poole
- Elijah Poole was from Georgia but was now living in Detroit with his wife Clara
- In 1931 Elijah was attracted to Fard’s talks on black empowerment and they began working together to build a new religious organization
- Fard was the teacher and Elijah was the student.
- Far mysteriously disappeared in 1934 and Elijah took over as the leader. His followers now called him a Prophet
- Over the next several years, Elijah Poole, now Elijah Muhammad, worked on growing the organization
- By the early 50’s there were 10 NOI temples throughout America
- Things took off when a young inmate named Malcolm Little joined the organization while in prison. Once out, Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X and became a minister in the NOI
- Malcolm X’s story is famous so no need to go in depth. Suffice it to say, his charisma, strength of personality, and excellent speaking skills sparked the rapid growth of the NOI
- The NOI went from a few hundred followers in 1952 to 30000 members just a decade later
- Another thing that helped its growth was the ongoing development of the Civil Rights movement. The NOI’s message was different than many other civil rights groups at the time.
- Most Civil Rights groups and leaders, particularly those based in the South like MLK, advocated nonviolent resistance, civil disobedience, and integration
- The NOI, especially as Malcolm X expressed it, advocated self-defense and separation from white America
- Both strategies had their advantages;
- those in the South were in much more danger than in the North, even peaceful demonstrations led to beatings, bombings and murder.
- But some of the NOI’s demands were unrealistic. To this day, their website states they demand a portion of America to be given to Black Americans as their own state or government
- However, I believe having that threat of violence lurking in the background, convinced American lawmakers it was in their best interest to deal with those like MLK rather than those like the NOI
- Malcolm X joined the NOI when it was very small and unknown. But as it grew and became more popular, he advanced in position and authority.
- Eventually, he became the NOI’s national spokesman, second in charge only after Elijah Muhammad.
Two things took place to change things for Malcolm X and the NOI.
- Jealousy of others about Malcolm’s influence and position, and Malcolm discovering Elijah Muhammad had extra-marital affairs
- Remember, the true believers of the NOI believed Elijah Muhammad was truly a prophet of Allah.
- They used to say the Kalimatayn, but when they said it, they meant Elijah, not Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah
- Malcolm X also believed the same thing
- When he discovered Elijah had fathered several children out of wedlock with some of his young female secretaries, he was crushed. He learned his hero was flawed.
- The NOI had a strict moral code and Malcolm had excommunicated many people for violating that code.
- Now here was the leader of the NOI, a man he thought was a prophet, doing the same thing. In fact, many of the women filed paternity suits against him
- This rocked Malcolm and brought about a crisis of faith
- To go on a tangent, this is why I do this podcast; we as Muslims often hold Prophet Muhammad (the real prophet) and his companions to ridiculously high standards
- Then when we learn something, either true or false, that is negative about them, it becomes very easy to lose faith in Islam
- This is not so much with the Prophet as most of those controversial things have been dealt with; but this is the case with the companions
- We often think of the companions, especially the first four caliphs, as super-human beings.
- But they’re not. They’re humans, they sinned, they made mistakes, they disagreed, and they did not receive revelation.
- What made things even worse for Malcolm was that when these women became pregnant, they were excommunicated by the NOI for adultery.
- For a while, Malcolm actually tried to reconcile his shattered faith with his desire to improve the NOI
- But then President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, and that began the separation of Malcolm and the NOI.
- After Kennedy’s assassination, all NOI ministers and officials were ordered not to comment on his death.
- However, when a reporter asked Malcolm about it, he violated this order and mentioned how Kennedy’s death was an example of chickens coming home to roost.
- Meaning, the violence America handed out around the world and at home finally came back to hurt her and that it was justified
- As punishment for violating the order, Malcolm was silenced for 3 months, meaning he couldn’t give interviews or talk or do any other public work for the NOI.
- Malcolm thought this was too harsh a punishment and was a result of Elijah’s fear of Malcolm knowing his secret and the jealousy of other NOI officials
- Malcolm resigned from the NOI and started a new organization called Muslim Mosque Inc
- A few months later, he made Hajj to Mecca in March 1964 and was surprised to learn that the Islam he was practicing with the NOI wasn’t true Islam
- He saw white Muslims and black Muslims and that, at least on some level, they were all Muslim brothers.
- After Hajj, he traveled throughout many parts of the Muslim world and Africa
- By the time he came back, he was essentially a Sunni Muslim
- But there was still a feud between him and the NOI.
- This escalated to the point where Malcolm was assassinated by several members of the NOI in February 1965; literally shot to death by several gunmen while on stage about to give a speech
The beginning of the end of the Nation of Islam.
- Malcolm X was truly the spark behind much of their growth. After he left the NOI, many people left along with him.
- After his death, even more people left and many of them began to look into the Sunni Islam that Malcolm practiced in his last days
- The NOI didn’t fall apart immediately, but it was now facing new challenges; mostly from the growth of Sunni Islam among Black Americans
- In NYC for example, there was a low-level war going on between Sunni Muslims and the NOI. At the time, late 60’s early 70’s, the NOI was much bigger.
- But Sunni Islam was steadily growing.
- In 1975 Elijah Muhammad died and his son Wallace Muhammad became the new leader of the NOI.
- Wallace Muhammad had received some early Islamic studies from teachers his father hired. He had even been sent to Egypt to study Islam and Arabic.
- So for years, Wallace Muhammad knew the Islam practiced by the NOI was not true Islam as practiced by most Muslims.
- In fact, Elijah Muhammad excommunicated his son Wallace from the NOI on three different occasions for teaching true Islam
- Now that Wallace was the leader of the NOI, he began to bring them slowly towards Sunni Islam.
- He introduced Arabic terms like Masjid and Imam. He taught his Imams the correct way to pray. He even changed the name of the NOI and relaxed the dress code.
- He also performed a mass conversion by having the members of all of the Masajid (former NOI temples) take shahada
- While most of the NOI accepted WD Mohammed’s efforts, some did not.
- One of his ministers, Louis Walcott, the leader of the NY Masjid, broke off and restarted the NOI under its original teachings. Louis Walcott is the Louis Farrakhan, the current leader of the NOI
- Louis Farrakhan, while not directly involved with Malcolm’s assassination, has been accused of some involvement.
- He certainly did encourage hatred of Malcolm in the NOI and was one of those high ranking figures who were jealous of him
- Several other smaller organizations broke off after WD Muhammad took over. Most of them are too small and insignificant to discuss
- The modern NOI that Farrakhan leads is nothing like the organization back in the 50’s and 60’s. It probably doesn’t even have 10000 members in the entire country
- Meanwhile, there are at least 15 million Muslims in America, and one third of them are African-American
- Imam WD Mohammed died in 2008 from an apparent heart attack
- His organization now is almost indistinguishable from Sunni Muslims. Generally speaking, their Fiqh is more in line with Shafi-figh
- They are no longer a single, unified organization like the NOI was, or even like it was under Imam WD Mohammed
- Now, each Masjid is essentially an individual organization, though they still do cooperate and work together on many things
- The original NOI no longer exists; it is now a dispersed and diverse community of mostly African-American Sunni Muslims.
- The organization that calls itself the NOI, is not the true NOI and even they have morphed into more of a community organzation than a religious or political one.
- But they still hold on to the original NOI theology, that Fard Muhammad was God in person and that Elijah Muhammad was his prophet.
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