The Nation of Islam in America
The Nation of Islam in America
The Nation of Islam is a religious movement that was established in Detroit in the year 1930 in the month of July. Its founding leader was Wallace D. Fard Muhammad. This religious group is considered syncretic, that is, it has several conflicting and contradicting ideologies. Syncretism in this case has involved the merging of several different traditional beliefs into one, particularly in the case of religious beliefs. This results in an analogous basis that attracts people of various origins and religions. Eclectism is one of the major features of syncretism, and it comprises of the common expression of culture and arts belonging to different peoples and at times politics, as well. The NOI has one goal; it aims to develop the social, spiritual, economic and mental situations of the African Americans in the United States of America and the rest of the world, as well.
Several critics have accused the NOI of being racist by favoring the blacks over the rest of the races present in the country. Fard’s reign was short lived as he passed away and left the NOI under the leadership of his deputy Elijah Muhammad in 1934. Elijah made several changes to the movement that included the establishment of learning institutions and mosques. The NOI boasts of several prominent leaders such as Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X. The headquarter mosque is situated in Chicago and is called Mosque Maryam. The official leader of Mosque Maryam is Louis Farrakhan and is referred to as a minister as a sign of respect. The exact number of followers the NOI has is not known since it does not make them public, but it is projected to be around 20, 000 and 50, 00 but this number id deemed much larger than this. The majority of its members are citizens of the United States since it is the country of origin of the movement; however, it has attracted several followers from other countries such as France, Canada, United Kingdom and Trinidad and Tobago.
The NOI educated its members that Fard Muhammad was both the Mahdi and the Messiah. The Mahdi was obtained from Islam and was considered the savior of the complete Islamic religion. The messiah, on the other hand, was derived from the teachings of Judaism. After approximately one year of teaching this notion, he had garnered about 25, 000 supporters. The followers referred to him as Prophet W.D. Fard, and he was the unopposed leader of this religion. However, after only four years, he passed away and Elijah took his place. He established another new temple in Chicago due to the controversy surrounding the temple in Detroit. During the course of the world war, he advised the blacks to avoid the war as he claimed that the US did not do anything for the blacks.
Because of the spread of this message, he was charged and convicted of infringement of the Selective Service Act. He was jailed for four years from 1942 – 1946. However in the years after the war and after he left prison, he gradually kept increasing the membership of the NOI. He called for the creation of a separate country for the African Americans since they were the chosen people of Allah. This nation was anticipated to adopt a religion that worshipped Allah as their supreme leader and the teachings taught by the NOI. During the postwar era, the NOI attracted Malcolm Little who was t that time in prison due to burglary. Because of the effect of his brother Reginald, Malcolm joined the NOI. He changed his lifestyle to be in line with the requirements of religion, for example, he stopped smoking, gambling and eating pork. He instead spent extensive hours reading books and partaking in debates in order to improve his oratory skills.
As a follower of the NOI, he was required to replace his name with an “X” if he considered it imposed by the European slaveholders. He, therefore, became known as Malcolm X. He subsequently rose through the ranks and became a minister in a temple in Boston (temple 11) which he had established. As a result, he was rewarded by being made the minister of temple 7. Soon after this, Elijah named him his immediate second and proclaimed him The National Representative of the NOI. Under his leadership, the membership of the NOI increased to approximately 500, 000 people. However, in 1964, Malcolm left the NOU to form his own Muslin Mosque Inc. He stated that he did not leave the NOI willfully but it was due to the conspiring of some of the key leaders of the NOI.
In 1955, the NOI gained another member, Louis Walcott, and as required by the traditions of the movement, he replaced his surname with an “X”. He became known as a protege of Malcolm X, and this made him the leader of mosque 11 that was located in Detroit. Elijah later gave him a Muslim name, Farrakhan that he adopted fully. Like Malcolm X, Farrakhan was a leader well loved by the people due to his charisma. He embraced dynamic ideologies and was a great orator. After Malcolm left NOI, Elijah declared the head of mosque 7 and appointed him the National Representative of the Nation and his immediate second. Elijah passed away in 1975 and contrary to the expectation of the followers, his fifth son was appointed to head the organization, as opposed to Farrakhan who was second in command. Wallace Muhammad, the new head of the NOI, and he made several drastic changes to the movement. He converted the name to “The World Community of Al- Islam in the West” and later converted it into the American Society of Muslims. Another element of change he brought about into the organization was in its ideologies, he completely shunned the ideologies of his father and the aspect of the blacks being the superior race. He accepted the whites as members of the movement even though it brought about a lot of controversy within the organization.
He also strived to bring the organization nearer to the traditions of Sunni Islam by creating alliances with the conventional Muslim communities. Therefore, most of the members defected from the organization, as the leadership was in direct contradiction to the ideologies that the founding leaders had put in place. Under his leadership, the organization changed its name severally, and it was finally disbanded in 2003, August 31 when he resigned as the head of the organization. After the appointment of Wallace and the numerous changes that he made to the organization, Farrakhan resigned from the organization in 1977. Independently, he worked hard in order to rebuild the original NOI under the teachings and ideologies that its leaders brought forth.
He formally made the organization public in 1981 during the Savior’s day celebrations. In the subsequent years, he traveled through out the United States preaching the ideologies of the NOI, and he gained several followers. After a period, he was able to take hold of the property that belonged to the original NOI such as the mosques for instance Chicago’s mosque 2. Under the leadership of Farrakhan, the membership of the organization increased drastically and to date there are more than 130 mosques belonging to the NOI all over the world. Farrakhan put in place some measures to ensure the well-being of the African Americans such as the provision of health care and safety.
The organization set up an AIDS clinic in Washington and helped to evacuate drug dealers from the city. At the turn of the 21st century, the organization had reclaimed its lost glory and boasted of more than 50000 members in several countries throughout the world. Some branches of the organization were established in Paris, Ghana, the Caribbean islands and London. This was done in order to increase the influence the organization in the world. Farrakhan also created ties with fellow Muslim leaders such as the then Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. However, he toned down on his ideologies on races and tried to establish a better relationship with the other races. This change was brought about by his deteriorating heath that was due to prostate cancer. He eventually accepted to bring his organization’s ideologies closer to those of the Sunni Islam faith.
The result of the movement
The formation of the Nation of Islam organization had brought about unity for the blacks in America. This is because its teachings revolve around their independence in all aspects of their lives such as the economy and socially. This teaching resonated with the grievances of the black people, and they saw this as an opportunity to flourish as a race. Initially, the blacks were considered the slaves to the white man but NOI disclaimed that fact by stating that black people were, in fact, superior to the white men. Their superiority arose from the fact that they were the chosen people of Allah and was, therefore, the origin of all humanity. These teachings encouraged self-pride in the black people, and as a result, it gained a lot of popularity in the United States.
The ideologies that the NOI presented changed how the blacks viewed themselves, and they strove to bring about social equality. The formation of this organization facilitated the beginning of black empowerment era. During this time, many blacks became educated and opened up several businesses that became successful. The organization also ensured the well-being of its members, for instance it established an AIDS clinic in Washington to cater for the people suffering from the disease since they were shunned from the other hospitals. This enabled such people to obtain the required medical attention that they could not get before. As much as the formation of the NOI had several advantages, it also had some negative effects.
The greatest negative effect that it had was the notion of the demonization of the white people. The whites were commonly referred to as ‘blue-eyed devils’. This ruined the relationship between blacks and the native whites. This aspect of the organization was subject to a lot of criticism especially from the media. The movement was also considered anti-Semitic due to this reason. Some of the ideologies and beliefs of NOI were in direct contradiction with the constitution. The organization required that its members were not to partake in any acts of violence such as wars.
The constitution, on the other hand, required any males’ working with the army to take part in the wars, if required, in honor of the country. One of the NOI’s members disregarded this law and refused to take part in the Vietnam War. He was a young boxer and the then heavyweight champion, Cassius M. Clay. The department of Justice took legal against him since had had ignored his moral responsibility to the country. He was found guilty on the charge brought forth, but he eventually cleared his name with the courts after a long time. However, the establishment of the Nation of Islam has had both good and bad effects on its members and non-members alike.
The role of Elijah
Elijah Muhammad was a leader of the NOI from 1934 to 1975 when he died. His tenure created a basis for the whole organization. His teachings and interpretations of various aspects of their religion are what are still in use to date. His greatest role in the organization was in the passing down of the teachings that the first leader, Fard had taught him. Elijah was the second in command to Fard and was his student during his reign. Fard taught him several things pertaining to the religion. He was taught all these material in order to pass them down someday to the rest of the members when he assumed the leadership of the organization. For this reason, he was accorded a lot of respect and his teachings were followed to the letter. Another important role of Elijah was that he produced several leaders under his instruction and guidance.
Such leaders include Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X. These people rose to become great leaders of the organization under his patronage. The growth of the membership of the organization is attributed to Elijah’s reign. This is because, through rallies, he garnered several followers who joined the NOI. As the leader of the NOI, he formed several affiliations with other leaders and they helped him financially. This made the Nation of Islam one of the wealthiest organizations in America. Elijah played a major role in the development of the organization as its leader. This made several people look up to him as their role model and made him one of the most respected African Americans in the United State.
The nation of Islam is an organization that has gained a lot of popularity among the blacks not only in America but also in the other parts of the world. This is because its teachings supported the black empowerment. The organization has brought about several changes to the lives of its members, and this is commendable, but some of its ideologies have brought about hatred and discord. This is because of their view of whites’ ad demons rather than human beings. This had made them the subject of criticism severally. However, even with their syncretic and controversial religious practices, the United States accords its citizens with the freedom of worship. This means that they can worship and follow whatever religion they choose.