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What We Should Learn From the Nation of Islam


Qa'im

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When Elijah Muhammad went to court and the judge asked him about his aim and purpose, he said he was going to make Black America Islamic. The judge said that making black people Muslims was like putting pants on an elephant. Elijah Muhammad said, "I got one pant-leg on already."[1]

 

In 2012, my student society invited the late grandson of Malcolm X, Malcolm El Shabazz, to speak at our university. I had some knowledge of his grandfather’s history, having watched Spike Lee’s legendary 1992 biopic, but I did not have a thorough understanding of the history of Islam in America. His appearance at the University of Toronto drew in a large audience.

We spoke briefly before his speech about the cold Toronto weather and his seminary studies in Syria, and I bought him two coffees – a double-double and an iced cappuccino. It was probably too cold for the iced cap, but it was a signature Canadian beverage at Tim Hortons that we felt he may enjoy. After the speech, Malcolm expressed his gratitude for the warm welcome, and even called me “a sincere brother”.[1]

Although Malcolm El Shabazz had the tenacity of his grandfather, he was a troubled young man. After a life of run-ins with the police, Malcolm was killed in 2013 at a night club in Mexico under peculiar circumstances.[2] At the time I had just finished reading The End of American Lynching by Ashraf Rushdy, which details the history of racial oppression in America. The loss of this new friend prompted me to devote some time to studying the Civil Rights Movement – a story of persecution, loss, and eventual healing and rejuvenation.

I was skipping university readings to flip through books, papers, and videos that pertained to contemporary black history. I found the topic to not only be socially relevant, but spiritually uplifting and inspiring. The story of suffering ex-slaves fighting fearlessly for their inalienable rights spoke to me. The Nation of Islam taught that the black man was robbed of his name, language, culture, country, God, and religion. Their spirit and valour could only remind me of the Israelite bondage in Egypt, or the Arabian Age of Ignorance. Nations are born out of trial and tribulation. Eventually, people pull together in tough times for a greater good, and they can find success even when all they have on their side is a kernel of truth.

There are some obvious and irreconcilable differences between traditional Islamic theology and the teachings of the Nation of Islam. Sunni and Shia Muslims feel queasy at the suggestion that God’s attributes were manifest in Master Fard Muhammad, that all whites are devils, and that Elijah Muhammad was the messenger of God. These issues aside, there is much to learn from the Nation of Islam’s example. They were arguably the most successful and the most socially-relevant Western Islamic movement in history.

Social Relevance

By the 1970s, the Nation of Islam had nearly two million members, almost all of whom were converts from a Christian background. The fact that many victims of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade were Muslim[3] perpetuated the idea that Islam was the proper religion of the African American. Malcolm X was able to present the Nation of Islam’s enigmatic teachings to the public in a way that highlighted the need for separation, independence, and sovereignty for black people. Within a few short years, Malcolm X’s wit, charm, and hard work brought hundreds of thousands of people to the organization. The organization was still growing exponentially even after the controversy surrounding Malcolm’s assassination.

In 1974, the Nation of Islam owned enough assets to create a budding, self-sufficient community: over one hundred and fifty mosques, over forty schools, a newspaper plant, farms, a bank, apartment complexes, restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, a national trucking system, and an aviation department.[4] Whether or not territorial independence was viable, the Nation of Islam created an independent subculture and economic unit. This frightened the U.S government. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover actively tried to sabotage the movement and “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement.”[5] In 1996, then-Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi offered to give the group one billion dollars, until the donation was blocked by the Clinton administration.[6] Still, the unmatched coordination of the Nation of Islam attracted the brief support of the D.C. Department of Public and Assisted Housing.[7]

In 1995, the Nation of Islam held the historic Million Man March rally in Washington DC, which brought leading African American figures together to demand justice and reproach, including Rosa Parks, Betty Shabazz, Jesse Jackson, and Jeremiah Wright.

Diet

The group’s unique diet was one of the primary means by which Master Fard Muhammad and the Nation of Islam were able to hook-in African American converts. The diet not only cut down food expenditures during the Great Depression, but it purported to have improved the general health of adherents.[8]

Master Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad developed a strict diet that makes a traditional Muslim diet look easy. Not only did the Nation of Islam fast and abstain from pork and alcohol, but they only ate one meal per day. This was done to prepare adherents for the possible severity that national independence or apocalypse may cause.[9] To improve their general health, Black Muslims mostly ate vegetables, fish, whole-wheat bread, and chicken; and they would avoid all non-halal and non-kosher meats.[10] Even beef and potatoes were to be avoided for being too coarse and too starchy respectively.[11]

Realism

Every member of the Nation of Islam is put into one of two institutions: males became part of the Fruit of Islam (FOI), and females became part of the Muslim Girls’ Training (MGT) program. The FOI is a paramilitary force with its own hierarchy that is trained to protect and provide provision for the Nation of Islam. They wear distinct blue uniforms and provide security for social and religious functions. The MGT educates women on home economics, housekeeping duties and self-defence.

There is a strong sense of responsibility in the sect that reportedly commands respect and better job opportunities for black people.[12] Indeed, devotees to the movement were encouraged to be clean, well-spoken, obedient, fearless, and abstinent from intoxicants and other vices – all traits that employers would give preference to, especially during tough economic times.

The emphasis on self-knowledge and self-emancipation, which was probably borrowed from Marcus Garvey, gave an urgent sense that black people should not wait for America to do for them what they can do for themselves. They would commonly ask, why rely on your ex-slave masters when you could pool in your own resources to build a future for your people?

The Nation of Islam was undoubtedly a realist organization that did not buy into Martin Luther King’s “dream” of an integrated America. After all, they believed that Caucasians were flesh-and-blood devils that Allah would soon destroy, and so whites were to be seen as rivalling competitors rather than potential allies.

Furthermore, unlike Black Lives Matter, the Nation of Islam puts a special emphasis on uplifting African American males from drug and alcohol abuse, gang violence, and hook-up culture. The perceived downfall of black men due to social ills was the primary motivation for the Million Man March.

 

What could traditional Muslims learn from this example?

The Nation of Islam proved that Muslims could be brazen and unapologetic; and not have to rely on co-opting forces in the political system to thrive in the West. Despite governmental censures on the organization and its leaders, the Nation of Islam produced Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Warith Deen Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan, who collectively introduced millions of people to the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad. The subculture the sect created heavily influenced the worlds of sports, music, and intermittent dieting in America.

The Nation of Islam sought to give a religious hue to the issue of civil rights. As people of faith, we don’t see all suffering as simply a result of natural or systemic causes. Rather, some suffering has a divine function that includes trial, refinement, and chastisement. The Million Man March’s major themes included “Affirmation and Responsibility” and “Atonement and Reconciliation”, which emphasized that a return to traditional values and religious duties would bring about Allah’s succor and uplift legitimate grievances. Malcolm X’s example in particular shows that daʿwa cannot exist in a vacuum; but rather it has to be complimented with a socially-relevant message.

The reformative power of our religion is something that many traditional Muslims are forgetting. The Nation of Islam targeted addicts, sex-workers, inmates, and broken families, and turned them into productive and upright citizens. They knew that their teachings, which are heavily influenced by the Quran, could “resurrect” their people. On the other hand, immigrant communities often neglect and ostracize Muslim individuals for their marital status, education, poverty and past crimes or sins. One must remember that the Prophet Muhammad never walked away from his people, despite the debauchery that they took part in jahiliyya.

Muslims in North America and Europe should not only be passport-carrying doctors and engineers, but a self-sufficient international community with its own sense of purpose, loyal only to our own values and worldview. The Umma is the true shining city on the hill, and that light could foist the second pant-leg on.


[2] Mitchell, John L., and Jack Chang. “Searching for Mecca.” Vice, Vice, 13 Dec. 2013, www.vice.com/en_ca/article/dpwpz7/searching-for-mecca-0000178-v20n12.

[3] Austin, Allan. African Muslims in Antebellum America, A Sourcebook. New York: Garland Press, 1984.

[4] Saviour's Day 1974. YouTube, YouTube, 17 Feb. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rh8VnhCjzbQ.

[5] Farley, Jonathan David. “Preventing the Rise of a 'Messiah'.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 Apr. 2008, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/apr/04/preventingtheriseofamessi

[6] Dorothy Gaiter, “Nation of Islam Tries to Accept gift of $1 Billion from Libya, The Wall Street Journal, 26 August 1996, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB841007141275125500

[7] “D.C. HIRES NATION OF ISLAM GUARDS FOR SE COMPLEX.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 May 1995, www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1995/05/04/dc-hires-nation-of-islam-guards-for-se-complex/04352e30-6ad8-48fc-8de5-57a1283b7647/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f2b7a21a48a5.

[8] Beynon, “American Journal of Sociology.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 43, no. 6, 1938, pp. 895, 906.

[9] Sahib, H. (2018). Contributions in Black Studies, Vol 13 No. 1, pp. 89

[10] Ibid

[12] Sahib, H. (2018). Contributions in Black Studies, Vol 13 No. 1, pp. 87

 


[1] “The Final Call.” Willie Lynch Letter: The Making of a Slave, www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Minister_Louis_Farrakhan_9/Death_Stands_at_the_Door_-Pt_II_973.shtml. http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Minister_Louis_Farrakhan_9/Death_Stands_at_the_Door_-Pt_II_973.shtml

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What's always struck me as interesting is how the Nation of Islam's prominence in the 20th century fuelled an image of an American Muslim as an ethical, virtuous figure who would abstain from the societal debauchery that exists around him (before this characterisation was reversed post-9/11). The NOI brought Islam to the forefront of American public consciousness for the first time, and its mission of giving Blacks respectability and a sense of purpose was the catalyst for Americans to formulate a notion of 'what' a Muslim was for the first time. To America in the '60's and 70's, a quintessential Muslim was Black, native-born, often a convert, and always socially-driven and self-disciplined. You can see examples of this in pop culture as late as the 1990's, such as Tupac Shakur rapping about how his homies that converted to Islam gave up on 'living large' for a more chaste lifestyle.

"Oh you a Muslim now, no more dope game / Heard you might be comin' home, just got bail / Wanna go to the Mosque, don't wanna chase females / I seems I lost my little homie he's a changed man / Hit the pen and now no sinnin' is the game plan." (1996)

It's easy to see how these stereotypes have shifted in the last few decades with waves of immigration reducing the proportion of African-American Muslims (although they still constitute almost 30% of Muslims in the USA) and the War on Terror demonizing the communities that have grown since. 

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As Salaam Alaikum

Ashura, Karbala

What's important in the Lost Found Nation of Islam in the West to learn is first the knowledge of self and secondly the presence of God in being (person) or existence. These two subjects Self and God is the knowledge that was stripped away from the so-called African slaves and their descendants the so-called American Negro or African American as they are called today. 

Mentioning W F Muhammad twpadf, I wanted to give you a understanding of what the W means in his name something, that a minister like Malcolm X may not or would not have expounded on because those who he would have been teaching would not have been prepared to understand the meaning. That kind of teaching the student would have gotten after the student was initiated into the school or University of Islam and by way of studying the meaning.

The W means wilayat.

Edited by Maki D Cabarete
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      In Asian societies, for example, you will tend to find that people will be more likely to strongly agree with many of these statements. In some western ones disagreement is more likely - because of their greater focus on personal independence.
      Are some values better or worse than others? Are some values right and other ones wrong?
      You may have a belief system that does indeed tell you what values are right or wrong, indeed adherence to some is more likely to send you to heaven or hell. For example I believe that Islam tends more towards filial piety than personal independence, at least in some measures of filial piety. I am not sure our religion advocates trying our best to achieve parents' unachieved goals, but I do think the imperative to always being polite to parents applies. 

      Terry Y. S. Lum1, Elsie C. W. Yan, Andy H. Y. Ho, Michelle H. Y. Shum1, Gloria H. Y. Wong1, Mandy M. Y. Lau1, and Junfang Wang (2015) Measuring Filial Piety in the 21st Century: Development, Factor Structure, and Reliability of the 10-Item Contemporary Filial Piety Scale. Journal of Applied Gerontology 13
       
      So why do I have a problem with the IIIS's values
      The values that they set out contrast vividly with those of the AEI. The AEI sets out those values that it believes will make the world a better place.
      The IIIS sets out the importance they attach to answering emails on time and doing whatever it is they do well.
      That's ridiculous and leaves us with one of three possibilities:
      The values section is for internal Saudi consumption They don't understand what a values section is about and simply copied and pasted the idea from somewhere else and made some amendments They're too embarrassed to state their values Lets look at each of the above in turn.
      It's for internal Saudi consumption
      Running a professional organisation as these values state is pretty much a sine qua non, something you'd take for granted. Actually on reflection, it's a sine qua non in cultures where doing things properly is the norm. In Saudi, given the general lack of professionalism, overall levels of incompetence and laziness, perhaps it is a mark of recognition that you do what you should be doing.
      So perhaps there is a rational explanation for what they have done - but it does not reflect well on Saudi, if this is the case.
      They don't understand what a values section is about
      If the people putting together the site knew they needed one, but could not get the sign off from those higher up as to what the values statement should be, they just defaulted to something inane - which defats the purpose of the exercise, especially for people claiming to run a think tank.
      They're too embarrassed to state their values
      We are still left with the unanswered question as to what the Institute stands for. If their values posit that Saudi influence in the region is a good thing they should say so. If they believe that Iran is a malign power and the world would be a better place if people knew this, they should say so. But are they embarrassed to state the obvious? Are they really trying to run with the fiction that theirs is a neutral and independent organisation?
       
       
    • By Haji 2003 in Contemporania
         0
      Summary
      When you are in a weak position, all the choices you have are bad ones.
      Introduction
      I've always thought that since British Mandate the Palestinians have been in a no win position. If they accepted the offers the Israelis gave them there would have been an incentive for the Israelis to take more land (if the Pals don't mind yielding some they might not mind yielding more) and if the Pals had resisted that would also have given the Israelis a pretext to take more land (for defensive purposes), the latter has proven to be the case.
      In short whatever the Pals decided did not matter, the Israelis' dominant position ensured that they could respond in a manner that was advantageous to them. The same applies to Native American Indians in the 18th and 19th centuries, whether their response to European settlers was to fight make treaties the outcome would always be the same, their lands would be taken. In both cases there was such an asymmetry between the two parties that there was nothing the colonised could do that would change the outcome.
      In the examples that follow I look at some contemporary examples that illustrate a different dynamic. In these instances non-Western powers have presented the West with situations where however the West responds will lead to an outcome for the West that it does not want.
      Huawei - China
      Turning now to a totally different situation, the following piece in the FT neatly summarises how I feel about the situation between the U.S. government and Huawei. In the 21st century, it is beginning to look as if the Chinese have the best cards. for example Huawei makes good and cost-effective telecoms infrastructure.
      Western countries may have security concerns, but if they ban Huawei, they could end up with a poorer solution. Other countries that have no such qualms could benefit from the cost advantages that Huawei equipment offers. But if Western countries accept Huawei they risk entrenching the advantages that the Chinese have, as well as the claimed security risks.
      Sanctions have been a preferred Western method of taking action against countries that have fallen out of favour. But this tool only works where you have something the other person wants, when the situation is reversed - you can end up damaging yourself.
      https://www.ft.com/content/8fc63610-88fe-11e9-b861-54ee436f9768
      SWIFT - Russia
      This example arose during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. The West wanted to sanction Russia by imposing economic sanctions including barring Russian entities from access to western financial systems. But this was not straightforward:
      https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/feb/24/what-is-swift-international-payments-network-russia-sanction
      Sic transit gloria mundi (so passes worldly glory)
      In a previous FT story about the same subject I posted a comment that this situation is similar to the British attempts to stop Indian technological development by banning the Indians from making their own steam engines, at the start of the 20th century. The British may have delayed Indian development by some decades, but that's all they were able to do. Whether the British took no action to stop Indian technological development or whether they proactively tried to hinder it, ultimately they would lose. 
      There are now far too many Indians with every increasing levels of capability to stop the juggernaut.
      The status quo
      In mid-2022 following a visit to Taiwan by Senator Pelosi the FT noted this about the Chinese response to the visit:
      https://www.ft.com/content/5462a57a-bd13-4313-b26b-9645b48a70ee 
      In my opinion it was Pelosi who altered the status quo, this was the most high ranking visit in 25 years. Based on the theme of this blog post, given the dominant position of the Chinese, the American position should be to maintain the status quo. As soon as they seek to alter it, the Chinese have an excuse to try and establish a new status quo that is more favourable to them.
      Conclusion
      In the context of China, I think the U.S. government feels a threat to its economic/technological dominance. And the sanctions are its attempt to fight back. But whether the U.S. decides to fight or not, I think in the longer term that dominance will have to be compromised. Huawei and the Chinese are now too far along the technological path of development and they are far further ahead than the India of the early 20th century. 
      The U.S. is now in a similar technological position that the Palestinians have been in terms of geography. Whatever option the US chooses, it will ultimately 'lose'. Loss in this context is not necessarily ceding technological leadership to the Chinese, but it may well involve acknowledging their superiority in certain areas. Other countries like Russia also may be able to work their way around sanctions for example, so western attempts to control their behaviour will have limited success.
      In the context of Russia it seems that there is too much at stake economically for sanctions to be effective, the sanctioners stand to lose as much as the sanctioned.
       
    • By Haji 2003 in Contemporania
         14
      Summary
      The theory that the pyramids were built or had their construction guided by extraterrestrials is challenged by the existence of mistakes in the construction of some of them.
      But I think the Egyptians were privy to Divine Guidance, which in itself is interesting because the evidence of a Pharoah moving from polytheism to monotheism supports Qur'anic teaching as I understand it.
       
      The bent pyramid at Dahshur
      There is a populist theory that the pyramids must have had an alien inspiration. This is because of the range of innovations that they represent and knowledge across multiple disciplines and their orientation towards certain constellations.
      My problem with this theory is the bent pyramid at Dahshur. It's bent, because they got the maths wrong (see the picture I took a few years ago below). It's weird that aliens who managed to get to this planet but then got their measurements for a stone structure wrong. Seems pretty clear to me that the pyramids we see represent the refinement and development of Egyptian technology, rather than discrete alien intervention. Also supporting my contention is a landscape literally littered with smaller pyramids, these people were learning, developing and increasing the scale of their creations as they grew more confident.
       

       
      https://www.wonders-of-the-world.net/Pyramids-of-Egypt/Evolution-of-the-pyramids-of-Egypt.php
       
      If not aliens then who?
      Humans.
      My understanding of the Qur'anic references to Pharaoh is that they provide an example of a powerful leader, with immense resources, who was nevertheless brought down by divine intervention. The Pharaohs were representatives of a culture with a level of scientific, organisational, military and communications capability unknown at that time and for a long time yet to come.
      Indeed the very existence of mistakes in their work and subsequent improvements demonstrates that they had the capability to learn. Nevertheless the fact that the Pharoah of the time of Moses was brought down by believers in Allah who were weaker in numbers and military strength, is a sign to subsequent rulers around the world about how weak their position can be.

       
       
      And importantly the Qur'an tells us that the evidence of such civilisations is there for us to observe in order for us to better understand the message that is being conveyed to us:
       

       
      A final thought
      Were the ancient Egyptians privy to Divine guidance? I think there is evidence in the Qur'an that they may have been. Here are some references to Allah communicating with other cultures.

       
       

       

       
      And indeed there is material in the historical record that at least one Pharoah (Akhenaten) tried to promulgate a faith that had similarities to monotheism. The initiative did not last very long and in the reign of the next Pharoah (Tutankhamun) the Egyptians reverted to polytheism. I use the phrase similarities to monotheism because although he removed references to the pantheon of deities that the Egyptians previously worshipped, his new religion nevertheless involved worship of the sun.
      The following extract is from a book published within the last few years that addresses head on the issue of monotheism and Akhenaten's rule.
      Hoffmeier, J.K., 2015. Akhenaten and the Origins of Monotheism. Oxford University Press.
      Perhaps Akhenaten was amongst the many Prophets that we believe have been sent by God at different times and places to different cultures? I am speculating here, but perhaps the message was corrupted? Still, I would like to believe that the archaeological evidence of Akhenaten's rule supports the idea that Allah's message was not restricted to just the children of Abraham.
       
      See Also
       
    • By Hameedeh in Think Positive
         17
      Two years ago I became a minimalist. I'm not talking about music, sculpture or painting, but minimalism in my life. I read about creating a minimalist home, but I did not buy the book:
      http://zenhabits.net/a-guide-to-creating-a-minimalist-home/
      So, I am thrifty and I buy very little. Whenever I am shopping and see a dozen things I want to own, I question myself. Do I have storage space for this? Is this really necessary? Will I really love it or is it just something that I never had before and always wanted to have one? Just wanting to possess something is not a good reason to buy it. Could I take a photo of it and just look at it, without spending my money? This must be a good reason to join Pinterest, to have all the things you want to look at, but never need to buy, store or move them. 
      As you have seen, my ShiaChat blog is minimalist by nature. I usually say very little, because if there is one thing that I know, it is that I recognize great writing when I see it, but I am not a good writer. I hope to become a better writer some day, and in the meantime, I invite you to my tumblr. Please, if you can, start at the last page which shows my first post (a prayer for the safety of 12th Imam AJ) and then scroll your way up, and over to previous pages in chronological order, the way my brain was working. 
      http://hameedeh.tumblr.com/page/3
      ♥ May your days be sunny, your nights restful, and your heart satisfied with the blessings that Allah has given you. Think Positive. ♥
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