African American Islam
The modern world is marked by the growing influence of religious factor on the public life and political processes. Other hallmark of the world of today is strengthening of interaction between people, cultural communities and religious systems. Contemporary scholars pay considerable attention to the problems of relationship between Christianity and Islam as two of the most influential religions of the world. A number of authors represent Islam and Christianity as the embodiment of fundamentally opposed ideas and principles. In this regard, the question of existence and forms of development of Islam in the United States acquires particular importance. The aim of this research paper is to define the notion of African American Islam subjecting it to a comprehensive analysis as a religious, political, social, cultural and ethnic phenomenon.
African Muslims Slaves
Islamic community in the USA is mostly represented by African Americans most of whom share a delusion that the religion of Islam was introduced in America less than 100 years ago. Many American Muslims are the children of immigrants who moved to the United States from South Asia and the Middle East in the XIX century. Therefore, it would be a mistake to believe that their parents were the first Muslims in America while, in reality, Islam appeared in the USA much earlier. This religion reached the shores of America in the wake of the slave trade accomplished across the Atlantic from the XVI to the XIX century. Upon beginning of reclamation of America by Europeans, the newly settled country experienced a demand for cheap labor. Consequently, European slave traders started arriving in African ports for the purchase of slaves. Since, most of the slave trade was carried out in West Africa, a large number of the slaves were Muslims. “Most Muslims in antebellum America were of North and West African ancestry” (GhaneaBassiri, 2010, p. 15). Located in the savanna, Kingdom of Mali and Songhai had long been a center of Islamic civilization in West Africa. (GhaneaBassiri, 2010). This way,, many African Muslims became slaves in the USA.
The Nation of Islam
Numerous public associations in the United States are established to protect the rights and interests of racial, ethnic and religious communities. However, there are not many mass organizations, whose members believe that creation of the independent state in the United States is the only way to lay down justice in relations between the white and black Americans and the Nation of Islam is one of them. “The Nation of Islam is perhaps best known for having produced some of the most important and controversial figures of the XX century, particularly Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan” (Gibson, 2012, p. 1). Established in 1930, the organization immediately became the object of attention of American special services. Since, the leaders of the Nation of Islam use aliases, the FBI has not been able to establish the origin of its founder known as Wallace Fard Muhammad. His followers believe that he was the Mahdi – the Muslim messiah.
Wallace Fard Muhammad, who disappeared without a trace in 1934, and his successor – Elijah Muhammad developed a doctrine based on the main principles of traditional Islam mixed with theosophy and Buddhism. The main provision of this doctrine is the postulate of the artificial “breeding” of all existing races from their black Afro-Asian ancestors by a prehistoric scientist Yakub. Thus, Jakub created the white race and its by-product, the Jews, as a diabolical race for the temporary oppression of the black population with the purpose of their tempering in complex conditions. As stipulated in the doctrine of the organization, African-Americans are the chosen by Allah. According to the followers of this movement, Allah will free all the colored people from domination of the whites. In the future, they will rule the world as the superior race based on their more ancient origin.
Preachers of the Nation of Islam teach that their followers do not fundamentally differ from other races and nations. They just follow the path to liberation and transformation into a higher race, if they follow the requirements of their teachers. For more rapid progress, they have to be separated from other Americans by forming autonomy within the US or even a separate state in the North America. Leaders of the organization emphasized that the Nation of Islam does not intend to achieve this goal by force. According to them, if the white population cannot provide equal opportunities for the blacks, they have to allow the black population to separate and shape their destiny.
The Nation of Islam has been characterized by the US officials as black racism, black supremacy, black separatism and Islamic radicalism. For a long time, the followers of traditional Islam refused to recognize the members of the Nation of Islam as their faith brothers.
Malcolm X is an American fighter for the rights of blacks and the ideologue of the movement the Nation of Islam, which has had a huge impact on the Black Panther Party and the movement for secession of “black states”. Malcolm’s father was a Baptist activist and an ardent supporter of the black nationalist Marcus Garvey. He also participated in the famous Black Legion which led to his assassination. Having tragically lost her husband, Malcolm’s mother suffered from a mental disorder that led her to a clinic for mentally ill people. Even orphaned, Malcolm was considered one of the best students in the class. However, after hearing from the beloved teacher that his dream of becoming a lawyer was impossible for a Negro, Malcolm did not see any sense in the studies. After long ordeals, he joined the youth gangs.
In 1946, while being imprisoned, Malcolm came under the influence of the ideas of the Nation of Islam. Despite the grandiose name, its teachings were the combination of black racism and mythology of unknown origin diverged from orthodox Islam. In fact, it was a black analog of white racist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. However, Malcolm, along with many other blacks, became its fervent disciple. Being in the organization from 1952, he replaced the “slave” family name on the letter “X” symbolizing the loss of knowledge about the origin and history of the ancestors of Africans who were sold into slavery. As a bright speaker, Malcolm X attracted a huge number of followers the organization, including the boxer Cassius Clay. After joining the organization, the boxer took the name, Muhammad Ali.
In 1964, Malcolm X announced his decision to leave the Nation of Islam. “He quickly established his spiritual group, Muslim Mosque, largely for those NOI members who had left the Nation in sympathy with him” (Marable, 2011, p. 3). Later, Malcolm X founded non-religious agency, referred to as the Organization of Afro-American Unity. The organization called all black Muslims to join its rates regardless of their religious background. Malcolm X was shot to death in 1965 in Harlem. He was a person who never vacillated to campaign against oppression and injustice of the capitalist system. In spite of the limitations of the ideas, he was an uncompromising and honest fighter for justice of the XX century. Malcolm X fought for the rights of the minorities in a country where racial segregation thrived.
In 1964, during his trip to Africa and the Middle East, Malcolm X had a chance to participate in the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Arriving in the city of Jeddah located near Mecca, Malcolm X, like other pilgrims, was dressed in ihram – white cloth wrapped around the body. The aim of such vesture was to show that everyone is equal. At the airport, Malcolm X saw that the pilgrims arriving for Hajj belonged to different race which was contrary to his idea that Mecca was banned for the white population. Here, he could feel the atmosphere of humility, genuine brotherhood and peace. In Mecca, Malcolm X started rethinking his concept of a white person. He radically changed his racial and political philosophy,
abandoned black racism and all ideas that did not conform to the Islamic doctrine. In Mecca, he felt an extraordinary sense of excitement seeing as a multilingual crowd of people from different parts of the world gathered at the Hajj and appealed to the One God, to whom all people were equal regardless of the social status or color of the skin. He suddenly discovered that the religion of hatred and narcissism, which he was imposed in the Nation of Islam, was not orthodox Islam. In Mecca, Malcolm X realized that orthodox Islam was the only religion which extirpated the race problem in its society. According to Malcolm, American Negros could never be accused of racial hostility. They only responded to four hundred years of the conscious racism of white Americans. With the help of orthodox Islam, Malcolm X understood that there was no superiority of one person over another.
Nowadays, the problem of relations between the Islamic world and the West is a critical issue in terms of international politics and culture. The problem becomes acute when it comes to manifestation or merely existence of Islam in the culture of Western countries with the US being not an exception. Since the time when America was the New World, the spread of Islam, mainly through African slaves, played a crucial role in movements for equal rights and establishment of democracy.