Nation of Islam

An African American movement known for its teachings combining traditional Islam with Black nationalist ideas.

The Nation of Islam (NOI) is a religious and political organization founded in the United States by Wallace Fard Muhammad in 1930. Known for its promotion of Black nationalism and self-sufficiency, the NOI has been a significant movement within the African American community.

History and Founding

The NOI was established in Detroit, Michigan, in 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad. After Fard Muhammad’s disappearance in 1934, the leadership was assumed by Elijah Muhammad. The organization reemerged prominently in the 1950s and 1960s, with significant figures like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali becoming associated with it. Elijah Muhammad’s teachings included many of the basic tenets of Islam but also incorporated his own ideologies, particularly concerning race.

Beliefs and Practices

The Nation of Islam’s theology includes the belief in the succession of mortal gods, each a black man named Allah, with Wallace Fard Muhammad being the most recent. The Nation teaches about the Tribe of Shabazz, a dark-skinned, Arabic-speaking tribe with inner divinity, and maintains that a scientist named Yakub created the white race, which lacks inner divinity and is inherently violent.

The teachings of the NOI diverge significantly from traditional Islamic theology, and as a result, it is often considered heretical by mainstream Islamic groups. The NOI promotes racial unity, economic self-sufficiency, and maintains a strict code of discipline among its members. It has campaigned for the creation of an independent African-American nation-state and calls for African Americans to be economically self-sufficient and separatist.

Controversies and Criticism

The Nation of Islam has been the subject of controversy and criticism, particularly for its antisemitic, homophobic, and bigoted rhetoric. Leaders, including Louis Farrakhan, have been known for their deeply antisemitic and homophobic statements. The organization has been characterized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League for promoting racial prejudice towards white people, antisemitism, and anti-LGBT rhetoric.

Modern Influence and Activities

Despite controversies, the NOI continues to have a presence in the United States and abroad, primarily within the African American community. It has been successful in converting prisoners and operates a number of businesses and educational ventures. The NOI also engages in various community service activities and has been involved in organizing significant events like the Million Man March.

The Nation of Islam’s influence on the African American community, its distinctive interpretation of Islam, and its role in the civil rights movement of the 20th century have made it a notable subject in the study of religious and social movements in America.