Today, in the western world, when we hear the word “Muslim” or “Islam” many American people tend to think terrorist or people from the middle east(the un-educated one). As of 2017, there are at least 3 to 3.5 million American Muslims living in the United States of America. The majority ethnic group that makes up this population is the African-American people. Yet, the question “How does this come about?” arises. If you want to know about the history of Muslims in America and its large spread, one cannot speak on this subject without mentioning the African or should we say African-American’s journey to Al-Islam.
In the Trans-Atlantic slave trade there were about 15 to 20 million enslaved Africans and of these slaves there were between 2% to 4% African Muslims. These Muslims were from the tribes of Mandinka, Fulani, Wolof, Soninke, Songhai, Ashanti, Taureg, Nupi, Yoruba, Susa, Kanuri, Mandara, and Vai. We are all familiar with and have learned from Alex Haley’s book (and motion picture) Roots, which was a story about an enslaved African Muslim, named Kunta Kinte, where he lived in a small village in West Africa, practiced Islam, was a student of Arabic and lived his daily African rituals. He was captured and brought to America as a slave, sold and given the name Toby. He tried to escape countless times from captivity, and married a house cook named Bell where they had a daughter named Kizzy who went on to have many children. There’s also documentation and stories where you can find information about other enslaved African Muslims such as; S’Quash, The Moor, Phillip The Fula, Sambo, Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, Lamine Kebe, Lamine Ndiaye, Yarrow Mamout, Charles Larten, William Rainesford, and many more that were all well-educated and literate in Math, Arabic, Science, and different spoken languages. Throughout the years of slavery, the African people were oppressed and their cultural and religious practices were suppressed. Slaves took on names after their slave-masters as identity of one’s property and had Christianity forced upon them. Generation after generation, Al-Islam had eventually dissipated.
In the 20th century between 1900 and 1975, there were many African-American civil right activists and leaders such as Marcus Garvey, Father Divine, Noble Drew Ali, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad who brought different teachings and ideologies to African-American communities to make blacks more self-conscious, self-sufficient, and to improve themselves socially and economically within these communities. Since the topic is “The African-Americans Journey to Al-Islam”, Noble Drew Ali and the Moorish Science Movement was one of the first and earliest movements to bring Al-Islam back to the African-American people. Ali’s teachings weren’t from the Holy Qur’an or nor did the Moorish Science Temple follow any practices of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), but his claim was teaching Islam or “Islamism.” The Moorish Science Temple practices had some correlation to mainstream Al-Islam. For instance, followers would stand and face east during prayers, their religious service and prayer were on Friday, gender separation in seating, women instructed to wear a head scarf or turban, men to wear a red fez at all times and to dress modest. Noble Drew Ali also wrote his own Koran, calling it “Circle 7 of Koran”.
The number of Moorish Science adherents today is not specifically known, but it has been estimated that there about 10,000 scattered across 15 different cities in the United States. Following in the middle of this movement was Allah Temple of Islam, which was started by Fard Muhammad in 1930; the name would change to the Lost-Found Nation of Islam where Minister Elijah Muhammad would succeed Fard Muhammad as a leader and eventually lead the Nation of Islam. As time went on, he assumed the title of prophet and messenger of Allah, and Fard became clearly identified as being Allah or incarnation of Allah. This is not what Muslims believe. Muslims believe that there is only one G-d and alone he has no partners, no associates, nor was he born, nor would he die or have any begotten children and that Muhammad (Pbuh) is the seal of all prophets and he is the last messenger. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught the knowledge of G-d, self and to be self-independent. In 1960, the Nation of Islam had 69 temples scattered across 27 states, and membership was believed to have reached as high as 100,000.
Two years later, some estimates placed the membership of the NOI at 250,000 and at its peak 1 million members. The NOI was also extremely active in promoting African-American economy and had established a number of successful businesses in the 1950s and 1960s. For example, the NOI owned grocery stores, bakeries, clothing stores, restaurants, department stores, and numerous establishments providing various services. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad was a mentor to Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan, and Imam Warith Deen Mohammed. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad had 7 children and out of those seven children was Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, born as Wallace Delaney Muhammad. His name was selected for him by Fard Muhammad who predicted that the newborn would one day succeed Elijah Muhammad as the leader of the Nation of Islam. Wallace was only about 12 years old when he first became aware if the discrepancies between the message of the Qur’an and the teachings of his father. Because of his refusal to be drafted in the military, in 1961 he was sentenced to prison for three years. He had time to study the Qur’an and when he returned to the Nation of Islam he was hoping to transform it into a truly Islamic movement.
Following the death of his father on February 25, 1975, Wallace became the Supreme Minister of the Nation of Islam and immediately began a process of change that would result in the largest conversion of people to Al-Islam in the history of America. In 1976, he changed the name of the Nation of Islam to the World Community of Al-Islam in the West and changed his own name to Warith Deen Mohammed. He led a systematic and mass movement of his followers into the fold of orthodox Al-Islam. He taught the five obligatory prayers, Ramadan, Zakat, and encouraged making Hajj. In 1992, Imam Mohammed became the first Muslim to perform the morning prayers in the United State Senate. Today Imam Mohammed’s teachings still serve as a spiritual and religious guide to about 2.5 million Muslims in America. It is likely that he has been influential in converting more people to Al-Islam than any other Muslim in the world today.
To conclude, the journey to Al-Islam for the African-American people has been a long yet successful struggle. It’s coincidental that there were roughly 3 to 6 million African Muslim slaves in the slave trade and as of today there are about 2 million African American Muslims in the United States of America. It’s coincidental that even Non-Muslim African Americans have Muslim names such as: Ahmad, Rasheed, Jamal, Kamal, Aisha, Jamela, Tariq, Shakur, Jaleel, Malik, Malika, Khadijah, and Amina, just to name a few. Even though Al-Islam came to the African-American communities in a corruptive way these pioneers were “stepping stones” for the African American people to coming into the light of the Holy Qur’an and following the practices of Prophet Muhammed (Pbuh). If G-d wills it then it will be.