Black Muslims

Authored by: Herbert Berg

Routledge Handbook of Islam in the West

Print publication date:  August  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415691321
eBook ISBN: 9781315794273
Adobe ISBN: 9781317744023


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The term “Black Muslim” would seem to encompass all African American Muslims and African Muslims. It is, however, a term that is largely reserved for African Americans in the Nation of Islam (NOI), a movement founded in the early 1930s by the enigmatic Wali Fard Muhammad and led for almost four decades by his Messenger and successor, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Where one begins the story of Black Muslims often reflects one’s views about the orthodoxy of the NOI. If one begins the tale with Estavan, a Moroccan Muslim slave who arrived in Florida with a Spanish fleet in 1527, or with the approximately 15 percent of Africans who were Muslims brought to North America as slaves, then the NOI is a reappropriation of a lost Islamic heritage. It may be heretical and on the margins, but it stands inside the umma.If one begins with the history of Fard Muhammad, or, worse, with Wallace D. Ford, then the NOI is a scam and a brazen usurpation of a Muslim façade with a racist agenda that preyed on African American’s ignorance of Islam; its use of the words “Islam” and “Muslim,” or even its inclusion in a volume such as this, is anathema. Where one ends the story of Black Muslims also reflects one’s view about the NOI. To end the story with Louis Farrakhan is usually to highlight the unreformed differences between the NOI and other older or more traditional forms of Islam. If one instead ends with Malcolm X or Warith Deen Muhammad, the son and successor of Elijah Muhammad, then one likely sees the NOI as a necessary, but temporary, stepping-stone towards Sunni orthodoxy.

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