Muslims make up approximately six percent of the entire population of the United States of America. One group of people that has contributed massively to the high number of converts into Islam is the African-Americans, who constitute about 12 percent of the entire American population. Most African-Americans believe that Christianity is a white-mans religion and has no significant connection to the African-American culture. Focusing on different factors that impacted the black community such as inequality and independence as well as paying attention to notable figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali aid in the understanding of Islam and African-Americans during the 20th century.
African-Americans faced a lot of difficulties both before and after the Civil War. One major problem in this period was the conspicuous religious vacuum. The period was regarded as a time of religious vacuum since most politicians sought to reach an ideal of freedom, seeking to drive sectarian violence away from politics. The period between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Second World War coincided with extreme expression of racism against African-Americans. It is to this effect that most African-Americans came to believe that Islam would serve their cries amicably. Most blacks were looking for a religion that was highly appreciative of their culture; something that they thought Christianity was unable to offer them. During this period, Islam existed in America, but in a very low profile. Being black and a Muslim at the same time was considered a double tragedy by the administration and other staunch Christians, predominantly whites. African-Americans therefore stayed for long periods of time after the Civil War in a religious vacuum with their dilemma rooted on dumping Christianity that would attract more agony from the majority race or join another religion and live to the demands of their own culture. The beginning of 20th century saw quite a number of African-Americans leaving Christianity for Islam as the popularity of Islam kept growing.
Moorish Science Temple Divine and National Movement of North America was the first known Muslim organization in America in the 20th century. Timothy Drew established this group in Newark, New Jersey in 1913. The major objective of Drew was to paint Islam as an independent religion. Most believers at that time believed that Islam was a religion that came to them in all shapes, attitudes, sizes, nationalities, ethnicities and cultures. Islam accommodated people from all walks of life. It is based on these characteristics that most people from the African-American race began to join Islam in large numbers. In 1925, the association changed its name to the Moorish Temple of Science with Drew extensively preaching and asserting that he was ordained by Allah to be the prophet of the dark people.
After the death of Drew in 1929, a lot of changes occurred in the organization. Most of the changes were linked to alterations in the name of the sect to attract even more people. A bigger impact of the group was felt under the leadership of Wali Fard. Fard went as far as selling artifacts to households thereby finding African-Americans where he could propagate his assertions. Among the issues that Fard discussed extensively were the following: white people were devils and they literally were embodiment of evil on earth. Fard further argued that the only way through which black people could liberate themselves from the grips of racism and white people as a whole was simply by instigating self-reliance and a total separation; that which could only be achieved by joining the religion. Finally, Fard asserted that Christianity was merely used by whites as a tool to take control of the black society. The efforts made by Fard and members of his sect were effective but not powerful enough to attract huge numbers of African-Americans to Islam.
The movement came to gain a whole new energy when Elijah Mohammed joined in the ranks as the prophet after Fard. Muhammad changed the name of the group to Nation of Islam. According to Elijah, the best avenue through which African-Americans would be attracted to Islam was by painting Christianity negatively. Elijah identified most African-Americans as young and massively challenged economically. He further asserted that Christianity extorted money from the young African-Americans when it did not tell them how to make the money in the first place. Elijahs assertions were met with a lot of resistances so many people still hesitated to join in his ranks. However, compared to the previous regimes of the organization, Elijah had made a huge step in attracting more blacks.
The greatest period for the growth of Nation of Islam was in 1948. This is a period that coincided with the end of the Second World War. Most African-Americans had participated in the war in different capacities to defend America. As such, after the war had ended, it was highly expected that America would accept the input of African-Americans and start gaining equal treatment from every other citizens. The expectations were even higher among the African-Americans who saw the participation in the war as an opportunity to prove to the world that they were patriotic citizens of America. Three years after the war, not much had changed and they (African-Americans) had to start exploring other options through which they would be viewed as equals with other citizens. Joining the Nation of Islam was the best option through which they could express their needs and meet other people with similar ideologies (David 32-45).
Fortunately, this period as well overlapped with the release of Malcolm X from prison. Under incarceration, where he had been detained for being a numbers man, a drug dealer and an armed robber, Malcolm followed the teachings of Elijah Mohammed. Curtis asserts that upon his release, Malcolm joined the Nation of Islam and had an immediate impact on the organization. With a history that instilled fear in many people, Malcolms membership in the sect attracted even more people who, at this time, viewed the Nation of Islam as the last option for liberation out of the grips of racism. One factor that made Malcolm a great asset to the group was his understanding with Elijah. Further, Malcolm was blessed with aggressive techniques through which he could lure many people to follow him. Due to these contributions, Elijah quickly promoted Malcolm to the status of spokesman of the Nation of Islam.
With Malcolm at the helm of Nation of Islam, a lot changed in the middle of the 20th century. Significantly, it is during this period that many African-Americans left Christianity to join the Nation of Islam. The membership increased from four thousand to forty thousand within a very short period with Malcolm X as the leader. A lot of Mosques were built in North America, which clearly indicated the massive grounds that Islam was attracting in the entire nation. Among the factors that Malcolm preached, and those that are believed to be behind his success, were solidarity of the brotherhood, creation of the African identity as well as emphasis on discipline and cultural concerns. Malcolm attracted a lot of prominent African-Americans to Islam.
One of the people who joined out of the influence of Malcolm X was Mohammed Ali. At the time Ali was joining the Nation of Islam, he had refused to abide by the military draft. Ali became a strong member and his similarity in thinking with Malcolm attracted more attention to the sect. Alis involvement in Nation of Islam was further boosted by the success that he saw in boxing both locally and internationally. The Nation of Islam associated the success of Ali with freedom that Islam gives to its followers. Predictably, a lot of people joined the organization out of the allure of Ali, and Malcolm X. However, the fame that Malcolm X received attracted a lot of internal wrangles that resulted in him getting kicked out of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X also came to realize that hatred and violence was not actually a part of the Islamic religion. Upon the death of Elijah in 1975; Wallace Muhammad (Elijahs son) took over the mantle of the Nation of Islam. By this time, the Nation of Islam had attracted the interest of many African-Americans across the entire nation. Malcolm was assassinated and a lot of disputes followed his death. The spirit of Malcolm X was seen in his grandson Shabazz who, before his death, was a radical civil rights campaigner in favor of the minority groups in America.
Justice and equality was the major reason behind the existence and movement of most African-Americans to Islam. After getting involved in activities that were characteristically American, African-Americans felt the need to feel part of America by engineering an attempt to register as voters, to instigate an integration of universities and colleges as well as to be part of the American dream. To reach their objectives, a lot of options proved futile and many believed only religion could anchor the processes. In the latter stages of the 20th century, most African-Americans that joined Islam, although it was a skewed version of the actual religion, saw it as a community of their peers that could provide them with opportunities no other religion could (Malcolm X 23-34). The number of people who join Islam has kept growing up effectively since the change of the century.
The incline of African-Americans has not passed without criticism. As most people argue that it was only through finding a definitive religion that African-Americans would reach their desired civil and human rights, others argued that joining Islam was critically creating a platform for radicalization. To those who opposed the movement of people from Christianity to Islam, there were a lot of avenues through which African-American issues could be solved without the necessity of a change in religion. True to their word, a lot of bloodshed was realized from the activities of Islamic groups such as the Nation of Islam. Questions are still raised to date if all these endeavors yielded any positive output.
The tendencies of African-Americans joining Islam are more attached to the history of America and its people. In as much as Christianity has played a big role in delivering America from a lot of ills, most African-Americans still have the feeling that Christianity has not addressed more of their demands, especially those that are culturally anchored. From the discussions herein, it is evident that Islam has contributed partly to the liberation of African-Americans from the grips of segregation.
Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ballantine Books, 1987. Print.
David Redneck. King of the World. 2007. Print.
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