Indigenous Muslims: The Descendants of Slaves and Early Immigrants (2)
Although most history courses cover the immigrants who changed America’s population throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not all of these immigrants were European or Christian. Thousands of Muslims immigrated to America during this period and most of these Islamic immigrants were Arabs from what was then Greater Syria. Many of these Syrian, Jordanian, and Lebanese migrants stayed in the states and some managed to establish Islamic communities in unlikely places. By 1920, Arab immigrants worshiped in a rented hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and they built a mosque of their own fifteen years later. Lebanese-Syrian communities did the same in Ross, North Dakota, and later in Detroit, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Michigan City, Indiana. Islam had come to America’s heartland and the first wave of Muslim immigration ended in 1924, when the Asian Exclusion Act and the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act allowed only a trickle of “Asians” (as Arabs were designated) to enter the country. Islam had, however, taken root as early as the 1920’s and 30’s.
Converts to Islam have been most prominent among Americans of African descent, especially those who followed the mass migrations of southern blacks to northern cities beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century. Islam among African Americans and within the African American community has evolved and flourished during the last century and figures like Noble Drew Ali, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), Warith D. Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan have been very influential in its growth. Noble Drew Ali established a Black Nationalist Islamic community, the Moorish Science Temple, in Newark, New Jersey in 1913 and after his death in 1929, one of the movement’s factions found itself drawn to the mysterious Wallace D. Fard, who appeared in Detroit in 1930 preaching Black Nationalism and Islamic faith. Fard founded the Nation of Islam there in the same year and after Fard, Elijah Muhammed (1897-1975) took over.
El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), once a follower and national spokesman of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, broke away from the Nation in 1964 and formed his own organizations, Muslim Mosque Incorporated and the Organization of Afro American Unity. Muslim Mosque Incorporated was based upon the principles of orthodox Sunni Islam and the Organization of Afro American Unity was an all-Black, non-sectarian organization dedicated to creating a society where Blacks and Whites could live in brotherhood. Under the leadership of Warith D. Muhammad, a son of Elijah Muhammad, the former Nation of Islam became an orthodox community of Sunni Muslims and from the moment he took over as leader, he sought to align the doctrine of the organization with the Holy Quran.
Today there are hundreds of mosques within the United Staes and most universities and colleges have active Muslim Student Associations which says a lot about how far Islam has come in America. A short book list is provided below for more information about Islam and African Americans.
Book List on African Americans and Islam:
by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
by Terry Alford