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Nation of Islam, an African- American religious movement, was founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad in Detroit, Michigan in 1930. Its purpose was to elevate the economic and social status of the black minority while preserving their unique religious identity. The historical roots of Nation of Islam go back to Black Nationalism and its struggle for an indigenous national identity. The repercussions of World War I, combined with the Great Depression provoked discontent amongst black Africans. African slaves brought to America were socially and economically deprived and were forced to accept Christianity (Nelson). Black Nationalism emerged during the 19th century with the aim of abolishing white supremacy and forming separate institutions that fought for the rights of black people. Marcus Garvey, Henry Turner and Martin Delany were some of the influential figures supporting African-American separatist ideology throughout the 19th century. This essay explores Nation of Islam in terms of its historical roots, structure, participant, doctrines, mobilization tactics, and significance as a religious `separatist movement.
During the spring of 1929, Wallace Fard Muhammad joined the Moorish Science Temple headed by Noble Drew Ali. The Moorish Science temple was a religious organization founded by Nobel Drew Ali based on syncretistic ideology inspired by Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Freemasonry, and Taoism. Fard was inspired by the teachings of Drew Ali and soon gained popularity when he was appointed as the acting head of the Moorish Temple. A week after his appointment, Drew Ali was found dead in his room and Fard claimed to be his successor. Fard faced severe controversies when John Givens, one of Ali’s opponents claimed himself to be the real successor. At this point, the movement split and the Nation of Islam emerged. Givens’ supporters joined the Moorish American Temple while Fard Mohammad’s adherents joined the Nation of Islam. Though Nation of Islam and its followers claim Fard Muhammad as its founder and his ideology as the basis of Nation of Islam, historical evidence shows Nobel Drew Ali and his syncretistic ideology to be the basis of the organization.
The chain of successors after Fard’s sudden disappearance continued through Elijah Muhammad, Wallace Muhammad, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan. The ideology of Wallace and Malcolm X was different from Elijah’s thought. They therefore, shifted Nation of Islam towards Orthodox Islam. Elijah’s original ideology was restored by the current leader Louis Farrakhan (Mamiya). Historical evidence suggests that the Nation of Islam did not produce any direct counter-movements. However, the initial clash of ideologies, and the departure and then subsequent return to Elijah’s thought can itself be seen as a counter movement.
Nation of Islam believes in the supremacy of the African American race. Its ideology revolved around an initial domination of the black race, leading up to complete termination. According to NOI ideology, the white race is the devil and is inherently polluted while the Negro’s are the purest race on earth. Members of NOI claim descent from “Tribe of Shabaaz” a purist tribe that was enslaved by the whites for centuries.  Underlying teachings of NOI proclaim black people as the original man and precursor of intact human race while the origin of the white race as a result of experimental mutations preformed by an evil scientist named Yacub. The experiment was preformed six thousand years back when Yacub used a recessive gene of the black race and created tainted white devils that were incapable of regarding any other race, especially black people, as their equals (Carrigan     ). So the white race would rule civilizations for a long time till the black race gained supremacy again. According to NOI teachings, the appearance of Allah in the form of Fard Mohammad ignited a spark for black supremacy and revolution leading to the termination of the white race.
Religious practices of NOI are an amalgamation of both traditional Islam and Christianity. Followers of NOI have to pray five times a day facing Mecca. Visiting the temple twice a week is obligatory. Eating of pork and corn bread is forbidden for Black Muslims, as it constitutes polluted and slave diet. Intersexual interaction and physical relations are strict and clearly defined. Women are not allowed to wear fancy and revealing clothes, and interaction with men other than their husbands is forbidden. Interracial sexual relations are strictly forbidden and contravention results in direct expulsion from NOI (Gordan).
Religious beliefs and practices of NOI are linked with orthodox Islam but most of them deviate considerably. The basic ideology of black race supremacy as compared to the white race conflicts with the traditional Islamic concept of racial equality. The teachings of the Nation of Islam differ greatly from those of Orthodox of Islam, especially with regard to the holy texts. NOI believe in both the Holy Quran and the Bible and claim to have authored both texts. This is in contrast with the Orthodox Muslim belief that Quran is Allah’s last revelation to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H).  Moreover, Nation of Islam professes the personification of Allah in the form of Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad as a prophet, while traditional Islam professes oneness of God and Prophet Muhammad as His last prophet. Although the title “Nation of Islam” depicts that it is a reflection of Orthodox Islam, this is clearly not the case.
Nation of Islam has primarily three main goals. The first and most important rule is to attain unity within the black race. It is the notion of Black Nationalism under the umbrella of Nation of Islam to attain strength and independence. Secondly, the idea of racial separation that proclaims complete separation of the black and white race. The division of races is very important in order to reinstate perfect harmony. The last rule is that of economic self reliance and a departure from ‘white economics’. According to NOI, economic independence is very essential to put an end to white supremacy. (Burnett). 
Nation of Islam has an elaborate organizational structure. It includes temples and mosques where members worship as well as organize. Prominent part of organizational structure is the Fruit of Islam (FOI). It is a male security force which was created by Fard Mohammad in 1933. The members of FOI are trained fighters with an aim of providing security to the Nation of Islam and maintaining a strict code of conduct. Like Fruit of Islam, “Muslim Girls Training” is a female security organization of the Nation of Islam and is considered to be a female counterpart of FOI. The most imperative part of organizational structure is a separate schooling system named University of Islam. It has 47 branches spread all across different cities of United States (Troglodytes         ). These schools have served the role of institutions spreading teachings of nation of Islam. According to my opinion, the movement was nonviolent in nature while the distinctive school system can be viewed as a mobilization tactic of the movement. These schools perform an important function of promoting NOI’s religious and separatist ideology through an organized channel. Moreover, Malcolm X also launched the official newspaper of NOI, “Muhammad Speaks”, and effectively used the media through radio and his eloquent public speeches. 
The Nation of Islam can be easily analyzed in light of social movement theories, resource mobilization theory being one of them. According to resource mobilization theory, social movement actors first accumulate resources, and then mobilize people to accomplish their goals. Nation of Islam represents substantial financial resources with its corporate empire including a newspaper agency, supermarkets, restaurants, schools, airplanes, and banks (Troglodytes). With members growing from just 50,000 to 100,000 and the increase in financial assets, Nation of Islam has successfully channelized available resources to mobilize people and strengthen itself.
Political Opportunity Structures (POS) can also explain the Nation of Islam. According to 

POS theory, the success and failure of a social movement depends upon the vulnerability of existing political structure. The success of NOI can be linked with political opportunities provided to the movement. Many influential political figures such as Malcolm X and Jesse Jackson gave political support to the organization and helped in mobilization. Malcolm X was an inspirational speaker and had great influence in the political arena. This was very effective for the success of the movement. Moreover Jackson, a minister in Richmond, Virginia who converted from Christianity to NOI was also supported by NOI. Louis Farrakhan also urged the members of NOI to vote for Jackson and played an active part in the presidential campaign of 1984 (Troglodytes). Though the members of NOI never participated actively in mainstream politics, they gained significantly by the help of such pro NOI politicians.

Nation of Islam emerged as a religious organization based on Islamic principles and as a separatist ideology. Historical literature depicts that it was a religious movement. The beliefs and teachings of NOI is an amalgamation of both Christianity and Islam, but Christianity was openly rejected on the basis of it being a white race religion. The teachings of traditional Islam was modified and reinterpreted in such a way that suited the interests of NOI. The reason why people joined the Nation of Islam was not religion but a sense of solidarity, black consciousness, clearly defined male and female roles, economic independence, and above all, the racial identity.  In fact, NOI interpreted Islam in such a way that it could be used as a framework for a social movement. Moreover, Islam was already the religion of black Africans before they were enslaved and most of the Africans joined NOI not for the sake of religion but on the basis of social activism. Though literature depicts that nation of Islam is a religious organization, according to my opinion, and in light of the above analysis, it is a socio-political organization with the aim of empowering the black race with economic independence and a racial identity.
Interpreting Islam in a way to achieve its own ends is what makes NOI a social movement, rather than a religious organization.

About The Author: Hassan Yar Bareach is a current student of Anthropology/Sociology at lums. His areas of interest includes religion, developmental studies and South Asian culture

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