Concerned with the Contributions made by Africans & African
Americans Toward the Development of Islam in North & South America.
DO YOU WANT SEPARATION? ASK THE
VERY WELL - BUT MAKE IT COMPLETE.
all this add up to a religion at all, and to anything resembling
what the world has traditionally known as Islam? Islam does not have
a central authority with the power to admit and exclude applicants.
Anyone who accepts Islamic doctrine and tries to perform certain
prescribed rituals has the right to call himself a Muslim. Whether
the followers of Elijah Muhammad are “orthodox”, or “good”, Muslims
is, practically speaking, irrelevant. Some Muslim sects are hardly
willing to regard others as co-religionists, while to many Asian or
Near Eastern Muslims, the Islam of African tribes converted
centuries ago is still something strange. Yet all are Muslims. The
most serious charge against the black Muslims is their
exclusiveness, for traditional Islam does not exclude races, colors,
or nations – indeed, that is one reason why Elijah Muhammad and his
followers are attracted to it. They are not perturbed by this
contradiction, however, and persist in regarding their Islam
as exclusively for American “so-called Negroes.”
Elijah Muhammad, or Malcolm X, it is often asked, “really” believe
in the Messengers cosmology and natural history? I see no reason to
doubt it. Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in the cosmology
of the Bible and the Koran? One may argue that Elijah Muhammad is
“sick” if he thinks he is in communications with God. So, then, has
been any previous religious leader from the point of view of
nonbelievers. Elijah Muhammad is on no shakier ground than anyone
else who ever claimed to hear God. It is true that much of what he
says is incomprehensible, but so is much of the Bible and Koran; a
few millenniums of exegesis by powerful minds may do for his
confusions what it has done for other religions. True, his Islam has
smaller ethical and universal content than other religions, but that
does not make it any less a religion.
future of the black Muslims is closely tied to their religious
appeal and, of course, to the realities of Negro life. I do not
think they can grow much larger, because they must retain their
religious character in order to be distinctive, and it is precisely
this religious character that puts people off in a secular age. The
Muslims will probably face a serious crisis when the time comes to
find a successor to Elijah Muhammad. How will the newcomer’s status
be defined? Will the movement become more active politically? How
can it get beyond the position of a small, narrow cult that is
cohesive only because it requires so much of its adherents?
assuming, of course, that Elijah Muhammad’s religion will not become
the religion of American Negroes. I believe that the age of
world-conquering religious movements is over, yet I believe also
that the Black Muslims have set in motion the kind of ideological
‘wave’, which, in the past, has engulfed worlds. Such ideas
have spread, as did Christianity and Islam themselves, through
cultures alien to the ones of their origin. But there are many
examples of failure, and even success has been riddled with failure.
The Muslims of Arabia, for example, failed to convert the Jews, and
the Christians have failed to convert the Muslims. If a religion
succeeds, it is a great spiritual revival revealing divine purpose.
If it fails, it is a “cult” to provide amusement for the
nonbeliever. The Black Muslims provide one mode of adjustment for
the Negro to a difficult life. The white world says that he is no
longer an African, but has refused to allow him to become a full
American. The white world has belittled the Negro’s past and denied
him a proud future. The Muslims have retorted by saying: let us
separate completely and forever.
is a kind of tragedy in a world where all the races are becoming,
whether in enmity or brotherhood, not less, but more dependent one
upon the other.
Professor of Sociology at Princeton, has written a number of
articles and books on United States race relations and Islam. This
article was prepared from a larger study, supported in part by the
National Institute of Mental Health.
This article was originally printed in Horizon
magazine Winter, 1964. Vol. VI, NO 1
By: Hajj Haroon
One of the interesting
facts about this article is that it was written at a time when both
Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, (El Hajj Malik al Shabazz) were still
alive and in their primes –at a point in their respective careers
when a large-scale change was due.
the case of Elijah Muhammad the bell exclaiming The Final Call had
begun to ring –controversy began to resound throughout the Nation as
the Sweet Messenger’s feet of clay were exposed to a shocked but
Malcolm X –it was the impetus that placed him further in the eyes of
the world to be consumed by the flames of Martyrdom.