Religion In American Culture Race and religion are two concepts in American culture that can really tie people together, or clearly separate them apart. A group forged by strong common roots in both race and religion can be a powerful societal force, if it wants to be. The Nation of Islam is a small but growing religion in America that has become somewhat of a social movement because of its strong and radical ideas on race. In this paper, I will try to explore the beliefs of the Nation of Islam, and the ramifications it could and has had on racial relations in America. The Nation of Islam, or NOI, is a relatively new religion.
The first temple of Islam was established in Detroit by Master Fard Muhammed in 1930. Much of the theology was based on the simple facts that: Allah is god, the white man is the devil, and the so-called Negroes are the Asiatic black people, the cream of the earth.(1) And, in accordance with their bizarre view of creation, involving a mad scientist creating the white race from the black race, the twentieth century represents the time for black people to regain their rightful position as gods chosen people. (1) The Nation of Islam was spawned from Orthodox Islam, an age-old religion. However, Orthodox Islam has openly denounced the NOI as a heretic sect for three main reasons: the NOIs rejection of the belief in an afterlife, its tendency to view human leaders as deified figures, and its strong racist attitudes. (2) For a brief time, during the seventies, Wallace Deen Muhammed became the leader of the NOI and tried to take it in a new direction, more conforming to true Islamic beliefs.
This group is now called the American Muslim Mission and still exists in small numbers today. (1) The NOIs presence has implications on American racial relations in more than one way. First of all, the NOI is tied to a very specific American racial group: blacks. Although the majority of black people in America do not consider themselves members of the NOI, the group still attempts to represent all black people. And, because of the strong messages of strength, unity, and betterment of the black race, the NOI reaches the hearts and minds of many blacks as a driving social force, even if they dont consider it their religion. Another major way the NOI impacts race relations is through the strong seemingly racist beliefs that are inherent to its theology.
The NOI has always been open about its views. Not only have they always taught that the white man is the devil, but they believe that the battle of Armageddon will consist of a holy war between Islam and Christianity of which Islam will be the victors, representing the victory of black people over white people. (1) Jews are referred to as great enemies for no particular reason. The NOI has been viewed as a strongly anti-Semitic organization since the early eighties. (4) I think the NOI theology can best be understood as an example of power-conflict theory.
First of all, the NOI is strongly against cultural assimilation for American blacks. They believe that black people should exist entirely apart from American (white) culture. Elijah Muhammed, an early and extremely powerful leader who is now viewed as a deified human clearly taught against assimilation. (1) Since whites were inherently created as an evil and inferior race, they are therefore flawed since birth. Seeking their acceptance by acquiring any part of so-called American culture is a low and humiliating thing for blacks to do. Under this philosophy, Elijah Muhammed went so far as to teach that even living among white people in the same building or block is wrong, and that basic integration of blacks and whites in schools and workplaces should be reversed.
(1) These separatist and elitist attitudes toward one race over another is clearly a power-conflict characteristic. I dont necessarily think all of these ideas are so wrong. In his striving towards total segregation, Elijah Muhammed was hoping to achieve powerful and independent black communities capable of providing everything for themselves education, hospitals, workplaces, neighborhood organizations in the greatest quality. And they should be able to achieve all this without the slightest interference from American culture, be it oppression or cooperation. That kind of support and hope for one to have towards their own race and people seems generally healthy and proud. However, can it really be achieved? Maybe, but it would take an amazing amount of effort, planning, and change to make it happen.
Much more effort than simply teaching to hate the other races you are currently stuck with. Maybe they decided it was easier to hate everyone else than to dedicate that same amount of time and energy actually concentrating on making a difference in their own communities. But, I digress. Back to the facts. Over the last decade or so, the Nation of Islam has gained more support among blacks from all religions and economic backgrounds than ever before. It has also met with more criticism and attacks from other groups, and gained more national recognition and acknowledgement than ever before.
This can mostly be attributed to a strong new leader- Minister Louis Farrakhan, considered by most of America to be the most powerful black leader in the last twenty years. (2) Farrakhan was recruited to the Nation of Islam by Malcolm X himself in 1955. (Malcolm X eventually left the NOI upon learning how much its views differed from Orthodox Islamic teachings). (4) In the late seventies, when Wallace Deen began making doctrinal changes to the NOI, Farrakhan boldly stepped up to reorganize his own branch, sticking to the original racist beliefs. This original NOI persevered and has since grown in numbers under Farrakhans leadership.
(2) Farrakhan began making a name for himself right away, first by making several strong racist speeches during his sermons and then by setting out to establish schools and businesses immersed with the NOI theology. (3) He got national attention in 1984 as a strong and quite vocal leader in Reverend Jesse Jacksons campaign for president. While Farrakhan was earning the hatred and disgust of many white Americans throughout all this, he was having a different impact on blacks. Even while they may not have agreed with all of his radical views, here was a black man speaking out about the realities of their everyday lives with no holds barred, and making national news doing so. Not only was he striving towards the empowerment of black people, he was see …