In a post-9/11 world, the American face of Islam is most often associated with that of an immigrant, usually from the Middle East or Asia. But American Islam is much more diverse than a single ethnicity or nationality. Today, African-American Muslims are among the fastest-growing segments of Islam, accounting for about 30 percent of all American Muslims. And while no studies have been published on post-9/11 growth, American imams say conversion among African-Americans is growing, driven by the higher visibility of Islam, the desire of some African-Americans to return to the religion of their pre-slavery ancestors and a high rate of conversions in prisons, where African-American males dominate the population. Last year, Keith Ellison, an African-American Democrat from Minnesota, became the first Muslim elected to Congress. Edward Curtis, an Indiana-based scholar, says Islam is “now firmly grounded as black America’s ‘second’ faith.”
With growth comes change. Two prominent African-American leaders, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and W. Deen Mohammed of the American Society of Muslims and The Mosque Cares, have announced they are stepping down from the helms of their respective movements. Their successors have yet to be determined. Most Muslims consider the Nation, an organization with black separatist roots, to be in conflict with Islam’s teachings. Members of the Nation of Islam consider themselves true Muslims and generally consider Sunni and Shiite Muslims to be their brothers and sisters in the faith.
Why it matters
As more African-Americans become Muslims, the face of Islam in America will change. New relationships between different groups of Muslims – immigrants, their American-born children, African-Americans, Latinos and new converts of all racial backgrounds – will shape the role the world’s second-largest faith will play in this country.
- There have been tensions between immigrant Muslim groups and American-born Muslims, including African-American Muslims. African-American Muslims have complained that immigrant Muslims often fail to include them in larger Muslim events and projects. But some immigrant Muslims are beginning to look to African-American Muslims for their experience in winning civil rights, a hot topic with immigrant Muslims since the 9/11 attacks. Still, the American Muslim Society, which is predominantly African-American, and the Islamic Society of North America, which was founded by immigrant Muslims, continue to hold competing annual conventions in the same state on the same weekend each year.
- A minority of African-American Muslims are members of the Nation of Islam, led by Farrakhan and generally considered heretical by other Muslims for its belief that its founder, Wallace Fard Muhammad, was the Mahdi, or savior, and that black people are superior to all others. Farrakhan, who is 73, has been in ill health, and the annual address he gave to the membership in February 2007 is expected to be his last. Questions over who will lead the Nation and how it will evolve are roiling the community. Will it move more toward mainstream Islam? Will its core beliefs change?
- The largest number of African-American Muslims is affiliated with the American Society of Muslims, which is led by W. Deen Mohammed. He is the son of Elijah Muhammad, one of the first leaders of the Nation of Islam. When his father died, W.D. Mohammed dissolved the Nation of Islam and led his followers into orthodox Islam. He, too, is aging and in 2003 stepped down from day-to-day control of the society. Questions abound over who will succeed him and what will become of his followers.
- Many African-Americans, especially males, convert to Islam while serving prison sentences. The most famous example is Malcolm X, the militant civil rights leader who was a popular spokesman for the Nation of Islam but later rejected its teachings for more orthodox Islam. He was assassinated in 1965. Some within the African-American Muslim community say Sunni Islam is encouraged in the prison system to the exclusion of other forms.
No one agrees on how many Muslims – American-born or immigrant – live in America. “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait,” a 2001 study sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, puts the number between 6 million and 8 million. The most conservative number is 1.5 million. But scholars agree that approximately 30 percent of American Muslims are African-American. A poll conducted in 2001 by Muslims in the Public Square found that 20 percent of African-American Muslims are converts. The rest – 80 percent – were raised in the faith.
Black Muslim is a term that became associated with the Nation of Islam but is now considered derogatory and should be avoided. The preferred term is simply member of the Nation of Islam. Also, because of that association, do not use Black Muslim to describe African-Americans who practice traditional Islam, whose tenets differ markedly from the Nation’s. Instead, say African-American Muslims.
- The Mosque Cares is the ministry of W. Deen Mohammed. It is based in Calumet City, Ill. Membership overlaps with the American Society of Muslims. Contact 708-798-6750, WdMinistry@aol.com.
- The American Society of Muslims is the group of Muslims who identify with the teachings and leadership of W. Deen Mohammed. It was formed when he dissolved the original Nation of Islam, of which his father, Elijah Muhammad, was a leader. Today, they are followers of Sunni Islam. The group is also based in Calumet City, Ill., and claims approximately 250,000 followers.
- The Nation of Islam is an African-American religious organization that espouses black racial superiority and Islamic beliefs. However, most Muslims do not consider it true Islam. The Nation of Islam was founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad in 1930. Today’s Nation of Islam is led by Louis Farrakhan, and its headquarters is in Chicago. Scholars estimate its membership at 100,000. It is best known for the Million Man March, which continues as The Millions More Movement. This Web site has a list of regional and local organizing committees. Contact the media office at 202-726-4514.
- The Moorish Science Temple was founded by Noble Drew Ali in the early 1900s 1913 and is based on the teachings of Islam, although it also incorporates Eastern and Gnostic beliefs. It is based in Hyattsville, Md. Contact 301-270-1300, email@example.com.
- Mukhtar Ahmad is the director of the Islamic Society of North America‘s annual “Islam in Prisons” conference, held each year around July 4. Contact 317-839-8157, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ihsan Bagby is an associate professor of Islamic studies in the department of modern and classical languages, literatures and cultures at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. He studies Muslims in the United States, including African-Americans and Islam and the growth of Islam in prisons. In 2001 he published the results of the first comprehensive study of mosques in America, “The Mosque in America: A National Portrait,” which was sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, on whose board he sits. Contact 859-257-9638, email@example.com.
- Mahdi Bray is executive director of the Muslim American Society‘s Freedom Foundation, which works toward empowering American Muslims. He can also discuss Islam in prison. He is based in Washington, D.C. Contact 202-496-1288, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Edward E. Curtis IV is an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. He is the author of Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam: 1960-1975 (University of North Carolina Press, 2006). Contact 317-278-1683, email@example.com.
- Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur is editor of Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak (Beacon Press, 2005) and the former COO of Azizah, a magazine for Muslim women, and She lives in Atlanta. Contact via Beacon Press, 617-742-2110.
- Michael Gomez is a history professor at New York University with a focus on the African diaspora. He wrote Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas (Cambridge University Press, 2005), which deals in part with Noble Drew Ali, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. Contact 212-998-8618, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Iftekhar Hussain can describe the American Society of Muslims’ work in prisons. Contact 610-864-9803.
- Sherman Jackson is a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and author of Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection (Oxford University Press, 2005). Contact 734-763-467, email@example.com.
- Martha F. Lee is an associate professor of political science at the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. She wrote The Nation of Islam: An American Millenarian Movement (Syracuse University Press, 1996) and can describe the Nation’s history, its role in American Islam and the challenges it will face as Farrakhan leaves the helm. She can also discuss his possible successors. Contact 519-253-3000 ext. 2353, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lawrence Mamiya is a professor of religion at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He has written about Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam and African-American Islam for the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (MacMillan Reference Books, 2005). Mamiya also has written about Islam as practiced among incarcerated African-Americans. Contact 845-437-5522, email@example.com.
- Aminah Beverly McCloud is a professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago. She is an expert on all forms of Islam, including African-American Islam, with a special focus on women. Contact 773-325-1290, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Abdullah Muhammad is director of the Prison Reform Program of the Nation of Islam. Contact 773-324-6000.
- Ishmael Muhammad is the national assistant minister of the Nation of Islam. He is widely considered to be a possible successor to Farrakhan. Contact 773-324-6000.
- Ayesha Mustafaa is the editor of Muslim Journal, a weekly newspaper affiliated with The Mosque Cares and W. Deen Mohammed. It has about 40,000 subscribers. She also hosts a radio show each Friday through Sound Vision Foundation. Contact via Sound Vision, 708-430-1255.
- Anthony Bernard Pinn is executive director of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and a professor of religious studies at Rice University in Houston. He can address the role of Islam in the African-American community. Contact 712-348-2710, email@example.com.
- Carolyn Moxley Rouse is an assistant professor of anthropology at Princeton University and the author of Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam (University of California Press, 2004). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Tayyibah Taylor is a co-founder of Azizah, a magazine dedicated to Muslim women. She lives in Atlanta. Contact via Maryam Aziz, email@example.com.
- Siraj Wahaj is an African-American convert to Islam who is the imam of Masjid Taqwa in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1991 he became the first Muslim to offer the invocation for the U.S. House of Representatives. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Islamic Society of North America. Contact 718-622-0800.
Sofian Zakkout is director of the American Muslim Association of North America. It is based in Miami. Contact 305-898-9314.
- The Final Call is the newspaper of the Nation of Islam. It is published by FCN Publishing in Chicago. Dora Muhammad is managing editor. Contact 773-602-1230.
- The Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs is a scholarly institution based in London that studies Muslim groups in non-Muslim societies. It publishes the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. Its director is Saleha S. Mahmood. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Muslim Journal is the publication of the American Muslim Society.
- Muslim Wakeup! is a Muslim-American Web site that seeks to cover and unite all American Muslims. It sometimes has articles on African-American Islam. Its editor is Ahmed Nassef. Contact email@example.com.
Azizah is a magazine for Muslim women.
- Read a Beliefnet.com article about W. Deen Mohammed’s decision to step down as head of the American Society of Muslims.
- Read an excerpt of Taylor Branch’s book Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 (Simon and Schuster, 1998) about the break between W. Deen Mohammed and his father, Elijah Muhammad, one of the founders of the Nation of Islam. It’s posted on Beliefnet.com.
- Read an outline of African-American Muslim history from On Common Ground: World Religions in America (Columbia University Press, 2002). It’s reprinted on the Pluralism Project’s Web site.
- Read a March 16, 2007, Charlotte Observer story about African-American Muslims born into the faith.
- Read a May 16, 2006, Religion News Service article about the relationship between African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslim communities. The article is posted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
- The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has an online exhibit about Malcolm X.
- Ernest Allen Jr. is a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He has written about the evolution of the Nation of Islam from its roots as the Moorish Science Temple to the stepping down of Farrakhan. Contact 413-545-2751, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Abdullah Farruuq is the imam at The Mosque for the Praising of Allah in Roxbury, Mass. He is also on the Inner-City Muslim Alliance Network’s new Community Re-Entry program, aimed at recently incarcerated African-Americans, especially those who are Muslims. Contact 617-442-2805, email@example.com.
- Jeffrey Ogbonna Green Ogbar is director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Contact 860-486-0641, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Aisha al-Adawiya is the founder and director of Women in Islam, a human rights organization based in New York, N.Y. She is an expert on African-American Islamic women. Contact email@example.com.
- Eddie Glaude Jr. is an associate professor of religion at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. He specializes in African-American religious history and is the editor of Is It Nation Time? Contemporary Essays on Black Power and Black Nationalism (University of Chicago Press, 2002). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- James Jones is an associate professor of world religions at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. He wrote a paper titled “Islam, Incarceration and the African American Male.” Contact 914-323-5134, email@example.com.
- Craig Keener is a professor of New Testament at Palmer Theological Seminary at Eastern University in Wynnewood, Pa. He co-authored an article on the Nation of Islam for A Guide to New Religious Movements (InterVarsity Press, 2005). He is an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Contact 610-896-5000, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Manning Marable is director of the Center for Contemporary Black History and the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University in New York, N.Y., and is currently at work on a biography about the African-American leader and Islam. Contact 212-854-7080, email@example.com.
- Yusuf Saleem is the imam at Masjid Muhammad in Washington, D.C. The mosque was founded by members of the Nation of Islam but followed W. Deen Mohammed into mainstream Islam. Contact 202-483-8832, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Amina Wadud is an associate professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. In March 2005, she created a controversy when she led a group of New York Muslims in the Friday congregational prayer, the first time a woman performed as an imam and prayer leader. Contact 804-827-3406, email@example.com.
- Abdul Khadir Muhammad is the leader of Muhammad Mosque No. 4, the Mid-Atlantic regional headquarters for the Nation of Islam, in Washington, D.C. Contact 202-575-4949.
- Kevin Muhammad is the leader of Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in New York, N.Y. Contact 212-865-1200.
- Khalil Akbar is the resident imam at Masjid Ash-Shaheed, a predominantly African-American mosque in Charlotte, N.C. Contact 704-598-4274, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Herbert Berg is an associate professor in the department of philosophy and religion at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He wrote a paper, “Mythmaking in the African American Muslim Context: The Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islam and the Muslim Society of America,”which appeared in the 2005 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Contact 910-962-3299, email@example.com.
- Shaykh Abdullah Nooruddeen Durkee is caliph of Shaykh Ibrahim Muhammad al-Battawi, of the Shadhuliyyah-Badawiyyah (Sufi) order. Based in Charlottesville, Va., he serves as imam and works with prisoners, university students, Muslim immigrants and African-American communities in Charlotte N.C.; Columbia S.C.; Augusta, Harrisonburg, Bedford, Farmville, Richmond, Staunton and Charlottesville, Va. Contact 434-977-8812, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Plemon Tauheed El-Amin is the imam of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam. He is an aide to W. Deen Mohammed and The Mosque Cares. Contact 404-378-1600.
- Jamillah Karim is an assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies at Spelman College in Atlanta. Her expertise includes connections and tensions among African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslims in the U.S. Contact 404-270-5524, JKarim@spelman.edu.
- Abdul Sharrief Muhammad is the leader of Muhammad Mosque No. 15, the Southern regional headquarters for the Nation of Islam, in Atlanta. Contact 404-344-9399.
- Rasul Muhammad is the leader of Muhammad Mosque No. 29, the Caribbean headquarters of the Nation of Islam, in Miami. Contact 305-756-9136.
- Ellen McLarney is an assistant professor of the practice of Asian and African languages and literature at Duke University in Chapel Hill, N.C. She has taught a course called “Local Islams,” in which students study the diversity of Islam practiced in the Chapel Hill area, including interactions and relationships between local African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslims. Contact 919-681-4592, email@example.com.
- Curtis Austin is an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. He has written articles about Elijah Muhammad and Wallace Fard Muhammad for Holy People of the World: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2004). Contact 601-266-6973, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Felicia Miyakawa is an assistant professor of musicology at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. She is the author of Five Percenter Rap: God Hop’s Music, Message and Black Muslim Mission (Indiana University Press, 2005). Contact 615-904-8043, email@example.com.
- Rafeeq Nu’man is the imam at Masjid Ur-Raheem, a predominantly African-American mosque in New Orleans. The mosque was founded by members who were influenced by the Nation of Islam, but it now follows mainstream Islam. It was damaged in Hurricane Katrina, and approximately half the families have relocated. It reopened in late 2006. Contact 504-827-0017.
- Kurt Buhring is an assistant professor of religious studies at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. He has written about Elijah Muhammad for the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics (Facts on File, 2003). Contact 574-284-4929, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Claude Clegg III is a history professor at Indiana University in Bloomington. He wrote An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad (St. Martin’s Press, 1997). Contact 812-855-3236, email@example.com.
- Debra Mubashshir Majeed is an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at Beloit College in Beloit, Wis. She has written about Clara Muhammad for the Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America (Indiana University Press, 2006). Contact 608-363-2318, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Richard Brent Turner is a professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he teaches a course titled “African American Islam in International Perspective.” He wrote an article titled “Mainstream Islam in the African American Experience” that appears on the Web site of the Muslim American Society. Contact 319-335-2175, Richardemail@example.com.
- Umar Al-Khattab is the imam at Masjid al-Fajr in Indianapolis. He is part of Inner-City Muslim Alliance Network’s new Community Re-Entry Program, an outreach program to African-American recently released from prison. Contact 317-923-2847.
- AusafFarooqi is the Prison Project coordinator for CAIR-Chicago. The project does outreach to incarcerated Muslims, including African-American Muslims. Contact 312-212-1520.
- Jabril Muhammad is a leader in the Nation of Islam and frequent contributor to The Final Call newspaper. His writings can be found at A Written Testimony. He lives in Phoenix. Contact via his Web site, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Robert Muhammad is minister of Muhammad Mosque No. 45 in Houston, an affiliate of the Nation of Islam, and founder of ActionCDC, a nonprofit that works to establish community housing and other programs. Contact 713-926-2282.
- Frederick M. Denny is a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he teaches Islamic studies and is a specialist on Muslim communities in America. He has written about jailhouse religion as a challenge to the American Muslim community. Contact 303-492-6358, Frederick.Denny@Colorado.EDU.
- Tony Muhammad is the leader of Muhammad Mosque No. 27, the Western regional headquarters of the Nation of Islam, in Los Angeles. Contact 323-789-1095.
- Megan Reid is an assistant professor of Islam in the school of religion at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She is researching an article on the first African-American Muslims to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in the 1930s. Contact 213-740-0270, email@example.com.
- Naim Shah Jr. is a Sunni Muslim who was raised in the Nation of Islam. He is chairman of the board of directors at the mostly African-American Masjid Ibaadillah in Los Angeles. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Imam Zaid Shakir is an African-American who converted to Islam during his service in the Air Force. He is a resident scholar at Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, Calif., which calls him a leader in an emerging indigenous American Muslim tradition. His areas of expertise include African-American Islam. Contact 510-582-1979.
- Faheem Shuaibe is the resident imam of Masjidul Waritheen, an affiliate of W. Deen Mohammed’s group, in Oakland, Calif. His Web site contains his teachings. Contact 510-436-7755, Sabilillah@aol.com.