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Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960-1975

Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960-1975

Edward E. Curtis
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    Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960-1975
    Book Description:

    Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam came to America's attention in the 1960s and 1970s as a radical separatist African American social and political group. But the movement was also a religious one. Edward E. Curtis IV offers the first comprehensive examination of the rituals, ethics, theologies, and religious narratives of the Nation of Islam, showing how the movement combined elements of Afro-Eurasian Islamic traditions with African American traditions to create a new form of Islamic faith.Considering everything from bean pies to religious cartoons, clothing styles to prayer rituals, Curtis explains how the practice of Islam in the movement included the disciplining and purifying of the black body, the reorientation of African American historical consciousness toward the Muslim world, an engagement with both mainstream Islamic texts and the prophecies of Elijah Muhammad, and the development of a holistic approach to political, religious, and social liberation. Curtis's analysis pushes beyond essentialist ideas about what it means to be Muslim and offers a view of the importance of local processes in identity formation and the appropriation of Islamic traditions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0608-8
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book shows what it meant, during the 1960s and 1970s, for thousands of Americans like Brother Edward 6X Ricketts to practice a religion that they understood to be Islam. These Muslims, like Brother Edward, were members of an African American Islamic group called the Nation of Islam (NOI). They pledged their allegiance to Elijah Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, a prophet who taught them “right from wrong” and a “code of honor.” They believed that, in following Elijah Muhammad’s prophetic pronouncements, they would achieve “success and true happiness.” This volume offers a systematic and comprehensive analysis of their rituals,...

  5. CHAPTER 1 What Islam Has Done For Me: Finding Religion in the Nation of Islam
    (pp. 15-34)

    Given the ways in which powerful interpreters of culture framed the NOI during the 1960s and 1970s, it is no wonder that many Americans came to regard the movement primarily as a political and social movement rather than a religious one. NOI leaders also contributed to this image of the group; their sometimes heavy-handed use of the word “religion” was partly a political strategy used to claim social legitimacy and legal protections. NOI leaders frequently cited the American tradition of religious liberty as a powerful symbol in their fight to protect NOI males from the military draft, to repel the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Making a Muslim Messenger: Defending the Islamic Legitimacy of Elijah Muhammad
    (pp. 35-66)

    In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In this moving and dramatic plea for support from white Christian clergy, King warned that the failure to bolster the nonviolent civil rights struggle would only strengthen the hand of extremism, in all its forms. He cited Elijah Muhammad’s NOI as a primary example of the dangers inherent in doing nothing to change the inequities of Jim Crow. The NOI, according to King, was an expression of “bitterness” and “hatred” that was “nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Black Muslim History Narratives: Orienting the Nation of Islam in Muslim Time and Space
    (pp. 67-94)

    This chapter illustrates how NOI members, including both intellectuals and the rank and file, produced historical narratives that linked the destiny of black people to the religion of Islam. Many of these narratives incorporated Afro-Eurasian Islamic figures, place names, texts, events, and themes; others utilized African American Christian symbols, black secular traditions, and novel mythologies popularized by the NOI’s intelligentsia. These stories about the past sometimes focused on Elijah Muhammad and his role in history, but many did not. This is an important fact, since it suggests that no matter how central the Messenger was to the life of the...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Ethics of the Black Muslim Body
    (pp. 95-130)

    From slave times until the present day, the care and protection of the black body has been a central concern in the formation of African American culture.¹ For much of American history, persons of African descent have been denied the most basic rights to protect themselves and their families from bodily harm and humiliation.² Even today, dramatic events such as the 1998 lynching of James Byrd in Texas or the sexual assault of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima by New York City police in 1997 continue to show how bodily safety can become a key concern of African American life. As...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Rituals of Control and Liberation
    (pp. 131-174)

    It is clear that by the early 1970s, many members of the NOI were at least familiar with the ritual requirements of Sunni Islamic religious tradition, even if the practice of these rituals was infrequent.¹ Take the case, for example, of Islam’s prescribed prayers, or thesalat. At first glance, there is ample evidence to suggest that most followers of Elijah Muhammad did not observesalat, a tradition that many, if not most Muslims believe to be a requirement of their faith. Malcolm X, for example, said that he did not know the ritual prayers when he arrived in Mecca...

  10. Conclusion: Becoming Muslim Again
    (pp. 175-188)

    On 25 February 1975, at the age of seventy-seven, Elijah Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, died of heart failure. News of his death made the front page of theNew York Times.¹ The next day, during the annual Saviour’s Day convention in Chicago, his son Wallace D. Muhammad was declared the new leader of the organization.² Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1933, W. D. Mohammed, as he is now known, had been a frequent critic of his father’s interpretations of Islamic religion. In the 1960s and 1970s, he left or was expelled from the movement several times, although he always...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 189-228)
  12. Index
    (pp. 229-241)