African-American Muslims

Part 1: Slavery Years


Muslims have been part of the American landscape since pre co lumbus times. Indeed, early explorers used maps that were derived from the work of Muslims, with their advanced geographical and navigational information of the time.

Some estimate that 10-20 percent of the slaves brought over from Africa were Muslims. The film Amistad recognized this fact, portraying Muslims aboard this slave vessel, trying to perform their prayers while chained together on deck as they crossed the Atlantic. Personal narratives and histories are harder to find, but some stories have been passed on:

  • Omar Ibn Said (ca. 1770-1864) was born in the Muslim state of Futa Toro in Western Africa, in present-day Senegal. He was a Muslim scholar and trader who was captured and enslaved. He arrived in South Carolina in 1807, and was sold to James Owen of North Carolina.
  • Sali-Bul Ali was a slave on a plantation. His owner James Cooper wrote: "He is a strict Mahometan; abstains from spirituous liquors, and keeps various fasts, particularly that of the Ramadan..."
  • Lamen Kebe was a slave who used to be a school teacher in Africa. He shared information about the texts and teaching methods used in the Islamic schools of his country.
  • Abdul Rahman Ibrahim Sori spent 40 years in slavery before he returned to Africa to die. He wrote two autobiographies, and signed a charcoal sketch of himself by Henry Inman, which was featured on the cover of "Freedman's Journal" and is on display in the Library of Congress.

Many of the Muslim slaves were encouraged or forced to convert to Christianity. Many of the first-generation slaves retained much of their Muslim identity, but in the slave conditions at the time, this identity was largely lost to later generations.

African-American Muslims

Part 2: The Civil Rights Era


Most people, when they think of African-American Muslims, think of the "Nation of Islam." Certainly, there is an historical importance to how Islam took hold among African-Americans, but we will see how this initial introduction transformed in modern times.

Among the reasons why African-Americans have been and continue to be drawn to Islam are 1) the Islamic heritage of West Africa from where many of their ancestors had come; and 2) the absence of racism in Islam in contrast to the brutal and racist enslavement they had endured.

In the early 1900s, a few black leaders strived to help the recently-freed African slaves regain a sense of self-esteem and reclaim their heritage. Noble Drew Ali started a black nationalist community, the Moorish Science Temple, in New Jersey in 1913. After his death, some of his followers turned to Wallace Fard, who founded the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in Detroit in 1930. Fard was a mysterious figure who declared that Islam is the natural religion for Africans, but did not emphasize the orthodox teachings of the faith. Instead, he preached black nationalism, with a revisionist mythology explaining the historical oppression of the black people. Many of his teachings directly contradicted the true faith of Islam.

In 1934, Fard disappeared and Elijah Muhammed took over the leadership of the Nation of Islam. Fard became a "Savior" figure, and followers believed that he was Allah in the flesh on earth. The poverty and racism rampant in the urban northern states made his message about black superiority and "white devils" more widely accepted. His follower Malcolm X became a public figure during the 1960s, although he separated himself from the Nation of Islam before his death in 1965.

Muslims look to Malcolm X (later known as Al-Hajj Malik Shabaaz) as an example of one who, at the end of his life, rejected the racially-divisive teachings of the Nation of Islam and embraced the true brotherhood of Islam. His letter from Mecca, written during his pilgrimage, shows the transformation that had taken place. As we shall see shortly, most African-Americans have made this transition as well, leaving behind the "black nationalist" Islamic organizations to enter the worldwide brotherhood of Islam.

African-American Muslims

Part 3: Today


The number of Muslims in the United States today is estimated to be between 5-8 million, and it is recognized as the fastest-growing faith in this country. According to a survey commissioned last year by the American Muslim Council, African-Americans make up about 24% of the Muslim population of the U.S. (other estimates are as high as 42%).

The vast majority of African-American Muslims have embraced orthodox Islam and have rejected the racially-divisive teachings of the Nation of Islam. Only about 20,000 people remain in the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan.

Warith Deen Mohammed, a son of Elijah Mohammed, rejected his father's teachings and has helped lead the community away from the Nation and into orthodox Islam. He now leads the American Muslim Mission, a network of orthodox Muslim communities nationwide. He was the first Muslim leader ever to give the invocation on the Senate floor. Mohammed's leadership has helped bring about a transition among thousands of African-Americans away from his father's teachings, and to the true teachings of the Islamic faith.

Today, Muslims in America represent a colorful mosaic that is unique in the world. African-Americans, Southeast Asians, North Africans, Arabs, and Europeans come together daily in this country, united in faith, with the understanding that they are all equal before God.


  • desclaimer…


I just want to say in no way do I endorse the Nation of Islam, not in it’s old form nor in its new form. They still have a very long way to go before being on the correct path of islam within the Teachings of Allah and his last and Final Messenger Prophet Mohammad ibn Adbullah. (Sallalahu Alayhi Was salam).

This article is posted with the intent of showing some historical background of what we call the African Americans of today.


I do want to say that many african americans have come to real islam who were once members of the Nation of Islam in the old form of it and the new form of it. They have rejected it's teachings and have left disbelieve and associating partners with Allah and for this we say Alhamdulliah. . It is Allah who Guides and it is His help who should be sought.

May Allah guide those members who continue to be part of the Nation of Islam back to the correct path to true Islam. and may he guide all the people to Islam so that they may save themselves from a fire who is fueled by men and stones and be rewarded with Paradise. Ameen


Add A Comment


Jun. 1, 2008 at 11:35 PM

In 1934, Fard disappeared

Has it been said what happened to him....did he just vanish never to be heard from again.....

Message Friend Invite

Jun. 1, 2008 at 11:59 PM

I am posting below to answer the question of Virginamama.. also i want to once agains say that these are not the TEACHINGS of Islam.. and the biblical quotes are just that. .I do not endorse them  and I reject them as truth except for God being ONE.  This is Correct. He is ONE and has not reincarnated as a human at any time in his eternal existence. He is the Creator of Mankind and his Maintainer. His Word is Perfect, but many who have said he has inspired them.. Have lied upon him.  I seek refuge from misguidance and lies against Allah, the ONe and only true GOD without Parnters, sons or children.

The Nation of Islam

Founder: Wallace Dodd Fard. Also known as "Master Fard Muhammad"

Key leaders: Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan

Founding Date: July 4, 1930

Official Publications: Message To The Black Man In America, The Supreme Wisdom, Our Savior Has Arrived, The Final Call Magazine.


The Nation of Islam was founded during the Great Depression of 1930 in the ghettos of Detroit Michigan. Having migrated to the industrial north in search of economic opportunity and to escape the racial oppression in the South, thousands of Blacks now found themselves in a crisis situation. As it turned out "the North was no Promised Land [but, in many ways,] was the South all over again."1 The main difference being the racial prejudice in the South was overt whereas in the North it was covert.

"The starving, overcrowded blacks living in the slums of Detroit (as in other Northern cities) became increasingly bitter towards the whites who seemed to control their lives. Police officers, who are the ever present reminder of white power; white workers, who displaced blacks as jobs became more scarce or who retained their jobs as thousands of blacks were being laid off; even the welfare workers, who insulted the blacks and made them wait long hours before passing out the pitiful supplies of flour and lard - all these became the symbolic targets of a virulent hatred of whites..."2

Unable to resurrect the institutions and social systems that provided them security and support (i.e. mutual aid societies) in the South, blacks in the North cried out for deliverance. As Colin Akridge wrote, "Instead of looking for a spiritual Savior who would save them from their sins, they wanted a carnal savior who would save them from their poverty. They wanted their 'pie' now and were no longer interested in the Gospel."3

These desires were met in the summer of 1930 when a mysterious peddler of silks and artifacts by the name Wallace Fard Muhammad appeared in Detroit. Very little is known about him except that he is reported to have come from the East. "His mission was to teach freedom, justice, and equality to the members of the 'lost tribe of Shabazz in the wilderness of North America.'"4 He also taught poor blacks that "they were somebody. That they were Black people.. [who had] a past.[and] a future.. a history and a destiny."5

Because of the social climate and his teachings, Fard quickly gained a following. Within about three years he had recruited nearly 8,000 followers. One of these was an unemployed auto worker named Elijah Poole. Poole, who later changed his last name to Muhammad, was born the son of a Baptist minister in Sandersville, Georgia. He eventually migrated to Detroit with his wife, Clara, and their two children, and became a devoted follower of Fard. Due to his efforts on Fard's behalf Fard soon chose him to be his Chief Minister.

In the summer of 1934, Fard suddenly disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived. Elijah Muhammad was named the new leader and assumed the title of "Messenger of Allah."

Perhaps the single most important event in the development of the Nation of Islam took place in 1947 with the "conversion" of a convict in prison at Concord, Massachusetts. His name was Malcolm Little but he would become best known by the name he later took, Malcolm X.

Like Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm was the son of a Baptist minister. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, but spent his formative years in Lansing, Michigan, where life proved to be a struggle for Malcolm and his family. At age six, their home was burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan, and a short time later his father was found dead under a streetcar.

Though his mother tried to keep the family together, they were eventually separated with Malcolm being sent to a boy's institution. While in the eighth grade he was asked what vocation he wanted to pursue. When he responded that he wanted to be a lawyer, he was informed that such a profession was not suitable for a Negro.6 This ugly retort proved to be psychologically devastating. Malcolm would eventually leave the school and rather than pursuing the law, he would embark upon a life of delinquency and crime that would send him to prison for 10 years.

The turning point came in 1948 when his brothers, Philbert and Reginald, introduced him to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and he converted to the Nation of Islam. "Upon his release from prison in the spring of 1952, Malcolm went to Detroit, Michigan, where he became Malcolm X, a minister of Temple No. 1. From then until 1964 Malcolm X was the main exponent of Elijah Muhammad's doctrine."7

After years of dedicated service to Elijah Muhammad, a rift developed between the two. Malcolm's worst suspicions were confirmed when a news report disclosed that two of Elijah Muhammad's former secretaries had filed paternity suites against him charging that he had fathered their four children. Devastated, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam and formed two organizations, The Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).

Malcolm moved more toward orthodox Islam, traveling extensively in Africa and the Middle East and participating in the Islamic holy pilgrimage to Mecca. After returning to the United States he was assassinated - gunned down at the Audoban Ballroom in Harlem, New York, on February 21, 1965.

With the death of Elijah Muhammad of congestive heart failure on February 25, 1975, his son, Wallace Deen Muhammad became the new leader of the Nation of Islam.8 Because of his knowledge of orthodox Islam, Wallace immediately began to make changes. Perhaps the most dramatic, some ten years later, was when he merged his followers into traditional, international Islam. This merging "'had been his goal for the mission from "day one." I have been trying to bring what used to be called the Nation of Islam to what I call a natural and normal Islamic community,' he said. 'The idea we have had of a community is not Islamic and came from the days of black nationalism. Our religion does not require the degree of organization and centralized control we have been used to. . Muslims are just Muslims, and they go to the mosque, and that is it.'"9 Another significant change was the group's commitment to racial harmony. "The same blacks who once believed whites were devils and who advocated the overthrow of the government now profess racial harmony, brotherly love and American patriotism."10

Not all of Elijah Muhammad's former followers were pleased with this new direction; many did not agree with the reforms made by Wallace. "One of the most hurting blows came when a disenchanted faction split from the fold. That faction, which adheres to the original tenets, is led by Louis Farrakhan."11 Farrakhan essentially reorganized the old Nation of Islam.

Born Louis Eugene Walcott on May 11, 1933, in the Bronx, New York, Farrakhan was a recruit of Malcolm X whom he had met in 1955. Shortly thereafter he became a member of the Nation of Islam and quickly progressed through the ranks. He served under Malcolm for nine months and became the minister of the mosque in Boston, where he had spent his formative years. After the death of Malcolm X, this highly educated young man who had been raised a devout Episcopalian, graduated from Boston Latin School with honors and who had spent two years at Winston-Salem Teachers College in North Carolina,12 became Elijah Muhammad's National Spokesman.

Although Farrakhan's organization claims to be the authentic Nation of Islam, there are three other organizations making this same claim. John Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad's blood brother, heads one, based in Detroit. A second organization is based in Atlanta and headed by Silas Muhammad. Emanuel Abdulla Muhammad established a third organization in Baltimore.

The most recognized of the four organizations is that founded by Louis Farrakhan.


I. The Nature of God

A. God is not Spirit, but a man.

"God is a man and we just cannot make Him other than man, least we make Him an inferior one... A spirit is subjected to us and not we to the spirit."13

"Allah came to us from the Holy City of Mecca, Arabia, in 1930. He used the name Wallace D. Fard, often signing it W. D. Fard.... He came alone."14

B. God is not eternal (He lives and dies)

"Well, we all know that there was a God in the beginning that created all these things and do know that He does not exist today. But we know again that from that God the person of God continued until today in His people, and today a Supreme One (God) has appeared among us with the same infinite wisdom to bring about a complete change."15

"There is no God Living Who was here in the Creation of the Universe, but They produce Gods from Them and Their Wisdom lives in us."16

C. God is one of many gods (Polytheism).

"The Black Man's Gods, according to the history He [Allah] taught me, have All been the Wisest."17

"Six thousand years ago, or to be more exact 6,600 years ago, as Allah taught me, our nation gave birth to another God whose name was Yacub."18

II. The Person of Christ

A. Christ was only a mortal man and a prophet, not God.

"He [Jesus] was nothing more than a prophet."19

"Making the Son and the Holy Ghost the equal with the Father is absolutely sinful."20

B. He did not rise from the dead.

"He [Jesus] was nothing more than a prophet, and he has gone back to the earth, never to return alive."21

"We know what happened to him 2,000 years ago. He cannot come back from the grave. He is not in heaven."22

III. The Bible

A. It is incomplete.

"The Bible in not all holy, nor is it all the Word of God!"23

B. It is a poison book.

"The Bible is now being called the Poison Book by God Himself, and who can deny that it is not poison? It has poisoned the very hearts and minds of the so-called Negroes so much that they can't agree with each other."24

"The Bible is the graveyard of my poor people (the so-called Negroes)... The Bible charges all of its Great Prophets with evil, it makes God guilty of an act of an act of adultery by charging Him with being the father of Mary's baby (Jesus), again it charges Noah and Lot with drunkenness, and Lot with getting children by his daughter. What a Poison Book"25

Biblical Response

1. God the Father is a Spirit Being. Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God.26

2. God is eternal. He has no beginning and no ending.27

3. There is only one God.28

4. Jesus has been raised from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God.29

5. The Word of God is pure, perfect, sure, and inspired.30

1  Lincoln, Eric C., The Black Muslims in America, (Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press, Inc., 1994) p. 13.
2  Ibid.
3  Akridge, Colin P., Why I Cannot Be A Black Muslim, (Newport, PA: Research and Education Foundation, 1995) p. 2.
4  Gnosis Magazine, p. 59.
5  Lincoln, The Black Church Since Frazier, (New York: Schocken Books, 1989) p. 163.
6  Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, p. 189.
7  Ellis, Carl F. Jr., Free At Last? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996) p. 100.
8  Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, p. 263.
9  The Atlanta Journal Constitution, May 4, 1985, p. 3C.
10  San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 1985.
11  Ibid.
12  Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, p. 268.
13  Muhammad, Elijah, Message to the Blackman in America, (Chicago: The Final Call, Inc., 1965) p. 6.
14  Ibid., p. 16).
15  Ibid., p. 9).
16  Muhammad, Elijah, Our Savior Has Arrived, (Newport News, VA: United Brothers Communications Systems, n.d.) p. 97).
17  Ibid.
18  Muhammad, Message, p. 10.
19  Muhammad, Our Savior, p. 195.
20  Ibid., p. 152.
21  Ibid., p. 195.
22  Ibid., p. 210.
23  Muhammad, Message, p. 89.
24  Ibid., p. 94.
25  Ibid., p. 95.
26  John 4:23; Matthew 1:22.
27  Psalms 90:2; 102:26; Isaiah 43:10-11; 48:12; Revelation 1:8.
28  Deuteronomy 6:3; Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 45:5-6, 14, 21.
29  1 Corinthians 15:1-6; Ephesians 1:20; 2:6.
30  Palms 19:7-8; 111:7-8; 2 Peter 1:21.

Profile is a regular feature of the Watchman Expositor published by Watchman Fellowship, Inc. Readers are encouraged to begin their own religious research notebooks using these articles.


Message Friend Invite (Original Poster)

Jun. 2, 2008 at 11:58 AM

zanzeebeel Jun. 2, 2008 at 3:39 PM (Delete)

Asalam alaikum 

One of the beauties of islam is the teaching that we do not judge by the usual 'earthly' judgements but by the citeria given to us in islam by the Quran and sunnah, There is no colour prejudice, no racial prejudice, only in the piety of the religion do we differ and even in this we can not judge each other , for only Allah can see the hearts the mind and the intention . The old  young men women strong weak rich poor educated uneducated are all valued as muslim brothers and sisters. Is that not something beautiful?


The Book of Virtue, Good Manners and Joining of the Ties of Relationship (Kitab Al-Birr was-Salat-I-wal-Adab) [032:6219] Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Don't nurse grudge and don't bid him out for raising the price and don't nurse aversion or enmity and don't enter into a transaction when the others have entered into that transaction and be as fellow-brothers and servants of Allah. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He neither oppresses him nor humiliates him nor looks down upon him. The piety is here, (and while saying so) he pointed towards his chest thrice. It is a serious evil for a Muslim that he should look down upon his brother Muslim. All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his brother in faith: his blood, his wealth and his honour.


The Book of Virtue, Good Manners and Joining of the Ties of Relationship (Kitab Al-Birr was-Salat-I-wal-Adab) [032:6225] 

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Verily. Allah would say on the Day of Resurrection: Where are those who have mutual love for My Glory's sake? Today I shall shelter them in My shadow when there is no other shadow but the shadow of Mine.

Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab) [73:146] 

Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said, "Make things easy for the people, and do not make it difficult for them, and make them calm (with glad tidings) and do not repulse (them )."

Message Friend Invite

Jun. 30, 2008 at 5:35 PM I'm so glad that you posted this sister. It is hard to find historical accounts of muslims in America.  I hope that the members of the nation of islam are called to the truth insha Allah.

Message Friend Invite

Jun. 30, 2008 at 5:42 PM Oh sis.. if Allha wills for them to be guided.. They will be.. malcolm X was. Alhamdulliah

Message Friend Invite (Original Poster)

Want to leave a comment and join the discussion?

Sign up for CafeMom!

Already a member? Click here to log in