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Nation of Islam

The Nation of Islam (NOI) is a religious and political organization founded in the United States by Wallace Fard Muhammad in 1930. A black nationalist organization, the NOI focuses its attention on the African diaspora, especially on African Americans. While describing itself as Islamic, its religious tenets, while phrased in Islamic terminology, differ considerably from mainstream African-American Islamic traditions. Scholars of religion characterize it as a new religious movement. It operates as a centralized and hierarchical organization.

Leader of the Cult

The Nation teaches that there has been a succession of mortal gods, each a black man named Allah, of whom Fard Muhammad is the most recent. It claims that the first Allah created the earliest humans, the Arabic-speaking, dark-skinned Tribe of Shabazz, whose members possessed inner divinity and from whom all people of color are descended. It maintains that a scientist named Yakub then created the white race. The whites lacked inner divinity and were intrinsically violent; they overthrew the Tribe of Shabazz and achieved global dominance. Setting itself against the white-dominated society of the United States, the NOI campaigns for the creation of an independent African American nation-state and calls for African Americans to be economically self-sufficient and separatist. A millenarian tradition, it maintains that Fard Muhammad will soon return aboard a spaceship, the "Mother Plane" or "Mother Ship", to wipe out the white race and establish a utopia. Members worship in buildings called mosques or temples. Practitioners are expected to live disciplined lives, adhering to strict dress codes, specific dietary requirements, and patriarchal gender roles.


Wallace Fard Muhammad established the Nation of Islam in Detroit. He drew on various sources, including Noble Drew Ali's Moorish Science Temple of America, black nationalist trends like Garveyism, and black-oriented forms of Freemasonry. After Fard Muhammad disappeared in 1934, the leadership of the NOI was assumed by Elijah Muhammad. He expanded the NOI's teachings and declared Fard Muhammad to be the latest Allah. Attracting growing attention in the late 1950s and 1960s, the NOI's influence expanded through high-profile members such as the black nationalist activist Malcolm X and the boxer Muhammad Ali. Deeming it a threat to domestic security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked to undermine the group. Following Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975, his son Warith Deen Mohammed took over the organization, moving it towards Sunni Islam and renaming it the World Community of Islam in the West. Members seeking to retain Elijah Muhammad's teachings re-established the Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan's leadership in 1977. Farrakhan has continued to develop the NOI's beliefs, for instance by drawing connections with Dianetics, and expanding its economic and agricultural operations.


Based in the United States, the Nation of Islam has also established a presence abroad, with membership open only to people of color. In 2007, it was estimated to have 50,000 members. The Nation has proven to be particularly successful at converting prisoners. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have characterized it as a black supremacist hate group that promotes racial prejudice towards white people, antisemitism, and anti-LGBT rhetoric. Muslim critics accuse it of promoting teachings that are not authentically Islamic.

The Nation of Islam is a new religious movement, an "ethno-religious movement", and a social movement. Scholars of religion have also classified it as resembling UFO religions] with UFOs featuring in its ideas about the forthcoming end of the world. Although they both employ the same name, the Nation of Islam has represented two distinct organizations: the first organization was established by Wallace Fard Muhammad in the 1930s and it existed until 1975, and the second organization was established by Louis Farrakhan in the late 1970s.

The Nation heavily draws on influences from both Christianity and Islam, but it interprets the Bible and the Quran differently from mainstream Christians and mainstream Muslims. A black nationalist religion and an African American religion, it seeks to reclaim what it regards as the historic Islamic identity of African Americans. Its members have been called "Black Muslims", and its second leader, Elijah Muhammad, stated that "Islam is the natural religion of the Black Nation." Islamic elements in its practices include the use of the Arabic language, prayers five times a day, and the adoption of a flag based on that of Islamic-majority Turkey. A Muslim identity appealed to the NOI as it offered an alternative to mainstream, Christian-dominated American culture. The Nation denigrates Christianity, regarding it as a tool of white supremacy, and claims that it lacks the rational and scientific basis of its own teachings.


The religion which is promoted by the Nation has been described as "Fardian Islam", "nontraditional Islam", and "quasi-Islamic". The Nation sees itself as part of the Islamic world, although it has little in common with mainstream forms of Islam. Herbert Berg commented that it had only a "superficial relationship to other Islams" such as the Sunni, Shi'ite and Sufi traditions. while Jason Eric Fishman and Ana Belén Soage observed that although the Nation uses many standard Islamic terms, it gives them "profoundly different meanings" to those understood by most Muslims. The Nation's views differ from the Five Pillars, which are typically seen as central to Islamic belief and practice; its claims that Allah (God) takes anthropomorphic form and that there is no afterlife differ fundamentally from standard Islam. Unlike most forms of Islam, the NOI does not teach that the 6th/7th century Arabian religious leader Muhammad was the final nor the most important messenger of God, instead treating its first two leaders, Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad, as being more important. From mainstream Islamic perspectives, its teachings are heretical, with its theology being shirk (blasphemy). Mainstream Muslims view it as "a religious movement which has selectively adopted some Islamic beliefs and concepts", but which is not "truly Islamic".


The Nation is a highly centralized, hierarchical movement, and has been described as authoritarian. Unlike practitioners of Rastafari, a contemporary of the NOI which shares many of its key concerns, members of the Nation do not exhibit considerable variation in their approach to the religion, displaying a high degree of uniformity and conformity among followers. However, there is no specific holy text produced by the NOI, and its teachings have not remained static, but have changed throughout its history. Over the course of its history it has for instance adopted additional elements from mainstream Islam, and Farrakhan's second Nation also bears some distinct differences from its predecessor.

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