The Nation of Islam played a significant role in popularizing Islamic belief among African Americans. However, mainstream Islamic leaders have for decades raised serious questions about whether the Nation of Islam truly represents the Muslim faith. Although even some prominent members of the Nation of Islam have joined in the critique, other scholars have identified fundamental similarities.
Allah and the His Messenger
The Shahada, or testimony, is a core belief of the Islamic faith, declaring, "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger."According to the Nation of Islam, its founder, Fard Muhammad, was Allah in human form, while Fard's disciple and successor, Elijah Muhammad, was His Messenger. Mainstream Islamic scholars have publicly condemned this perspective on the Shahada as heretical, and it has even been the basis of a fatwa declaring Nation of Islam members to be unbelievers. Nonetheless, as the Encyclopedia of Islam notes, some Sufi and Shiite Muslims do not believe that prophecy stopped with Muhammad, and the Nation of Islam itself has likened Fard to the Shiite Mahdi, a divinely empowered savior prophesied to appear in the last days.
Creation and Apocalypse
In the creation according to the Nation of Islam, the first human being was The Original Blackman, whose skin tone was derived from the initial color of the universe. White-skinned people were created not by Allah but an evil deity named Yakub. The Nation of Islam further teaches that at end of time, Allah's "Mother Ship" will descend from the heavens and kill or convert the white oppressors.
The creation story and apocalyptic prophecies in mainstream Islam do not have these racial or advanced technological overtones. Nonetheless, as Nation of Islam historian Edward E. Curtis IV observes, members of the Nation of Islam saw these discrepancies merely as interpretative differences, not radical innovations.
Another issue related to the Nation of Islam's stories of the earth's first and final days was its emphasis on black separatism. As former Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X noted after he left the organization and went on a Hajj to Mecca, in mainstream Islam people of various races and ethnic groups come together as one. However, the Encyclopedia of Islam also notes that the Nation of Islam's message resonates with deeply rooted themes within the Islamic faith, such as political activism, economic responsibility, Muslim community and the pursuit of social justice.
Ritual and Moral Code
Perhaps the most conspicuous similarities between mainstream Muslim faith and the Nation of Islam can be found in their shared rituals and morality. Both place great emphasis on the importance of sexual purity, personal integrity and other fundamental moral principles. The Nation of Islam has also adopted such practices as headscarves for women, prayer toward Mecca, worship in mosques and the observation of Islamic law pertaining to permitted, (or halal), food. Yet even where significant similarities exist, there are significant incidental differences. For example, the Nation of Islam has extended its food taboos to soul food, such as collard greens, corn bread and sweet potatoes, which it prohibits as an animalistic relic of the African American slave diet.
- Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History; Edward E. Curtis IV, ed.
- Black Muslim religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960 – 1975; Edward E. Curtis IV
- Encyclopedia of Islam, Juan E. Campo
- Islam Web: Nation of Islam
- Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, Volume 5; Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft, eds.
- Cultural Anthropology; Purity, Soul Food, and Sunni Islam: Explorations at the Intersection of Consumption and Resistance; Carolyn Rouse and Janet Hoskins
- Nation of Islam: About: A Brief History on the Origin of The Nation Of Islam In America, A Nation of Beauty & Peace
- Nation of Islam: Study Guide 21: The Education Challenge: A New Educational Paradigm for the 21st Century
- Islam and Islamic Studies Resources: Malcolm X's (Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) Letter from Mecca
- PBS: This Far by Faith: Warith Deen Mohammed
- Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images