Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 00:11:04 -0400
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From: PeaceNet World News Service <>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Islam on the Rise Among African Americans
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Islam on the Rise Among African Americans

By Leslie Goffe, IPS, 19 September 1999

NEW YORK, Sep 19 (IPS)—Time was when the Christian church held almost exclusive rights on the political leadership of black communities in the United States—like when Martin Luther King Jnr led his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Today, however, the Muslim mosque is vying for the major political role in the life of millions of African Americans.

Recent surveys have revealed that Islam is the fastest-growing religion among black people in the United States and two very different brands of the religion are vying for converts among African-Americans.

One is led by Louis Farrakhan, controversial head of the Nation of Islam—a religious organisation that combines some of the practices of Islam with a philosophy of black separatism.

Farrakhan has a high media profile and is notorious for his fiery rhetoric but he is not the dominant voice in the African- American Muslim community.

But it is Wallace D. Mohammed, the soft spoken leader of the moderate Muslim American Society who is regarded as the most influential voice among America’s black Muslims.

Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, which has around 10,000 members, is infamous for its policies of racial separatism and for practicing its own, distinct brand of Islam. Mohammed’s Muslim American Society, which has 200,000 members and a following of more than 2 million people is, by contrast, a racially mixed, mainstream Muslim organisation.

Those African American leaders who come to you and appeal to your hurt, your woes, your need to cry, or to charge somebody else with your problems...they are not doing a service to you, or to us, they are doing a terrible disservice Wallace D. Mohammed recently declared.

He was speaking both of Farrakhan and of his father, the late Elijah Muhammad, former Supreme Leader of the Nation of Islam who once proclaimed that the white man is a devil...he is to blame much for the state of our (black) race.

Wallace D. Mohammed’s moderate views have won him a level of recognition from the American establishment enjoyed by few Muslims. In 1992 he became the first muslim religious leader to lead prayers in the US Senate, prompting Republican Senator, Orrin Hatch, a Morman, to call him, a great man...a kind man...a compassionate man...a decent man.

C. Eric Lincoln, a professor of religion at Duke University in North Carolina, and author of the book ’Black Muslims’ called Wallace Mohammed, the very positive face of Islam in this country. In the Islamic world, many see him as a very important player in the West.

While Louis Farrakhan has dedicated much of his energies to racial matters, Wallace Mohammed has given his attentions to economic independence for African-American muslims.

His organisation collected 3 million dollars from followers to buy clothing at bulk discounts from factories in Syria and Bangladesh and then make them available for re-sale within the African-American Muslim community.

Mohammed also convinced a group of wealthy Saudia Arabian businessmen to provide the funds to build Muslim-run schools and businesses in the United States.

Kaleem Shabazz—another of the Muslim American Society’s leaders—said that, in contrast to the Nation of Islam, his group offers African-Americans hope, free of racial anger. We realise some of the negative things that happen in America—such as racism and oppression—but we have a sense of optimism that, with belief in God and with hard work our condition will change. Things will get better; thats our outlook, Shabazz said.

Many of the Society’s members are former followers of the Nation of Islam who left because they were unhappy with the organisation’s approach to religion.

Karriem Beyah was frustrated and troubled that Ramadan, an important Muslim Holy day, was not observed according to the Muslim calendar, and because the Holy Koran seemed to take second place to the black separatist writings of the Nation of Islam’s founder.

I left the old Nation’s theology because it said that man was God, and through time I came to understand that God is God, not man Beyah, attending the Muslim American Society convention in Philadelphia last week. I think now my life and my spirit is more free.

Another area in which the Society departs from the Nation of islam is politics. As separatists, the Nation told its members not to vote or have anything to with electoral politics.

But Wallace Muhammad’s group encourages African-Americans to vote, and to play a full and active part in national and local politics. Several of its members, such as City Councillor Kalil Beasley of New Jersey, have been elected to government posts in major American cities.

Elected office in particular is being encouraged by our group because we feel we can make a difference. We can bring about that type of moral leadership that so many people desire Beasley says. Our responsibility is to become participants in what governs us, and to become active politically with emphasis on moving from the State House to the White House.

Giving the closing remarks at the Muslim American Society meeting in Philadelphia, Wallace Mohammed ended the convention in Philadelphia on a typically optimistic note.

There are so many Muslims out there he said to the more than 10,000 African American muslims in attendance, The spirit of the Muslims is getting better and better in America.

And, things do appear to be getting better for African- American Muslims. This is because, says Kaleem Shabazz, their brand of kinder, gentler Islam has won out over the Nation of Islam’s angry separatism. Minister Farrakhan has acknowledged publically that he needs Imam Wallace to give him the spiritual connection, and understanding of Islam to widen the dimension of the Nation said Shabazz.

What we see is that many of the members of the Nation are instituting Ramadan, performing Friday prayers as do Muslims and utilising the Koran as Muslims, he said.

So the differences really are narrowing, and I think you’ll see a day in the near future where you see the Nation of Islam will be very similar to our association.