The presence of Islam in America is as longstanding as the arrival of the first captive Muslims from Africa, making Islam one of America’s formative religions. But the long-suppressed indigenous Islam didn’t resurface in organized form until the 1930s, when it infused the politico-spiritual drive by Noble Drew ‘Ali and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to address the appalling social conditions of the ghettoized black masses of the North.
Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam would prove to be the most extensive, influential and durable of African American self-generated organizations. Combining black cooperative entrepreneurship with indigenous Islam-tinged culture and spirituality, the NOI pursued a collectivist nationalist agenda which sought to advance the black masses’ cause within America or without it. At its collectivist height, the NOI achieved a $95 million empire of interlocking black Muslim small businesses and farms, providing a model for “bootstrap self-development” by the marginalized and dispossessed, worldwide.
Bourgeois elements developed within or engaged by the NOI sought to weld a united African American nation out of a range of classes. Outstanding second-generation leaders such as Warith Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X would further embed Islam in Black America and extend its relations into the international community. Their media offered an informed and critical outlook on both domestic and international affairs that often paralleled progressive analysis. But it remains ambiguous whether the developing African American nation will pursue its still-unfulfilled promise through secession, autonomy or long-term integration. Much depends on how America responds.
IVORY LYONS, Journal of Intercultural Studies –
“I endorse this book and I am glad that I have it. It is invaluable to me. I grew up during some of the period which the author writes about. I watched as an inner-city youth how the black Muslims, as they were known, worked. I was impressed in their ability to clean up the neighbourhood, put people to work, refurbish old and broken down buildings and clean up lives. I saw how black churches changed their rhetoric to be more relevant in light of the inroads made by the NOI. I saw black entrepreneurship at its best because the NOI had a plan and carried out its plan.
This book describes in great detail the successes and the failures of this powerful organisation. As a scholar who teaches about the NOI, religion, cultures and race in America this book gives the context and enables the reader to understand the dynamics surrounding any movement. As I often tell my students: religions do not exist in a vacuum. To that end religion is more than doctrines and creeds and practices. Religion is not only affected by everything around it but in affects everything in its environment.
Dennis Walker deserves praise for this very scholarly and comprehensive work. This is a great study on a great movement, headed by some great people in an important nation.
IVORY LYONS, Journal of Intercultural Studies. 2009
LEILA DIAB, Muslim Journal –
” It is not very often books of substance on African Americans, Islam and the Nation of Islam are written to set the record straight, or to reveal the truth about an historical legacy in the making. However, Islam and the search for African American, and the Nation of Islam, by Dr. Dennis Walker is an exception to the rule.
Dr. Walker’s book sets the record straight for an Islamic, African American and an Arab historical connection, the influences and impacting maze of geographical history, as well as the search for African American nationhood in the 21st century.
This well document book offers several defining points of views coupled with the elements of societies’ Black History, The Nation of Islam, race, class, and culture. Dr. Walker’s book also strengthens and confirms the longstanding relevance of media knowledge and networks within the African American communities and its impact on domestic and international relations.
Islam and the search for African American Nationhood, is an extensive scholarly treasure trove of African, Arab and Islamic history. This timely study on Islam and the African American movement and its leaders is worthy reading, yet goes beyond the expansion of the African American experience…and its search for Nationhood.”
LEILA DIAB, Muslim Journal
GARRY W. TROMPF, Professor of Religious Studies, JOURNAL OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES, Australia –
This enormous study clinches the importance of Islam for African-Americans. But it is an ‘Americanized’ Islam, even in its more radicalized forms. The book covers in depth many of the main features of the Black Muslim movement from its stridently millenarian phase under Elijah Muhammad, its attempt to reach rapprochement with transnational Islam under his son Warith(uddin) Muhammad, and the return of the millenarian ‘bite’ with Louis Farrakhan’s noisy ‘sectlet’ running alongside the settling of an ‘acceptably American’ Muslim ‘Establishment’ under Warith (now recently deceased).
Walker goes much further than his prior published articles in this book. Indeed it is a huge and daring exposure of the issues and postures involved in this extraordinary American new religious movement called The Nation of Islam. He explores more deeply than anyone before him the background to the movement in African religious life, with Islam [as one religion of Africans enslaved in America] a forgotten shadow in the history of the Western slave trade, and thus he argues how Islam can be said to have been ‘reborn’ on American soil among oppressed blacks [in 20th century Muslim movements]. And he further goes on to explain the huge rise in influence and popularity of Louis Farrakhan, who was side-lined by Warith after Muhammad’s death, but who becomes the leader of the astounding Million Man March to Washington of 1995.
Farrakhan, notorious for revitalizing Elijah Muhammad’s strident millenarian rhetoric and for his anti-Zionist vitriol, has actually integrated the Nation of Islam into the black bourgeoisie business world through his active media endorsement of private entrepreneurship. Despite keeping up an anti-Christian (and anti-Israeli) tones, he nonetheless keeps up dialogue with the black Christians, and also the marginalized Latin American communities within the United States, with a vision of a “Millions More” march and movement in view. Walker concludes by asking what chances the Nation has of uniting the oppressed “black classes” of North America.
The volume is carefully documented, and reflects Walker’s known attention to detail and the intricacies of influences and causal factors, nowhere better illustrated than in his attention to the Druzes in the whole story and to Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and black Marxism.
GARRY W. TROMPF, Professor of Religious Studies,
JOURNAL OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES, Australia
DR. SULAYMAN S. NYANG, Howard University –
“Dr. Walker has drawn a portrait of this movement that deserves the attention of
scholars. I strongly recommend it to teachers and students studying or writing about Islam and the African American experience.”
— DR. SULAYMAN S. NYANG, Howard University