Forgotten Fruit of the City: Chicago and the Moorish Science Temple of America.
Religious institutions (Social aspects)
Women in Islam (Social aspects)
African Americans (Religious aspects)
Muslims in the United States (Personal narratives)
Pub Date:
Name: Cross Currents Publisher: Association for Religion and Intellectual Life Audience: Professional Format: Newsletter Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2001 Association for Religion and Intellectual Life ISSN: 0011-1953
Date: Spring, 2001 Source Volume: 51 Source Issue: 1
Organization: Moorish Science Temple of America
Geographic Scope: United States; Illinois Geographic Name: Chicago, Illinois Geographic Code: 1U3IL Illinois

Accession Number:
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My heightened interest in the Moorish Science Temple of America began in the fall of 1999 as I searched for visible evidence of female activism among Muslim women in metropolitan Chicago. Through my studies, I was aware of the MSTA and its founder, Noble Drew Ali, but so little research was available on them that I thought perhaps the organization no longer existed. Then I came across, for the second time, the obituary of an African American physician who died in December of 1997. Dr. Edward Page-El was born to Moorish parents and remained a faithful member of the MSTA. [1] Active at Temple #1 on Hoyne Street in Chicago, [2] he taught the "Koran Class," was a Divine Minister and Mufti, the organ ization's male security and assistance wing. According to the obituary, Dr. Page-El was survived by his wife, Ann. Ann Page-El was listed in the Chicago telephone directory. When I called--to my delight and surprise--she invited me to her home for breakfast. I did not expect her to be so open and inviting; after all, few researchers have been able to break the self-imposed code of silence that seemed to shield those associated with the MSTA. Yet, from the living room of her high-rise condo on Chicago's South Side, Ann Page-El spoke affectionately about her husband, his work, his religion, and, surprisingly, their interfaith marriage. [3]

Ann was an elder in the Presbyterian Church. When her preaching and teaching scheduled allowed, she accompanied her husband to worship services at the Temple and participated in other events. Conversely, Edward went to congregational services with her. I initially contacted Ann because I was hopeful that she had in her possession some of his books, mementos, or other artifacts. She said I was about a week late, for she had recently removed her husband's numerous plaques from the hallway walls and given all of his MSTA-related items to a woman by the name of Delores Warner-Bey, who was working on a history of the organization. She could not give me Warner-Bey's number, but referred me to someone who could.

Henry Reese-Bey and his wife, Princess, are also an interfaith couple. Like his best friend Edward Page-El, Henry is a Divine Minister, who serves Temple #9, which also meets at the Hoyne Street headquarters. Princess is a Christian, though she doesn't attend any single congregation regularly. "Our different faith journeys have never been a problem," Princess said. "Like Ann, I have never felt left out within the Moorish community nor pressured to identify myself as a Moor." [4] During a visit to their Villa Park home, they telephoned Warner-Bey and shared with her my research interest. Warner-Bey agreed to meet with me at her home in Lockport, an hour's drive from the downtown civic center. Since then, I have become immersed in the worldview, culture, challenges, and joys of the Chicago Moorish American community. In many ways, MSTA members see themselves as part of the worldwide Muslim community, in other ways very distinct from it. Like their counterparts in other Muslim organizations, they struggle with defections, recruitment, leadership controversies, survival, and finding ways to encourage their children to embrace and promote their religion.

This essay is the result of numerous conversations with members and officials of the Moorish Science Temple, access to MSTA documents, recently released FBI files, as well as archival research. By no means do I claim to present an exhaustive history, but I do hope that a consideration of the Moorish Science Temple of America against the backdrop of metropolitan Chicago is an informing portrait of the least familiar of the three American Muslim movements through which the majority of African Americans have embraced Islam. [5] Not only does a local history of the Moorish Science Temple of America demonstrate the broad range of interpretations of Islam in the U.S., it draws attention to the real but all-too-often suppressed presence and contribution of Muslim women to the life of Muslim communities in Chicago. Contrary to popular opinion, Muslim women employ self-defining strategies as they push beyond conventional conceptions of womanhood and traditional interpretations of their place and power within their religious traditions. Yet the social activism of MSTA women has been a better kept secret than the movement itself.

Islam, Muslims, and Chicago

The "Windy City," a label imposed by volatile local politics --rather than frigid breezes off Lake Michigan -- enters the twenty-first century as an important microcosm of the pluralistic nation the United States has become. Within its six counties, the Chicago Metropolitan region is home to at least thirteen different religious traditions, including several formulations of Islam. [6] The Muslim faith already is the fastest growing religion in America, and is expected to surpass Judaism as the second largest world religion (of all religious systems, Christianity is the most widespread). [7] Contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of Muslim are not Arabs nor do they live in the Middle East. In fact, an estimated 6 to 7 million Muslims reside in the United States, a phenomenon that is challenging scholars to consider the academic potential of the idea of Islam in the West rather than Islam and the West.

The Chicago Muslim population of more than 300,000 is one of the largest in the nation. The varieties of Islam in Chicago preclude simple generalizations. Reflecting both ethnic and ideological diversity, Muslim organizations have emerged in response to the teachings of a charismatic leader, to serve a specific ethnic or cultural orientation, or as the result of expansion and/or dramatic changes in leadership, practices, beliefs, or other adaptations of the faith. Unlike the social structure maintained within Islamicized regions, no common authority exists among Muslim groups in this city, nor in any other area of the U.S. Essentially, most Chicago Muslims share traditional values and follow the mainstream teachings of Islam. For them, Islam is a way a life that dictates both private and public behavior. Muslims often experience the communal aspects of their religion as part of one or more organizations that feature a distinctive theology and social system. For example, a Muslim may associate with the Muslim American Society, an organization whose supporters are primarily African American and American-born, and also be involved in activities organized by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an advocacy group largely supported by Muslims who immigrated to this country within the last decade, as well as one of the numerous MSAs, or Muslim Student Associations emerging on the campuses of local colleges and universities.

Rather than remain behind the closed doors of isolated enclaves, Muslims whose numbers and stability could no longer be ignored at the close of the twentieth century have attained a new visibility. Islamic spiritual leaders are partnering with clergy from other religious traditions for dialogue and the development of interfaith community programs. In fact, when Muslims in Palos Heights ran into a roadblock in their attempt to purchase a church building and convert it into a mosque, support came from individuals and groups representing various faith traditions. Islamic private day and weekend schools have opened to serve both Muslim and non-Muslim families. Muslims helped elect the late Harold Washington as the first African American major of Chicago. Muslims demonstrated their ideological diversity in the 2000 presidential election, casting votes as Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Moreover, institutions of higher education have created archives and research centers, added Muslims scholars and administrators to their facility and staff, and expanded their curriculum to accommodate heightened interest in the Islamic presence in North America. [8]

In contrast to pervasive political and social mythologies regarding gender relations in Islam, women comprise a significant segment of local Muslim communities, and play an active role in their development, maintenance, and progress. Indeed, Muslim women are agents rather than subjects, whose lived experience is a vital interpreting lens for the worldview of the men, women, and children with whom they interact every day. Muslim women in Chicago are temple leaders, stay-at-home moms, as well as educators, principals, photographers, entrepreneurs, real estate agents, therapists, attorneys, counselors, social workers, writers, publishers, administrators, and liaisons between their Muslim groups, other religious institutions, and the larger society. They direct international convention activities, edit periodicals, and create forums and support systems for new Muslim women as well as for immigrant women in whose traditional cultures women are not permitted to visibly exert influence or employ agency outside of the home. A number of Muslim women hold advanced degrees, including the terminal degree in their fields. As one female Muslim observed while shopping on Chicago's North Side, "people take their cues about us from what they see on television or read in the paper. Such stereotypes camouflage who we are and the freedom we have in Islam."

Without a doubt, African American Muslims are the single largest Muslim group in the United States, representing at least 40 percent of the American Muslim population. Moreover, Islam has become an American religion, thanks in part to the overwhelming number of African American adherents. Their decision to become Muslim has brought to the surface important linkages between Islam and identity formation, self affirmation, and determination. Locally, African American Muslims freely associate with the estimated 100 Islamic centers and institutions in the Chicago area. [9] Still, an overwhelming number primarily support one of three predominantly African American organizations with established headquarters here. Two of these groups, the MSTA and the original Nation of Islam, emerged in Chicago within five years of each other, during the first three decades of the twentieth century, which coincided with a dramatic increase in the city's black population. The contemporary Nation of Islam was organized by 1977. Collectively, they continue to offer their supporters distinctive Islamic identities as well as agendas designed to eliminate the negative images of black people, strengthen the human family, and advocate self-determination. [10] Through them, an increasing number of African Americans and others today recognize the vitality and reality of a religion called Islam. In May of 1998, I became one them.

One Personal Journey to Islam

I was born in the racist atmosphere of 1950s Chicago and raised in the multicultural environment of Los Angeles. My mother chose to send my four brothers and me to parochial elementary schools to fulfill the deathbed request of an older sister who was a devout Catholic. Following twenty-eight years in which I worshipped and/or served as an ordained minister within Baptist, Pentecostal, nondenominational, and United Methodist traditions, I began an unconscious movement towards Islam. This transition and subsequent association with the Muslim American Society under the leadership of W. Deen Mohammed were not planned moves, but rather part of a journey that seemed to be a natural progression.

My understanding of Islam and those said to be followers of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were colored somewhat by media interpretations of Malcolm (X) Shabazz, characterizations of the Nation of Islam as a context for all African American Muslims, and the Western tendency to confuse culture and tradition with religion in discussions about Muslims. In fact, prior to 1997, I had never met a Muslim, nor was I aware of the diversity within the Muslim umma (or community). As I became, in the words of sociologist C. Eric Lincoln, one "on the interior of belief," I began to realize the similarities in the basic tenets of Christianity and Islam and to appreciate the Abrahamic heritage that the two faiths share with Judaism.

In the fall of 1995, I began doctoral studies at Northwestern University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The focus of my research was the practice of Islam and Christianity among African Americans. Publicly, I was enjoying ministry in a local church as well as national and international preaching engagements, which both challenged and supported my personal spirituality and my development as an ordained clergywoman. Outwardly, I was convinced that the Christian faith was the only tradition that could nurture and empower me as an African American woman who worshipped the God of creation. Internally, however, a growing sense of disequilibrium was emerging.

Initially I dressed in more modest attire around Muslims in deference to their religious teachings. I found the attitude of strangers rather interesting. For example, men I encountered on the street or elevated trains seemed to be more polite and rushed to open doors. I must admit I felt more respected and enjoyed the feeling. The decision to continue this mode of dress in Christian environments seemed to come naturally as well. Replacing my form-fitting wardrobe with clothes that drew less attention was less difficult than I imagined. I also felt compelled to attend the weekly congregational prayer services, which were often followed by lengthy conversations over meals with Muslim women and their families and invitations to their homes. Becoming more deeply immersed in Muslim activities--fasting during the month of Ramadan and making the five daily prayers (salat)--I discovered that I was comfortable and at home within Muslim settings. Soon I was convinced that what I considered sacred, or holy, as a Christian, were creeds, codes, and rituals I could revere as a Muslim. This was extremely difficult for some of my colleagues to grasp, until I explained that I had already moved away from the belief that my salvation was tied to the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. I also informed them that I, like some other Christians, no longer viewed Christianity as the sole doorway to God and paradise. In 1998, I made my transition to Islam.

As I began to interact with my new community and new religious identity, I discovered that I was more sensitive to certain things. Not only was I more conscious of the way I dressed, I was more aware of interactions with others. As a Christian, most of my closest friends were ministerial or academic colleagues both married and single. Many were men. As a Muslim woman, I was compelled to change some of my relationships with men with whom I was not related- a process that was not always easy nor understood by my friends or family. This endeavor proved equally challenging to me at times because I felt I was changing to too much too fast. I was single when this journey began, and my mother was concerned that the more modest apparel I now wore would reduce the possibility of marriage. In the early stages, she remarked, "How are you going to get a husband when he can't see your legs!" There also was concern about my "salvation." My family wondered privately whether I was still on my way to heaven or targeted for hell. Church members, at whose baptisms and marriages I had officiated, suddenly questioned the validity of those declarations. Individuals who had become Christians as a result of my preaching or teaching wondered as well whether their salvation was still intact.

Sacrifice was also an issue. Mainstream Islamic communities do not permit women to serve in the role of imam or spiritual leader. Yet before becoming a Muslim, I was expected to pastor my own church. In fact, I was offered an appointment to plant a church when I was only months into this journey. I was also completing my dissertation with the sup port of a denominational scholarship. Family and friends wondered how I could "give up so much," one declaring, "I thought you said God called you to the ministry? What happened to the calling?" I must admit that I sometimes miss the energy that surrounded me in the pulpit and in formal ministerial contexts. I believe the "calling" was authentic, but is now being shaped to fit my new context. In fact, Allah has also opened doors for me to speak before both Muslim and Christian audiences about my journey and the life of Muslims in America. [11] I knew that my lifestyle and interaction among my family and friends would have to correct the misconceptions that my words could not. I continued to attend family functions, and when I was asked to pray over a meal or for a special occasion-which was the family practice -I did so using language that is found in both Islamic and Christian sacred texts. During my first year as a Muslim, however, the Christmas season was especially difficult. My family likes to gather around meal tables, but I was fasting during Ramadan. It was bad enough that I was a vegetarian -- a lifestyle choice I made in 1995 -- but now I couldn't eat before sundown. My mother appeared to be so frustrated with me that even when I agreed to attend a church service with her on Christmas Eve -- another family practice -- she decided not to go at all.

I'm happy to say that my relatives have grown in their acceptance of Muslims and their understanding of my new faith. My mother and others often go on shopping sprees for scarves and outfits to accent my wardrobe! I am fulfilled as a Muslim, growing in the faith of Islam, and at home in a tradition that claims a one-billion member global community -- a religious family that, to Moorish Americans, includes "the first mass religious movement in the history of Islam in America." [12]

The Moorish Science Temple of America

Though the smallest in size of the three African American groups the Moorish Science Temple is the oldest among them. It was first organized as the Moorish Temple of Science in New Jersey in 1913 -- two years after the formation of the National Urban League and four years after the NAACP was established. By 1928, 15 temples were operative to serve members in both the North and the South. Its founder was a "flamboyant prophet" born Timothy Drew in 1886, who went by the name Noble Drew Ali. From the beginning, Ali proclaimed that his predominantly Negro followers were actually Asiatic people whose ancestors founded the Moroccan Empire. [13] He traced the genealogy of his followers back to Jesus, and championed Islam as the end of the black man's "quest for a psychic escape from racism." [14] For Ali and his self-defined "Moors," their complexion was olive not black, the color of death. "We are not a dead race," they announced. [15]

To many within the Muslim world, members of the MSTA have entered the global community through the narrowest of doors if at all. While they claim "Asiatic" roots, Moors reject what they consider Eastern Islamic practices, such as prostrating during prayers, use of the Qur'an as the authoritative text, and the reverence the vast majority of the Muslim world gives to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as the final messenger of Allah. Instead, Moors view their founder as the last prophet and Allah in carnate, whose every word was "LAW and Order and MUST be obeyed." [16] They acknowledge almost exclusively the authority of the sacred scripture Ali developed -- The Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple -- including on occasion Ali's appropriation of themes and symbols about Islam to which he may have been introduced at members-only meetings of the black Freemasons. Moors also prefer the Anglicized spelling of Muslim, proclaiming that they foster the Moslem religion, and refer to their formulation of Islam as Islamism, "a distinct doctrine divinely prepared by Prophet Noble Drew Ali for our earthly and divine salvation." [17] Their New Year is celebrated annually on January 15, seven days after the birth day of Ali; they hyphenate their surnames with "Bey" or "El." The name change is liberating in at least two ways -- communally as an illustration of a new nationality that enables followers to cope with cultural and political oppression, and individually as the recognition of one's humanity the dominant culture had denied. As Sheikess Wynne-Bey put it: "The Bey on the end of my name made me a woman." [18]

Unlike many other Muslim groups, Moors have a chorus and have entered marching bands in two world fairs. They do not subscribe to an extreme "dress code," preferring instead to celebrate the practice of wearing elaborate costumes to religious services at the temple or other special engagements. "We're not interested in people pointing us out on the street," remarked S. Dunbar-Bey, Assistant Grand National Chairman of the MSTA and coordinator of the 1999 woman's prayer retreat that attracted Christians and followers of other Islamic traditions. "While other Muslim groups maintain a specific dress code that sets them apart, we believe that we can dress modestly without drawing needless attention. How we dress is not as important as how we think and behave. For us, dressing modestly comes naturally, without external directives." [19] Temple leaders are usually identifiable at MSTA events by specially created metal badges. By and large women do fully cover their hair at public MSTA programs (certain scarf colors such as black are discouraged), augmenting their headpieces with a blue and red oval Moorish pin, featuring the numeral "7" in a circle. Men no longer are required to wear the traditional fez (maroon or black depending upon status) at all times, but do so at public organizational functions. A. Weaver-Bey of Moorish Communications, the Hartford, Connecticut, group that distributes MSTA literature, explains the Moorish distinctions this way: "Islam is a very simple faith. The basic tenets of Islam came about because people had fallen away. They confused rituals with the path.. rituals bring you to the path. [Noble Drew Ali] reestablished the right of black people to practice Islam. We consider him to be a universal prophet." [20]

Another noteworthy feature of the MSTA is the seemingly egalitarian character of leadership. From the beginning, Ali celebrated the leadership gifts of both women and men, appointing both indiscriminately to positions on the local, state, and national levels. "We've never been told what we could not do," explained Delores Weaver-Bey, an MSTA Divine Minister in Lockport, Illinois. "When he formed the Moorish Science Temple, Prophet Noble Drew Ali taught us that men and women were equal. He demonstrated this notion of equality by appointing a woman to be the leader of one of the first temples he established. This practice of shared leadership continues to this day. This is just one of the ways in which the Prophet was a pioneer. Unfortunately, in the twenty-first century there are still many Muslim groups who don't accept female religious leadership." [21] As early as 1928, M. Whitehead-El, aunt of Ali's wife Pearl Jones Drew Ali, was the Grand Skeikess (female temple leader) of Temple #9, then located on Townsend Street in Chicago. She also was one of three officials who filed documents in August of the same year to incorporate the national body and permit it to assume its current name. Within two years, Ali promoted her to serve as a governor (usually with authority of a state or large region) in addition to her temple duties. At the Third Annual National Convention, held in September of 1930 at Foresters Hall on Chicago's South Side, Whitehead-El (then using the surname Dove-El) was the only female governor scheduled to deliver a report to the membership. By 1939, the convention location moved to the downtown area of West Oak Street, where eleven female leaders were among the scheduled speakers on the six-day program. Of those women, two were grand governors -- one over New Jersey, the other, Tennessee. A third female leader, Mary Clift-Bey, Grand Governor of Temple #45 in Louisville, was one of the first female "missionaries," having been dispatched by Ali from Chicago to organize the Louisville group.

Chicago has been the headquarters of the MSTA, since 1928 when Ali officiated over the movement's first Annual National Convention. The event was held at the Moorish-owned Unity Hall, a brick structure located on Indiana Avenue, south of the Loop, or downtown area, which was acquired in 1926. [22] It was here that Moors were encouraged to become involved in the political dynamics of their city. In fact, the staunch support of Ali and Moorish residents of the 1st Congressional District reportedly was instrumental in the election of Republican Oscar DePriest as the first African American to hold a seat in Congress during the twentieth-century. [23] By the late 1920s, Ali was forced to contend with opposition from two arenas: rival disciples, many of whom he personally appointed to key leadership positions; and members who exhibited an "exaggerated sense of security and importance" and seemed to publicly proclaim without fear the liberation from European domination they believed they received from their leader. Ali reduced the heat from the latter by directing them to discontinue the practice of displaying their "Nationality and Identification Cards" and accosting whites on the streets of Chicago and other cities in the Midwest. Each card, with the Islamic symbol of the star and crescent, an image of clasped hands, and a numeral "7," identified the bearer as a "Moslem" and "citizen of the United States." Ali celebrated the self-confidence his followers gained from their new "Moorish" identity, and he taught them that the days of their white oppressor were numbered. Still his movement needed to reduce the mounting attention given it by law enforcement officials. [24]

Keeping his appointed leaders in line proved much more difficult. At least two followers were successful in forming rival organizations, with branches in a number of cities, all of which continue to incorporate the MSTA in all or part of their name. Reportedly, one of Ali's opponents was David Ford, the new member he commissioned in the Spring of 1929 to oversee the MSTA while Ali was on trial for the murder of a disenchanted official. Prior to Ali's death (or as Moors claim, the time "he left the physical form"), he renamed his newest disciple Ford-El and released the Chicago temple to him. In November, Ford-El moved to Detroit, where he assumed the names Wallace D. Fard and Wallace D. Fard Muhammad. Later he would organize the Nation of Islam. [25] Upon Ali's death at his South Side home in July of 1929, the unsettled leadership question again split the movement. Of the five disciples battling for the MSTA helm, two factions assumed center stage-- both maintaining headquarters in Chicago and operating under the MSTA banner. The two competing leaders -- E. Mealy-El, Governor and Supreme Grand Skeik of Temple #1, and C. Kirkman-Bey, Supreme Grand Advisor of Temple #9 -- claimed their temples as the national headquarters of the organization. Initially, some temple leaders attended the annual conventions of both groups. Other splits resulted in the reorganization of independent temples, some whose self-proclaimed leaders claimed to be reincarnations of Ali. Eventually, Kirkman-Bey, who conducted the funeral ritual of his leader, was accepted as Ali's heir apparent. As a result, only his three successors, F. Nelson-Bey, J. Blakely-Bey, and currently R. Love-El, are recognized by the majority of Moors as leaders of the authentic MSTA.

Under Love-El, the headquarters and convention site of the MSTA is a sturdy three-story corner building on North Hoyne Street, in a densely populated area northwest of the downtown civic center. With few exceptions, the main hall of the building takes on the look of a church sanctuary- the building was previously owned by a Christian group. In the blue-walled archway overlooking the podium, photos of Marcus Garvey, founder of the United Negro Improvement Association, and Ali are hung side by side. At the worship service open to the public during the 72nd Annual convention held in mid-September, the program begins and ends with the recitation of the Al Fatihah, the opening surah (chapter) of the Holy Qur'an. Unlike mainstream Muslims, Moors pray standing upright with two fingers lifted on one hand, five on the other. At the conclusion of the prayer, they recognize the preeminence of their leader, proclaiming that Allah came "in the person of Noble Drew Ali." During the worship service, various leaders speak briefly from the podium, referring to Ali's Koran, and sometimes offering an interpretation. Between speakers, a member of the congregation leads the audience in what to Moors are familiar songs - some with tunes familiar to visitors, such as the theme song of the "Eyes on the Prize" video. Though exact member ship figures are difficult to ascertain, attendance at recent conventions and other events suggest that the MSTA's appeal and membership have dropped considerably since the 1930s. [26] At its peak, estimates of MSTA membership range from 30,000 to 120,000. Current estimates are as low as a few thousand members, reflecting those associated with the "legitimate" organization as well as numerous factions.

Currently, as many as five different Moorish groups continue to function in metropolitan Chicago. [27] The organization led by Grand Skeik and Moderator Love-El, features at least 44 temples and branch temples as well as other entities spread across 17 states. Home to seven temples, Illinois has the highest number of any other state under Love-El's leadership. Of these, five temples are located in the Chicago area, including the historic Temple #1. Its current leader, R. Higgins-Bey, was appointed two years ago and is one of at least eight female Moors in the country who serve in the capacity of Grand Skeikess. Higgins-Bey juggles her temple duties with responsibilities as a mother and college student. When asked about the challenges of temple leadership, she refrained from a conventional gendered analysis. "I wasn't appointed because I am a woman, nor do brothers in the Temple challenge my leadership because I am a woman," she explained. "That issue was dealt with long ago. The Prophet sought out people who wanted to work and are qualified for the work he appointed them to." [28] Today, S. Dunbar-Bey of New Jersey holds the fourth highest position in the organization, that of Assistant Grand National Chairman. She and four other female leaders comprise the ten-member national group of officials. The MSTA has attracted much of its media attention during the past decade in connection with issues in the court or prison system. Ironically, MSTA members may be more familiar to some of us because of a 1990s St. Louis court case in which a local temple allegedly served as a front for drug racketeering, rather than its extensive prison ministry that has brought the teachings of the Prophet Noble Drew Ali to inmates across the nation for more than twenty-five years. [29]

The Moorish Science Temple of America is a microcosm of the growing Muslim presence in Chicago. Until now it has been, as one member put it, "the best kept secret in Islam." An upcoming documentary produced by Blackside, the team that created "Eyes on the Prize" as a tribute to the Civil Rights Movement, may change all that.

Debra Washington Mubashshir teaches religious studies at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. Her dissertation, "A Fruitful Labor: African American Formulations of Islam, 1928-1942," examines as many as seventeen varied and independent African American Muslim communities as a microcosm of the efficacy of black religion in the U.S.


(1.) Noble Drew Ali taught his followers that their ancestors founded the Moroccan Empire.

(2.) The building which serves as the headquarters for the MSTA, is utilized by several Chicago-area temples which hold individual worship services on alternating Fridays.

(3.) No statistics exist on the percentage of interfaith marriages among Chicago's diverse Muslim population. The acceptance of mixed marriages often is determined by the culture and traditions of the local group. According to the teachings of Islam, children are raised to practice the religion of the father. Therefore, Muslim men may marry female Christians or Jews, but in many cases women are forbidden to marry non-Muslim men.

(4.) Conversations with author, Fall 1999, Villa Park, Illinois.

(5.) The two other associations being the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the contemporary Nation of Islam. The MAS, headquartered in Hazel Crest, a southern suburb of Chicago, is under the leadership of Imam Wallace D. Mohammed. Mohammed, succeeded his father, Elijah Muhammad, as head of the Nation of Islam in 1975, brought the Nation into the mainstream Islamic fold, and changed its name to more accurately reflect its mission. Disillusioned by Mohammed's decision to depart from his father's black nationalist ideology and embrace orthodox Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan left the Nation in 1977 and formed a new organization with the same name. The contemporary Nation of Islam maintains headquarters on Chicago's South side. I have intentionally chosen to avoid using the term "convert" in reference to new American Muslims. While it is the word used by many scholars, conversion is a concept to which many new Muslims take exception.

(6.) According to the National Council for Community and Justice (NCCJ), religious groups operating in metropolitan Chicago (in order of their estimated size) include Catholic Christians, Protestant Christians, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Anglican Christians, Mormons, Sikhs, Jains, Baha'is, and Zoroastrians. The NCCJ, formerly known as the National Council for Christians and Jews, changed its name in 1999, in acknowledgement of America's growing religious diversity that includes adherents of Christianity, Judaism, and other world religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

(7.) Some individuals and media groups that study and write about Islam claim that Muslims already outnumber Jews. I am hesitant to do so for two reasons. First, precise figures for Muslim groups are difficult to determine. Mosques and Islamic centers are open to all Muslims and these institutions do not maintain "membership" lists. Second, the major scholars of Islam in America, including Yvonne Haddad and John Esposito, have yet to make such a claim, in part because of the absence of supporting demographic data. The findings of an upcoming project in which Esposito is involved, MAPS, or Muslims in American Public Square may enable a more definitive conclusion.

(8.) For example, Aminah McCloud, herself a Muslim and member of the Religious Studies faculty at DePaul University, was instrumental in her institution's establishment of an Islam in America Archive and its organization of the Islam in America conference in Chicago, both in 1995. Three years later, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary extended its first invitation to a Muslim leader when Imam Wallace D. Mohammed was invited to deliver a lecture to the author's class, "The History of Christianity III."

(9.) According to the National Council for Community and Justice, formerly known as the National Council of Christians and Jews, the estimated number of Jewish synagogues (156) exceeds by 56 the number of Muslim institutions. Nevertheless, the Chicago Muslim population has surpassed the number of Chicago Jews (261,000), fueling speculation that Islam has already become the second largest world religion. The precise number of Chicago Muslims is an issue of continual debate, as is the size of the U.S. Muslim community. Estimates of the Muslim population in Chicago range from 300,000 to half a million. I have chosen to rely on figures released by the NCCJ, whose numbers are dependent upon the "self-estimates" of each religious community.

(10.) Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 78.

(11.) I have been invited to edit an encyclopedia on Islam in the U.S. and will make my second trip to South Africa this summer to address Muslim audiences.

(12.) Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience, 71-72.

(13.) Ibid.

(14.) Richard Brent Turner, "Islam in the United States in the 1920s: The Quest for a New Vision in Afro-American Religion" (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1986), 59.

(15.) Gene Oishi, "'Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of Noble Drew Ali,'" The Sun, October 31, 1978, B1.

(16.) Prophet Noble Drew Ali as quoted in Delores Warner-Bey, Words of Wisdom, 22. This fifty-six-page pamphlet was published by Warner-Bey in 1997. She is widely referred to as "the MSTA historian." Warner-Bey assists her husband, Charles Warner-Bey, who is the Grand Sheik of Temple #57, located south of Chicago in Lockport, Illinois. In addition to their temple leadership, the Warner-Beys have been engaged in a prison ministry for several years.

(17.) Ibid., 3.

(18.) Sheikess Wynne-Bey as quoted in Brian Courtney Morrison, "The Moorish Science Temple of America: Early History and Women's Roles" (Master's thesis, Morgan State University, 1996), 50.

(19.) Conversation with author, March 26, 2000, Newark, New Jersey.

(20.) Telephone conversation with author, July 19, 2000.

(21.) Conversations with author, Fall 1999, Lockport, Illinois. With parallels to some Christian denominational clerical work, the position of Divine Minister is an ordained, unpaid assignment.

(22.) Though Moors consider their community, "the best kept secret within Islam," they have never been isolationists. From the very beginning, MSTA members opened many of their events to outsiders and shared their facilities with other community groups. In fact, a local Elks group held its 29th convention at Unity Hall in 1928. "Noble Drew Ali - A Centennial Remembrance (1886-1986)," 2. Information compiled by Sandra Weaver-Bey, Moorish Communications, Hart ford, Conn.

(23.) Ibid., 3. Since DePriest, the 1st Congressional district has been represented by African Americans longer than any other district in the nation. Brian Jackson, "Ruse Defending Seat Against 3 Dem Challengers," Chicago Sun-Times, March 14, 2000, 4.

(24.) C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America 3d ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1994), 48-49.

(25.) Karl Evanzz, The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), 67-69. Interestingly, Elijah Muhammad reportedly attended meetings at an MSTA temple in Detroit. Though he consistently denied joining the group founded by Noble Drew Ali, the Nation of Islam and MSTA shared similar beliefs and practices. One tradition, men wearing the maroon fez, was outlawed by Muhammad in 1935. Evanzz, n. 33, p. 528.

(26.) Claude Andrew Clegg III, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), 19-20.

(27.) One group is led by Clifford Jackson-Bey, Grand Sheik and Divine Minister, and a one-time columnist for the local black newspaper, the Chicago Defender.

(28.) Conversations with author at the 1999 MSTA National Convention, Chicago.

(29.) Jerry Lewis-Bey, one of the nine-co-defendants in the St. Louis case and leader of the temple involved, reportedly studied in Chicago with Sheikess Christina Price-Bey. Considered the "mother of the Moorish Science Temple of America," by one faction of the MSTA, Sheikess Price-Bey served as a secretary to Noble Drew Ali and her sister is rumored to have been one of his wives. Daniel R. Browning, "Racketeering Suspect Denies charges," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 15, 1993, 3A.
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