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A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, Volume 2

The African American Islamic Renaissance, 1920-1975

Series:

Patrick D. Bowen

In A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, Volume 2: The African American Islamic Renaissance, 1920-1975 Patrick D. Bowen offers an in-depth account of African American Islam as it developed in the United States during the fifty-five years that followed World War I. Having been shaped by a wide variety of intellectual and social influences, the ‘African American Islamic Renaissance’ appears here as a movement that was characterized by both great complexity and diversity.

Drawing from a wide variety of sources—including dozens of FBI files, rare books and periodicals, little-known archives and interviews, and even folktale collections—Patrick D. Bowen disentangles the myriad social and religious factors that produced this unprecedented period of religious transformation.

Series:

Patrick D. Bowen

Abstract

This chapter examines African American religion prior to 1920, which produced many of the religious elements that would appear in the African American Islamic Renaissance, but which was not by itself responsible for creating a major Islamic movement, despite Islam having a presence throughout black American religious history. African American religion before 1920 can be divided into two eras, each of which is based around a significant institution-shaping phenomenon: slavery and Emancipation. It is argued that during the slave era many different African religious traditions were blended with each other and with white American traditions to create the unique folk religious culture of African Americans in the United States. This religious culture was profoundly influenced by African Americans’ concerns over their experience of slavery and the American concept of race. During the second era, African American religious culture, which now primarily identified with Christianity but also contained numerous non-Christian teaching known widely as ‘hoodoo,’ experienced a major wave of religious organizing, which allowed for the institutionalization of numerous folk beliefs. Several new religious movements were also formed, but again, black religion was strongly oriented to issues around race and the treatment of African Americans by white society. Throughout both eras, Muslims and Islamic concepts were present, but they never made a major impact on black religiosity.

Series:

Patrick D. Bowen

Abstract

Between 1922 and 1925, interest in Islam and Muslims spread rapidly throughout African American culture largely due to the religion and its adherents being endorsed by Garvey’s black nationalist movement. This chapter argues that several key figures and events played important roles in ensuring that the concept of Islam was spread and that Islam was incorporated into new religious organizations, even helping it become the focus of a small number of groups that endorsed conversion to Islam. Key among these figures and events were, besides Garvey himself, Dusé Mohamed Ali, Lucius Lehman, Abdul Hamid Suleiman, Muhammad Sadiq, the Rif War, and the creation of the committee devoted to producing a ‘scientific understanding of religion.’ During this period although the endorsement of Islam by actual members of the Universal Negro Improvement waxed and waned, and by the beginning of 1926 the religion was being all but ignored by the movement, due to its association with Garvey, among African Americans Islam was increasingly popular and was being associated with black nationalist themes.

Series:

Patrick D. Bowen

Series:

Patrick D. Bowen

Abstract

As multiple historians of American religion have noted, the spiritual effect of slavery upon Africans in North America was akin to the destruction of their traditional religiosity. African American folk culture, in fact, reflected this feeling in its placing great emphasis on images of death, resurrection, saviors, and the hope for a millennial redemption. The early African American leaders linked these folk views to both concepts of Islam, which had recently been popularized by black nationalists as a religion of opposition to white supremacy, and to notions about self and community improvement. By being connected to such concepts, Islam spread quickly in the African American community during the first era of the African American Islamic Renaissance. In the second era, the Nation of Islam adopted some of the practices that had made black nationalism so influential in the first era and used these to generate an even larger Islamic movement, one that had the power to impact international politics and widespread cultural habits. In doing this, African American Islam had essentially resurrected the underground folk beliefs that they had long represented.

Series:

Patrick D. Bowen

Abstract

This chapter argues that between 1965 and 1975 Islam influenced a wide variety of cultural, artistic, and activist movements in African American culture. Although Malcolm X remained the preeminent Muslim figure in this current of Islamic influence, other Islamic figures and organizations were also important, and in many cases multiple, often contradictory Islamic elements were simultaneously impacting individuals and organizations. This chapter examines this influence on African American discourse and naming practices; cultural nationalist organizations; the Black Arts Movement; college activism; and non-college-based activist efforts, such as those of the Black Panther Party and the reparations movement. In addition, black Muslim-led activist activities are also discussed.