Moorish Science Temple

Moorish Science Temple of America

The Moorish Science Temple of America is a religious organization founded in 1913 by Noble Drew Ali. Its main tenet was that African Americans were descended from the Moors and thus were originally Islamic.

Noble Drew Ali's beginnings

Timothy Drew was born on January 8 1886 in North Carolina, USA. The accounts of Timothy Drew's ancestry variously describe his being the son of two former slaves who was adopted by a tribe of Cherokee Native Americans, to his being the son of a Moroccan Muslim father and a Cherokee mother. He is recorded, perhaps apocryphally, as saying, “When I was born, it turned black dark in the daytime. The people put their hoes down and came out of the fields.”

His mother apparently died while Drew was a young boy, and left him to an abusive aunt. According to the Moorish Science account, at the age of 16 he befriended a band of Roma ("gypsies") with whom he traveled the world, although other accounts state he shipped out on a merchant seaman, became a railway expressman, or joined a circus and became a stage magician. Some researchers wonder whether Drew actually left the States at all.

It was supposedly during these travels that he met the high priest of an Egyptian cult of magic. In one version of Drew's biography, the leader saw him as a reincarnation of the founder of the cult, while in others he considered him a reincarnation of Jesus. According to the biography, the cult trained him in mysticism and bestowed upon him a lost version of the life of Jesus.

This text came to be known as the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America (note that this text is never spelled Qur'an). It is also known, somewhat more informally, as the Circle Seven Koran due to its cover, which features a red "7" surrounded by a blue circle.

Drew was anointed the Noble Drew Ali, the Prophet, and launched into his career as head of the Moorish Science Temple.

History

Early history

In 1913 Drew Ali formed the Canaanite Temple in Newark, New Jersey. Forced to flee town for his views on race, Drew Ali and his followers settled in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Detroit. He settled in Chicago in 1925, ostensibly because the Midwest was "closer to Islam", and the following year he officially registered Temple No. 9.

Schism and the death of Drew Ali

In the late 1920s it was estimated that the Moorish Temple had 15,000 members in 17 temples, despite scrutiny, and possibly harassment, by the Chicago police.

Following a conflict over funds the business manager of the Chicago Temple, Claude Green Bey, splintered off, declaring himself Grand Sheik and taking a number of members with him. On March 15 Green-Bey was stabbed to death at the Unity mosque, 3640 Indiana Avenue, Chicago. Although out of town at the time, Drew was arrested as an instigator along with other members of the community. Allegedly beaten by police, Drew was released on bond pending an indictment.

Shortly after his release, Drew Ali died at his home in Chicago on July 20 1929. Although the exact circumstances of his death are unknown, speculation was that it was due to injuries received at the hands of the police or from being beaten by other members of the Moorish community, or even pneumonia. However, one Moor told the Chicago Defender that "The Prophet was not ill; his work was done and he laid his head upon the lap of one of his followers and passed out".

At the Unity Conference later that year, the governors declared C. Kirkman Bey as the successor to Drew Ali, naming him Grand Sheik. However, John Givens El, Drew's chauffeur, declared that he was Drew reincarnated, leading to a division within the temples.

The community was further split when Wallace Fard Muhammad, known within the church as David Ford-El, also claimed (or was otherwise considered) to be the reincarnation of Drew Ali. When his claim of leadership was rejected, he broke away from the Moorish Science Temple and formed his own group in Detroit, an organization which would eventually become the Nation of Islam.

The 1930s

Despite the turmoil and defections the church grew in the 1930s. It is estimated that church membership in the 1930s reached 30,000, with major congregations in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago, a community large enough to support two publications: the Moorish Guide National and Moorish Science Monitor.

FBI surveillance

During World War II, the Science Temple (specifically the Kirkman Bey faction) got the attention of the FBI, who falsely suspected the Moors of collaborating with Japan. The FBI was alarmed by doctrines and prophecies that the world order would one day invert and put the Asiatics of the world back in charge, as the Temple taught was the original order of things. The FBI created a file on the organization which grew to 3,117 pages, but produced no evidence of any connection or even much sympathy between the Empire of Japan and the temple.

It is estimated that in the 1950s the community had 10,000 members in 15 temples.

Factions

Bro C. Kirkman-Bey , the Prophet’s translator, became the head of what would eventually be the largest group, and which currently claims the name "Moorish Science Temple of America, Inc". This came about over him splitting away from the Grand Body in 1934, in disagreement with the head E Mealy El over the usage of a self-proclaimed title "Supreme Grand Advisor and Moderator" which did not exist within the group. Currently, this faction of the Moorish Science Temple of America has been particularly successful in the prisons.

Another faction developed into the so-called Reincarnated Temples, led by the Prophet’s former chauffeur, Bro. John Givens El, who thereafter called himself "Noble Drew Ali, Reincarnated". Givens El, and the brothers Richardson Dingle-El and Timothy Dingle El who succeeded him, taught that the Prophethood of Noble Drew Ali remained intact and passed on to them at the death of each before them, similar to the succession of authority from father to son or grandson in Shia Isma’ili Islam. From the work of the Dingle El brothers came the splits of the Temple No. 13, and the creation of a faction headed in Baltimore, MD, called the Noble Order of Moorish Sufis in Baltimore. Founded by the former Grand Mufti Sultan Rafi Sharif Bey on July 7 1957, this group later led to the founding of the Moorish Orthodox Church and the Moorish League. The Order of the Resurrection with its Second Heaven Order of four degrees was co-written by Sheik Rafi Sharif Bey and Sheik Timothy Dingle El.

The smallest faction continued their faithfulness to the original teachings of Noble Drew Ali and his successor whom he appointed Bro. E. Mealy El as the Grand Sheik/Supreme Grand Sheik. This faction is still in existence, but with probably the fewest adherents out of the three; this group claims true lineage to the Prophet, and has various followings by a few separate factions formerly held together by Mealy El's step-grandson D. Bailey El (ex Grand Governor, now expelled for embezzlement), succeeded by Sheiks in Chicago that he appointed prior to his official termination as Grand Governor and Sheik; that particular grand body has a few temples throughout the country and are continuing the works of Noble Drew Ali.

Practices

Members of the Temple wear fezes, and a turban (including Drew, who wore a Cherokee feather in his) and add the suffixes Bey or El to their names to signify their Moorish heritage. The ushers of the Temple wore black fezzes, and the leader of a particular temple was known as a Grand Sheik, or Governor. Drew began to teach the Moorish Americans how to become better citizens, and make more impassioned speeches, urging Moors to reject the derogatory labels such as Black, colored, and Negro—and for Americans of all races to reject hate and embrace love. He believed that Chicago would become a second Mecca, and the temple began selling remedies such as Moorish Tea and issuing members of the church membership cards that authorized them as Moslems and declared that they were citizens of the United States.

Drew Ali was also known to have had several wives, and according to the Chicago Defender he could marry and divorce at will.

Notes

References

  • Ali, Noble Prophet Drew (1928) "Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America"
  • Abu Shouk, Ahmed I. (1997) "A Sudanese Missionary to the United States", Sudanic Africa, 9:137-191.
  • Ahlstrom, Sydney E. (2004) A Religious History of the American People, 2nd ed., Yale University Press, ISBN 0300100124.
  • Chicago Defender (1929) "Drew Ali, 'Prophet' of Moorish Cult, Dies Suddenly", July 27, 1929, page 1.
  • Chicago Tribune (1929) "Cult Head Took Too Much Power, Witnesses Say", May 14, 1929.
  • Gale Group, "Timothy Drew" (1999) Religious Leaders of America, 2nd ed., 1999. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007.
  • Gomez, Michael A. (2005) Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas, Cambridge University Press, ISBN-10: 0521840953.
  • McCloud, Aminah (1994) African American Islam, Routledge.
  • Padhdiwala, Tasneem (2007) "The Aging of the Moors", Chicago Reader, November 15, 2007, Vol 37 No 8, online version here
  • Prashad, Vijay (2002) Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity, Beacon Press, ISBN 0807050113.
  • Scopino Jr., A. J. (2001) "Moorish Science Temple of America", in Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations, Nina Mjagkij, ed., Garland Publishing, p. 346.
  • Turner, Richard Brent (2003) Islam in the African-American Experience, Indiana University Press, ISBN-10: 0253216303.
  • Wilson, Peter Lamborn (1993) Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam, City Lights Books, ISBN-10: 0872862755.

Further reading

  • Nance, Susan. (2002) “Respectability and Representation: The Moorish Science Temple, Morocco and Black Public Culture in 1920s Chicago.” American Quarterly 54, no. 4 (December): 623-59.
  • Nance, Susan. (2002) “Mystery of the Moorish Science Temple: Southern Blacks and American Alternative Spirituality in 1920s Chicago.” Religion and American Culture 12, no. 2 (Summer): 123-66.

External links

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