The Plight and Legacy of Black Muslims By Demetrius Dillard

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Out of all the major world religions, Islam seems to be viewed as the most ignominious by dominant Western society, including U.S. president Donald Trump.

Sadly, to be a Muslim is to be a part of what is portrayed by hegemonic society as a disreputable religion. Even more regrettable is to be a follower of Islam and a Black American, which means the vile stereotypes that come with being Black in America are now coupled with the negative labels of being a Muslim – this, in part, can serve as the basis for the plight of Black Muslims in the U.S.

More particularly, there’s a distinctive group of Black Muslims – the Nation of Islam, or NOI, or “the Nation” – who has been presently and historically considered by the hegemony as one of the most aggressive and violent groups in recent American history.

Though the NOI is a Black separatist group, it is also nonviolent. Yet, leaders of the organization have been targeted by agencies like the FBI. Correspondingly, a large portion of the religious community, in many ways, has stigmatized and ostracized NOI ministers like Malcolm X and Khalid Muhammad.

Deplorably, fierce criticizers of the NOI have characterized the organization as nothing more than a group of hatemongers, homophobes, anti-Semites, racists, sacrilegious bigots and abrasive orators. A number of followers of mainstream Islam even consider the NOI heretical, and in many instances as non-members of the religion.

Notwithstanding, there is a mountain of scholarly and journalistic work which vividly discredits any notion that the NOI is somehow equivalent to true hate groups like the Neo-Nazis or Klu Klux Klan.

According to an NOI webpage, a writer for the now-defunct Washington Star News (published in Washington, D.C.) wrote a story commending the philanthropic efforts by the NOI in the Black community. “The Black Muslim Mosque has been called by high police officials a stabilizing influence in the community,” read a part of the article.

An NOI webpage also features a quote by Russell Simmons, a noted hip-hop mogul and co-founder of Def Jam, saw the Black Muslim organization as a highly influential group in the inner city.

“The Nation of Islam secured our housing projects, promoted dignity and transformed men,” said the Queens, N.Y., native.

 Susan Sanderson, a scholar and independent writer who specializes in fiction writing, wrote a detailed essay examining how long-time NOI minister and political activist Malcolm X, despite the fiery rhetoric, fulfilled the image of the classic American success story.

“The general reaction among the white community in the United States to Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam in the 1950s and 1960s was one of alarm. He [Malcolm X] and the Nation were painted as fomenting violent revolution just as many whites and some more conservative blacks believed that life was beginning to get better for African Americans,” she wrote.

Sanderson added, “In a sense, the public perception of the Nation of Islam was that its members were aliens. Their separatist philosophy argued that the solution to America’s racial woes was an independent black nation, and their strict moral codes, ultra-conservative demeanor and dress, and dietary restrictions offered to many Americans a frightening snapshot of radical discipline.”

Similarly, Dwi Hesti Yuliani-Sato, a Muslim scholar, noted that the Nation of Islam has been historically perceived by mainstream American society as a racist and anti-white organization, which is flawed according to his research.

Yuliani-Sato accentuated some of the most critical components of the religion of Islam, along with the intent of the NOI, in his master’s thesis titled “A Comparative Study of the Nation of Islam and Islam.”

“It must be understood that Islam as a universal religion for all people never suggests hatred (even less terrorism) and superiority of a people (race) over the other(s). At the same time, however, it is necessary to understand the Nation of Islam’s insistence on black power, pride, and self-reliance when the American system is not in favor of many poor blacks whose voices are unheard.”

Jason Muhammad, an avid member of the Nation, wrote an op-ed in the March 8 issue of The Challenger, a newspaper serving and covering the Black community of Buffalo, N.Y. Muhammad’s piece was headlined, “The Nation of Islam is NOT a Hate Group.”

The opening words to Muhammad’s column shrewdly addressed the antagonists of the Black separatist group who felt it necessary to essentially demonize the NOI: “Let me be clear. The Nation of Islam is not a hate group,” he wrote.

“But the local, so-called mainstream media in Rochester has maliciously chosen to regurgitate the slander of the Southern Poverty Law Center, noting with disconcertion that the city is now placed on the center’s annual ‘hate map’ of the country.

“This is the habitual misnomer used to discredit, and isolate a religious group with an impeccable track record of good works and service, particularly to the black community and other oppressed and marginalized communities throughout the country, as well as the Caribbean, Europe, and Canada,” Muhammad continued.

Norm R. Allen Jr., a stark critic of the NOI, wrote an essay in direct response to Muhammad’s, which was entitled “The Nation of Islam is A Hate Group.”

Allen, a well-respected Black writer, author and humanist, was quite critical of some of the most visible statements, assertions and beliefs of the NOI, including the “White man is the devil,” along with some supposed homophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“The NOI has had some positive messages and talked about love for Black people. However, love of Black people and hatred of White people are not mutually exclusive positions. To suggest that they are is ignorant or dishonest,” he wrote.

 In addition, Allen’s harsh words clearly implied that the Black separatist group was duplicitous in word and in deed.

“Hate is always wrong. Anyone can hate – be they rich or poor, powerful or powerless. All religions teach that hate is wrong, regardless of one’s socioeconomic position, even though some religions paradoxically promote hate in the name of love… The best way – the only way – to be able to condemn it [hate] is to first be able and willing to recognize it. This is what the NOI’s defenders need to understand,” Allen concluded.

While most of the aforementioned writers acknowledge that the NOI may appear overly abrasive, pugnacious or intimidating because of racially and emotionally charged rhetoric, they still recognize the undeniable and substantial influence the NOI has had in Black America, politically socially, economically and culturally.

Despite the separatist ideologies, the blistering outspokenness, or even the seemingly Black supremacist teachings — it is increasingly evident that some of the most prominent leaders and passionate members of the NOI have been among the leading advocates for radical social change, and for upward economic mobility, with the ultimate goal of combating the plight of Black America.

Demetrius Dillard is a recent graduate of Winston-Salem State University and a North Carolina-based freelance writer.