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Islam in Black America

Identity, Liberation, and Difference in African-American Islamic Thought

Edward E. Curtis IV

Publication Year: 2002

Many of the most prominent figures in African-American Islam have been dismissed as Muslim heretics and cultists. Focusing on the works of five of these notable figures—Edward W. Blyden, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Wallace D. Muhammad—author Edward E. Curtis IV examines the origin and development of modern African-American Islamic thought. Curtis notes that intellectual tensions in African-American Islam parallel those of Islam throughout its history—most notably, whether Islam is a religion for a particular group of people or whether it is a religion for all people. In the African-American context, such tensions reflect the struggle for black liberation and the continuing reconstruction of black identity. Ultimately, Curtis argues, the interplay of particular and universal interpretations of the faith can allow African-American Islam a vision that embraces both a specific group of people and all people.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication Page

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book began as a doctoral dissertation, entitled “Toward an Historical Islam: Universalism and Particularism in African-American Islamic Thought,” completed at the University of South Africa in the Department of Religious Studies. Its completion was—truly—a pleasurable experience due to the able guidance of my joint supervisors, Professor G. J. A. Lubbe, of the University of South Africa,...

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p. xi

Following the Chicago Manual of Style, I have avoided, as much as possible, using diacritical markings in my transliteration of Arabic terms. In general, I have italicized any Arabic word when first introduced and thereafter reproduced it in normal print. I have also added an English translation of the word or concept in order to aid the reader. Finally, I have tried...

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-20

This book examines a tension common within the history of religions. The tension exists between the idea, on the one hand, that a religious tradition is universally applicable to the experience of all human beings and the idea, on the other hand, that a religious tradition is applicable to the experience of one particular group of human beings. The history of African-American...

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Chapter 2: Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832–1912) and the Paradox of Islam

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pp. 21-43

Born on August 3, 1832, in the Dutch West Indies, Edward Wilmot Blyden became one of the more remarkable intellectual and political figures of the black English-speaking world during the nineteenth century. An immigrant to Liberia, Blyden was a largely self-taught Presbyterian missionary who went on to become a professor and President of Liberia College,...

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Chapter 3: Noble Drew Ali (1886–1929) and the Establishment of Black Particularistic Islam

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pp. 45-62

Over a decade after Blyden’s death, Timothy Drew founded the Moorish Science Temple (MST) in Chicago. Though Drew incorporated Islamic symbols into this original tradition, his use of them apparently owed very little to the Islamic traditions of the Old World. Instead, Drew seemingly appropriated Islamic symbols from Freemasonry, which itself had a long...

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Chapter 4: Elijah Muhammad (1897–1975) and the Absolutism of Black Particularistic Islam

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pp. 63-84

Like Blyden and Drew Ali, Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Elijah Muhammad viewed Islam as a religious alternative to Christianity that fostered a positive sense of black pride and advanced the fight for black liberation. Muhammad, who led the NOI from the 1930s until his death in 1975, also saw Islam as the “natural” religion of blacks. In fact, as I argue below,...

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Chapter 5: Islamic Universalism, Black Particularism, and the Dual Identity of Malcolm X (1925–1965)

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pp. 85-105

This chapter argues that at the end of his life, Malcolm X faced what he called a “double burden”—namely, to be true to his universalistic interpretation of Islam while also promoting the particularistic goals of pan-Africanism. Unlike Blyden, Drew Ali, or Muhammad, Malcolm came to define Islam in strictly universalistic ways. Accepting the “Islam” of his Arab Muslim sponsors,...

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Chapter 6: Wallace D. Muhammad (b. 1933), Sunni Islamic Reform, and the Continuing Problem of Particularism

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pp. 107-127

While Malcolm X has received the most scholarly attention of all the figures covered in this study, W. D. Muhammad has received the least.¹ Born the seventh son of Elijah and Clara Muhammad in 1933, Wallace grew up in the Nation of Islam as a member of Muhammad’s “royal family.” Like Malcolm, however, the future leader questioned the legitimacy...

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Chapter 7: Toward an Islam for One People and Many

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pp. 129-140

It would be wrong to conclude from the previous chapter that particularism has vanished in African-American Islamic thought. In fact, its ongoing presence can be seen quite clearly in the career of Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of a reconstituted Nation of Islam (NOI). Born Louis Eugene Walcott in Bronx, New York, on May 11, 1933, the future NOI leader first learned about the teachings...


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pp. 141-157

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 159-168


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pp. 169-174

E-ISBN-13: 9780791488591
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791453698
Print-ISBN-10: 0791453693

Page Count: 174
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 53047385
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Islam in Black America

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African American Muslims -- History.
  • Black Muslims -- History.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • African Americans -- Religion.
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