At the beginning of the 21st century, there seems to be a growing interest in the Islamic religion, or Al-Islam, in the African American community. This interest is evidenced by the recognition that Al-Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. In some cases, Muslims outnumber some of the traditional religions in America. In addition, of the 5 million Muslims in the United States, approximately 40% are African Americans. This article explores different aspects of Al-Islam, including the beliefs and religious practice of Muslims; the historical relationship among Africa, African Americans, and Al-Islam; and the current and future implications for African Americans.
First, it should be noted that the prefix Al in Al-Islam refers to Allah (Qazi, 1990). The word Islam is an Arabic word that means submission and is derived from a word meaning peace. In addition, Al-Islam means complete submission to the will of Allah. Much has been written about the impact of Al-Islam on the African American population (Bums, 1963; Jones, 1983; Lincoln, 1973; Mamiya, 1982; Shack, 1961; Thomas & Thomas, 1986). The majority of the research has focused on development of the Nation of Islam, which was founded by Wali Fard Muhammed and later headed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammed (El-Amin, 1988). Presently, the Nation of Islam is under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan. There is very little doubt that the Nation of Islam has had a major influence on the interest and conversion of African Americans to the religion of Al-Islam. This organization began as the result of the poor conditions of African Americans during the Great Depression in late 1920s and early 1930s. Prior to this time, many African Americans had migrated from the southern states in the United States seeking a prosperous lifestyle in northern cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and New York. Rather than experiencing a better lifestyle, many African Americans experienced discontentment and poverty (Burns, 1963). Many of the urban areas were unable to accommodate the masses of people; thus, "ghettos" came into existence. In addition, many African Americans were forced to relinquish their jobs to the European Americans and to the European immigrants (Bennett, 1993).
By recognizing African Americans' poor housing and economic and educational conditions, the Nation of Islam sought to rectify these conditions. The overall purpose was to improve African Americans' self-esteem, self-worth, and self-reliance. The Nation of Islam focused on the theory that African Americans could never improve their condition unless they came in touch with Allah (Arabic for God). Therefore, the Nation of Islam was instrumental in establishing Islamic temples for daily worship, schools, vocational training, and financial institutions. The Nation of Islam was, thereby, instrumental in helping African Americans overcome their difficult conditions.
I discuss The Nation of Islam later in this article, but first I review the religious practice of Al-Islam. Later, I examine the historical relationships between Africa and Al-Islam, the impact of Al-Islam on African Americans, and the current and future practice of Al-Islam among African Americans.
The Religious Practice of Al-Islam
Prophet Muhammad, born in 570 A.D., is credited with the development of Al-Islam. Muslims believe that he was 40 years old when he received a revelation from Allah to spread Al-Islam among the people in Saudi Arabia and to the rest of the world. The book that reportedly contains this revelation is the Holy Quran (Hashim, 1991). Bilal Ibn Rabah, an African slave from Ethiopia, was brought to Saudi Arabia to assist Prophet Muhammad in the spreading of Al-Islam (Mamiya, 1982). Individuals who follow the Al-Islam religion are known as Muslims. Similar to Judaism, which is led by rabbis, and Christianity, which is led by ministers and priests, the …