Louis Farrakhan's Outreach to Muslims in Africa and the Middle East

By Michael, George | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Spring/Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Louis Farrakhan's Outreach to Muslims in Africa and the Middle East


Michael, George, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


During his long career, Minister Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, has built bridges to Libya and the Middle East in an effort to foster solidarity between North American Muslims and those of radical Arab Muslim countries and Iran. On numerous occasions, he has met with a who's who of some of the world's most vilified Muslim leaders, including Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Yasser Arafat, Hafez and Bashar al-Assad, and Hassan al-Turabi. These trips to the Middle East occasioned criticism in America insofar as they involved regimes designated as rogue states and state sponsors of terrorism by the U.S. government

To understand Farrakhan's diplomacy, it must be placed in the context of his organization's history. The Nation of Islam had long advocated the establishment of a separate national territory for African-Americans. In a sense, Farrakhan positioned himself as a leader of an aspiring nation, not unlike the late Yasser Arafat who led the Palestine Liberation Organization. Although this goal may seem fanciful, it resonated with his African-American followers, as the history of the Nation of Islam illustrates.

Background on the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan

The Nation of Islam is considered heretical by most Islamic denominations, but it nonetheless enjoys considerable respect in anti- Western Muslim countries. For many African-Americans, the Nation of Islam has served as a gateway to Islam. The first major effort to promote Islam in America occurred in 1913 when Noble Drew Ali (1886-1929) founded the Moorish Science Temple in Newark, New Jersey. After his death, in 1929, the organization went into steep decline, but one of his followers, Wallace D. Fard, founded a new sect called the "Lost-Found Tribe of Shabazz," later to be renamed the Nation of Islam, in Detroit in the early 1930s. The sect arose out of a Black nationalist milieu that was heavily influenced by the nineteenth century European, primarily German, discourse on race, in which race was seen not merely as a biological category, but as involving spiritual, psychological and cultural characteristics as well.1

For a short time, Fard led the small sect, but eventually came under the scrutiny of law enforcement authorities in Detroit and decided to leave the city. He passed control of the organization over to his most trusted disciple, Elijah Muhammad. Despite numerous setbacks and travails, which included imprisonment for draftevasion, Muhammad built the organization into one of the most powerful African-American institutions, which finally gained prominence in the 1960s, largely due to the efforts of its late firebrand speaker, Malcolm X.

There are many tenets to the Nation of Islam that significantly differentiate it from traditional Islam.2 According to the theology of the Nation of Islam, history moves in a cyclical fashion. It claims that the Original Man was Black, and once enjoyed supremacy over the world, but suffered enslavement as a result of moral and religious backsliding. Until recently the Black man had all but lost his collective memory of his true religion, Islam. According to one Nation of Islam commentator, Blacks are descended from the tribe of Shabazz that traveled to the earth from the moon 66 trillion years ago, and Whites, who are frequently vilified as "devils," are portrayed as the descendants of a race concocted by an evil scientist named Yacub to destroy the Black race. The Nation of Islam teaches that Blacks must rediscover their true religion and their place in the cosmos.3

Just prior to his death, Elijah Muhammad appointed his son, Wallace Muhammad, to assume leadership of the organization. By the summer of 1975, Wallace Muhammad had altered the Nation's ideology to the point that it was open to all races. In October 1976, he renamed the organization the World Community of Islam in the West, effectively terminating the Nation of Islam.4 Louis Farrakhan, the national representative, stayed with the new organization for about three years, before reconstituting the Nation of Islam along with other disaffected members of the original group. …

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