Africans on the Continent and in the Diaspora have been attracted to Islam. It was estimated in 2002 that Muslims constitute 48% of the population of Africa, according to Wikipedia. Speaking at a conference in 1990, entitled: Radical Tradition and a Legacy of Struggle, C. Eric Lincoln pointed out that Islam was the second largest religion in the United States (Malcolm X : A Research Site / A BLACK LEFT DIRECTORY). Lincoln is the author of the 1961 book, The Black Muslims in America and was a friend of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X).
In the Americas Islam's influence can be seen through music and politics. In politics the first Muslim group organized by Africans born in North America was the Moorish American Science Temple, which was formed by Noble Drew Ali (1886-1929) in Newark, New Jersey in 1913. Ali, before becoming a "prophet" of Islam was known as Timothy Drew. He was born in North Carolina and at one time was an “express man,” in charge of a train's cargo in Newark. Ali's teachings are embodied in a secret text known as the "Holy Koran." He taught that the people termed "Negroes" in the United States are "Asiatic" and, specifically, that they are Moors whose forebears inhabited Morocco before they were enslaved in North America.
“The first Muslim group organized by Africans born in North America was the Moorish American Science Temple.”
The next organized expression of Islam by Africans born in North America came in 1930 when W.D. Fard founded the Nation of Islam in Detroit. In his book Black Nationalism, E.U. Essien-Udom discusses Master Fard's teachings. Says Essien-Udom, "Master Fard proclaimed that his mission was to secure ‘freedom, justice and equality’ for his ‘uncle’ living in the ‘wilderness of North America, surrounded and robbed completely by the cave man.’" The “Uncle" whom W.D. Fard was referring to "became the symbolic term for all Negroes of North America," according to Essien Udom. Fard, whose followers considered him "Allah," disappeared in 1934 and Elijah Muhammad became the new leader of the Nation of Islam.
One Muslim group in the United States, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement challenged The Nation of Islam of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X for popularity among the Black masses in the 1950's and 60's. The Ahmadiyya movement came to the United States in 1911. One convert to the Movement was the Antigua-born jazz trumpeter, Talib Dawud, formerly Alfonso Nelson Rainey, who in 1958 married another convert, the jazz singer Aliyah Rabia aka Dakota Staton. Dawud distanced himself from the Nation of Islam and wrote many articles critical of both Elijah Muhammad and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbaz (Malcolm X) for the African-American owned Chicago daily, New Crusader.
“The Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement challenged The Nation of Islam of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.”
It may shock some but Islam is neither alien nor new to Africans in the Diaspora. Many enslaved Africans were Muslims when they landed in the wilderness of North America. Professor Gerald Horne, author of Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary, discussed this many times on Diasporic Music on https://blackpower96.org/. Says Horne:
"Many of the enslaved Africans were Muslims when they crossed the Atlantic. And like the so-called (conversos) or the cryptic Jews who after 1492 and their expulsion from Spain were forced to hide the practice of their religion either in Spain or, say, in Mexico where the Spanish came to colonize in the 1500s. Likewise, you had enslaved Africans who tried to keep their Islamic faith under wraps. In fact, in North Carolina, which was a slave state, there are documents written in the Arabic script by enslaved Africans stemming from the antebellum era."
Many other Africans in North America have converted to various forms of Islam. In the United States, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) and Muhammad Ali are the most famous. In 1964, Ali met the musician Prince Buster and invited him to attend a Nation of Islam meeting at Mosque 29 in Miami. That year Buster joined the Nation and started to release material, including a version of Louis X aka Minister Louis Farrakhan’s, “White Man's Heaven is a Black Man's Hell," on his own label called "Islam." In Canada, singer/actress Salome Bey, sister of the great vocalist Andy Bey, was born into a Muslim family in Newark, New Jersey. Her father was a member of Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish American Science Temple before becoming a Sunni Muslim and making the Hajj.
“In North Carolina there are documents written in the Arabic script by enslaved Africans stemming from the antebellum era."
Other African musicians in the Americas, notably the Caribbean, also showed some Islamic interests. The first time I heard Morgan Heritage perform “Reggae Nights” my mind flashed back to Jimmy Cliff’s rendition. Jamaican born Jimmy Cliff who once considered himself a Muslim recorded this song in 1983. “Reggae Nights” was penned by Kool and the Gang member Amir Bayyan, a Muslim, and La Toya Jackson.
In the 1940s many jazz musicians began to embrace Islam. Drummer Kenny Clarke became Liaqat Ali Salaam. Reedman, Yusuf Lateef was born William Huddleston and later took the name Bill Evans; saxophonist Ed Gregory took the name Sahib Shihab; and drummer Art Blakey went by Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. In the late 1940s, Blakey led a big band, Art Blakey and the Seventeen Messengers, which was composed primarily of Muslim musicians.
Even the Great John Coltrane had Muslim connection both personally and professionally. His first wife was a Muslim woman named Naima and his long time pianist McCoy Tyner, who converted to Islam at the age of 17, went by the Islamic name of Sulaiman Saud. Coltrane and Tyner both met in Philadelphia where Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff founded the record label Philadelphia International Records. Gamble is a Muslim named (Luqman Abdul Haqq).
“Art Blakey and the Seventeen Messengers was composed primarily of Muslim musicians.”
Jazz musician, Archie Shepp maintains that R & B artists have been the least of African musicians in North America to convert to Islam. So It brings me great pleasure to report that Richard "Ricky" Taylor (born in 1940; died December 7, 1987) made a complete change in his life. An original member of the Manhattans, Taylor quit the group after they recorded their smash hit, “Kiss and Say Goodbye.” The original Manhattans were Taylor, Winfred "Blue" Lovett, Kenny "Wally" Kelley, George "Smitty" Smith and Edward "Sonny" Bivins.
Manhattan member Bevins later told Soul Express Magazine that: ”He [Taylor] left due to personal religious beliefs. He became Abdul Rashid Talhal. For a while we kept a mic-stand in his place on stage, but after about a year or so we knew he wasn’t coming back and the Manhattans became a quartet.”
Taylor initially joined the Nation of Islam but eventually became a Sunni Muslim and made the Hajj to Mecca. Indeed, when he joined the ancestors, Richard "Ricky" Taylor was Abdul Rashid Talhal.
Eventually many other African-American R & B musicians also embraced Islam including Joe Tex aka Yusuf Hazziez, and members of the Delfonics and Kool and the Gang. So although Archie Shepp was right with regards to the slow adoption of Islam by the R & B artists, they seem destined to prove him wrong!
Norman (Otis) Richmond, aka Jalali, was born in Arcadia, Louisiana, and grew up in Los Angeles. He left Los Angles after refusing to fight in Vietnam because he felt that, like the Vietnamese, Africans in the United States were colonial subjects. After leaving Los Angeles in the 1960s Richmond moved to Toronto, where he co-founded the Afro American Progressive Association, one of the first Black Power organizations in that part of the world. Before moving to Toronto permanently, Richmond worked with the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers. He was the youngest member of the central staff. When the League split he joined the African People’s Party. In 1992, Richmond received the Toronto Arts Award. In front of an audience that included the mayor of Toronto, Richmond dedicated his award to Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, the African National Congress of South Africa, and Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba. In 1984 he co-founded the Toronto Chapter of the Black Music Association with Milton Blake. Richmond began his career in journalism at the African Canadian weekly Contrast which was owned by Al Hamilton. He went on to be published in the Toronto Star, the Toronto Globe & Mail, the National Post, the Jackson Advocate, Share, the Islander, the Black American, Pan African News Wire, and Black Agenda Report. Internationally he has written for the United Nations, the Jamaican Gleaner, the Nation (Barbados),the Nation (Sri Lanka), the Zimbabwe Herald and Pambazuka News. Currently, he produces Diasporic Music a radio show forhttp://blackpower96.org/ http://www.theburningspear.com/uhuru-radio and Radio Regent http://www.radioregent.com/ and writes a column, Diasporic Music for the Burning Spear Newspaper.
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