MOORISH SCIENCE TEMPLE OF AMERICA TIMELINE
1886 (January 8): Timothy (possibly Thomas) Drew was born in an unknown Virginia county on January 8; his birth-parents’ names are unknown. He was adopted by James Washington and Lucy Drew at an early age.
1898-1916: Drew spent his early life working numerous jobs as a laborer, farmhand and longshoreman in Virginia.
1907 (October 11): Pearl Jones was born in Waynesboro, Georgia
1912-1914: During this period Drew may have joined Prince Hall Freemasons.
1913: The Moorish Science Temple of America cites this year as the date of its inaugural founding and its original name as the Canaanite Temple. However, evidence suggests that the Canaanite Temple was founded by Abdul Hamid Suleiman; Timothy Drew may have attended meetings or been a member.
1916: Drew worked as porter for railroad under the alias Eli Drew.
1917: Eli Drew worked as laborer at the Port of Newark.
1918: Drew registered for the draft during World War I.
1918-1923: Drew began teaching about Egyptian Mystery System and claimed to be an Egyptian Adept in Newark, New Jersey under the alias Professor Drew.
1923-1925: Professor Drew claimed to be a prophet and began organizing the Moorish Holy Temple of Science under the alias Noble Drew Ali in Chicago, Illinois. As well, sometime during this period Pearl Jones migrated to Chicago and began attending meeting of the Moorish Temple of Science.
1926: Noble Drew Ali married Sister Pearl Jones-El.d.
1926-1928: Drew Ali renamed the organization the Moorish Science Temple of America. During this period the MSTA held its first Annual National Convention in Chicago, Illinois as well as the First Moorish Tag Day.
1929: Noble Drew Ali died in Chicago, Illinois after being shot several times, possibly by a rival or perhaps even the Chicago Police.
According to organizational history, Noble Drew Ali [Image at right] founded the Moorish Science Temple of America in Newark, New Jersey in 1913. However, when originally created the organization was called the Canaanite Temple. The Canaanite Temple was the first organized Muslim community/organization in the United States. Within the first ten years of the organization’s history, it boasted about 30,000 members scattered throughout many cities of the mid-west and northeast (including Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Lansing, Cleveland, Richmond and Baltimore). In 1921, the movement split due to differences of opinion regarding its direction and philosophy. Subsequently, Ali and other loyalist renamed the Canaanite Temple the Moorish Holy Temple of Science and established the organization’s Chicago headquarters in 1923. In Chicago, the Moorish Temple of Science quickly grew, gaining diverse members from the poorest urban migrant to Chicago’s black elite. The organization eventually changed its name to the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) and became an incorporated entity centered on community enrichment. As a developing religious institution in Chicago, the MSTA held its first Annual National Convention in 1928. The movement also established a number of supplementary groups, such as the Moorish National Sister’s Auxiliary and the Young People Moorish National League (Nance 1996; Pleasant-Bey 2004a).
Ali died in 1929, leaving behind some mystery surrounding his death. He may have been murdered by a member of a rival religious group, who was later killed by the Chicago Police, or he may have been killed by the police officers. Regardless, the Moorish American organization splintered severely after Ali’s death, resulting in a number of different trajectories. Allegedly, among those competing for the position of Prophet after Ali’s death were Bro. Elijah Poole-Bey of Georgia and Mohamet Farad-Bey of Arabia, the subsequent founders of the Nation of Islam who are also known as Elijah Muhammed and Wallace Farad Muhammed. There is little proof to validate the Moors’ claim that the founders of the Nation of Islam were once Moors vying for power. Nevertheless, it has been a point of interest and speculation for some (Fauset 1971; Nance 1996; Marsh 1996; Turner 2003; Gomez 2005).
To elaborate, according to organizational narrative, almost immediately after Ali’s passing, two of his associates – John Givens-El and Wallace D. Farad – proclaimed to be his reincarnation. The former, Ali’s chauffeur, is said to have fainted shortly after the death of Ali and upon waking he bore the sign of the star and crescent in his eyes, which was proof enough for some that he was in fact the reincarnation of Noble Drew Ali. The latter, Farad Muhammad (i.e., Mohamet Farad-Bey, Wallace D. Farad, and/or Wallace Farad Muhammad), supposedly made his proclamation of divinity then headed to Detroit after the passing of Ali where he would found the Lost-Found Nation of Islam with Elijah Poole (Elijah Muhammad). This information is highly speculative as there is no way to verify Farad’s presence with Ali or the Moorish Science Temple of America, but this does raise interesting concerns about the early relationship of the MSTA and the Nation of Islam. Yet despite this, it was Bro. Charles Kirkman-Bey who eventually took the reins of the organization shortly after Second Annual National Convention in 1929 (Marsh 1996; Turner 2003; Gomez 2005).
From the 1930s through most of the 1970s, the MSTA maintained a constant presence in African American urban centers. The movement was not heavily involved in the Civil Rights/Black Power movement, nor did the organization draw much media attention to itself, as did the Nation of Islam. However, in the latter part of the 1970s, the movement received national headlines because of the actions of the El Ruk’n Moors (also known as the Circle Seven El Ruk’n Moorish Science Temple of America or the El Ruk’n Tribe), an unofficial offshoot organization of the MSTA founded by Jeff Fort, leader of the Black P Stone Rangers street organization. Fort, renamed Abdul Malik Ka’bah, had high aspirations for the movement internationally. He reportedly approached (or was approached by) the Libyan government concerning the sale of weapons for the street organization. This effort earned Fort a seventy-five-year sentence, which he is currently serving. Apart from this incident, the MSTA has quietly maintained a presence in the urban Northeast. Moorish Americans currently maintain yearly conventions in representative cities and have a number of temples throughout the United States (Pleasant-Bey 2004a).
Doctrinal history (folklore) of the MSTA argues that it is descended from the ancient Moabites of Biblical and Hebraic scripture. However, contemporary Moorish Americans argue for a much longer history. They believe that the original Moorish Kingdom was known as Lemuria, a mythical advanced city that is noted as being a contemporary of the fabled Atlantis. These societies supposedly existed millions of years ago, but they destroyed themselves because their technological prowess out-weighed their morality. The destruction of these civilizations was so great that it nearly annihilated the planet, and by extension left no trace or visages of their culture. However, a few Lemurians survived the catastrophe and wandered the Earth until they eventually settled near the Nile Valley of present day East Africa. The expression Moor is believed to be an adaptation of Lemuria (Pimienta-Bey 2002; Pleasant-Bey 2004a).
Further, according to Moorish American lore, in the Nile Valley the Moors of Lemuria became the Moabites of the Bible. For Moorish Americans, the ancient Moabites, like the Canaanites, were unjustly ousted from Biblical promised-land of the Israelites. After being forced from their land, the Moors (Moabites) migrated and settled in various locales throughout the Arabian Peninsula and Northern Africa. From there, Moorish Americans place themselves on the Iberian Peninsula as the conquerors of Spain, Portugal and much of Southern France. To be clear, Ali’s Moors have no concrete connection to the Moabites or the Iberian Moors, but this narrative provides them a way to offer context for their claimed origins and history, as well as a way to read themselves into ancient mythology (Pimienta-Bey 2002; Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
To elaborate, there is little discussion of the Moorish occupation of Spain by Ali anywhere in his writings, save for vague references concerning Morocco.Nor is there any discussion of Lemuria in his writings. These historical and mythological claims are fairly recent manifestations of Moorish American theology and can be credited to Moorish American thinkers of the last half-century. It is very likely that Moorish Americans simply co-opted Lemurian legends, Moabite mythology and Moorish-Iberian history to signify their presence in the ancient world as a symbol of high culture. This is something that Moorish Americans specifically, and African Americans in general, can point to as evidence of their humanity and their ability to build, civilize and cultivate. Essentially, the construction of this history/mythos is an effort to humanize what White supremacist beliefs and notions worked to dehumanize. A noble effort but a historical misrepresentation nonetheless (Pimienta-Bey 2002; Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
Adding to this history/mythos is the spiritual system that the MSTA calls Islamism. For Moorish Americans, Islamism is an unabridged tradition that was split into different belief structures over the centuries; namely Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and al-Islam. It is believed that Islam (or al-Islam) began with the life and works of the Prophet Muhammad; ancient Islam (or Islamism, the belief system of the MSTA) is much older and is focused around the teachings of the Egyptian adepts. This ties in to their belief regarding their ancient origins. Furthermore, Moorish Americans teach that al-Islam is not the invention of the Prophet Mohammad; instead, it is a translation of the wisdom of the Egyptian Mystery System into the Arabic language by the Prophet Mohammad (Pimienta-Bey 2002; Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
Furthermore, Moorish American Islam is not meant to look like al-Islam, it is meant to be reflective of the needs and cultural nuances of African American people of the time in which it was conceived. More pointedly, it is meant to be reflective of what Ali believed about African American life and world religion at the time. Ali believed many of the world’s religions shared more commonalities than differences, and so the words Islam and Islamism were just expressions for him that spoke to that fact. There is not much (if anything) in Ali’s personal history that suggests he was ever a practicing orthodox Muslim. Nonetheless, Moorish Americans believe in the same God-force (Allah) as well as the Abrahamic prophets (Jesus and Mohammed). Also, for Moorish Americans, “Moslem” is not simply a designation given to the followers of the Prophet Mohammed, but a symbolic title for all those who believe in Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom and Justice, which are the tenets of Moorish American Islam or Islamism. For Moorish Americans, to be Moslem one must first love to find truth, which will give one peace and free them from sin; only then can that person truly know justice (Pimienta-Bey 2002; Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
Additionally, despite being a professed Islamic organization, the symbols of Christianity are replete throughout Moorish American theology, particularly the Christ figure. In Ali’s writings, there is very little mention of the Prophet Muhammed. However, the organization does recognize Muhammed as being in the same divine succession of prophets of which Ali himself is part: Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Ali. In essence, Ali is believed to be the Christ figure of the MSTA and was born from the same spiritual lineage as Jesus the Christ, who himself is an important figure of Ali’s prepared Holy Koran (Pimienta-Bey 2002; Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
To expound further, the Circle 7 Koran, the holy text of the MSTA, was written for “All Those Who Love Jesus” and is centered on the pre-Gospel life of Jesus the Christ. Narratives on the Christ within the Koran are alleged to be Ali’s original thoughts and ideas. But, upon investigation it is clear the writings come from Levi Dowling’s Aquarian Gospel. Levi Dowling was a Scottish prodigy in the Christian Arts (teaching and interpreting the religion). As a young man Dowling wrote and published Church lesson plans for Sunday school, children’s ministry, as well as songbooks. Writing the Aquarian Gospels was the pinnacle of Dowling’s publishing efforts, first in London (1908) and then in Los Angeles (1909), and it was one of a series of books that told the story of the mystical pre-gospel Jesus. Ali’s Holy Koran features a healthy amount of Dowling’s text, which raises concerns of plagiarism. However, noting the obvious connection, Moorish Americans argue and Dowling and Ali were simply influenced by the same divine spirit called Visel (Dowling 1972; Rametherio 1995; Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
The rituals of the MSTA display their unique connections to other religions as well as distinctive interpretations of what Islamism means to the movement and by extension what it means for them to be Moslem. To begin, Islam for Moorish Americans is not just a signifier of their religious belief, it is an acronym which stands for: I, Self Law And Master. This expression speaks to the movement’s emphasis of self-governance through the observance of law, both God’s and man’s. Further, the Moorish American interpretation of the acronym I.S.L.A.M. is focused on the mastery of one’s higher self over one’s lower self, an esoteric conversation that connects their belief system to that of Freemasonry. In addition, the word “Islam” is used by Moorish Americans not only to identify their belief system but also as a general greeting. For example, in Moorish temples, the Sheikhs greet their respective audiences with the word Islam!, and those in attendance respond in unison Islam!. Islam, therefore, is not just a word that describes their spiritual belief, but it is also a mantra that defines their connection to the secular world (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
In juxtaposition to this, Moorish Americans connect themselves to the spirit world through prayer, like most religions. To elaborate, there are some similarities and marked differences in al-Islamic prayer and Moorish American prayer. The major similarity is the requisite of facing east. This, as with al-Islamic Muslims, is done so prayers are directed towards their religious origins. Everything else about Moorish prayers is unique, but not immediately clear in terms of purpose. For example, during prayers everyone holds up five fingers on the left hand and two on the right with the heels of their feet held at forty-five degrees, much like Freemasons. From there the refrain, “ALLAH the Father of the Universe, the Father of Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom and Justice; ALLAH is my Protector, my Guide, and my Salvation by night and by day, through His Holy Prophet, DREW ALI. (Amen)” is repeated by everyone. Additionally, for the MSTA, the primary day of worship is Sunday. Worship is usually held in someone’s home or a designated building/headquarters. Children’s worship is usually held separately from the adults and primarily focused on memorization of the 101 Keys, the catechism of the MSTA (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
Moreover, for children and new members coming into the movement, naming is a critical element. This means that each person who declares their Moorish American status is also endowed with a tribal name: Bey (a ruler with the power to govern according to Allah’s harmonies of life or El) one who is infinitely creative and wise. These names are hyphenated suffixes. This is to say that a person who is born in or converts to Moorish American Islam attaches their tribal name to the end of their surname, example: John Smith-El or Jane Smith-Bey (note: Former NFL wide receiver Antwan Randle-El was raised as a member of the MSTA). For Moorish Americans, this is a way of healing the African mind that has been subjugated and oppressed under American hegemony. The tribal name is also a symbol that each individual Moorish American carries as a sign of their National belonging, as they are part of something bigger than themselves (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
The focus on naming for the MSTA is an effort to redefine and repurpose the individual identity of each member of the movement. Similarly, holidays and religious observances that are traditionally Western or American are problematic for Moorish Americans. Symbolically, they represent oppression for African Americans and are therefore not to be observed by the Moorish American faithful. Thus, Moorish Americans developed their own holidays to celebrate their own history. The most important holiday in the Moorish American calendar is January 8, the birthday of the Prophet Noble Drew Ali (October 11, the birthday of Sister Pearl Ali, is also observed by Moorish Americans). A week later, on January 15, the Moorish New Year is observed. It is not clear why this day signifies the Moorish New Year as it does not always coincide with the al-Islamic New Year. However, it is worth noting that like the Western New Year, which is observed seven days after the claimed birthday of Jesus Christ, the Moorish New Year is observed seven days after the birthday of Noble Drew Ali (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
Similarly, Moorish American observance of Tag Day is quite similar to the observance of St. Patrick’s Day in the Western World. This day, for the West, symbolizes the day that St. Patrick drove the “snakes” or druids from Ireland. According to MSTA belief, Moorish Americans are the descendants of those “snakes,” or better yet, they were the hooded masters of the ancient knowledge that presented a threat to the establishment of the Catholic Church in Ireland in the fifth century of the Common Era. Again, the history of the druids on the British Isles notwithstanding, this is a common approach for the MSTA, in that they go to great lengths to read themselves into ancient history and mythology (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
The effort of Moorish Americans to read themselves into history can also be clearly seen in the Moorish American flag. [Image at right] The Moorish American flag is remarkably similar to the Moroccan flag in a number of ways: color palette, shapes, and symbols. But, it is also notably different and unique as the Flag features a red background with a white circle in the center that is split into quadrants. Within the circle are the letters L T P and F which stand for Love, Truth, Peace and Freedom. Below these letters is a scimitar with the word Justice on its blade. Lastly, below the sword is a five-pointed-open star. The four quadrants of the Moorish American flag and of the Circle 7 are meant to encapsulate the four gateways to Moorish Islam, which are Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and al-Islam. The Moorish American flag is clearly an adaptation of the Moroccan, but again it serves them as historical and cultural connective material (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
There is a similar pattern for their chosen mode of dress. Formalized clothing and headwear, as with any religious movement, has its place in the MSTA. The ornate Moorish American styles are worn particularly during worship. Women keep their heads covered and with long flowing robes, which completely cover their bodies; men primarily wear white shirts, dress pants and the red fez, the most ubiquitous symbol of the MSTA. [Image at right] The closest variant of the Moorish fez is the fez of the Shriners, an esoteric organization similar to the Freemasons. However, there are two main characteristics of the Moorish and Shriner fez that completely set them apart. First, the Moorish American fez does not feature the scimitar; it is simply plain red with no additional letters, symbols or decoration (except for Sheikhs and/or Temple officers). Second, is the freedom of the tassel. The tassel of the Shriner’s fez is usually tied down on the left side (the side of righteousness for the Shriners) while the Moorish American tassel is not tied down at all. It is meant to freely swing around the head of the wearer as a symbolic representation of the full three hundred and sixty degrees of knowledge that each Moorish American has. Further, the Moorish American fez is symbolically rich for a number of reasons. For example, the fez with the tassel down signifies the chalice (a cup) meant to be filled with the knowledge of righteousness. Whereas, when it is worn on the head (a capstone), with the tassel up, it signifies knowledge that has been acquired by the individual wearer. Like the mortarboard of a college graduate, the fez worn on the head symbolizes completion (Dannin 2002; Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
The organizational hierarchy for the MSTA leadership is fairly standard in terms of its structure. The Prophet Ali is the apex upon which the movement is organized. Drew Ali represents the Savior for the organization and the connective material between the body (congregation) and Almighty Allah. However, among the living/corporeal representatives of the MSTA, the Grand Sheik functions as the organizational head. Under the Sheik are the Chairman and the Assistant Grand Sheik. Further, each temple of the Grand Body is governed by its own set of officers. The individual temple officers are the Grand Governors and Grand Sheiks, the Subordinate Temple Sheik Boards and Assistant Grand Sheiks, the Chairman, Treasurer, the Heads of Businesses, and Outreach Agencies. Most of these positions are filled through a voting process that takes place at the annual Moorish National Convention, usually held around mid-September. The facilitation of this convention and its various activities is in the hands of the convention officers, the Convention Grand Sheik, Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, and Assistant Chairman, whose office duties are relegated only to the convention (Turner-El 1935; Kirkman-Bey 1946).
Membership in the organization requires attendance at MSTA meetings and a foundational level knowledge of the Moorish American catechism, which features 101 question and answers called the 101 Keys. These lessons are a critical part of the foundational knowledge of the MSTA. They cover all elements of their theology and claimed history. The Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods and Earth (two organizations that grew out of the MSTA’s initial efforts and philosophy) also have similar approaches towards their theological pedagogy. The Nation has a catechism of 154 questions and answers, while the Gods and Earths have 120. Comparison of these catechisms reveals their obvious connection (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b; Knight 2007).
Once an aspirant has fulfilled their initial requirements, a membership card is issued. [Image at right] The membership card of the MSTA started appearing on the streets of Chicago sometime in the mid to late 1920s. They were and still are issued to members so that they could be quickly and easily identified as followers of Noble Drew Ali. However, initially, it is very possible that Ali issued these cards to his members so that law enforcement would not mistake them for immigrants. Anti-immigrant sentiments of early 20th century and Islamophobia was a great concern for some. As such, the MSTA membership card boldly declared: “I AM A CITIZEN OF THE U.S.A.” (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
For members of the organization, it is also critical that each person do their part of financially supporting the movement. Support in this case requires attendance and financial giving at meetings as well as involvement in a number of business ventures that work to maintain the movement. In the early development of the MSTA, the movement supported itself through various business ventures. Business owners who were converted Moorish American Islam were counted among the resources of the Moorish American Nation. Moreover, Moorish Americans invested in manufacturing and developing various products (such as herbs, oils, incense, charms, and clothing) through the Moorish Manufacturing Corporation, which was founded by Noble Drew Ali in 1927. This corporation specialized in numerous products, such as Moorish Antiseptic Bath Compound, which reportedly helped people with a number of common ailments (Nance 1996).
Further, not only did Moorish Americans develop their own manufacturing company, they also aspired to owning and operating grocery stores and laundry mats. However, despite the best efforts of the MSTA, its’ businesses were investigated by Chicago police under the suspicion they were fronts for illegal gambling (running numbers) and prostitution. There was never any direct link made between Moorish American businesses and Chicago’s underworld. It is not clear if the Moorish Manufacturing Corporation still exists and operates in the same capacity it once did, but the Moors still have their methods of obtaining financial resources. For instance, the Moorish American Voice (1943) and the Moorish Guide (1928), the two periodicals of the Moorish American Nation, “cost” a dollar. There are currently no advertisements for Moorish American products in the Moorish American Voice; instead, it seems that other financing options have been explored (Nance 1996).
The Moorish Temple in America has faced, and continues to face a number of challenges. These include the challenge of a contested hagiography to MSTA, the challenge of MSTA assertions of a superior Moorish American National social status, and the challenge of being overshadowed by the Nation of Islam.
There are major hagiographical issues with respect to the MSTA. The narrative history focused around the individual known as Timothy Drew is somewhat difficult to reconstruct. According to organizational mythos, Timothy Drew’s story starts in North Carolina on a Cherokee reservation in rural Simpsonbuck County in 1886, where he was born to an unnamed ex-slave father and a mother who was part Cherokee and part Moorish. Moorish American folklore further asserts that he was raised by Cherokees until 1892, when he and his mother moved to Newark, New Jersey to live with his aunt. Not long after they relocated, Drew’s mother passed away; with his father nowhere to be found, Drew stayed under the guardianship of his aunt who was very abusive. Allegedly, this unnamed aunt tried to stuff young Timothy Drew into a burning stove, which left him severely scarred physically. It is believed that Allah protected Drew from being killed but left scars on his body to prove his humanity (Abdat 2014; Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
According Moorish American doctrine, a significant portion of Ali’s childhood was spent as an orphan traveling around with a group of gypsies. During this time it is claimed that Drew was trained by the gypsies, learning magic and the power of levitation, and as a youth Timothy Drew is said to have showed unusual powers in controlling unseen ethers and spirits. It is believed that by the age of twelve Drew was able to make objects move with thought, a mild form of telekinesis. These “gifts of Allah,” were considered magic and led to young Drew joining a traveling circus. At the age of sixteen, Drew’s abilities caught the attention of a gypsy woman (unnamed) who took him to Egypt to study in the Essene schools, which are the schools of the ancient Egyptian mystery system (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
According to legend, the Essene schools are institutions where the great prophets and thinkers of the ancient world studied. Moorish American folklore places Timothy Drew in North Africa around the turn of the twentieth century. It is believed as well that he traveled the world to learn the wisdom of the Ancients; from 1902 until about 1910 Drew is said to have traveled back and forth between the United States, Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as a merchant seaman receiving education and training from prophets, sages and sheikhs of Islam. Further, during his mystic education, Drew underwent a sort of trial to display his knowledge of the ancient Egyptian mysteries and thus prove he was a prophet of Allah. The content of this test is not fully clear, but once Drew completed this examination he was initiated into the ancient and sacred Essene order of Egypt and was renamed Noble Drew Ali. From there he was given permission to teach the knowledge of the sacred order to African Americans. He returned to America sometime between 1911 and 1913 to found what would become the Moorish Science Temple of America (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
Despite organizational lore, however, there is evidence that suggests Noble Drew Ali did not develop the MSTA until the early 1920s. And, the founding of the organization may not have been in Newark, New Jersey, but rather in Chicago, Illinois. Ali’s appearance in Chicago in 1925 is the only verifiable record of Noble Drew Ali, born Timothy Drew. All other information before Chicago 1925, his birth, his travels to the east, even his founding of the Canaanite Temple in Newark, New Jersey in 1913, is in large part speculative. However, there is verifiable information regarding the person known as Thomas Drew. Again, evidence suggests that the person who came to be known as Noble Drew Ali was not born Timothy Drew from North Carolina, but rather was born under the name Thomas Drew in Virginia (Abdat 2014).
Thomas Drew’s life was not nearly as fantastical as Timothy Drew’s. Thomas was adopted at a fairly young age by George Washington and Lucy Drew. Thomas did not receive much formal education but started working and finding his way in the world around the age of twelve. He worked a number of jobs throughout the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. as a young man and was likely exposed to eastern thought through the Canaanite Temple of Newark, New Jersey that was founded by Abdul Hamid Suleiman in 1913. His exposure to the Canaanite Temple and alternate religious perspectives likely led Thomas Drew to founding the Moorish Holy Temple of Science sometime in the early 1920s. Further, Thomas may have lived under the name Timothy for a number of reasons: to avoid the draft board, to provide mystery for his early pre-Chicago life, and perhaps to distance himself from his very meager and humble upbringing. Drew is not the first to tweak his personal history to bolster his social standing, nor would he be the last (Abdat 2014).
A second challenge for MSTA is its assertion of a superior Moorish American National social status. For Moorish Americans, there are levels of being-ness. The philosophy of the movement firmly rejects Negro, Black, or Colored as ethnic or racial labels for themselves or the organization. [Image at right] They argue that they are instead better understood as Moorish American Nationals. According to their belief system, it is the highest social/economic/political status one could have in America. This label provides an individual with all the rights and privileges of a citizen but also puts them above the laws of the land. A citizen, on the other hand, has all the rights but are also subjects under the law, meaning they can be incarcerated or punished for breaking laws, unlike a national. Moorish Americans believe their national status was declared in the latter part of the eighteenth century and is still relevant today. Referring to the Treaty of Friendship negotiated between Morocco by Thomas Barclay and Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah during the late colonial period of the United States, Moorish Americans see their identity and their right to nationhood as a legal matter that was put in writing centuries ago. This treaty is so important to the Moorish Americans that if they are ever called into court they are taught to take copies (or knowledge) of the treaty with them to prove their status. This “proof” means that they are not subject to the laws of the United States court system, but instead are nationals who have all the rights and privileges of citizens, without being subordinate to any laws that restrict them from enjoying that status (Pleasant-Bey 2004a, 2004b).
In the present day, members of the MSTA are perhaps most known for their internet videos that feature individuals who use the problem of status and citizenship as a legal weapon. In these cases, members of the MSTA come to court armed with copies of the Treaty of Friendship and claim to be above the laws they are accused of breaking. The success of their legal challenges is marginal; however, their approach is much the same as it was over a century ago with the use of constitutional and legal language to validate their rights as Moorish American Nationals. The validity of the legal approach notwithstanding, what this demonstrates is a level of attention to constitutional history and law that is not often seen in religious organizations.
Finally, MSTA is confronted by the fact that historically the Nation of Islam has overshadowed the MSTA despite the fact that Moorish Americans paved the way for the philosophy of the NOI to have such a powerful foothold in the American historical consciousness. It is probable that the founders of the NOI, Farad Muhammad and Elijah Poole, knew of Moorish Americans and the Science of their theology before they developed the NOI. It is even possible that one or both of them were members of the organization as well as affiliates of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). However, what is critical about this issue is the fact that the MSTA developed a new paradigm of Islamic thought as well as a new read of history itself that has lasted a century and has led to the founding of other critical Islamic movements in the U.S. and abroad (Fauset 1971; Nance 1996; Marsh 1996; Turner 2003; Gomez 2005).
Indeed, Ali developed the Moorish American mythos based on a particular read of history. This method of reading and understanding history is meant to give Black people a sense of pride necessary for personal dignity and collective nation building. This read of history highlights the accomplishments of African American people but also allegorizes ancient myths and Abrahamic scripture to read Black people into ancient history. Allegorizing history can be useful for a group of oppressed people who are trying to establish a sense of being. This method of interpreting history also shaped African American Islam into a belief system that speaks not only to Black people in America but also to other oppressed minorities throughout the world. In addition, Moorish Islam (Islamism) not only provides religious alternatives to Christianity but also to al-Islam as well, by creating forms of Islam that stand as a counterpoint to Arab-ness hegemonic norms. African American Islamic identity as an out-growth of the MSTA has therefore complicated the notion of being Muslim. Through the development of the MSTA (subsequently the NOI and NGE), there no longer was only one way to be Muslim, Islam could therefore speak to larger and younger audiences (Knight 2007; Aidi 2014; Khabeer 2016).
Image #1: Photograph of Noble Drew Ail.
Image #2: The Moorish Science Temple flag.
Image #3: A group of Moorish Science Temple members in their distinctive dress.
Image #4: Photograph of a MSTA nationality card.
Image #5: Visual depiction of MSTA rejection of an historical identification with slavery.
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