Islam is frequently cited in the media as the fastest growing religion in America. Perhaps in recognition of this trend the New York Times recently featured an Arts & Ideas section profile of Aminah McCloud, an Associate Professor in the Religion Department of Chicago’s DePaul University, the largest Roman Catholic university in America. The front page story was titled “An Islamic Scholar With the Dual Role of Activist.” A large accompanying photo shows that McCloud is a portly 56-year-old African-American woman wearing a black leather jacket and knit cap. She is seen in her Islamic “prayer room.”
At the beginning of the piece, written by Felicia R. Lee, McCloud, the professor is cited as exchanging “Assalamu Alaikum” greetings with two young men guarding the front door of Muhammad University in Chicago, a school for young children, not college students, run by the Nation of Islam and its leader Louis Farrakhan. McCloud has been an “academic consultant” to the school, says the Times’ article, and is treated like a “visiting dignitary” on her visit to gather materials for her “forthcoming books on the nation of Islam and black American Muslims.” The Times says that McCloud has spent a great deal of time with Mr. Farrakhan “and finds him an intelligent and charismatic man.” She believes the public view of him as a social and religious leader is distorted because of the focus on his incendiary statements. “To distill his views down to one sentence to what he utters about Jews is an utter negation of what he has done, in the same way that no one has written off Thomas Jefferson because he raped a slave woman.”
McCloud muses on the “major question” of what direction “Farrakhan’s brand of Islam” will take. “The Nation has always been evolving,” she noted, “from its inception during the segregated 1930’s to the prominent stage it occupied in the 60’s when Malcolm X dominated, to this century.” Now, she argues, “it has been moving toward traditional Islam while still focusing on using Islamic law to raise the status of blacks in society.”
The Times’ story recounts some of McCloud's life: She was a freshman at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania when she met many African Muslims, was attracted to their spirituality and “political vitality,” and hence became a Muslim. (For almost 100 years, Lincoln was a school only for black men. Named after Abraham Lincoln, it became co-ed in the 1950’s. Both Thurgood Marshall, the left-wing Supreme Court justice, and Kwame Nkrumah, a leftist who declared himself “president for life” in Ghana in 1964, and who died in Communist Romania in 1972, are two of the more famous alums.)
“Muslims saw the issues of race in global terms, and they let me know that American racism and separatism were also a kind of apartheid,” McCloud told the Times. “From my perspective as a young adult, the tactics used by the civil rights movement were wrong. You don’t put women and children out to fight white men with dogs. The goals of being a citizen should not be to get people to let you eat in their restaurant.”
As a divorced mother with three children, McCloud worked in Philadelphia as a pharmacist but became nervous at the repeated holdups in the drug store where she worked. She returned to school and majored in Islam, finishing her doctorate in 1993, at age 45. Her rise in the groves of academe was then rapid. Also, the Times said, McCloud is becoming nationally prominent for talking to reporters about Islam in America. She has been quoted by many newspapers, has appeared on many TV talks shows and was featured on a PBS special about Islam in America. The Times’ story describes her as an “energetic activist among American Muslims,” involved in their lobbying and public policy organizations and beaver-busy in legal and criminal cases as a consultant when “Islam is an issue.”
The story says that McCloud’s role as an activist as well as a scholar “raises old questions about how to mix scholarship and social struggle.” These supposedly hoary questions are not answered in the Times’ story except by people who appear to agree with the “mix” of MCloud’s activities.
“Scholars of Islam are in a special position, especially after 9/11 but even before 9/11,” Alia Asani, described as a professor of Indo-Muslim languages and Culture at Harvard, told the Times. Professor Asani says there is overwhelming ignorance “about Islam in the public sphere.” He notes that Islamic scholars are often called upon to offer a basic public education, though the objectivity of the scholars is sometimes challenged by those who are afraid they might be cultural cheerleaders. McCloud is apparently not one of those thought to be shaking pom poms, despite making some unscholarly and polemical public comments. About two months after the attacks of 9/11 she told the Minnesota Pioneer Press newspaper, “We’re now becoming a police state like those nations we claim to abhor.” She said about America, “No longer do we have freedom of speech, and citizens are scared of one another. We’re not neighbors, but potential terrorists.” Professor Asani describes McCloud as a scholar-activist who has “done some remarkable work” in her studies of blacks and Islam. Another professor of Islam, a woman at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, is quoted as saying that Ms. McCloud’s activism and scholarship are mutually complementary.
The Times article is a puff piece about Aminah McCloud that pretends to seriousness – a common enough news contrivance. It makes no credible attempt to answer the principal question it poses about mixing “activism” and scholarship other than to approve of it, ignoring information that might illuminate Times readers about Islam in America. For instance, a discussion of the tensions between Arab Muslims and African Muslims because the former enslaved many of the latter. Unlike Christianity, which opposed slavery more than 100 years ago and is abhorred by Black Muslims anyway, Islam has a more checkered past with slavery, which is still practiced in Muslim countries like Sudan and Mauritania, and was not abolished by Saudi Arabia until 1962.
Is the traditional Islam of the Sunnis, the Sufis, the Shias, even the Wahabbis, about which we hear and read so much, the same Islam as that of Elijah Mohammed or Malcolm X or Louis Farrakhan? The answer is no, and the Times should have told its readers so.
“Islam and the so-called Nation of Islam are two different religions. The only thing common between them is the jargon, the language used by both. The Nation of Islam is a misnomer; this religion should be called Farrakhanism, after the name of its propagator” – brochure of the Institute of Islam Information and Education.
The Nation of Islam (NOI), often called the Black Muslims, was founded by an ex-felon and con-man man named Wallace Fard in about 1930 in Detroit. His message of black supremacy and hatred of whites (“blue-eyed devils”) drew many followers and soon Fard announced that he was the “Supreme Ruler of the Universe.” Four years later he disappeared, probably murdered. His assistant was Elijah Poole, who told the faithful that “the Master” has gone to “meet Allah.” Fard’s last act, said Poole, was to appoint him his successor. Poole moved the cult to Chicago and changed his name to Elijah Muhammad. He continued Fard’s bitter line against whites and said they were an “evil mutation” created by a mad scientist named “Yakob.” This belief, and other bizarre tenets of the NOI theology, caused Malcolm X, a follower of Elijah Mohammad, who had visited the Mideast and met genuine members of Islam, to break away and criticize the NOI, and so signed his death warrant. He was assassinated in New York in 1965. Elijah Muhammad, claiming he was “the true prophet” and wanting a separate state only for black people, ran the Nation of Islam until his death in 1975. Elijah Muhammad is still revered by the NOI. One of Muhammad’s sons, Wallace Muhammad, succeeded him, moved the organization away from its naked racialist beliefs and adopted the tenets of traditional Islam, a religion open to all. Wallace Muhammad called the sect the American Muslim Mission and the majority of the Nation of Islam followers went with him. (Wallace Muhammad resigned recently complaining that the “imams” who ran the group’s mosques were not sufficiently educated in Islam.)
Louis Farrakahn, now 70, who had been a high-ranking follower of Elijah Muhammad took over the NOI after Wallace Muhammad broke away. Intelligent and charismatic, as Ms. McCloud says, the former calypso singer known as “The Charmer” was born Louis Walcott in 1933 and joined the NOI in 1955, saying he would “dedicate my life to the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.” Farrakhan ultimately became the leader of its powerful Harlem, New York, mosque in 1965, a few months after the murder of Malcolm X. Allegations have been made over the years that Farrakhan played a role in the Malcolm X assassination but the charge was unproved.
Farrakhan is articulate and well-liked by many who know him but he has made strong anti-Semitic remarks and offered other unhinged comments in public and they have tarnished him greatly. And why shouldn’t they? Aminah McCloud’s deadpan statement to the Times in defense of Farrakhan that “no one has written off Thomas Jefferson because he raped a slave woman,” is that of a propagandist not an educator. (Of course, there is no evidence that Jefferson raped Sally Hemming or any other woman, though the Times’ writer felt no obligation to cite this falsehood.) The evidence of the hatred of Jews by Farrakhan and other Black Muslims exists. In a speech in June 1984, Farrakhan called the U.S. and the UK “evil” for giving aid to Israel, a country he described as “a criminal conspiracy” built on “injustice, thievery, lying and deceit.” He then called Judaism a “dirty religion.”
The core beliefs of the Nation of Islam have little in common with traditional Islam other than some borrowed words and trappings. What Elijah Muhammad taught as the Black Muslim theology is unchanged today: American blacks are members of the Tribe of Shabazz from the Lost Nation of Asia. The black race is “as perfect as God himself” and inhabited the earth for 66 trillion years until about 4,700 BC when a black scientist named “Yakob,” who was mentally ill, was able to produce the mutant “white devils,” a race which is physically weak and totally evil. Later, many of this race followed the “devil-doctrine” of Christianity to enslave Allah’s chosen people. Allah allowed that these mutants could rule for exactly six thousand years, apparently until 1914. NOI teaches that whites are enjoying a few years of “grace” on borrowed time until the Black Man rises and rids the earth of them.
This may seem bizarre but consider that in 1995 Louis Farrakhan let slip that he had been kidnapped by space aliens and had orbited earth in a giant spacecraft. He also said he had often communicated with Elijah Muhammad after his death and that Muhammad is himself riding in perpetuity in a similar spacecraft.
Elijah’s widow Minister Tynetta Muhammad, a popular NOI “numerologist,” had predicted that 2001 would be Armageddon, the end of the earth, for the white race. Mrs. Muhammad also claimed that UFOs were seen around the World Trade Center after the attack on September 11, 2001. Writing in Final Call, the Black Muslim newspaper, Robert Muhammad, another NOI follower, said that Wallace Fard, the founder of NOI, had taught of “a giant wheel-like plane that contained 1,500 smaller planes built by the finest brains.” They were designed, said Muhammad, to destroy the white man’s world.
Louis Farrakhan himself is fond of numerology and has cited the numerics of Washington, D.C., street maps and statistics involving the Washington monument as evidence of his belief that Washington is a “nerve center” of a white conspiracy against blacks.
Years ago the scholar Daniel Pipes wrote an authoritative article for the Washington Post titled “Louis Farrakhan is Not a Muslim.” Pipes made the point that that Islam stresses the “absolute transcendence and unity of God.” Yet, Elijah Muhammad claimed the “Black Nation as a whole is God, and one person, the most powerful Black Scientist of the age, is the Supreme Being.”
Islam says the last prophet sent to mankind was Mohammad in the seventh-century, yet, Elijah Muhammad claimed he was the prophet, wrote Pipes. “Islam condemns racism; Elijah Muhammad deemed blacks morally and spiritually superior to whites, and believed that if blacks convert to his religion, they will eventually destroy whites, who are devils.”
There was much more, equally persuasive. Pipes concluded, “Farrakhan is as much a Muslim as the Shriner is an Arab." This information and so much more should have been in the New York Times story about the “Islamic Scholar with the Dual Role of Activist.”