Muhammad Ali and the Nation of Islam

Muhammad Ali and the Nation of Islam

by Jason Haap
Photo: Dutch National Archives

Reflecting on the life and death of Muhammed Ali has given America the opportunity to reflect on its anti-Muslim bias – particularly since Ali rose to prominence prior to the contemporary Islamophobia.  What we are missing, however, is another, more difficult opportunity: reflecting on the religion that introduced Ali to the word “Islam,” and that’s the non-Muslim hate-cult known as the Nation of Islam (NOI).

Like Malcolm X before him, Ali eventually left NOI for mainstream Islam, but too many mainstream Americans fail to understand the deep chasm that exists between Islam and NOI – a chasm so wide the two groups have virtually nothing to do with one another.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the NOI “has grown into one of the wealthiest and best-known organizations in black America. Its theology of innate black superiority over whites and the deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders have earned the NOI a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate.”

SPLC goes on to summarize some of the mythical beliefs of the NOI, one of which involves the creation of white people:  “[O]ver 6,000 years ago, the black race lived in a paradise on earth that was destroyed by the evil wizard Yacub, who created the white ‘devil’ through a scientific process called ‘grafting.'”  Some stories about Yacub maintain the white race was created through a process of grafting human DNA onto pigs.  More liberal members of the NOI may say these stories are meant to be “figurative,” but it’s unclear how these stories could be figurative without still maintaining a basic sense of divisive hate.

Though NOI members say they believe in “Allah,” they mean something very different from mainstream Muslims.  For NOI, “Allah” came in the form of a man named W. D. Fard, the founder of the group who mainstream history records as a likely traveling conman who disappeared from record in 1934.

NOI teachings include other strange bits, rivaled perhaps only by Scientology.  For example, what “the white man” would have us believe is a “UFO” is actually a “Mother Plane,” a giant and ancient craft created by the superior technology of the original black men.  Modern movies about space aliens are just an attempt, according to some in the NOI, by white Hollywood to distract us from the truth of this magnificent ship.

Stories like this, from NOI belief, abound.

Muhammed Ali converted to mainstream Islam in 1975, but if his life and death are cause for reflection, let’s not ignore the reality of the group known as the Nation of Islam.