Black History and American Muslim history are incomplete without including African American Muslims, whose embrace of the faith established Islam as an American Religion. African American Muslims also played key roles in the Civil Rights movement. And so every Black History Month, the descendants of enslaved Africans who converted to Islam or were born Muslims highlight the importance of their histories and heritages at the intersections of faith and race.
This year, African American Muslims at Masjid Al-Taqwa in Chicago hosted the Chicago Black Muslim History Bus Tour. The tour focused on historical places at the foundation of African American Muslim history. “We aimed to share our history as African American Muslims in Chicago as part of the Warith Deen Mohammad community,” explains Aisha El-Amin of Masjid Al-Taqwa, one of the tour’s organizers. “This history is deeply rooted in Chicago and U.S. history. We would be negligent if we did not share it.”
Tour stops highlighted the history of the Black Muslim movement, an important part of the Civil Rights movement and the establishment of Islam in the United States. Tourists saw the following:
2. the site of the Muhammad Speaks/Muslim Journal
Newspaper press and distribution;
3. Muhammad Ali’s former home
Aisha El-Amin and her husband Imam Tariq I. El-Amin of Masjid Al-Taqwa in Chicago.
“We stopped at sites of businesses, schools, homes for pioneers and community centers to ground the stories of the African American Muslim experience inside the larger Chicago Black community in its fullness,” Aisha says. “There were sites where we [explained] its impact on today, and how they continue to expand the lives of the communities they serve beyond Chicago.
“With each site, we hoped to curate a story – our story – of resilience, entrepreneurship, resistance, and of the sisterly and brotherly love that is often woefully missing in the historical retelling of Black folks' experiences in America.”
A Brief Look at Black Muslims in America
The history of Black Muslims in America dates back to the early 20th century when African Americans began to embrace Islam as a religion and way of life. The development of Black Muslim communities in America was influenced by various social, political and economic factors, including racial segregation, economic inequality and the struggle for civil rights.
One of the earliest and most prominent Black Muslim organizations was the Moorish Science Temple, founded by Noble Drew Ali in 1913. The organization combined elements of Islam with teachings from other religious traditions and promoted the idea of a separate Black identity and culture.
In the 1930s, another Black Muslim organization emerged, known as the Nation of Islam (NOI). Founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad, the NOI emphasized the need for Black self-reliance and separation from white society. The most famous leader of the NOI was Malcolm X, who later converted to sunni Islam and played a significant role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s before his assassination in 1965. The organization also gained national attention through the leadership of Elijah Muhammad and the membership of prominent figures such as Muhammad Ali.
In the 1970s, the NOI experienced a split, with some members following Warith Deen Mohammed, who took a more traditional approach to Islam. In contrast, others followed Louis Farrakhan and stayed in the NOI.
In addition to these organizations, other Black Muslim movements and communities have existed throughout American history, including the Five Percent Nation and the Dar ul-Islam movement.
Participants on the first ever Chicago Black Muslim History Tour Bus.
Today, the Black Muslim community continues to be an important part of American religious and cultural life. Many Black Muslims are active in social justice and civil rights movements. The community has produced many prominent leaders, scholars and activists, many of whom were highlighted as part of the Chicago Black Muslim History Bus Tour.
African American History Is Islamic History
African American Muslims and their history intersect with Blackness and Muslimness within the United States, making their experience pivotal in Islamic history and American Muslim heritage. Thus, embracing AA Muslim history is also honoring Islamic history. “One can not be told with any merit without the other,” Aisha says. “It is like starting a book from the middle; if you tell the story of Islam in America and omit African American Muslim history, you will be disconnected and left unanswered questions – you are lost.”
If you missed out on the tour, don’t worry. Organizers of the Chicago Black Muslim History Bus Tour plan to have another tour on Juneteenth