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Shadia: A mainstream look at the Nation of Islam

Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C.

February 15, 2012|By Mona Shadia

The Nation of Islam teaches a different kind of Islam from the one I know.

So I wanted to take part of Black History Month to explore the organization, which is closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement but never far from controversy.

Though I do not agree with some of the nation's interpretations of our shared faith, nor some of its leaders' past rhetoric in relation to other races and faiths, I discovered some fascinating details about the organization through candid interviews with a current leader and a past member who later converted to mainstream Islam.

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I interviewed Minister Ishmael Muhammad, a son of the late Elijah Muhammad, a Nation founder who taught Malcolm X.

Ishmael Muhammad is now assistant minister to the Nation's leader, Louis Farrakhan. Ishmael Muhammad is considered by observers to become a likely successor.

I also interviewed Abul Kareem Hasan, a former Nation member, who is now a mainstream imam in Los Angeles.

When I first came to America at age 15 and learned of the organization, I felt offended by stories about members who called for self-segregation and suggested black superiority — an understandable reaction to centuries of mistreatment by white Americans, but a far cry from the faith I knew that urges followers to transcend race.

There were also well-publicized tensions between Jews and the Nation of Islam, which some have accused of anti-Semitism. It's a point that the Nation's leaders deny, but many Jews cannot forgive.

Another point of contention: Nation Muslims view Elijah Muhammad as a messenger of God, when Muslims believe that all prophecy ended with the Prophet Muhammad.

Islam doesn't place one race over the other. One's superiority for God is only measured by his or her actions and piety. We believe that we all come from Adam, who was made from clay, so the idea of Muslims who view themselves as different was a concept I had trouble wrapping my head around.

But I went into this week's interviews with an open mind.

In the context of the Civil Rights Movement, I learned that the Nation of Islam sought to free African Americans from true inequality and that improving their collective, battered self-esteem and breaking free of white oppression was part of that healing process.

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