Moorish Science Temple of America

Their version of Scriptures called Holy Koran written by Nobel Drew Ali: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/2705/koran-index.html

History

The Moorish Science Temple of America was founded by Noble Drew Ali in 1913. The organization was based on a combination of black nationalism and a religious philosophy which blended Christianity and Islam. Noble Drew Ali, born Timothy Drew, was among the first people to introduce Islam to African Americans through his movement.

It is difficult to discern the events of Ali's life because his followers believed he was a prophet and have combined legends with Ali's actual life story. Ali was born in 1886 in North Carolina. His mother died when he was young, and he was raised by an aunt. His followers claim that this aunt was a wicked woman who once threw her nephew into the furnace; they believe that Ali was saved from the flames by Allah. According to legend, Ali moved to a gypsy camp until he received a message from Allah that he must go on a mission. Supposedly he traveled to Egypt and Morocco, where he studied African history and the Islamic religion. The Moroccan King later sent him to spread Islam among African Americans.

Historians claim that Ali left North Carolina for Newark, New Jersey where he worked as a train express man. Although he received no formal education, Ali was exposed to Asian philosophy which contains no distinct concept of race. In contrast to pervasive American racism, this philosophy appealed to him. Asian philosophy influenced Ali in the formulation of his own doctrines and in 1913 he founded his first temple, the Canaanite Temple, in Newark. Over the next twelve years he moved westward establishing temples in Pittsburg, Detroit, and Chicago.

As Ali moved west, his movement took shape and attracted many followers. He claimed to be the prophet Muhammad reincarnated. He believed that Islam was the religion of African Americans before they were enslaved, and that they should return to it. Ali founded and taught the Five Divine Holy Principles of Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom, and Justice. The purpose behind his movement was to "uplift" African Americans. One of the major tenants of the faith concerned the national identity of African Americans. Ali discounted identities created by white Americans, such as "negro," "colored," and "black," claiming that his people originated in Morocco. He referred to all people of color as Asiatic, and to African Americans specifically as Moorish Americans, descendents of the Moors of North Africa. Underlying his claims were two principles. The first was that by identifying with their North African ancestors, as well as with Muslims throughout the world, his followers would have pride in an ancestry to which they had been denied.

The actual religion developed by Ali was largely based on Christianity though it claimed to be an Islamic faith.

The movement expanded rapidly in the years 1925-29; some historians estimate thirty thousand members throughout the country at the peak of the movement. In 1926 the Moorish Science Temple became a legal corporation. By 1928 there were temples in Harlem, Philadelphia, and several southern cities. There were Moorish grocery stores, schools, youth groups, newspapers, and a magazine.

The expansion of the movement made it too difficult for Ali to lead by himself. He turned to certain members for help in administering the organization. A struggle for power erupted between Ali and his Lieutenant Sheikh Claude Greene, resulting in Greene's murder. Although Ali was out of town at the time of the killing, he was accused of the murder and arrested when he returned. While out on bail awaiting trial, Ali died. The circumstances surrounding his death are obscure. Some argue he died as a result of mistreatment during police questioning; others believe Temple members vying for Ali's position had him killed.

Following Ali's death the movement factionalized. Two members claimed to embody Ali's reincarnated spirit: John Givens El, and W.D. Fard. Fard went on to form the beginnings of the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, worked with Fard and was appointed First Minister of Islam by the latter. When Fard disappeared in 1934, Muhammad took over the sect. Though members of the Nation of Islam often deny connection with Ali's movement, the two organizations share several principles. For example, Fard studied Ali's methods in order to introduce the Qur'an to his followers.

When the Moorish Science Temple of America divided after Ali's death, many members joined with Fard and Muhammad in what became the Nation of Islam. Today there are small followings of Ali and the Moorish Science Temple in Hartford, Connecticut and Lexington, Kentucky. In Chicago all that remains is a house with a sign reading Moorish Science Temple.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Moorish Orthodoxy is not a new religion. Historically it began with the message of the American prophet Noble Drew Ali, born Timothy Drew in North Carolina in 1886, raised by Cherokee Indians and adopted into that tribe. At sixteen Drew began his wanderings as a circus magician, which took him to Egypt where he received self knowledge and direction from a priest, the last of a cult of High Magic practiced for centuries in the pyramid of Cheops. This magus recognized the young American as a reincarnation of a former leader of the cult, and saw him for the prophet he was.

From him Drew Ali learned the messages of The Circle Seven Koran, as well as much higher truths; he returned to America where he was told in a dream to found a new religion "for the uplifting of fallen mankind." He began the first mosque, or temple, in Newark --- but because he and his followers refused to fight in World War I he was forced to move to Chicago, where his movement, the Moorish Science Temple, began to grow. The Moorish Science Temple attracted mostly Black Americans. Noble Drew however was no racist, though he held certain racial theories. Blacks, he said, are Moabites or Moors, and under this identity he taught pride to a race of oppressed sufferers. Moors are an "Asiatic Race" --but so are many others. For example, Noble Drew identified Celts as an Asiatic Race; later, when Whites of various sorts became interested in Moorish Science, he identified all such as "Persians", a sort of spiritual rather than factual identity. For Moorish Americans Morocco is a "promised land"; this shows the influence of Garveyite "Return" teachings, and provides an interesting link between Moorish Science and Rastafarianism. Moorish Orthodoxy (despite its name) gives all these teachings an esoteric significance. For us, "The Asiatic Nation of North America" includes all who embrace some form of the Oriental Wisdom, whatever their other affiliations, and "Morocco" signifies their goal, "illuminated" consciousness.

In Chicago Noble Drew issued many Moorish Passports, and it is said that some new converts, in the zeal of their newfound nationality, began to grow less and less subservient in their dealings with the oppressor empire ("Pharaoh" or "Babylon"). This culminated in a full scale attack on the ,Science Temple in which (despite the secret escape route, an essential feature of all Moorish Science temples) many of the faithful were martyred, including the Enforcer of the Law, a man whom Noble Drew had recognized as a reincarnation of Jesus.

Shortly thereafter (in 1929) Noble Drew prophesied the hour of his death. He was "taken for questioning" by the Chicago Police, brutally beaten, and died soon after his release.

After this, the Moorish Science Temple began to split into sects or factions, one headed by Noble Drew's chauffeur another by Elijah Muhammed, who abandoned his Moorish Science origins and taught a pseudo-science of race hatred disguised as the "Nation of Islam". Until Elijah's death, many Moors expected him to recant.

In the 1950's in the Baltimore/DC area, some white poets and jazz musicians came into contact with the Science Temple and acquired passports. They formed another offshoot of Moorish Science, the Moorish Orthodox Church of America. At that early stage, the M.O.C. was seen as partly Moorish and partly Eastern Orthodox, and there existed certain ties with "Errant Bishops" of the Old Catholic Church, Syrian Orthodoxy, etc. Some of these founding fathers drifted eventually into Sunni Islam, others remained faithful to the M.O.C. and friendly to the Science Temple.

In the early 1960's on Manhattan's Upper West Side, one of the youngest of these, Walid al-Taha (Warren Tartaglia), jazz saxophonist and author of "The Hundred Seeds of Beirut", initiated some friends into the Church shortly before his tragic death (in his early 20's). A new temple was established in a basement on 103rd street off Broadway, along with a head shop "The Crypt", and a Moorish Science Reading Room. The Church maintained a M.O.C. Motorcycle Club at various neighborhood garages, and a campsite of 123 acres was acquired in northern New York. Close ties were formed with the Ananda Ashram in upstate NY. Members in Baltimore renewed ties with elders and missionaries of the Moorish Science Temple, including the Moorish Governor of Maryland, who ran a junk shop that smelled of rose attar and woodstove smoke, and talked like a Persian poet from Alabama -- an echo, no doubt, of Noble Drew's own perfect Moorish Voice. Ties were formed with the M.S.T. in Brooklyn, which provided copies of The Circle Seven Koran, Catechisms, etc.

When the Ananda Ashram moved into Millbrook NY with Timothy Leary's League for Spiritual Discovery commune, the M.O.C. also established a presence there. The M.O.C. is proud of its heritage in the Psychedelic Churches Movement of the 60's, when we shared many adventures at Millbrook till the Empire banished its Celtic guru into exile and prison. We still have a temple in Duchess County, where the church is legally incorporated.

At that time the Church more or less abandoned all "Orthodoxy" (though not the name) and found its true spirit in Sufism. What interested us most was Sufism of various unorthodox varieties, including Ismailism (the teachings of the Assassins). But many other strains were woven into the M.O.C. in the 60's, including Advaita Vedanta, Tantra, Neo-American-style psychedelic mysticism, Native American Symbolism, and insurrectionist activism.

The 70's and early 80's in retrospect seem a rather dim period in Church history. Members scattered around the world and interest waned. The "New Age" bogged down in various Greed Therapies, guru-scams and bland-outs. For a while only small groups in Manhattan and Duchess Co. kept a shadowy existence and continuity. Recently however the time has become ripe for a Revival. New religions are appearing: Native American rites, Neo-paganism, Anarcho-taoism, the followers of Eris and others with whom we feel a natural affinity. We have launched a new edition of our newspaper, The Moorish Science Monitor (quiescent since 1967!) and many new conversions have resulted. The sudden upsurge of interest necessitated this revised edition of the M.O.C. pamphlet, out of print since the late 60's.

What is Moorish Orthodoxy? What is its "Catechism"? Many people have converted to Moorish Orthodoxy simply on hearing its name or seeing the photograph of Noble Drew Ali (frontispiece of the Circle Seven Koran) -- later, however, they may wish to learn something of Moorish doctrine.

In effect, there is none. Moorish Orthodoxy is like a mirror in which each seeker beholds a beloved form, each one different. We have no required ritual and no source of authority other than those the individual imagination provides. We do however perhaps share a certain "taste" or spiritual aesthetic.
 

To symbolize this attitude, all Moors are encouraged to create new names and titles for themselves. The Moorish Hierarchy is self appointed; anyone is free to print Passports, although the old Manhattan Lodge possesses certain seats and procedures which converts may appreciate. Popular titles include: Moorish Governor, Metropolitan, Deacon, Vicar, Exilarch, Imam, Castellan, Papessa, Contessa, Marshall or just plain Reverend. Moorish Science Temple adherents often add "Bey" or "El" to their names, others favor other traditions, and some use their own names. All Moors are entitled to titles, however, since all Moors have "authority".

The Moorish Orthodox Catechism, then, consists of no rules or dogmas, but only of adherence to the "Five Pillars" of Moorish Science as listed by Noble Drew:

 

LOVE
TRUTH
PEACE
FREEDOM
JUSTICE
to which we add a sixth, "Beauty".
 

Bibliography

Some Writings on Noble Drew Ali and the Moorish Science Temple of America

Imaam Isa Al Haadi Al Mahdi, As Sayyid Al. Who Was Noble Drew Ali? (1988).

Lincoln, C. Eric. The Black Muslims in America (1973).

Essien-Udom, Essien Udosen. Black Nationalism (1967).

Meier, August. ""The Black Muslims."" Liberation, April 1963.

Berger, Morroe. ""The Black Muslims."" Horizon, Winter 1964.

""Man of Myth and Fact."" New York Times, June 29, 1964.