Religion In American Culture Essay, Research Paper
Race and religion are two concepts in American culture that can really tie people together, or clearly separate them apart. A group forged by strong common roots in both race and religion can be a powerful societal force, if it wants to be. The Nation of Islam is a small but growing religion in America that has become somewhat of a social movement because of its strong and radical ideas on race. In this paper, I will try to explore the beliefs of the Nation of Islam, and the ramifications it could and has had on racial relations in America. The Nation of Islam, or NOI, is a relatively new religion. The first temple of Islam was established in Detroit by Master Fard Muhammed in 1930. Much of the theology was based on the simple facts that: “Allah is god, the white man is the devil, and the so-called Negroes are the Asiatic black people, the cream of the earth.”(1) And, in accordance with their bizarre view of creation, involving a mad scientist creating the white race from the black race, the twentieth century represents the time for black people to regain their rightful position as god?s chosen people. (1) The Nation of Islam was spawned from Orthodox Islam, an age-old religion. However, Orthodox Islam has openly denounced the NOI as a heretic sect for three main reasons: the NOI?s rejection of the belief in an afterlife, its tendency to view human leaders as deified figures, and its strong racist attitudes. (2) For a brief time, during the seventies, Wallace Deen Muhammed became the leader of the NOI and tried to take it in a new direction, more conforming to “true Islamic beliefs.” This group is now called the American Muslim Mission and still exists in small numbers today. (1) The NOI?s presence has implications on American racial relations in more than one way. First of all, the NOI is tied to a very specific American racial group: blacks. Although the majority of black people in America do not consider themselves members of the NOI, the group still attempts to represent all black people. And, because of the strong messages of strength, unity, and betterment of the black race, the NOI reaches the hearts and minds of many blacks as a driving social force, even if they don?t consider it their religion. Another major way the NOI impacts race relations is through the strong seemingly racist beliefs that are inherent to its theology. The NOI has always been open about its views. Not only have they always taught that the white man is the devil, but they believe that the battle of Armageddon will consist of a holy war between Islam and Christianity of which Islam will be the victors, representing the victory of black people over white people. (1) Jews are referred to as “great enemies” for no particular reason. The NOI has been viewed as a strongly anti-Semitic organization since the early eighties. (4) I think the NOI theology can best be understood as an example of power-conflict theory. First of all, the NOI is strongly against cultural assimilation for American blacks. They believe that black people should exist entirely apart from American (white) culture. Elijah Muhammed, an early and extremely powerful leader who is now viewed as a deified human clearly taught against assimilation. (1) Since whites were inherently created as an evil and inferior race, they are therefore flawed since birth. Seeking their acceptance by acquiring any part of so-called American culture is a low and humiliating thing for blacks to do. Under this philosophy, Elijah Muhammed went so far as to teach that even living among white people in the same building or block is wrong, and that basic integration of blacks and whites in schools and workplaces should be reversed. (1) These separatist and elitist attitudes toward one race over another is clearly a power-conflict characteristic. I don?t necessarily think all of these ideas are so wrong. In his striving towards total segregation, Elijah Muhammed was hoping to achieve powerful and independent black communities capable of providing everything for themselves education, hospitals, workplaces, neighborhood organizations in the greatest quality. And they should be able to achieve all this without the slightest interference from “American” culture, be it oppression or cooperation. That kind of support and hope for one to have towards their own race and people seems generally healthy and proud. However, can it really be achieved? Maybe, but it would take an amazing amount of effort, planning, and change to make it happen. Much more effort than simply teaching to hate the other races you are currently stuck with. Maybe they decided it was easier to hate everyone else than to dedicate that same amount of time and energy actually concentrating on making a difference in their own communities. But, I digress. Back to the facts. Over the last decade or so, the Nation of Islam has gained more support among blacks from all religions and economic backgrounds than ever before. It has also met with more criticism and attacks from other groups, and gained more national recognition and acknowledgement than ever before. This can mostly be attributed to a strong new leader- Minister Louis Farrakhan, considered by most of America to be the most powerful black leader in the last twenty years. (2) Farrakhan was recruited to the Nation of Islam by Malcolm X himself in 1955. (Malcolm X eventually left the NOI upon learning how much its views differed from Orthodox Islamic teachings). (4) In the late seventies, when Wallace Deen began making doctrinal changes to the NOI, Farrakhan boldly stepped up to reorganize his own branch, sticking to the original racist beliefs. This original NOI persevered and has since grown in numbers under Farrakhan?s leadership. (2) Farrakhan began making a name for himself right away, first by making several strong racist speeches during his “sermons” and then by setting out to establish schools and businesses immersed with the NOI theology. (3) He got national attention in 1984 as a strong and quite vocal leader in Reverend Jesse Jackson?s campaign for president. While Farrakhan was earning the hatred and disgust of many white Americans throughout all this, he was having a different impact on blacks. Even while they may not have agreed with all of his radical views, here was a black man speaking out about the realities of their everyday lives with no holds barred, and making national news doing so. Not only was he striving towards the empowerment of black people, he was seen by the rest of America as a force to be reckoned with. I think many American blacks were happy to accept him as the next leader of black people, since one was about due. Unfortunately, Farrakhan?s solutions to most of the “black man?s” problems involve extreme hatred towards and separatism from American culture in general and all other racial groups that exist in it. His presence as a strong black leader can have extreme ramifications on racial relations in this country, because there is a thin line between upholding him as a great social leader and adopting all of his hateful and racist attitudes. Farrakhan has certainly not been subtle in his beliefs that the white man is evil and inferior to blacks, as the NOI has always taught. However, he has also placed more emphasis on the hatred of Jews than the NOI had ever expressed in the past. Over the past few years, Farrakhan has been quoted to make an amazing number of anti-Semitic statements, many of them shockingly direct and poignant, including: “You are wicked deceivers of the American people. You are the synagogue of Satan and are sending this nation to hell.” And, “Look at the imposter Jew. Somebody must look you in your cold lying eyes and call you what you are. I don?t give a damn about you and will give you hell from the cradle to the grave.” (4) You can imagine how popular this kind of talk has made Farrakhan among Jewish groups, as well as other, non-sectarian anti-discrimination groups. Farrakhan got the attention of the entire nation in 1995 when he called for a “million man march” on Washington. The invitation was extended to “all able bodied black men” to gather at Washington on October 16th. The purpose of this march was to “declare to the government of America and the world that we are ready to take our place as the head of our families and communities and shoulder the responsibility of being the maintainers of our women and children.” (3) That statement was part of an article written by Farrakhan himself published in “The Final Call,” a NOI newsletter. The call to march went out to all black men regardless of religious background, not just NOI members. In fact this march had little to do with religion, and was more of a rally for social change and empowerment of the black race. The Million Man March ended up being a great success, attracting somewhere from 80,000 to a million black men. (2) There were many polls and surveys taken at the march to determine what kind of men attended and for what reasons. Although Farrakhan?s description of the purpose of the march may have sounded somewhat vague, it is clear that participating in the march meant a lot of different things to different people. One large focus for many was “to make America know her sins,” a favorite phrase of the late Elijah Muhammed. For some, that simply meant creating a presence that forced the country to acknowledge the anger and frustration of black people, and hopefully lead to greater tolerance and less racism. For others, it was a demand for reparations by the US government to somehow compensate for slavery, and the eternity of institutional racism that has followed. (2) Many people expressed pride in the fact that such a large number of blacks banding together could really knock some fear into white America. And the march did evoke fear in the eyes of many whites and other non attendants, some even comparing it to a Ku Klux Klan rally, or making other references to reverse racism.(2) Despite the few extreme viewpoints of those at the march, and the fear it caused in many outside the march, most people were just there to participate and show their support of a social movement towards empowerment of black people and black communities. The speeches given, and the overall morale at the million man march was definitely less focused on hatred and finger-pointing, and more focused on the unity, support, and power of black people themselves. Much emphasis was placed on repentance of their own sins, the cleansing of themselves, the work they must do to help their own families and communities. (3) I believe the ultimate goal Farrakhan had in mind for these men was to someday conquer the need for any connection with white culture, and in some way prove that they were better off that way. Whether that is the case or not, the basic message communicated at the march was one of self-empowerment and racial unity. This kind of mentality is great, and shouldn?t necessarily be viewed as a scary, potentially dangerous thing. What I am more concerned with is the fact that Farrakhan himself was capable of reaching enough people to actually pull something like this off. It does indicate how much leverage he has in the black community as a powerful social leader. Since the march, Farrakhan has not done anything nearly as newsworthy, but he continues to give sermons and speeches on smaller scales, and has a strong voice in the NOI newsletters and publications. And, apparently, he is still managing to anger some people. One angered group is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a worldwide organization which attempts to fight anti-Semitism and bigotry. They have obviously been listening closely to everything Farrakhan has publicly said in the years following the Million Man march, and have published an informal press address quoting a few of the most offensive statements. According to this list, Farrakhan seems to make some very ridiculous and pretty anti Semitic things. He has also defended the acts of terrorists like Bin-Ladden, Qadaffi, Sadam Hussein, Aryan Nation militia, and even Hitler. (4) NOI members responded to these claims by criticizing the ADL for shortening and manipulating his statements to be misconstrued, or taken out of context. (2) The true Nation of Islam ideas are very extreme, and have the potential to greatly impact race relations America. The mere presence of the NOI, with the help of Minister Farrakhan, has already impacted many people, and brought extremely different reactions. The fact that a lot of Americans view Farrakhan as such a powerful black leader is frightening, because he really teaches hatred and anger, and says a lot of things that are simply not true. However, his ultimate goal of complete segregation is never going to happen, and I don?t think the American black community is taking everything he says quite so seriously. If anything, maybe Farrakhan?s messages of self-improvement, hard work and strong community will eventually cause some positive changes for blacks in America.
Bibliography 1. John Morehead. The Truth quest Institute, “Behind the Million Man March: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.” www.fopc.org/farrakhan 2. Yush Magazine , “Still on the March.” London: Yush Publications, 1996 3. Louis Farrakhan. The Final Call, “Minister Louis Farrakhan Calls for a One Million Man March.” www.noi.org/MLFspeaks 4. Anti-Defamation League. Press release, “Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam in Their Own Words One Year After the Million Man March.” October, 1996 5. The movie Get on the Bus by Spike Lee/40 Acres and a Mule Productions also provided insight.
1. John Morehead. The Truth quest Institute, “Behind the Million Man March: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.” www.fopc.org/farrakhan 2. Yush Magazine , “Still on the March.” London: Yush Publications, 1996 3. Louis Farrakhan. The Final Call, “Minister Louis Farrakhan Calls for a One Million Man March.” www.noi.org/MLFspeaks 4. Anti-Defamation League. Press release, “Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam in Their Own Words One Year After the Million Man March.” October, 1996 5. The movie Get on the Bus by Spike Lee/40 Acres and a Mule Productions also provided insight.