As he stood in the theater of the Diyanet Center of America in Lanham, Imam Yahya Muhammad looked across a room filled Muslims of color from many backgrounds and paused to wipe a tear from his eye.
Muhammad was looking the realization of a dream: To have brothers and sisters from the Nation of Islam, Morish Science, Suni and several other groups seated as one to talk about “closing the gap” and healing differences that have divided them for decades.
“I have been in all of these schools of thoughts and what I have learned is that there is no difference, but if you don’t know, you would think that it is different,” Muhammad said. “Allah has for us, one name, one purpose and one destiny. We have to come out of that religious gang banging. That time is up.”
Muhammad’s comments came at the beginning of a program on the eve of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, where speakers representing seven groups offered their solutions on what it would take to reach the African-American believers of an often misunderstood faith.
According to new research by the Library of Congress that aired on PBS recently, the discovery of Arabic manuscripts written by a former slave shows that about 20 percent of the Africans who were captured and sold into slavery were practicing Muslims at the time they were captured.
According to PBS, this information comes from the writing of Omar Ibn Said, a 37-year-old man who was taken from his home in West Africa and brought to Charleston, South Carolina, as a slave in the 1800s.
According to PBS reporter Amna Nawaz, “his one-of-a-kind autobiographical manuscript has been translated from its original Arabic and housed at the Library of Congress, where it ‘annihilates’ the conventional narrative of African slaves as uneducated and uncultured.”
The Muslim gathering took place at the Diyanet Center of America, which was built by the nation of Turkey in Lanham after years of efforts by the Turkish-American community. For many in attendance, it was their first time inside the multimillion-dollar compound.
“If we are hoping and expecting divine and greater unity in our communities then what better way then to start off with such unification than what you see right before you,” said Brother Tyrone Davis-Bey, who moderated the event. “The very individuals that we are trying to unite, if they can see it first here … then it can trickle into the community and build up a nation.”
Noble Drew Ali was the Moorish American leader who founded the Moorish Science Temple of America. Considered a prophet by his followers, Ali founded the Canaanite Temple in Newark, New Jersey, in 1913 before relocating to Chicago, where he gained a following of thousands of converts before his death in 1929.
“We organized as the Moorish Temple of Science in the year of 1925, and were legally incorporated as a civic organization under the laws of the State of Illinois, November 29, 1926,” Ali once said in a statement. “The name Moorish Temple of Science was changed to the Moorish Science Temple of America, May 1928 in accordance with the legal requirements of the Secretary of the State of Illinois. The object of our Organization is to help in the great program of uplifting fallen humanity and teach those things to make our members better citizens.”
Brother R. Jones Bey, Grand Sheik of the Moorish Science Temple of America Inc., told the gathering, “You must be the message that you bring. … I can’t lead anybody being a hypocrite, and if you are going to be real it has to begin with you.”
Some of the toughest words were challenged issued by the Moorish Science brothers who have been instrumental in working with inmates across the country.
“We separate ourselves because we don’t practice Islam the same way,” said Brother Lomax Bey. “This ain’t about me, this ain’t about brother Yahya, it is about doing Allah’s work because he ain’t pleased in what we are doing. What we have to do is find our way back home.”
The Nation of Islam was founded in Detroit by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad on July 4, 1930. After Fard disappeared in June 1934. His successor was the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who established temples and mosque, a school named Muhammad University of Islam, farms and real estate holdings in the United States and abroad.
But there were a number of splits during Muhammad’s leadership, including Malcolm X, who left the group to practice Islam as a Sunni Muslim.
After Muhammad’s death in 1975, his son, Warith Deen Mohammed, changed the name of the organization to “World Community of Islam in the West.” He embraced Sunni Muslim ideology, which some call mainstream.
In 1977, Minister Louis Farrakhan rejected Warith Deen Mohammed’s leadership and re-established the Nation of Islam. He took over the Nation of Islam’s headquarters, Mosque Maryam (Mosque #2) in Chicago, and other mosques across the U.S., including Muhammad Mosque #4 in D.C.
During the event, Yayah Muhammad honored Minister Kadir Muhammad, leader of Mosque #4, Sean Muhammad, former leader of the Prince George’s County Study Group, and Jamil Muhammad, former leader of the NOI in Atlanta. Together they have worked to restore peace and order in drug-infested communities in D.C. and across the country.
Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, head of the Abundant Life Clinic in D.C., was one of Farrakhan’s key organizers during the 1996 Million Man March, looked over the audience and said, “I am blessed to be with the ones on this stage. I’m blessed to be with the ones in the audience.”
Muhammad talked about the importance of understanding oneself as a precursor to unity. He said in the same way a circle is the sum of equal parts calculated by the pi formula, in every man represents qualities that include: “Perfectionist, helper, performer, artist, thinker, questioner, leader and peacemaker.”
Edward X, a Nation of Islam member who works with young people in Southeast, was the keynote speaker for the event but after three hours of listening to others, he condensed his message to a few powerful points that included, “We don’t know how to be friends with one another.”
“Can we be honest with one another? I did 18 years in prison and we have a mission,” Edward X said. “Minister Louis Farrakhan inspired me to become self-inspired. We have initiated a process but how do we forge unity. … I like what the brother said: We have to be the message.”
In terms of going forward, Yayah Muhammad said they plan to have joint meetings with a variety of Muslim leaders to continue the dialogue.
“This has never been done in the history of time,” he said. “We are going to go into the community to let the community see our unity and change our condition.”
Al-Hajj Iman Sultan M. Abdullah, 73, was one of the last people to leave the Diyanet Center. He opened the event with prayer and was honored by his daughter, who is married to Yayah Muhammad.
Abdullah, who worked with W.D. Mohammed, summarized the event in three words: “It was good.”