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Black Nationalism, Masonic Imagery, and Hip Hop
September 4, 2012 10:23 AM   Subscribe

In 1913, a man named Noble Drew Ali, (born Timothy Drew) Formed a religious organization called The Moorish Science Temple, based on a supposed lost section of the Koran. Drew's teachings were heavily influenced by Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, which was written by Levi Dowling in 1908, and flourished again in the late 60's and was an influential precursor to the New Age Movement.

Although presented as a sect of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple also drew inspiration from Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism and Taoism. It's goal was to present a message of self-determination, personal transformation, indigenous identity in the Western Hemisphere, pride, uplift, civic involvement, and self-sufficiency. Although much smaller in size than at it's heyday, the organization still exists today. Converts, often added the suffix "Bey" to their surnames.

After the death of Ali, one of his ministers Wallace Dodd Ford (fictionalized as the character Jimmy Zizmo in Jeffrey Eugenides Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Middlesex) moved to Detroit, rechristened Himself Wallace Fard Muhammad and founded The Nation Of Islam. After the disappearance of Fard Muhammad, leadership of the Nation fell to one of his early followers Elijah Muhammad, a former freemason. He combined the teachings of masonry, philosophies of Moorish Science with Black Nationalist ideology similar to that of Marcus Garvey. The Nation evolved It's own lessons and theology, including the memorization and recitation of The Actual Facts.

Perhaps the most famous member was Malcolm X*, who served as head of The Nation's Harlem Mosque. One member of his congregation, Clarence 13X, grew dissatisfied with the teachings of the Nation, and set out on his own, forming the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE). While adopting the basic philosophies of The Nation of Islam, The NGE differed from the NOI in that it was based heavily on the idea that every Black man is himself God, and therefore, there is no real need for a central religion, church, or leaders. This philosophy caught on mostly with young people. In the place of organized worship, members of the NGE, known as 5 percenters, spread the beliefs in the form of Supreme Mathematics and the Supreme Alphabet. This process is known as "Dropping Science".

The NGE mostly flourished mostly as a Youth movement in New York city and other areas of the Northeast, and inevitably became intertwined with the rise of Hip Hop and Rap Music (previously:1,2). 5% teachings can be found in the music of the Poor Righteous teachers, The Wu Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, and Brand Nubian. The 7, star and crescent symbol seen in the Brand Nubian video is the official symbol of the NGE, and is derived from the circle 7 symbol on the cover of the Moorish Science Koran and the Star and Crescent used by the Nation of Islam. The Masonic symbol prominently features the letter "G" Which some say stands for god, and is the 7th letter of the alphabet.

*The "X" was considered a placeholder, used to indicate that Nation of Islam's members original African family names had been lost. They acknowledged European surnames were slave names, often assigned by the slaveowners to mark their ownership. Members of the NOI used the "X" while waiting for their Islamic names, which they received later in their conversion.
posted by billyfleetwood (65 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is a Moorish Science Temple in my old neighborhood in Chicago. I would occasionally see worshipers going to services there in their fezzes and regalia (the ladies in seraglio trousers) and think "hmm...your religion is interesting."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:40 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


i have to say, it's not very often where a post goes in a completely different direction from i expected above the fold and then continues to unfold in ways that make keep going "wow, who knew?"

i cannot wait to get into this one.
posted by sio42 at 10:46 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Flagged as fantastic, billy. Great post.

Michael Muhammad Knight has written about the 5%ers in several great books, The Five Percenters, chief among them.
posted by NoMich at 10:46 AM on September 4, 2012


This is a fantastic post. Thank you.
posted by The World Famous at 10:49 AM on September 4, 2012


Vanglorious!
posted by Thorzdad at 10:50 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Damn, what an awesome post. Many of my favorite rappers from the so-called Golden Age were 5%, but I never knew much about its origins and beliefs other than what I inferred from their songs and videos. Fascinating.

Thanks, billyfleetwood!
posted by lord_wolf at 10:51 AM on September 4, 2012


Fantastic post, billyfleetwood. Also, we're the Lost Tribe of Shabazz!
posted by box at 10:56 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


a supposed lost section of the Koran

I find it really depressing that anyone ever believed this. I'm not a Quranic scholar (I'm pretty sure you have to read the whole Koran to qualify) but this is very obviously not the Koran.

The Christian Bible was written by many authors over a long period of time, and the style varies wildly from book to book. The Koran was written (recited?) at one time by one author, and it shows. It has a very consistent style, heavy on the poetry. Narrative is usually conveyed almost exclusively through dialogue, or from Allah's first person perspective.

Compare the Koran telling us the story of Abraham (start at line 51)
against the Old Testament's version of Abraham's story.
and Ali's lost section of the Koran story of the resurrection of Jesus.

Ali was writing (very obviously) in the style of the narrative sections of the Bible (Genesis-Kings, the four gospels). Shoddy. Say what you will about Joseph Smith, at least the Book of Mormon kinda sounds like the King James Bible.

Hey look, I found a lost book of Neil Gaiman's Sandman!
"The world that's coming is a place of big populations! Big cities! Big money! and for those very reasons it falls prey to big crime!! Technology has enlarged society until its scattered evils have emerged into one giant target for OMAC!"
True believers, it ain't so.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:10 AM on September 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Fantastic post. I remember when the Five Percenters began their rise in NYC. I appreciate the emphasis on self-actualization, support of community and respect for women. I do wish, however, that they would also encourage their members to take advantage of a basic education, which should include logical reasoning. So much of what the Five Percenters and Moorish-types say is complete and utter nonsense with absolutely no basis in fact or history. I had a long-winded IM session with a now Moorish former college classmate who insisted that we shouldn't celebrate St. Patrick's Day because it was originally a holiday to celebrate driving blacks out of Ireland. Sigh.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 11:10 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great!

I think we should appreciate that far from being about bitches and cristal a significant portion of rap, even mainstream rap, has deep philisophical underpinnings. One of the central tennet of NGE is that this science be dropped through the oral tradition. It seems to me that much of the extant knowlgege of this, outside the NGE itself, is limited exclusively to rap music. No matter what we think of these teachings, there is an entire body of learning, almost completely hidden, being taught through references in rap music.

I still don't know what the hell Vanglorious means though. I used to see Professor X around Brooklyn Borough Hall, I really should have asked him.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:13 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find it really depressing that anyone ever believed this. I'm not a Quranic scholar (I'm pretty sure you have to read the whole Koran to qualify) but this is very obviously not the Koran.

On the other hand, many revealed religions are based on texts which are incompatible with God's previously published works. Ruling out the idea that God has an infinitely flexible style, some of these may be written by the people who received them.

Anyway, great post. I am not normally a fan of many-link posts, but this one has me slightly giddy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:17 AM on September 4, 2012


The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ

this is the one that's like a tank right? With weeds and shells and a little house for guppies to swim around in? And an oxygen thing, mustn't forget that....
posted by gallus at 11:34 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am a Muslim and the fact that these people claim to be so as well irks me to no end. At best, they are a unique religion. At worst, a cult.

Of course, like all religions, they have corrupt leaders. I remember the Chicago Tribune doing an expose about the corruption and graft surrounding Farrakhan's restaurant.

I will read this post because I want to learn more about the Nation and the Moorish Scientists, but let's not call this group Muslims.
posted by reenum at 11:36 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Anyway, great post. I am not normally a fan of many-link posts, but this one has me slightly giddy.

Same here. I've been interested in the the Moorish Science Temple and the 5 percenters since I moved to NYC and encountered them in Times Square and other habitats of theirs. Most of what I know I learned from Peter Lamborn Wilson's Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam, which probably isn't entirely trustworthy but has loads of great illustrations and fascinating side alleys to wander down; I recommend it to anyone intrigued by this post.
posted by languagehat at 11:40 AM on September 4, 2012


Very nice post.
posted by OmieWise at 11:44 AM on September 4, 2012


Although much smaller in size than at it's heyday, the organization still exists today. Converts, often added the suffix "Bey" to their surnames.

Notably, among others, Hakim Bey -- according to whom, the 'lost' tribe of Ben Ismael had some connection to the Moorrish Science Temple.
See also Gone to Croatan.
posted by y2karl at 11:44 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let it be noted that Hakim Bey and Peter Lamborn Wilson are one and the same....
posted by y2karl at 11:46 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just to connect some dots, Peter Lamborn Wilson is better know to quite a few people as Temporary Autonomous Zone author/NAMBLA-supporter Hakim Bey.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:46 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


and that's what I get for not previewing...
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:47 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ

It has to do with the astrological ages of the world, the position of the earth in relationship to the stars at the vernal equinox. Some believe the bible is littered with references to the astrological ages of the world, for example they believe Moses' destruction of the golden calf is actually allegory for the end of the age of Taurus. The Aquarian age is supposed to be marked by enlightenment and freedom, as opposed to our current Age, the age of fear and greed.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:51 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not a Quranic scholar...The Koran was written (recited?) at one time by one author, and it shows.

Clearly not.
posted by euphorb at 12:00 PM on September 4, 2012


I can't help but think that all of this is at least tangentially related to another group with Black Muslim roots, the Nuwabian Nation.
posted by TedW at 12:07 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Awesome post! TONS of stuff in here that's new for me, and really interesting.

I'll be forwarding it to my Old Earth and several of The Gods.
posted by broadway bill at 12:51 PM on September 4, 2012


I will read this post because I want to learn more about the Nation and the Moorish Scientists, but let's not call this group Muslims.

Why? Did someone trademark the name? That's how religion works-- someone takes a prevailing idea and reworks it to the point that it's almost unrecognizable. It wasn't until recently that Catholics freely described Protestants as "Christians," and they're both iffy about using the label for LDS. And it's absurd.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:51 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are Catholics iffy about using the label for LDS? I was under the impression that it's the American evangelical community that fairly recently (i.e. in the last 150 years) decided to get territorial about the term, notably excluding Catholicism, rather than the other way around. But I could be mistaken, and this is certainly a tangent.
posted by The World Famous at 12:53 PM on September 4, 2012


> I had a long-winded IM session with a now Moorish former college classmate who insisted that we shouldn't celebrate St. Patrick's Day because it was originally a holiday to celebrate driving blacks out of Ireland. Sigh.

That may sound ridiculous to you, but that's only because racists have spent years systematically hiding the truth that Ireland and the rest of Europe was peopled by Black Africans. It wasn't until the Black Death that White People supplanted the rightful inhabitants of Europe -- Black people -- and then stole their history. Why do you think it's called the "Black" Death? Why do you think it's called "White" washing?

I'm being facetious here, of course, but I had a boss who was a Black Hebrew Israelite, and basically every conversation about anything eventually when down this road though.
posted by Panjandrum at 1:00 PM on September 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


"That may sound ridiculous to you, but that's only because racists have spent years systematically hiding the truth that Ireland and the rest of Europe was peopled by Black Africans."

I know my history quite well. Because I read.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 1:02 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it really depressing that anyone ever believed this. I'm not a Quranic scholar (I'm pretty sure you have to read the whole Koran to qualify) but this is very obviously not the Koran.

My mother always jokes that "That stuff seems crazy now, but it seemed perfectly sane compared to the reality of life in America for most Black Folks back then"

I tried my hardest not to editorialize in the post, but there's an interesting argument to be had regarding how much of this stuff is absolutely ridiculous vs. the historical and social context in which it was conceived.

At the time of the great northern migration of Blacks in the early 20th century, there was a definite cultural and historical vacuum that was filled with a variety of new religions, community and political organizations. Some led by charlatans, but the vast majority were well meaning. A lot of it tended mostly a mish mash of second hand understanding from a variety of sources. Often the knowledge behind these new ideas was obtained surreptitiously, as Blacks were historically barred from the institutions where they were influenced by. Keep in mind, this isn't that far removed from a time when Black literacy was discouraged, punished, and in some places outright illegal.

Even in cases where knowledge was gained directly, among many there was a certain and understandable distrust of "The White Man's History".

Put simply, "Knowledge of self" was something those people at that time needed so bad, they were willing to believe just about anything to get it.

Full disclosure: I was raised in the Nation of Islam. My grandparents were converts in the 1950's of Malcolm X's Harlem Temple, and as a child we lived in Chicago where my Mother worked for the Nation of Islam's National Newspaper. My My mother left the Nation when I was about 7 years old. By that point, it was open knowledge in my family that Most of the literal teachings of the nation were factually ridiculous.

However the underlying message of self sufficiency, self-improvement, the quest for some sort of native identity, and the absolute necessity of knowledge as a route to freedom and equality...That's the part of all this that I think still manages to do some sort of good.

As an adult, I don't follow or espouse any of these teachings. I am however quite grateful to have been raised just far enough outside of the mainstream to also have missed the rest of the bullshit that everyone else was indoctrinated with. I never for a day was taught or believed any of what mainstream American Society, media, and history had to say about what it means to be Black.

And even among my friends of other races, the disillusionment a lot of them faced growing up to realize that a lot of what they were taught growing up about good and bad, right and wrong turned out to be crap. I was skeptical about all that from the beginning.

Also, to those who may take offense at these people calling themselves "muslim", I think the journey of Malcolm X is the most important takeaway from all of this. Most of the people I grew up around in the Nation Of Islam, eventually discovered true Islam and left the extreme views, separatism, and militancy of the Nation behind.
posted by billyfleetwood at 1:16 PM on September 4, 2012 [42 favorites]


Great post. Having done a reasonable amount of digging into this, I have never been able to shake the feeling that it's basically Scientology for blacks. The post, while an excellent primer, doesn't really capture the sheer lunacy of much of it: Big Headed Yakub, Ezekiel's Wheel and all the rest.

Also, watching some of the debates between various factions can be like stepping into another world. Rhetoric is king, logic a distant second. Here's one of my favourites, featuring a fellow called Natural Tahuti:

Preliminaries: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FMHwVt0RvQ (complete with explosions for when a particularly powerful super-slam is delivered)

The middle of one of these debates, posted just for general feel (upped by one of the sides involved FYI) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhgK9M4hfXQ&feature=relmfu

You can get more traditional debates too, but we've all seen that and so there's no need to post links - plenty of recorded ones available on YouTube if you're interested.
posted by Palindromedary at 1:18 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is an interesting concept that a secret history or forbidden knowledge may be excluded from written text but revealed through oral teaching or songs. It is the modern day equivalent of Follow the Drinking Gourd, but ya know.. less true. Oppressed groups have no real choice to spread forbidden knowlege by word of mouth or coded into songs.

Of course it is certainly not true that white people were created by an african scientist named Yakub, who is actually the biblical Jakob, as a race of devils to plague the original man any more than males were created by women via genetic engineering, as the Nuwabian Nation believes. The fact that they are excluded from the offical history proves they are true, just as the fact that they are excluded proves that the offical history as written in books is false.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:19 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: I find it really depressing that anyone ever believed this. I'm not a Quranic scholar (I'm pretty sure you have to read the whole Koran to qualify) but this is very obviously not the Koran.
Have you forgotten so soon the teachings of the Very Reverend P. T. Barnum, brother?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:22 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can distinguish between a real RELIGION AND A NOT SO REAL ONE BY CHECKING OUT THE HATS WORN...IN REAL RELIGIONS, LEADERS AND OFTEN FOLLOWERS WEAR OUTLANDISH HATS. IN FAKE RELIGIONS, NO HATS OR SKIMPY ONES. If you follow this you will note--sorry Mitt--that MORMONISM NOT a REAL RELiGION
posted by Postroad at 1:29 PM on September 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


What makes you so sure that outlandish hats are not the big secret of the Mormon temple?
posted by The World Famous at 1:32 PM on September 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Honest questions about the NGE and beliefs of the 5 percenters. They started from the Nation of Islam, which believes that white people came about as a race from a scientific eugenics experiment by Yakub. In this NOI line of thinking, white people are a devils, and Asian people are actually black people. I think (but I'm not sure) that it's all just the two races? Not really sure where a Native American would fit, for example.

Now we have the NGE. They believe that every Asiatic Blackman is (a?) God. Black women are Earth(s?). Asian people are black. By this line of thinking, are white people still devils? The disclaimer on their website doesn't really clear this up when possibly white = devil: "We are NOT ANTI-WHITE OR PRO BLACK, we are ANTI-DEVILISHMENT AND PRO-RIGHTEOUSNESS."
posted by Houstonian at 1:32 PM on September 4, 2012


And while I'm asking questions, I think I'm very clear on the stance of the NOI on Jewish people. Does the NGE have a similar stance?
posted by Houstonian at 1:45 PM on September 4, 2012


I think I'm very clear on the stance of the NOI on Jewish people.

As a interesting aside, Having been raised in the Nation of Islam during the time of Elijah Muhammad, I don't remember ever being taught anything anti-semitic. Not saying it wasn't there, but It for sure wasn't part of any core teachings. All that seemed to come later when Farrakhan took over. I can't say for sure if it's part of NGE teachings, but if it is, I would guess that it was co-opted later when Farrakhan started spouting that nonsense.
posted by billyfleetwood at 1:52 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The NOI page on the Southern Poverty Law Center's website does mostly quote Farrakhan, with a book and another quote dated 1991 and 1993.

Maybe 20 years ago, I bought one of the NOI newspapers folks were selling at a stoplight. I didn't know anything about their religion, but after reading the paper it seemed that race was definitely a cornerstone in their belief structure. Also, what I read was pretty racist. But that doesn't mean I'm not curious about their belief. I'm asking in good faith, if anyone else knows or has better googling skills than me.
posted by Houstonian at 2:05 PM on September 4, 2012


I've got a lot of mixed emotions about the NOI; I grew up on the south side of Chicago during the late 80's, early 90's, have a last name that may as well translate to Jewy McJewerson, and they were a huge part of my childhood.

Day to day, I mean, they were anti-semetic. They weren't horrible people, but it was some weird ass racism. Holocaust denying. Conversations like how Panjandrum were describing, stuff about how it wasn't my fault, I was just not quite as moral as them (like the same sort of tone most Evangelicals talk about how atheists/heathens are not capable of the same sort of morality), my brother wasn't allowed to sleep over at his best friend's house because his father didn't want him to encourage his friendship with a Jew, ect. There was one time where a kid at my school said that the Jews stole the Menorah from the Kwanzaa Kinara, and when the teacher explained what the difference was, a few members of the LSC went after her for trying to indoctrinate the children.

On the other hand, they gave a shit about the community and education. Part of the reason why the had such a good standing with middle class blacks for so long was because of this, and because they were pretty much the only ones that were giving a shit. Looking at what the south side and west sides of Chicago are doing this year, and how little the national media seems to care, yeah. It's almost enough to make me miss when they had a little more influence.

There's more to it, too. The black nationalist conversations where absolutely everything is a conspiracy are wrong, too, but there's so much history that's about covering up black accomplishments that it becomes more believable. And, well, there were plenty of white racists walking around talking about how blacks were killing their neighborhoods, too. Being scared of being beat up for being black in the wrong neighborhood seemed like a perfectly legitimate fear. The NOI were just the opposite extreme.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:25 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


TWF:What makes you so sure that outlandish hats are not the big secret of the Mormon temple?

Temple hats... apparently a bridal veilish hat for women and a bakers hat-like hat for men.

Also there's the whole Joseph Smith putting his face in a hat with a stone in it to translate the Book of Mormon, so they've got hat-wierdness covered.

(also, fyi regarding miters.)
posted by Jahaza at 2:29 PM on September 4, 2012


(I'm a practicing Mormon.)
posted by The World Famous at 2:33 PM on September 4, 2012


> The post, while an excellent primer, doesn't really capture the sheer lunacy of much of it

I don't really think point-and-laugh should be the focus of a MeFi post. And I'm deeply grateful that MeFi is lucky enough to have a member who was brought up in the NOI and understands it from the inside, which if not indispensable is certainly extremely helpful in creating such a well-informed post. (Speaking of which, don't miss the ancient y2karl post linked above; lots of good stuff there.)
posted by languagehat at 2:42 PM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


(Just to clarify, my pointing out above that I'm Mormon was intended just to make sure it's understood that my earlier comment about funny hats was a joke with a wink, and not that I take any offense at Jahaza's comment. I take none.)
posted by The World Famous at 2:47 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great post. And I'm loving people's discussion of their own experiences.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:47 PM on September 4, 2012


Thanks for this post! It really is useful.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:49 PM on September 4, 2012


languagehat: thanks for the link. I agree that point-and-laugh can be cheap, but I'm not suggesting that (I did compliment on an excellent post after all). Rather, there's a further element that needs to be portrayed if you want to get a full grasp of some elements of what's under discussion.

Pointing out that a big headed evil scientist from ages past supposedly created the white man through forced eugenics as a tool to destroy the blacks is both a) hilarious and b) can't be compared to something like, saying that "boy, the Pope sure wears a funny hat".
posted by Palindromedary at 2:50 PM on September 4, 2012


> there's a further element that needs to be portrayed if you want to get a full grasp of some elements of what's under discussion.

There are, practically speaking, an infinite number of elements in any cultural system that could theoretically be discussed, and a vast amount of pruning must take place even for a post as generous as this one. If you think a "hilarious" image like "a big headed evil scientist from ages past" is significant enough to be worth including, you're doubtless smack dab in the middle of the beating heart of MeFi culture, but the whole reason this post is so good is that it takes a different approach.
posted by languagehat at 2:55 PM on September 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes but we're clearly not talking about any random one of a near-infinite series of elements, with no more significance than any other old element (a point I was trying to make by bringing up Pope hats). Yakub is a central tenet of the Nation of Islam, and so is very much worth including. Pointing that out (and how silly it is) is not taking away from the discussion; asking for it to be ignored it because it excedes your level of permitted frivolity in a MetaFilter discussion does, and I don't have to be John Q. MeFi from deep in the heart of this forum to see that.
posted by Palindromedary at 3:17 PM on September 4, 2012


I'm under the impression that Farrakhan has sort of softened the stance,at least publicly, on Yakub creating white people to a metaphor about the descent of white people from black people. I think he has also walked back the notion that all white people are devils stating that devilishness is not dictated by skin color but by lack of righteousness. So there is at least a possibility that there exists some white people who are not devils. I certainly don't want to speak for Farrakhan though.

The story is really about as crazy as any creation myth, the whole thing is predicated on god creating man out of mud. I ain't going to balk at the notion that some guy bred white people 6,000 years ago.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:36 PM on September 4, 2012


Palindromery, just so ya know, this post was a direct result of this comment from another thread

There is a lot of rap mysticism I would love to know the roots of.

What is the basis of the lost tribe of Shabazz? It was in the Autobiography of Malcolm X and he got it from Elijah Muhommad, did Elija Muhommad invent it?

The concepts behind the Nation of Gods and Earths(five Percenters) like the supreme alphabet? Is this part of any tradition or just made up by Clarance 13X.

I wish someone would do some journalism about this stuff at least. As of now, it exists primarily in rap music.


It's just pure coincidence that I happened to have the exact contents of this post rolling around in my head the past 6 months or so. I think there's a pretty Epic novel in there somewhere. Not sure If I'm the one to write it though. Needless to say, the post that popped into my head, was 3 times longer, and twice as dense.

My goal was more about showing the lineage of these beliefs than the underlying philosophies behind them.

However, If I was going to examine the idea of Yakub's Grafted Devils more in depth, that conversation would start with the idea that as bananas a story as it is (And trust me, I think it is totally ridonkulous) it's no crazier than the actual history of Black people in America, and the concept of race that we all live with.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:17 PM on September 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


And thanks for doing the post. From my perspective, since I believe any of this as much as I believe christian theology, which is to say not at all, I am interested in it as a modern mythos. We are capable of talking about how christianity,as concept, informed western art without descending into "that shit is crazypants". Perhaps I am doing a disservice to believers by treating it solely as imagery, but then again we do that to christians every day.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:31 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks billyfleetwood. I want to state again that I thought your post was excellent, and of course no post is obligated to cover all angles or even perfectly cover the angle they've set out to. I just wanted to add to what was there, in a way dozens of posts have done so in dozens of threads in the past. It was in no way a knock against what you had accomplished.

Thanks for the thread.
posted by Palindromedary at 4:31 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


But of course, I'm happy people are discussing this stuff, and am very interested in what things people pick out as interesting/crazy/curious.

The best part of the whole thing? Once you know the story of Yakub's grafted devils, there's no way not to think of it a little whenver you read anything about genetics and evolution or watch the movie Blade Runner.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:41 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Knowing even a little bit about the NGE radically changes the way you hear old-school hip-hop, too.

Something like e.g. Brand Nubian's 'Drop the Bomb' pretty much went completely over my head when I first heard it in junior high school.
posted by box at 4:52 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it really depressing that anyone ever believed this. I'm not a Quranic scholar (I'm pretty sure you have to read the whole Koran to qualify) but this is very obviously not the Koran.

There's a whole 'nother post to be made about this, but what I find fascinating is how accretionist this is and thus how it in many ways parallels what was going on with white Christianity in the era just before, to wit, the Third Great Awakening.

I was raised in a church that is considered pretty mainline Protestant today, but which was itself a product of the earlier Great Awakenings and, locally, was founded by a bunch of Christian settlers from Upper New York State -- an area that was so affected by waves of Christian evangelization that it gained the name the Burned-Over District (and which was, incidentally, the birthplace of Mormonism). "My" Congregationalists -- mainly Anglo-Saxon in the 19th century -- and a more German sect called the Evangelical and Reformed engaged in a merger and mutual rationalization which formed the United Church of Christ (and which even reached out, later, to the Disciples of Christ and other churches that are super-conservative and very unlike, but which similarly use the name Church(es) of Christ). This ecumenicism is very similar to the ways in which NOI has tried to engage with global Islam and rationalize its own practices.

Viz. the LDS discussion above, there's an extent to which the "weird" practices of Mormonism have been tamped down and closed off from the public (not to mention the repudiation of polygamy) such that someone like Romney is more acceptable to evangelical Christians. I think there's a lot of interest here without having to label an offshoot as improper -- it's something that is of interest to Islamic scholars, but not something we need to choose, even if it's accurate.
posted by dhartung at 5:01 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Knowing even a little bit about the NGE radically changes the way you hear old-school hip-hop, too.

Wu-Tang uses the phrase Culture Cipher a bunch, in the supreme alphabet that stands for 40.

Brand Nubian uses the word Cipher in almost every song. I think for them they are accentuating the circular nature of 0, cycles and the completion of a cycle, a 360. I can't actually find any decent clips of that song though.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:13 PM on September 4, 2012


The use of the word 'cipher' to describe a circle of people trading freestyled verses (or rhyming writtens, as the case may be) is one of the many things that the larger hip-hop culture borrowed from the NGE.
posted by box at 5:32 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had no idea that this was behind some of my favourite old rap songs. All I could hear then was the emotion and skill, I'll have to relisten to pick up this new (to me) aspect. Thanks so much for posting it, it's fascinating!

Creating an emotionally resonant belief system with a built-in history is such a natural response to being cut off from your history and denied a sense of self and access to eduational institutions, I can see how it would have been very fulfilling for many people even as the inaccuracies became harder to ignore. Are many rap artists still Five Percenters? Or has it faded out of importance?
posted by harriet vane at 8:21 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a post; thank you.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:33 PM on September 4, 2012


Notably, among others, Hakim Bey -- according to whom, the 'lost' tribe of Ben Ismael had some connection to the Moorrish Science Temple.

Sadly, the Ben Ishmael - Moorish Science link is probably nonsense.
posted by mwhybark at 9:32 PM on September 4, 2012


As is most every factual claim Bey makes.
posted by idiopath at 8:49 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The more I read elements of this post, the better I understand many things about intelligent and gifted Black folk I know, and who are part of my family.
There IS a hidden history for most. That hidden history probably has little to do with Islam, Christianity or Judaism.
But whatever most Euro- Americans of that era thought of Islam, or whatever most Euro-Americans think now of Islam, it's still a religion which is not considered as 'pagan' or 'ignorant'
I personally do not think the ancient religions of African people are 'ignorant' or 'pagan' but other than variants of present day Voodoo, these religions got lost. Maybe stolen is more accurate.
The variant religions claiming to be Islam did serve some valuable purposes.
1. Nearly all prohibited drug use and alcohol.
2. Nearly all prohibited unhealthy foods. Pork is pretty unhealthy.
3. Nearly all encouraged strong family ties, and made sure their members were in some sense, married and tried to encourage provision for children.

Considering that the destructive effects of slavery on Black family life linger to this day, these are not at all bad contributions.

Yes these groups might be extremely heretical from any standard Muslim point of view, but the stated, even the unstated goals led to mostly good outcomes.

Eventually, someone who can read, write and reason is bound to get their hands on a PROPER translation of the Koran, and start getting it right.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:35 AM on September 5, 2012


One aspect of the historical reality of the Ben Ishmaels that I want to highlight in this thread is that they appear to have been a class, not a tribe or family necessarily, of poor white emigrants from the upper south who came to Indianapolis seeking industrial work. They were essentially defined into existence - and into nonwhite status - by white eugenicists in the lead-up to Indiana's notorious eugenics laws.

To my mind, that sounds a lot like the inverse of the "creation of the white race" myth mentioned up-thread. Racial identity in America really is partly the creation of eugenicists.

Browsing site history, it appears it has been some time since we looked at the Ben Ishmaels. Might be time for a revisit.
posted by mwhybark at 5:48 PM on September 5, 2012


Not truly on topic, but: Yusuf Bey
I read about this about a year after I moved to the bay area. I like local history, but this one is pretty sad.
posted by anotherkate at 10:50 PM on September 5, 2012


Katjusa Roquette: Eventually, someone who can read, write and reason is bound to get their hands on a PROPER translation of the Koran, and start getting it right.
Someone, maybe, but it hasn't help the Bible-thumpers any - and that book is readily available in their own houses in their own native language.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:47 AM on September 6, 2012


Browsing site history, it appears it has been some time since we looked at the Ben Ishmaels. Might be time for a revisit.

Bey's account, while a pretty story, is a bit too pretty to believe, which is why I attributed it to him in particular.

However, about eight or nine years ago, I worked for Corbis.com, tagging photographs from various sources. Most came from stock photo collections but a few came a part of recently acquired archives of news photos. One from one of the latter collections was a black and white photograph of an older black man in a shabby coat, bearded and weather beaten, taken on a city street. The caption accompanying it read ''member of Ben Ishmael tribe, Cinncinati.'' I have looked and looked online for that image ever since and have never found it. I so wish I had saved it and copied the caption and text accompanying it.
posted by y2karl at 12:09 PM on September 6, 2012


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