NUWAUBIANS . The term Nuwaubian refers to an African American religious communal group that has existed and continues to exist under a variety of names. Founded as the Ansaar Pure Sufi in 1967, it was subsequently known as the Nubian Islaamic Hebrew Mission, the Ansaaru Allah Community and more recently as the Ancient Mystic Order of Melchizedek, the Holy Tabernacle Ministries, the Yamassee Native American Tribe, and the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. Founder Michael York (b. June 26, 1945) has also assumed different names over the years beginning in 1969, including Amunnubi Rooakhptah, and later, at various times, As Siddid Al Imaan Isa Al Haahi Al Madhi, Chief Black Eagle, Nayya Malachizodoq-El, and Malachi Z. York. The changing image of the group and the shifting persona of its leader has often been a source of confusion and an additional rationale for disparaging remarks by critics.
York emerged in the African American community in Brooklyn, New York at the late 1960s, a time during which Black Nationalism represented by the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Nation of Islam and its various splinter groups was enjoying a revival. As had many of his contemporaries, during the 1960s York had served time for a variety of minor offenses from assault to possession of a deadly weapon. However, in 1967, he decided that his career was as a teacher, and he assumed the religious name Amunnubi Roakhptah and established the Ansaar Pure Sufi organization out of his apartment. Those attracted to his teachings donned black tunics as a sign of their membership. The group changed several times over the next few years, each change accompanied by the members' assuming a new dress and York taking a new name.
An important step was taken in 1970 when York renamed his following the Nubian Islaamic Mission. At that time, the members agreed to live communally. They moved into a house in Brooklyn and opened a bookstore and meeting hall. Growth of the group, along with larger crowds being attracted to its meetings, necessitated several moves over the next two years.
In 1972 York traveled to Sudan where he developed an identification with the legendary Sudanese military and religious leader Muḥammad Ahmed Ibn Abdullāh (1845–1885), best remembered for organizing a revolt against British rule and defeating them at Khartoum in 1885. Following his return, York called himself As Siddid Al Imaan Isa Al Haahi Al Madhi, and claimed descent from Muḥammad Abdullāh. Abdullāh is commonly referred to as al-Madhi and York identified him as the True Madhi, the predicted successor to the Prophet Muḥammad.
Following his return from Sudan, York made a second important change in the group. He separated the more dedicated believers who wanted to build a new nation from the more nominal members who loosely identified with the Islamic and African themes York preached. He now centered his attention only on those committed to the program he was developing.
Through the 1980s, the group was primarily known as the Ansaaru Allah Community and became a visible presence in the many American cities along the East Coast. They also began centers in the Caribbean—Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, and Guyana. The young adult members of the group, dressed in white, moved about the streets in the black community selling York's books and otherwise spreading his message. York has been a prolific writer, authoring over 400 books and booklets (many transcripts of his talks) covering a wide range of topics from UFOs to personal hygiene.
The teachings of the Nuwaubians were built around the development of a new understanding of African American people (a project not unlike that undertaken of the Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam previously). York drew upon the Christian Bible and the Holy Qur'ān for an initial affirmation of Allah as Alone in His Power, the All, the Oneness. Jesus is seen as the Messiah. York taught that Muḥammad, the last of the prophets in the lineage of Adam, passed his lineage to his daughter Fatima (610–633 ce) and son-in-law Ali (599–661 ce).
Adam and Eve (or Hawwah) were Nubian (black people). Problems developed for Adam's descendents in Noah's (or Nuwh) time. One of Noah's sons, Ham, desired to commit sodomy after having come upon his father in an unclothed condition. For his sin, his fourth son, Canaan, was stricken with leprosy, thus acquiring a pale skin. The light-skinned races are descendants of Canaan. An additional important step in human development came with Noah's descendent Abraham. From his son, Isaac and grandson Jacob, came the Israelites. They were enslaved for 420 years in Egypt. From his son Ismael came the Ismaelites, or Nubians. The Nubians include the black people of the United States, the West Indies, and other parts of the globe. York asserted that it was predicted that they would be in slavery for about 400 years at some point. Because of their descent from Abraham, they are rightfully also called Hebrews, just as the modern Jews.
Defining the belief structure of the Nuwaubians in detail has been made all the more difficult by its fluid nature, the constant changes to which it has been subjected, and the seeming esoteric elements not available to outside scrutiny.
In 1993 the group began still another transition. York officially changed his name to Malachi York. The next year, approximately 400 members of the group, most from Brooklyn, purchased some 476 acres near Eatonton, Georgia. At this time they became known by their four current designations: The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, the Yamassee Native American Tribe, the Ancient Mystic Order of Melchizedek, and the Holy Tabernacle Ministries. It is as the leader of these four entities that York assumes his varied names: Chief Black Eagle, Nayya Malachizodoq-El, and Malachi Z. York.
As conceived by the group, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors identifies with its Middle Eastern Sudanese and Abrahamic past. As the Yamassee Native American Tribe, the group claims a relationship to a Native-American people, the Yamassee, who resided in Georgia. The Nuwaubians have asserted their belief that the Yamassee were the original residents of Georgia who came to North America from the Nile Valley prior to the separation of the continents via continental drift.
Through their identification with the Yamassee, who signed over their lands to the United States in 1829, the Nuwaubians have attempted to establish their claim to be a separate nation. They have asserted their claim as an indigenous people who should be seen as an indigenous nation (following United Nations definitions) in pursuit of autonomy. As such, they do not recognize the jurisdiction of the United States and its laws over them, and have created their own constitution and legal code. The Ancient Mystical Order of Melchizedek is a lodge in the Masonic tradition. People who are considered Nubians but who are not presently members of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors may join the lodge. The lodge dues are received as income by the Nuwaubians.
The Holy Tabernacle Ministries is an umbrella organization that holds the other three groups together, and through which the group interacts with the outside world. It also distributes the group's books and literature. The ministries manage a group of bookstores located in various cities which have been an additional source of income for the group.
Prior to its movement to Georgia in the early 1990s, the Ansaaru Allah Community was somewhat lost in the larger Islamic world and overshadowed by the better-known Nation of Islam. Occasionally a reporter learned of its existence and a few scholars began to monitor it.
However, once they moved to Georgia in the early 1990s, controversy placed the Nuwaubians on the front page. The initial issues raised by the group were relatively local and minor. Neighbors were disturbed by the influx of so many people to their Georgia center and their slowness to bring buildings up to legal codes. The controversy was heightened by the group's separatism. These problems likely would have been overcome in time had not the revelations of secret illicit behavior on the part of York and several close associates come to light.
The situation locally became focused on the group's erection of a set of highly decorated buildings and statues modeled on ancient Egypt. To the group, these buildings made their identification with the ancient Egyptians visible and immediately drew the attention of both African Americans and Native Americans. Local white residents found the buildings out of place, and legal authorities called attention to building-code violations in the construction and maintenance of them.
The various controversies surrounding the Nuwaubians were put aside, however, when in 2002 York was arrested on numerous charges of child molestation and a variety of additional associated charges stemming from his use of children for sexual purposes. The investigation by federal authorities had been going on for four years. Other members of the group were arrested for their roles in facilitating York's predatory activity. York was convicted in federal court in January 2004 on charges involving racketeering and transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes. He had previously confessed to a number of the child molestation charges. As of 2004, the appeals process in York's case continues. There is every reason to believe that the Nuwaubians may face a series of civil cases once the criminal issues are resolved.
The Nuwaubian Nation of Moors is one of a spectrum of religious groups that became involved in major illegal activity and faced the incarcerations of their founders. Amid public outrage over York's behavior, some members of the group have remained loyal to his teachings and the organizations he created. They have viewed York as a target of religious persecution, and in the years prior to his arrest, a variety of African American leaders came to the group's defense. In light of York's conviction and the revelation of the many charges against him, the continuance of the group has been called into question. However, other groups have survived during and after the incarcerations of their founders (e.g., Israelite House of David, Alamo Christian Foundation, Unification Movement). Given various scenarios that may or may not occur, the future of the Nuwaubians remains unpredictable.
The several scholarly accounts of the Nuwaubians were written prior to the revelations about York's sexual life, and the current account of the group must be created from the many items of newspaper coverage scattered on the internet.
Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, and Jane Idleman Smith. Mission to America: Five Islamic Sectarian Communities in North America. Gainesville, Fla., 1993. Includes a brief chapter on the Nuwaubians focusing on their Islamic phase.
Ahmad, Muhammad [pseudo. Michael York]. The Only True Madhi!. Brooklyn, N.Y., 1984. An early account of York's assertion of his unique leadership role.
Palmer, Susan J. and Steve Luxton. "The Ansaaru Allah Community: Postmodernist Narration and the Black Jeremiad." In New Trends and Developments in the World of Islam, edited by Peter B. Clarke, pp. 353–370. London, 1998. Possibly the most complete secondary source on the Nuwabians written prior to York's arrest.
Philips, Abu Ameenah Bilal. The Ansaar Cult in America. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1998. A polemic attack on Nuwabian teachings from an Orthodox Islamic perspective.
J. Gordon Melton (2005)