Noble Drew Ali (1886–1929), Religious Leader

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Noble Drew Ali
(1886–1929), religious leader.

Noble Drew Ali was the founder and prophet of the Moorish Science Temple of America, the first mass religious community in the history of American Islam and the black nationalist model for the Nation of Islam. He was born Timothy Drew on January 8, 1886, to parents who were ex-slaves in North Carolina. His earliest followers believed that he was an orphan for most of his childhood and was raised by the Cherokee Indians. After several years as a merchant seaman, he established the Canaanite Temple, the first Moorish-American community, in Newark, New Jersey, in 1913. In the 1920s, he renamed his community several times, as the Moorish Holy Temple of Science, the Moorish Science Temple of America, and the Moorish Divine and National Movement of North America, Inc., and founded new temples in several midwestern and southern cities. The Moorish-American community grew to approximately thirty thousand members and was the largest Islamic community in the United States before the ascendancy of the Nation of Islam in the 1950s.

Inspired by the political and cultural creativity of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association and the Great Migration of black southerners to the northern cities, Noble Drew Ali set up his headquarters in Chicago in 1923 and claimed to be the second prophet of Islam. His esoteric spiritual philosophy was constructed from Islamic, Christian, and Freemasonic sources. The Moorish Americans wore turbans and fezzes; they replaced their surnames from slavery with "El" or "Bey"; they created their own nationality cards and flag; and they called themselves "olive-skinned Asiatics," descendants of Morocco, instead of Negroes or colored people. In 1927, Ali wrote their sacred text, the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple, also called the Circle Seven Koran, to teach his followers their pre-slavery religion, nationality, and genealogy. To support his case for a Moorish-American identity, he emphasized two important points: first, black Americans were really "Asiatics," the descendants of Jesus; and second, the destiny of western civilization was linked to the rise of the "Asiatic" nations—Asians, Africans, Native Americans, and African Americans.

In the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple, Noble Drew Ali also argued that truth, peace, freedom, justice, and love were the Islamic ideals that his followers should emulate. However, in the late 1920s, corrupt businessmen joined the Moorish-American community. They embezzled a fortune from its small businesses and the Moorish Manufacturing Corporation and began to plot the prophet's death. His downfall began on March 15, 1929, when his business manager, Claude Greene, was murdered in Chicago. Noble Drew Ali was arrested and incarcerated for the murder and died mysteriously after he had been released on bond, several weeks later. The Moorish Science Temple of America survived in factions after Noble Drew Ali's death, and the Moorish Americans believed that their prophet would be reincarnated in his successor. Their community received official recognition for its Islamic linkages to Morocco from the Moroccan ambassador to the United States in 1986.

See alsoAfrican-American Religions; Islam; Nation of Islam.


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Turner, Richard Brent. IslamintheAfrican-AmericanExperience. 1997.

Wilson, Peter Lamborn. SacredDrift:Essayson theMargins of Islam. 1993.

Richard Brent Turner