There is a long history of African Americans practicing Islam in the United States. Scholars suggest that the roots of Islam within the Black community can be found within the slave populations. Approximately 40% of enslaved people within the Atlantic slave trade were Muslims (Mohaiemen). However, most of their belief systems were erased during the Civil War. Despite this erasure, Islam became deeply interwoven in African-American culture. Islam is incorporated within the African American community, not just as a religion but as a way of life. The Black community has spread Islam through hip-hop music during the Civil Rights Era.
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Although African Americans did not practice what was considered mainstream Islam in the 1960s, Black Muslims formed another influential sect known as the 5 Percenter Muslim Sect. This division was started by Clarence 13X, who was originally a member of the Nation of Islam. The main focus of the 5 Percenter was the scientific theory, numerology, and extreme race theory (Mohaiemen). For instance, they believed that only 5% of the population was enlightened and hence their name. The group had a large impact on music and, in particular, rap songs. However, many Sunni Muslims refused to acknowledge this sect because of their unconventional beliefs. Nevertheless, the sect gave way for African-Americans to be exposed to other sects of Islam. The 5 Percenter rappers influenced many African-Americans to join Islam.
Islam also spread among Black Americans via the music genre hip hop. Hip hop was popular in streets and low-income neighborhoods where many Muslims lived. Islam is considered to have birthed rap music during the late 1960s. A group known as the Last Poet used music and poetry to protest the injustices directed toward African Americans. Some of the founding members of this group were Suliman El Hadi, Abiodun Oyewole, and Jalal Nurridin (Mohaiemen). They spread the message of awakening to social and racial justice. Although they did not necessarily talk about Islam during their performances, they discussed it afterward. Many Black people became Muslims as a result of the Last Poet’s influence.
African-Americans also played a key role in Islam, as evidenced by the growth of American Islam. For instance, Malcolm X, a Civil Rights Movement Leader, was a Muslim (Mohaiemen). At first, he embraced Sunni Islam and was a member of the Nation of Islam organization. He later renounced this and founded Islamic Muslim Mosque Inc., which attracted many Black Americans to Islam during its existence. Another influential figure in the African-American community that popularized Islam was Muhammad Ali (Mohaiemen). Many people across America and Asia admired the conviction with which he practiced the religion. For instance, he dropped his “slave name” in favor of his Islamic name. Therefore, African Americans were important to Islam because they facilitated its spread in the United States.
Islam occupies an important place in African-American history and culture. The rise of hip hop was influenced by Islam. Additionally, religion played a key role in advancing social and racial justice during the 1960s. In turn, African Americans are important to Islam because they form a significant portion of the world’s Muslims. The dismissal of African-Americans Muslims as a minority perpetuates certain stereotypes, such as the belief that Black people do not practice Islam. Instead, it is essential to acknowledge the role that African Americans played in spreading Islam. Understanding the intricate intersection between Islam and the Black experience is vital in fighting issues such as racism and Islamophobia.
Mohaiemen, Naeem. “Fear of a Muslim Planet: Hip-hop’s Hidden History.” Forum, vol. 3, no. 6, 2008. Web.