By Brian Birmingham

The Moorish Science Temple of America is this country’s first and oldest so-called “Black nationalist” organization, as well as this country’s first and oldest “Black Muslim” organization. It was founded in Newark, New Jersey in 1913, by a man named Noble Drew Ali.

Noble Drew Ali called himself God’s prophet, and he presented a book which he said was given to him by an Egyptian high priest. This book is called the Circle Seven Koran. Ali said that he was the reincarnation of Jesus, as well as Buddha, Confucius, and Muhammad. He also claimed that the Black nationalist and separatist Marcus Garvey was his John the Baptist, the person who “prepared the way” for him.

This description of Marcus Garvey is stated within Chapter 48:1-3 of the Circle Seven Koran, which is the holy book of the Moorish Science Temple of America.

Noble Drew Ali apparently took some of the ideas and teachings of Marcus Garvey and others to create a religion and write religious texts. Ali then presented himself as God’s prophet to the United States of America.

Noble Drew Ali is an important American historical figure. He was the first leader of a Black nationalist group in American history.

Noble Drew Ali

Ali played the pivotal role in establishing the Moorish Science Temple of America. And without Ali there would never could have been an Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam or a Louis Farrakhan.

The Nation of Islam is essentially a splinter group that broke away from the Moorish Science Temple of America in 1930, after the death of Noble Drew Ali in 1929.

Frank Cherry first started to preach an early version of what are now called the “Black Hebrew” beliefs in the late 19th Century. But it was Noble Drew Ali who first explained that Islam was the true religion of the “Asiatic,” which is a word he used instead of “Black” or “Negro” regarding African Americans.

This Summer I interviewed Sheikh Ra Saadi El, who is the Supreme Grand Sheikh and Chief of Ministers for the Moorish Science Temple of America. He is the leader and Executive Ruler of a Moorish American group, which is descended directly from Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple.

More about Sheikh Ra Saadi El can be found here.

The complete interview is here.

We talked about Rise of the Moors, a group that was in the news in recent months. Rise of the Moors claims to be related to the historical Moorish Science Temple and also seems to borrow its ideas in part from the notorious Nuwaubians.

Within the context of my interview with Sheikh Ra Saadi El we discussed the general history, belief and practices of the Moorish Science Temple and the teachings of Noble Drew Ali.

Noble Drew Ali was the first person to preach that “Black people” are not “Black,” but rather Moorish, the descendants of the Moors and therefore are “Moorish” by nationality.

It seems to me that in religious and sociological terms, the Moorish Science Temple of America, with its lineage going back to Noble Drew Ali, has evolved into an Islamic sect, rather than simply staying an idiosyncratic personality cult, defined by its founder.

The Moorish Science Temple does have its own unique prophet Noble Drew Ali and book, Circle Seven Koran, its own prayers, rituals, Holy Days, mode of dress, dietary restrictions, style of worship and other religious trappings. But unlike many other Black Muslim groups, it is not a racist or an identity supremacist organization.

In its early days, the Moorish Science Temple fit two of the core characteristics described by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton is his paper published at Harvard titled “Cult Formation.”

Lifton wrote, “Certain psychological themes which recur in these various historical contexts also arise in the study of cults. Cults can be identified by three characteristics:

1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;

2. a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform.”

But the third characteristic cited by Lifton necessary for a cult to be considered destructive is evidence that there has been “economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.”

Based upon what I have learned neither Noble Drew Ali or the Moorish Science Temple have hurt or exploited people within their sphere of influence. Perhaps the organization might be considered a benign cult. It did come into being through a charismatic leader that arguably became and object of worship based upon his particular religious claims and there was intense indoctrination that may have led to undue influence regarding the recruitment and retention of members. But Ali and the movement he began have never used that influence to exploit or abuse anyone.

I could not find any record of harm done to anyone by Noble Drew Ali, the Moorish Science Temple, or even allegations of abuse or exploitation.

In fact, the Moorish Science Temple of America has nothing whatsoever to do with extremist groups like “Rise of the Moors,” the so-called “Nuwaubian Nation of Moors,” or any other groups that use the name “Moors,” which are known to promote racist or supremacist ideology. And as an institution, or more properly a movement of historically linked institutions, as there are three Moorish American groups claiming to be historically descended from Noble Drew Ali’s original organization, they have virtually no history of bad press, major scandal, or public reports of abuse or exploitation.

Regardless of whether one believes that Noble Drew Ali was a prophet of God or not, no one can deny that he was and is one of the most important religious leaders of the 20th century, who left behind a legacy of peaceful practice.

Note: Brian Birmingham is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a BA in Psychology and Sociology. He is a native of Dallas.