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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Wednesday, October 30, 2002
2:09 PM

Food for thought... That is, food for thought for me. Middle East expert Daniel Pipes was kind enough to reply to a query I sent him recently about the relationship between Islam and the Nation of Islam. As regular readers know, I've been making the case that the two are scarcely the same thing, and newspapers shouldn't be describing alleged sniper John Muhammad as a convert to Islam if, in fact, he simply joined the Nation of Islam. Here's my basic question and his response:

Me: But isn't it more accurate to think of the Nation of Islam as an American black-identity movement?

Daniel Pipes:That's how it started but it has been moving steadily toward normative Islam for 40 years. I have a chapter on just this in my new book, MIRA, noted below.

MIRA is short for Militant Islam Reaches America, a book I now plan to read. I recommend everyone read anything Pipes writes.

I wrote to him after reading his recent Jewish World Review piece in which he states that Muhammad converted to Islam 17 years ago. In addition to a lack of information out there on what the Nation of Islam actually represents, this helps explain all those stories about Muhammad converting to Islam--perhaps that's what he really did, imagine that, and then later migrated to NOI. That's Pipes' impression, anyway. Most of the accounts have Muhammad joining NOI in 1997, so that scenario is possible.

However, my understanding of NOI is that parts of it were indeed migrating to traditional Islam; that one of Elijah Muhammad's sons was leading it in that direction; and that its main branch basically dissolved as that process was nearly complete. (This happened well after Malcom X left NOI and joined traditional Islam after his famous hajj to Mecca, where he observed people of all races worshiping the same God on an equal footing.) And my understanding is that while the merger with traditional Islam was taking place, Louis Farakkhan reinvigorated NOI in a return to its own, well, traditional roots that include black-identity concepts and stories about black gods creating whites, blowing up the earth, etc. In any case I certainly need to learn more about this and will commence my studies anon.

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