Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Nation of Islam" as a UFO religion

by Salman Hameed

This week's New Yorker has a review of a new book on Malcolm X. The book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, seems to be a even-handed treatment of this fascinating figure. Unfortunately, the author of the book died a few days before the release of the book.

But this is not why I'm writing this post. Instead, the review in the New Yorker reminded me of some of the UFO-related beliefs of Nation of Islam. Now, I first encountered Nation back in early 1990s in my undergraduate days at Stony Brook. There was of course much confusion about the name Islam in their title. After talking to some of their members, it was quickly obvious that when they say Islam, they are talking about something completely different. Not a different sect, or a splinter group. Rather, it was a non-overlapping category.

I did vaguely remember some UFO component to the Nation of Islam. I'm currently teaching a class on Aliens, and this coming week, we will be talking about UFO and abduction related religions and spiritualities. In particular we are looking the Aetherius Society and the Unarius Academy of Science. The following week we'll get to Raelians. All of these religions are are a product of the age of science. Since science dominates every sphere of life, it is little surprise that they see super-powereful aliens as gods. Fascinatingly, there are also books that find the mention of UFOs in the Old and New Testaments, and in the Qur'an. It is the same drive. Bringing in old religions up to date with the paranormal phenomenon of the scientific age (I know, I know, there are a lot of contradictions in the previous sentence).

But then we have the Nation of Islam. It is also a religion predominantly of the 50s and 60s (though it started a bit earlier) - the height of the cold war, racial tensions in the US, and the UFO hype (these are not all equal in their hype). I find it very interesting that it used the UFO motif for racial construction of its narrative. This is all the more interesting, as most of the UFO religions are predominantly white. At the same time, the most widely cited abduction case, that of Betty and Barney Hill of New Hampshire, involved an inter-racial couple, and they did have a conversation with aliens about race relations in the US. This "encounter" took place in 1961. I had not thought about race and UFO religions before, but the New Yorker article about Malcolm X got me thinking in this direction.

Here is the bit about the origin story of Nation of Islam from the New Yorker:
If you are a believer (and very few are these days), the origins of the Nation of Islam stretch back thousands of years, to a time when blacks, the “original people,” were assaulted by a mutant white race created by an evil “Big Head” scientist named Yacub. The whites achieved dominion over the earth and blacks “went to sleep,” mentally and spiritually. The purpose of the Nation of Islam was to rouse the black man from his slumber. (Armed spaceships come into it, too.) Such were the teachings of Wallace D. Fard, an ex-con, silk salesman, and eccentric storefront preacher who turned up in a Detroit ghetto around 1930. Fard also had more earthly advice. He told his followers to avoid alcohol, to work hard and save money, to own their own businesses, and to regain a sense of the nobility of their race. His Nation of Islam represented a cultish offshoot of a venerable American movement, black nationalism.
And perhaps also an offshoot UFO religions. Read the full article here. Here is a speech by Louis Farrakhan from 2010 that includes a discussion of the the UFO Mothership and also references to the Bible (especially the Wheel of Ezekiel. It even has schematics of the Mothership (about 4 minutes in) about a mile long and is supposed to have contained 1500 bomber planes. He is a captivating speaker and this is nice demonstration of how religious views gets meshed in with the idea of UFOs. By the way, he even manages to L. Ron Hubbard - though not for his Church for Scientology. In any case, all of this is academically fascinating!


Anonymous said...

The wheel

Mohamed said...

Salman. Do NOI members view themselves as Muslims, that is, pray 5 times, observe Ramadan, go to Mecca, etc.? If not, why do they use the term ‘Islam’ in their title? I like your blog because it’s about the only place that discusses the interaction between science and the various forms of Islam in any depth. Keep up the good work!

Salman Hameed said...

Thanks Mohamed.

As far as I know, NoI members do not pray 5 times (as a doctrine - not as a lack of piety), and I don't think they fast either. I think they are Muslims in the same sense as there are New Religion in the US that have "Christian" or "Science" attached to them, and they have not much to do with Christianity or science.

But yes, they are monotheists and use "Allah" for God. There is also much confusion. This is the reason, Malcolm X went for Hajj - and was confused to see people of all races there. He then switched to mainstream Islam in the last year of his life, and moved away from NoI.

I think the best way to think about NoI is not as an offshoot of Islam or any thing like that. Rather, it is closer in tradition to new religions of the US.

mthokozisi said...

my brother im 4rm south africa,can u plz study carefully and abserve noi again.these are not jst ordinary muslims,these muslims are true believers and allah has bless them 2 undrstnd Quran and the bible more then us.

Anonymous said...

Your Aliens class at Hampshire College is the shiiiiiiit Salman!!!!

Ilia Rashad Muhammad said...

The much-anticipated book, UFOS AND THE NATION OF ISLAM: The Source, Proof, And Reality Of The Wheels has released. Author, Ilia “Rashad” Muhammad puts forth challenging arguments that offer substantial proof and documented evidence regarding the Nation of Islam’s (NOI) relationship to the modern UFO phenomena. His compendium of research answers what academics, researchers, and even UFOlogists have deliberately avoided.