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Noble Drew Ali, or Timothy Drew, founded The Moorish Science Temple of America based on the belief that African-Americans originated from the Moors in Northwest Africa. He established the new religion of Moorish Science and believed himself to be a prophet sent to save the moors of America. Despite his radical views on race, Drew Ali mostly focused on giving African-Americans a new sense of identity, inspiring civic involvement, and forging bonds between all races and cultures.

A Mysterious Childhood

Noble Drew Ali was born Timothy Drew somewhere in North Carolina on January 8, 1886. Some historians believe he was the son of a Muslim father from Morocco and a Cherokee mother.[1] Others believe a Cherokee tribe adopted him and was produced by two runaway slaves.[2]

Beliefs of Noble Drew Ali

Noble Drew Ali’s required members to add the Moorish suffix to their last name to help decedents of former slaves reconcile the loss of their family’s name without being forced to adopt their given European surnames.

Noble Drew Ali believed all African-Americans are Moorish people, or Moors, and are decedents of the Moabites, an ancient civilization from Northwest Africa. He believed Islam to more favorable for the earthly salvation of moors in America. He required men to wear a fez and women to wear turbans as part of his teachings.

Members of the Moorish Science Temple added El, Bey, or Ali at the end of their last names, denoting their heritage and signify taking on their new life as a Moor.He advocated for Moorish-Americans to reject hate, racism, and the use of negative labels like “black”, “negro”, and “colored”. He believed Moorish-Americans be moral leaders and set good examples within the community.[3]

The Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America

Drew Ali believed himself to be a prophet and documented his reasoning and his religious beliefs in a biography. The book combined with other writings and became known as The Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America. Drew Ali describes in it how he met a magical Egyptian high priest while traveling and the priest considered him a reincarnation of Muhammad, Buddha, Jesus, or another religious prophet. He states the priest taught him mysticism and supplied him with a lost part of the Quran.

The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ make up the first 19 chapters and were written by Levi Dowling, a preacher from Ohio. Unto Thee I Grant, a Rosicrucian text, comprise the next 26 chapters and Noble Drew Ali wrote the final four himself.[4]

The Moorish Science Temple of America

Noble Drew Ali first established the Canaanite Temple in 1913 in Newark, New Jersey. His extreme racial and religious views concerned many in the community. After a short time, he decided to close the temple and try again elsewhere.[5]

Ali Drew gained several followers from the Canaanite Temple and they joined him as he migrated west and formed congregations along the way. They expanded the Moorish nation to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Detroit, Michigan. In 1925, he chose to settle in Chicago because the attitudes in the area registered “closer to Islam.”[6]

Noble Drew Ali and his Moorish Science Temple of America promoted civic duty and the acceptance of all races and cultures.

Drew Ali registered the new Temple Number Nine in 1926. He urged his congregation to integrate respectfully and remain non-confrontational in order to help change the perception of Moorish people throughout the U.S. by being a positive example.[7] The Moorish Science Temple founded 17 temples and registered 35,000 members in Midwest and northern part of the South by the late 1920s.[8]

The Moorish Science Temple supported its followers by helping them start businesses following Marcus Garvey’s model from the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League.[9] The Temple grew in size and reputation and in 1928 the African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender, ran many beneficial stories and Temple members began collaborating with Daniel Jackson, a prominent black businessman, and politician.[10]

Schism and Drew Ali’s Death

Early in the following year, Chicago Temple Number One’s business manager, Claude Green-Bey, instigated the first split from the main Moorish Science Temple after an argument about funding. He took several members from the temple and dubbed himself the Grand Sheik. His term did not last long and someone stabbed Green-Bey to death on March 15 at the Unity Hall of the Indiana Avenue Moorish Science Temple.[11]

Police arrested Noble Drew Ali and other community members for inciting the killing of Green-Bey, even though he was not in Chicago at the time. Drew Ali dealt with Ezaldine Muhammad, the ex-Supreme Grand Governor also known as Lomax Bey, who supported the split. The did not indict Ali Drew and released him soon after his arrest in July 1929.

Noble Drew Ali, or Timothy Drew, died on July 20, 1929, in his Chicago home.[12] His official certificate of death states he died of “tuberculosis broncho-pneumonia”[13] The Chicago Defender and many members of the Moorish nation believed his death to be at the hands of police and “that the ordeal of the trial together with the treatment he received at the hands of police in an effort to obtain true statements are directly responsible for the illness which precipitated his death.”[14][15]

References

Bibliography

Chicago Defender. (1929, July 27). "Drew Ali, 'Prophet' of Moorish Cult, Dies Suddenly", Chicago Defender.

Chicago Tribune (1929, May 14) "Cult Head Took Too Much Power, Witnesses Say”. Chicago Tribune


Gomez, M. A. (2005). Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Nance, S. (2002). Respectability and Representation: The Moorish Science Temple, Morocco, and Black Public Culture in 1920s Chicago. American Quarterly, 54(4), 623–659. doi:10.1353/aq.2002.0039

Wilson, P. L. L. (1993). Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam. San Francisco: City Lights Books.


Footnotes

  1. Gomez, 2005
  2. Wilson, 1993
  3. Nance, 2002
  4. Drew Ali, N. (2014). The Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America. United States: Lushena Books.
  5. Paghdiwala, T. (2007, November 15). The Aging of the Moors: Eighty years ago a prophet came to the south side of Chicago and drew thousands of followers. Today the remaining few moors face an uncertain future. The Chicago Reader.
  6. Wilson, 1993
  7. Gomez, 2005
  8. Chicago Tribune, 1929
  9. Gomez, 2005
  10. Nance, 2002
  11. Chicago Tribune, 1929
  12. Chicago Defender, 1929
  13. Perkins, W. E. (1996). Droppin' Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture, Temple University Press.
  14. Chicago Defender, 1929
  15. Wilson, 1993

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