Founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad, the Nation of Islam (NOI) advocates Black supremacism and the creation of an Afro-American nation separate from whites, whom it considers inferior beings and often refers to as "devils". Although it claims to be part of Islam, the NOI's practices and beliefs set it apart, and it is deemed heretical by both Sunni and Shia Islam. It claims that a superior Black race originally inhabited the Earth, that the white race was brought into existence 6,000 years ago by an evil sorcerer, and that the Arabs usurped the paternity of Islam and the Arabic language from Black Africans.
The NOI rose to fame when the champion boxer Cassius Clay, renamed Mohamed Ali, joined its ranks, as did Malcolm X. The Black radical leader became the group's best-known preacher, before leaving in 1964 and turning towards Sunni Islam and a more universalist message. Malcolm X's renunciation of the movement is often cited as the motivation behind his assassination in 1965 by members of the NOI. Rejecting any rapprochement with Sunnism, Louis Farrakhan took over as head of the NOI in 1978, redirecting efforts towards its nationalist supremacist foundations. Farrakhan turned the NOI into a structured and financially powerful organization, receiving funds from Muammar Gaddafi.
Under Farrakhan's leadership, the NOI, which only has a membership of less than 50,000, has held considerable influence in some Democratic party and left-wing circles. It has also become notorious for countless racist, antisemitic, sexist and homophobic statements. The declarations typically contain a conspiratorial dimension, mainly from the group's leader. The NOI considers Jews to be ‘"impostors" who have falsified the Bible, usurped the identity of the Hebrews and the status of the chosen people from the Blacks. Farrakhan and his followers often refer to the Jewish community as the "Synagogue of Satan", an ancient antisemitic trope associating Judaism with the work of the devil.
Farrakhan has stated on numerous occasions that Jews or "Zionists" control the American government, finance and the media and that they were responsible for the "false flag" operations of 9/11, the war in Iraq, and even that they financed Adolf Hitler. He also believes that the Arab Spring was orchestrated by the United States, that there is a US government conspiracy against African-Americans, and that Jews and the West are secretly working to impose homosexuality on Blacks.
In 1991, Farrakhan published a book inspired by Holocaust denial ideology. The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews repeated the accusation that Jews invented slavery, a theory propagated by America's White supremacist movement in the 1960s.
Khalid Abdul Muhammad, who became spokesman for the NOI in 1985, caused a scandal in a 1993 speech attacking Whites, homosexuals and Jews, describing them as "bloodsuckers" of the Black community. He also described Jews as "hook-nosed imposters" who "manipulate Congress, manipulate the White House" and hold Black celebrities "in the palm of their white hand". In 1997 he declared: "Who are the powerful rich pulling the strings? Why is the Federal Reserve controlled by so-called Jews?". He also spread Holocaust denial, stating that "the figure of 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis was inflated, exaggerated, probably fabricated" and blaming the Jews for their fate. "Nobody ever asks 'what they did to Hitler? What they did to his people?'. They went there, to Germany, as they did everywhere else, and they took over, they usurped, they turned everything upside down to the point where a German, in his own country, was almost obliged to turn to a Jew for money. They had undermined the very structure of society."
In a 1995 speech, Malik Zulu Shabbazz, an influential figure in the movement and disciple of Khalid Abdul Muhammad (who died in 2001) also accused Jews of controlling the Federal Reserve, the media and Black celebrities, and of being behind the murders of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Nat Turner, an African-American hero revered for leading a slave protest in 1831.
In 2017, the NOI preacher Wesley Muhammad denounced the existence of a "cannabis conspiracy", claiming that the US government and the "Synagogue of Satan" were circulating chemically modified marijuana to emasculate and feminise Black men in America, and turning them into homosexuals.
The NOI has also embraced an anti-vaccination stance, generally tinged with conspiracy theories. In a 2004 interview, Abdul Alim Muhammad, the NOI's "Minister of Health", spoke of "thousands of children killed or disabled by vaccines in the United States alone" and "the many new and re-emerging diseases that are caused by vaccines". In a 2013 speech Farrakhan, referring to the situation in Zimbabwe, lamented that Westerners were "intentionally putting poisons in vaccines to limit the Black population in those countries and places in the world where the United States has deemed its need for minerals and vital resources indispensable". Tony Muhammad, head of the NOI for the West coast of the US, and also a Scientology follower, is one of the organization’s most vocal peddler of vaccination conspiracies, and is close to the anti-vaxxer campaigner Robert F. Kennedy Jr. In a speech in 2015 Muhammad denounced a plot by the US government to use the MMR vaccination, which he claimed had been "genetically modified to target black and Hispanic boys".
During the Covid-19 pandemic Farrakhan published a tweet repeating his speech of 4 July 2020, in which he called for vaccination to be rejected, evoking a "conspiracy’"of which Bill Gates was a part, and denouncing "experiments" and a "depopulation" project. The appeal was relayed by the NOI website in a harrowing photo montage.
A few months later, Farrakhan attacked the coronavirus vaccine as a "bottle of death". In January 2021, the preacher Wesley Muhammad, who was already behind the "cannabis conspiracy" theories, gave a speech blaming Israel and the Jews for the pandemic, which he described as a "Zionist/Anglo-American operation". Rizza Islam, a young member of the NOI, attracted widespread attention for his conspiracy-mongering about the origins of the virus. His extreme anti-vaccination activism got him listed by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) as one of the 12 biggest distributors of false information about vaccination against Covid-19.
The NOI and its various leaders have been tolerated and even endorsed by some prominent American public figures, including rappers, sports figures and politicians. The Women's March feminist protest movement, formed in opposition to the election of Donald Trump as president, fell apart in 2019 due to the controversial backing from certain organisers who supported Farrakhan and the NOI, despite their blatant antisemitism.
In October 2020, YouTube closed the Nation of Islam channel, just over a year after shutting down Farrakhan on the same platform.
On 2 April 2021, Noah Green, a follower of the movement, attacked police officers with a ram car and a knife in Washington DC, in front of the Capitol, killing one person and seriously injuring another. He was later shot dead by police.
(Last updated on 02/28/2024)