Malcolmology 101, #18: NOI Answers Muslim Critics

By the time Malcolm X had been named national spokesman in 1961, the Nation of Islam had come under public scrutiny from groups ranging from conservative whites to integrationist blacks. However, following trips to the Middle East by Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad in 1959 as well as the organization’s increased public profile, the pressure for other Muslim organizations in the U.S. to condemn the NOI became even more acute. The NOI was predated by other predominantly African-American Muslim groups such as Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple and the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam (AMI). Just as the NAACP had scrambled to distance itself from the NOI in the aftermath of “The Hate That Hate Produced,” the AMI and orthodox Muslims launched attacks charging that that Nation’s religious heterodoxy had in fact crossed into heresy. 

Talib Dawud, a jazz trumpeter and prolific proselytizer associated with the Moslem Brotherhood of America, Inc., first attacked the NOI in 1959 with a series of articles in the black Chicago newspaper, the New Crusader. The most scathing was a photograph of NOI founder W.D. Fard, whom the group believes to be Allah-in-person, with the subtitle: “White Man is God for Cult of Islam.” The NOI found the article so disturbing that the Chicago and New York mosques worked to purchase and destroy as many copies of the issue as possible. Along with jazz pianist, Ahmad Jamal, Dawud and his wife Dakota Staton (Aliyah Rabia) also slandered the sect by claiming that Elijah Muhammad could not perform the Hajj in 1959 because the Saudi Arabian government had banned him as an inauthentic Muslim. Eventually Dawud’s monopoly on the New Crusader disintegrated and bitterness between the groups peaked in 1962 when Dawud sued Muhammad, enjoining the District Court to disallow the terms “Islam” or “Muslim” in association with the sect. Malcolm finally unleashed his assault against Staton, a jazz vocalist: “Even the non-Muslim public knows that no Muslim sister who follows Mr. Muhammad would think of singing sexy songs, half-naked in a night-club where people are getting drunk and expect people to respect her as an ‘example’ of religious piety.” Malcolm then turned the rhetorical war towards Dawud, implying that Staton’s suit was an attempt to reinvigorate his lackluster career.

Another voice echoing Dawud’s sentiments was a Sudanese Muslim student at Pennsylvania University, Yahya Hayari, who wrote a letter to the editor that same year challenging Elijah Muhammad’s Hajj as being out of season. Malcolm responded to Hayari in a private letter and again publicly in the Pittsburgh Courier, challenging the student to settle the dispute “in private, not in public.” He downplayed the differences between the NOI and the Islamic ummah  and lamented that Hayari suffered from a “colonial mentality” and sounded like a “brainwashed, American Negro.” Ironically, for all his work as a religious apologist for the NOI, Malcolm would later employ strategy similar to Dawud and Hayari as he attempted to discredit Elijah Muhammad and place himself distinctly within the world of orthodox Islam.

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