Wide Angle

The Moorish Science Temple of America : The religion of African Americans with Moroccan roots

A group of African Americans in the 1920's founded a religious organization seeking an identity. Led by Noble Drew Ali, in the state of Illinois, they called themselves Moorish referring to Morocco and embraced Islam as their faith, creating a subculture considered controversial back in the time.

Moorish Americans in the United States./ Ph. DR
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In 1913, Timothy Drew established one of the most controversial religious groups in the US. Born in North Carolina in 1886, Drew was the son of a Moroccan Muslim and a Cherokee mother. His origins were later the subject of a subculture that he called the Moorish Science Temple, an umbrella that covered all African Americans who believed that they were Moors. 

The group was founded basically on the belief that African Americans have noble and superior origins. The temple developed this idea linking it to Islam, so members of the Moorish organization had to prove that they had North African, Moroccan or Asian ancestors. The movement was led by the Islamic regulations and instructions, members believed in God, Prophet Muhammad and read the Koran. However, slight changes were brought to their religion, making their own version of Islam where Noble Drew was also a prophet and a reincarnated soul.

The movement was later implemented in Chicago where it was granted a lot of respect and followers. In 1926, the state of Illinois considered the Moorish Temple as a civic organization that was tasked with teaching African Americans how to become better citizens, reject hate and embrace love and tolerance. «The object of our Organization is to help in the great program of uplifting fallen humanity and teach those things to make our members better citizens», Drew Ali said in a speech published on the official website of the Moorish Science Temple.

A prophet from North Carolina

Prophet Noble Drew Ali was the head of the Moorish temple, the founder and the savior. He was believed to be the reincarnation of all prophets and many legends surrounded his existence. Some of these were his mystic voyage to Egypt where he met a priest who allegedly would have given him a lost version of the Koran that was later called the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science of America.


Drew Ali wrote the last four chapters of the organization's holy book saying that : «The fallen sons and daughters of the Asiatic Nation of North America need to learn to love instead of hate; and to know of their higher self and lower self. This is the uniting of the Holy Koran of Mecca for teaching and instructing all Moorish Americans, etc. The key of civilization was and is in the hands of the Asiatic nations. The Moorish, who were the ancient Moabites, and the founders of the Holy City of Mecca.»

Prophet Drew Ali was highly respected among the Moorish community. He was also seen as an influential personality in Chicago. In 1929 he attended the inauguration of the Illinois’ governor. He died in July of the same year suffering from tuberculosis; however rumors suggest that he was killed by the police. 

In the search of an identity

Finding an identity and sticking to it was the major element linked to the Moorish Science Temple. African Americans across the United States back in the time were suffering from the segregationist laws which made the Moorish Temple a salvation to them. Identifying themselves as Moroccans and Asians was the only way to distance themselves from being «black».

Nationality, Identity and roots are still the fundamental pillars of this movement as emphasized in an article posted on The Moorish Temple website : «African American, black, colored, and Negro are all manufactured nomenclatures for the people (so-called blacks) who were stripped of their nationality in 1774. The true nationality of the so-called black person of America is Moorish American.»
The search for identity was also featured on the way Moorish Americans dressed themselves. Women were wearing a turban while men wore a fez (tarboosh) adding to their names «El» or «Bey» to emphasize their North African roots.

Prayers were also marked by this urge of finding an identity other than the one given to Africans living in America. Expressions like «know thy self» and «love your nationality» were often transmitted as an obligation and portrayed as the only way of gaining love and respect. «If you do not know yourself then you leave the authority to someone else to identify you, and through time you will be accustomed to that label. When you allow someone else to name you, you have essentially given him or her the power to define you», the authors of the Moorish Science Temple of America website claim.

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