The rise of the Moorish Science Temple during the early twentieth century illustrates how African Americans self-identified with the Orient and wisdom literature associated with Islamic ideologies. Without the ability to establish practices and associations with orthodox Islamic culture during slavery America’s Negro community searched for new identities during the Great Migration and founded new “all-comprehensive” religious and political systems through their interpretations of the Orient that helped reshaped their national identity and the Asiatic version of Orientalism throughout the twentieth century throughout the modern era.
The emergence of twentieth-century Islam among African Americans can be traced to 1913. That year, Timothy Drew, who was born in 1886 in North Carolina, took the name Noble Drew Ali and founded the Moorish Holy Temple of Science in Newark, New Jersey. He recruited mostly among recent immigrants from the South in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago.
Little is known about the man and how he acquired some notions of Islam. He is said to have worked in a circus with a “Hindu fakir” and, given the success of the show, may have decided to start his own order, which was a mixture of beliefs drawn from systems ranging from Freemasonry to Buddhism to Islam.
Diouf, Sylviane A.. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, 15th Anniversary Edition (p. 278). NYU Press. Kindle Edition.