By Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid
If the African American Muslim experience had a symbolic icon, the bean pie would be it. The sweet custard-like pie made from cooked, mashed navy beans has a rich history with the Nation of Islam and an even greater legacy with the African American Muslim population. In the short film called “Bean Pie, My Brotha” written, directed and produced by the documentary filmmaker Hassanah Thomas-Tauhidi she briefly outlines the history and experience of the bean pie in in the African American Muslim community. Thomas-Tauhidi’s is also the producer of the D.C. television series “Living Islam in America.
The short film outlines how the pie originated in the hands of Sister Lonnie Shabazz in New York city and then passed through the hands of the children of the Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad had instructed his followers to “eat food that Allah has prescribed” and “Even take little things such as beans. Allah says that the little navy bean will make you live, just eat them. He said to me that even milk and bread would make us live. Just eat bread and milk—it is the best food. He said that a diet of navy beans would give us a life span of one hundred and forty years. Yet we cannot live ½ that length of time eating everything that the Christian table has set for us.” As most beans were prohibited from the strict dietary guidelines laid out in How to Eat to Live, the dietary guide for the Nation of Islam, the path was paved for the simple and delicious pie that would nourish the souls of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The bean pie is not a sweet potato pie substitute. Anyone who has consumed a traditional bean pie will assure you that beans will be the farthest thought from your mind when the rich buttery, flavors meet your pallet.
So…bean pie, my brotha? My sista?
For more on the history of the bean pie see:
Bean pie, my brother? –Mike Sula
Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid is a part-time lecturer in the departments of Pan African Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville. Her research interests focus on the African American and Native American Islamic experiences (Slavery-Melungeons-20th Century Islamic Movements-Present Day) with emphasis on minority voices.