Prophet Noble Drew Ali, Founder of Moorish Science Temple of America, 1925

Photograph of Prophet Noble Drew Ali, dressed in ceremonial garments, standing with this right hand over his chest.
Photograph by R. D. Jones, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Since its inception, in the spirit of Carter G. Woodson, Sapelo Square has commemorated Black History Month with daily Black Muslim History facts. This year, Sapelo Square is exploring the Muslim collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). During Black History Month, we will display a different object each day from the collection, showing how the objects help tell the rich histories of Muslims of African descent in the United States. View the entire series at our dedicated Black History Month 2021 page.

In 1913, Noble Drew Ali founded the Canaanite Temple in Newark, New Jersey. It would evolve into the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) by the time he settled in Chicago, Illinois, in 1925. His was the first of several 20th century movements that sought to revive the historic connections between Black people and Islam that had been diminished during slavery. He called upon Black people in America to embrace an alternative identity as “Asiatic” and “Moorish-American,” and to reclaim Islam as their original religion. Later Black Islamic formations — including the Nation of Islam, and Sunni communities like the First Muslim Mosque of Pittsburgh and the Addeynu Allahe Universal Arabic Association (AAUAA) — were either founded or followed by former MSTA members; and they all amplified Ali’s framing of Islam as a source of an alternative and authentic religious, racial, and national identity. Today, members of the MSTA continue to uphold his teachings, including their claim of national sovereignty.

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