Qur’an acquired by Elijah Muhammad during Umrah to Mecca in 1959

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Donated by Halimah Mohammed Ali, granddaughter of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Clara Muhammad

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 1959, Nation of Islam (NOI) leader the Honorable Elijah Muhammad made umrah (pilgrimage outside of hajj season) to Mecca, where he acquired this Qur’an, made with wood and mother of pearl. By this time, he was nearly three decades into his leadership of the NOI, founded in Detroit in 1930, by W. Fard Muhammad. Like the Moorish Science Temple of America, the NOI claimed “Asiatic” as part of its identity and presented Islam as the original religion of Black people. However, its theology, especially the divine status and messengership accorded respectively to Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad, put the NOI at odds with Muslim contemporaries based on their belief that God has no physical form and Muhammad of Arabia is God’s final messenger. Nonetheless, Elijah Muhammad’s successful completion of umrah to Mecca — a city that to this day only allows Muslims to enter — reaffirmed his identification as a Muslim and served to strengthen the NOI’s relationships with Muslim leaders abroad and back in the United States. The trip coincided with the NOI’s evolving religious life, including increased Arabic instruction in NOI schools, engagement with Muslim activists outside the NOI, and the renaming of NOI “Temples” to “Mosques.”

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