Sacred Drift

Lost/Found Moorish Timelines in the Wilderness of North America Part III


“Most Noble Drew Ali Is Laid To Rest” at the Pythian Temple on State Street. “The eastern burial ritual was led by Kirkman Bey. Whatever he was saying in connection with this ceremony was as foreign to the audience as Caesar to a fourth-grade pupile, at least to that part of the audience not affiliated with the cult.” An “adept,” Aaron Payne (who had been present at Drew’s deathbed) was “said to be a candidate to succeed Noble Drew Ali…One elderly woman whispered to a friend, ‘The “prophet” was not ill, his work was done and he laid his head upon the lap of his followers and passed out’… Another remarked that the ‘prophet’s spirit will come back and enter the body of one of the governors.'” (This belief is called “reincarnation in Moorish Science, and as we shall see, the speaker’s prediction came true, at least for some Moors.)
Date of death, July 20, 1929. He was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery.
Or was he? An oral tradition claims that no grave site is known, and that Drew Ali was made to “disappear” by the police in collusion with the FBI – who knows? – perhaps to return again some day like the Hidden Imam of the Shi’ites, or like King Arthur.
Like the Prophet Muhammad, Noble Drew Ali apparently named no successor on his deathbed; and as with Islam after Muhammad’s death, the Moorish movement split into warring factions. Two months after Muhammad’s death, violence broke out again. In late September 1929, police fought an out-and-out battle with the Moors. Two policemen diead, one was severely wounded, and one Moor died as well.
The Defender reported: “State’s Attorney John A. Swanson announced his plans for a speedy arrest and prosecution of Ira Johnson, 50, the slayer of policeman William Gallagher, and other cult leaders who are responsible for the riot Wednesday at 4137 South Parkway. Every effort will be made to have the state of Illinois revoke the license of the Moorish Science Temple of America.
“Numerous death threats have been sent to leading officials of the cult and a police guard has been stationed at the home of Attorney Aaron Payne,… supreme business manager of the cult, following an attempt on his life by four gunmen Monday night.
“For two days Chicago has been an armed camp. More than a thousand police and members of the National Guardhave been assigned to special duty. They are patrolling the vicinity of 4137 South Parkway, where Wednesday morning at 11 o’clock a clan of Moorish Science Temple of America shot it out with two police squads and left a trail of dead and wounded ‘Moors’ and officers in their wake.
“The excitement following upon this outbreak was the greatest Chicago has seen since the bloody riots of 1919. From Wednesday morning to Friday more than 500,000 persons are said to have visited the scene of the outbreak…
“A mysterious, daring daylight kidnapping precipitated the battle.
“Shortly after 9 o’clock Wednesday morning four men, with pistols drawn, forced their way into the home of Charles Kirkman Bey,…grand legal advisor of the Moorish Temple, and ordered him to stop eating his breakfast and come with them. ‘We have orders to bring you back, dead or alive,’ they said. When Kirkman’s wife objected to her husband’s being taken away the gunmen threatened her life.
“Seizing Kirkman, they dragged him out to a waiting taxicab. The four kidnappers and their prisoner then sped away, west on Elm St., at high speed.”
Mrs. Kirkamn called the police, and went with them to Moorish Headquarters on Indiana Avenue. The police persuaded a Moor found there to lead them to a branch headquarters of the “cult” where he believed the kidnappers were hiding. There they pounded on the door and demanded entry.
The Defender’s report went on: “The door opened a trifle, then was closed quickly. On the inside word was flashed that the ‘law’ was on the outside.
“Seargent O’Toole, unable to get into the Temple headquarters went around to the back door. In the meantime, Officer McCutcheon had gone to the rear entrance and knocked down a screen from the window and crawled into the apartment. Immediately the shooting started, and before McCutcheon could warn Officer Hultz the latter had followed his partner inside.
“Officer Kieback, who appeared on the scene with a sawed-off shotgun, narrowly escaped death when one of the bullets from the rifle of a Moor clipped a bit of skin from his left ear. He dropped to the porch to save himself.
“Although shot in the abdomen, McCutcheon managed to open the kitchen door while his partner Hultz lay wounded on the floor. He pulled Hutz out of the house and it was then that Sergeant O’Toole and Frank Reynolds rounded the end of the house to enter the fight.
“More than a hundred shots were fired in the battle and a dozen or more tear gas bombs were hurled through the window of the temple.
“As Sergeant O’Toole neared the house where his comrade had fallen in battle, he saw Kirkman Bey come near him with both hands in the air. In his right hand he held a pencil and paper. “‘Don’t shoot! I am the man you’re looking for. Please save me,’ Kirkman yelled. Then Sgt. O’Toole ordered him to continue walking with his hands in the air until he had reached Officer Kiebeck, who took him into custody.
“By this time the twenty-five or more persons, consisting of men, women, and children who had been in the temple, fled from it and sought refuge in a vacant flat across the court…
“On the second floor landing Kiebeck found Gallagher’s revolver and beside it was the gun of Ira Johnson,…confessed slayer of Gallagher. On the third floor in the vacant flat was Johnson and his partner, J. Stevenson Bey.
“Johnson surrendered without a struggle, while Stevenson was killed by Sgt. Reynolds in a gun battle.” Reynolds and another cop burst into the room “Where the women and children were in hiding. Stevenson attempted to shoot Officer Catron, but Reynolds shot first and Stevenson fell dead with bullets through his head and heart.”
As more police closed in, the informant who had led them to the “hide-out,” Moe Jackson, was shot in the shoulder – perhaps by his own seventeen-year-old son Francis, who was apprehended with a revolver in each hand.
Gallagher and Hultz both died in the hospital of their wounds. Sixty-two “cult” members were rounded up and questioned, including Aaron Payne and E. Mealy El, called the “grand sheik and successor to the late Prophet Noble Drew Ali.” Protest meetings held during the next few days were broken up. Prospective jury members were given a tour of the “battlefield.”
Kirkman Bey “alleges that he recieved his education in Asia, India, and at Howard University. He was unable to give proof of his attendance at Howard…
“Ira Johnson Bey, who…confessed that he had killed Gallagher, refused to testify on the stand. ‘I’ll do my talking at the right time,'” Johnson said.
The Coroner’s Jury learned that Johnson was also suspected of killing Claude Green the previous March. “Johnson, it is said, aspired to become supreme legal advisor, the next highest office to Grand Sheik. That office was held by Kirkman, who had been chosen by the council of governors last week at the annual convention. Johnson admitted that he was very much disappointed when Grand Sheik E. Mealy El did not name him adviser instead of Kirkman. He confessed that he had intended seizing Kirkman’s certificate, which had the signatures of the twenty-one governors of the various temples.
“In order to accomplish his purpose he sent our four henchman and ordered them to bring back Kirkman dead or alive, and by all means get the certificate.”
The Coroner’s Jury, consisting of upright citizens (including a banker, a boxing commissioner, and a lawyer for the Defender itself), urged prosecution of Ira Johnson, Edward Mealy El, and the beys Eugene and Moses and Compton Jackson.
“According to testimony of witnesses, Kirkman and Aaron Payne possessed valuable papers which they refused to surrender. The papers Kirkman held were believed to be the last will and testament of the late Timothy Drew…
“The prophet’s successor was named in the testament, it was believed, and Johnson wanted to get the document…” (It shoulde be noted that no such documents ever subsequently came to light.)
“A practice, strictly anarchistic, is observed by the cultists, it was revealed when Moses Jackson testified that the officers of the order could designate any person to perform a certain duty. The penalty was death if the task was not carried out.
“In telling of the kidnapping, Moses stated that Ira Johnson called him, his father, Stevenson (the dead member), and a fourth man who is not apprehended, and gave him instructions. ‘Brother Kirkman must be brought in,’ he is alleged to have said. ‘I want you “sheiks” to go after him, and you had better arm yourselves, so in case he refuses to come voluntarily you can use force.’
“Jackson said Johnson reminded them that unless they brought in Kirkman their lives would be in danger. He remembered the cult’s creed and the four set out upon what tured out to be the bloodiest mission since [the St Valentine’s Day Massacre].
“Ira Johnson was rather philisophical while the jury was out deliberating. He talked freely to police officers and newspaper men. Life, he believed, ended at death – that is, so far as the body is concerned. He likened the real man, or ‘spirit man,’ to the wind. The ‘spirit man,’ he assered, never dies. The cultist also repeated his analysis of the parts of a pistol for the benefit of reporters. The service performed by one particular part of a revolver was stressed. The hammer, he said, is used to drive home the turth.”
Johnson refused to testify, “and took the report of the jury without any visible stir.”
The murder trial began, with Johnson expected to plead insanity. But, the Defender proclaimed in banner headlines, “MOORS’ TRIAL ‘BLOWS UP’: SICK JUROR AND ALLAH THE CAUSE.” Oddly, the story began with a poem:

“With upraised hands, three fingers down,
The seven symbolic of their creed:
Five Thousand Moors, thanked their God,
Crying Love, Turth, Peace, Freedom and Justice.”

“‘Allah has heard our prayers,’ murmured a smal group composed of members of the Moorish Science Temple of America Tuesday when Judge Harry B. Miller withdrew Juror William N. Rondquist and declared a mistrial just when the case of Ira JOhnson and his father, Eugene…was ready to be given to the jury.”
Ira had not only withdrawn his confession, he had also given testimony that “tended to show” that his father, who had been wounded by Gallagher, had also in fact killed him. “The good Moors, knowing little about the Illinois system of jurisprudence, or of any system for that matter, had no knowledge of what could happen to prevent the Jury from getting the case…Meanwhile the good Moslems prayed. They implored the intervention of Mohammed; they invoked the blessings of Allah; they called upon the spirit of Noble Drew Ali.” Their prayers appeared to be answered when Juror Rondquist fell ill, and a mistrial was declared. According to the eloquent bu sarcastic Defender reporter, “It was admittedly one of the most difficult cases involving member of our Race in the history of crime in Cook country. The fact that the defendants had killed two white policeman made the situtaion unfavorable to begin with, regardless of the defense, but when it was learned that they were members of a society of fanatics who had, within less than three months, been charged with the brutal murder of a fellow member of the cult, efforts to convict them were doubled.”
Some testimony had been given tending to suggest that “the kidnapping story” (the kidnapping of Kirkman Bey) “was manufactured. Police, it was pointed out, had been requently visiting headquarters of the Moors on secret missions. Just why they were repulsed on September 25 could not be learned.”
Attorney Harold M. Tyler, chief counsel for the defense, filed a motion “charging double jeopardy to his clients if they are retired,” and asked that the case be dismiessed – which led at least one Moor to declare that Tyler was being guided by the spirit of Noble Drew. However, another trial of Johnson and the Jackson was scheduled a month later.
It began dramatically with the new judge, Walter P. Steffens, sustaining Tyler’s objection to the State’s motion “that every person who enters the courtroom be searched” or “frisked.” Tyler apparently intended a defense based partly on insanity and partly on self-defense. Our reporer continued his slighting remarks about the Moor’s piety, ignorance, and trust in Allah.
E. Mealy El, whose case had been “severed” from that of the Jacksons and Kirkman Bey, now testified against Johnson and the Jacksons, but declared that the “kidnapping committee” was unarmed, and that the policemen who were shot had never said they were policemen (presumably they were in plain clothes).
“The state was determined to get a death penalty for Johnson [if not for the Jacksons]. It pictured him as a cold, heartless, ambitious individual who, to attain personal glory, had instigated and engineered the plot” which led to violence and death. However, as the case dragged on (with Tyler cross-examining everyone at great length), both court and jury began to fear they would not be him for Easter!, and it was suggested that the defendants be thrown on the mercy of the court so as to wrap things up as quickly as possible. Tyler refused to do this unless the judge promised not to hand out any death penalties. A psychiatrist testified to Johnson’s mental imbalance, and after some tense moments of deliberation the judge agreed to reduce the charges from murder to manslaughter. Moses Jackson (who reportedly intended to admit that the “kidnapping committee” had indeed been armed when it called upon Kirkman Bey) was not permitted to testify.
Under these conditiones Tyler agreed to a guilty please, and the judge handed down a life sentence to Johnson, and one to fourteen years each for the Jacksons. The Defender rightly called this “a signal and sweeping victory for the defense.”
In summing up the case, our reporter recounted the history of events as he understood them. “Until summer of 1928 very little attention was paid to [the Moors]. It was in that year that the society held a convention at the Unity clubhouse, 3140 Indiana Avenue. The brilliant colors of the costumes and proud walking sheiks and shebas made gossip for the South side for several weeks.
“In March last year following a break between Claude D. Greene, grand supreme business manager, and the prophet, Greene was murdered in his office at the Unity clubhouse. From the position of his body when found it is believed that he was killed while on his knees begging for his life Ira Johnson was said to have killed him, but no action was ever taken against him.
“In July the prophet died. There were reports that he was poisoned…There were reports that he was poisoned.


“Edward Mealy, Kirkman and Ira Johnson began angling for the leadership. Of the trio Johnson was the least learned. Mealy, a former railroad porter, has a fair education. Kirkman, who was called ‘the interpreter,’ was one of the prophet’s right hand men.
“Early last September another convention was held. Ira Johnson did not attend any of the sessions. Mealy presided at all the meetings, being a member of the grand council and a noble grand sheik. Kirkman also took part. It was at the convention that Kirkman is alleged to have come into possession of those ‘papers.’
“Johnson is said to have criticized Mealy and Kirkman for the manner in which the convention was conducted and attributed its failure to the fact that there was no leader.
“For a few days everything was quiet, then on Sept. 23 four members of the cult waited on Attorney Aaron A. Payne; they went to jail; four waited on Mayor Thompson [of Chicago]: they were gotten rid of diplomatically. On the 24th four other men waited on Mealy; Mealy followed them to Johnson’s house. And the next morning, the fatal 25th, four men waited on Kirkman and the story has been told.”
Thus, all was clear for the Defender – but the history of the Moorish Science Temple (and its various branches and offshoots) after the death of Noble Drew is still – for me, anyway – tangled and hard to trace. Leaving aside all confusion surrounding the death of Calude Greene and subsequent events, which the trial rather deepened than dissipated, the question of lines of succession to the Prophet is also quite tangled. As best as I can make out, the story goes something like this:
At the second annual convention of the Moorish Science Temple, which took place after Noble Drew’s death in 1929, and which gave rise to the incidents of violence, E. Mealy El was not chosen as Grand Sheik – that honor went to Kirkman Bey, who was elected presiden of the corporation (which had not been dissolved by the state of Illinois), and Grand Sheik of the Moorish Science Temple of America, Incorporated. At this convention, John Givens-El (who is said to have been Drew Ali’s chauffeur) declared himself the “reincarnation” of the Prophet in the special sense of this term in Moorish Science. Givens-El was not to be the last such reincarnation. Such claimants are popularly known as “brother prophets.” Some say that at this time there were twenty-one Moorish Science Temple branch temples; others say fifteen, of which eight followed Kirkman Bey, and seven followed Givens-El.
The difference between a Grand Sheik and a reincarnated Prophet are, as R. Wright-El puts it, “not insignificant. Grand Sheiks of the corporation must be elected annually at the Convention. They can be removed from office through election at any of these annual conventions. They are not allowed to establish their own doctrines or teachings…They are only elected to manage the business of the corporation and to maintain the Prophet’s works in the same form that he wrote them.
“On the other hand, reincarnated Prophets establish their own teachings, interpret Drew Ali’s tachings for their followers, cannot be removed from their stations through election, and retain almost absolute power…”
Givens-El’s splendid mausoleum, incised with Moorish symbols, lies in Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago, marked “Noble Drew Ali (Reincarnated).”
Kirkman Bey died in 1959 and was succeeded by F. Nelson-Bey, then J. Blakely-Bey (1963), and finally Robert Love-El, elected in 1971 and still the incumbant. Rufus German-Bey (whom I knew as the governor of Baltimore), claimed to have inherited the incorporated Moorish Science Temple of America from headquarters at 75th street in Chicago. A lawsuit, which seems to have taken four years to settle (1978-1982), finally ended with legal recognition of the claims of Love-El’s organization, and the denial of the claims of German-Bey and the “75th St. Moors.” Thus only one organization is entitled to the name of Moorish Science Temple of America, Inc. Rcently I saw a notice of a Temple #65 opening in Kansas City – I don’t know if this means that the Moorish Science Temple of America has sixty-five active branches, but certainly it has many. The “official Moorish Science Temple, however, is only one part of the total Moorish movement.
According to one informant, Ira Johnson-El later called himsellf Allah-El, and names his son the third reincarnation of Noble Drew Ali. Presumably this is the same Ira Johnson whom we have just seen “sent up to the pen” for life.
In Baltimore, German-Bey’s group produced at least two more offshoots. Tow brothers, Richardson Dingle-El and Timothy Dingle-El, both claimed to be Reincarnations (the former “in third form,” the latter as “Noble Drew Ali Reincarnated” or “Supreme Grand Ressurrection”). Timothy died in 1980 and was succeeded by his wife Louise Dingle-El as “Prophetess.” Richardson still lives and leads a group centered around Morgan State University.
Timothy wrote a book, used by both brothers, entitled The Ressurection: Moorish Science Temple of America, Inc. – The Truth: Be Yourself And Not – Somebody Else, by Timothy Dingle-El-Noble-Drew-Ali (in This Era of Time.) He claims to have lifted (i.e. saved) the works of Noble Drew Ali from the public domain and thus to have “resurrected” the Moorish Science Temple of America. (After 1982, hoever, it would seem that neither Dingle-El group has any legal claim to this nomenclature.) We’ve already heard Timothy’s assertion that Noble Drew really did order the death of Sheik Claude Green, and that he was fully justified to do so – a position many Moors doubtless find distateful and absurd. T. Dingle-El, however, was apparently not one to quail before the prospect of violence. The cover of his book depicts him half-unsheathing a scimitar, with the mottos “If I draw – You’re cut” – although he gives this an esoteric meaning (the sword is Truth, etc.) – and the general tone of his writing sometimes verges on verbal aggression:
I look upon Noble Drew Ali as Judah, Shiloh and Chief because he is a mental warrior. I am also classed as a mental warrior. It is my determination to obtain copyright authority. I will not allow superstitious people to confuse me, like they confused the man of Justice. If copyright authority is granted to me, then the name Noble Drew Ali, Judah, Shiloh and Chief is mine by divine rights or conquest. If any mental warrior is wiser than I am, then it is his right to meet me in mental debae on all of the lessons on the true and divine Prophet of Allah. Someone or group may wonder what I mean when I say mental warrior, never hearing of such. The hangout for mental warriors is in the courtrooms. I will name some: Judges, Lawyers, Jurors, Counselors, Missionaries, Ministers, etc. Some are in the Moorish Movement of Noble Drew Ali. Another name for mental warrior is Brain Shooter.
Dingle-El also recounts a fascinating version of the “Flag in the Safe” story:
In 1912, the Prophet Noble Drew Ali appeared in Washington D.C., at the nation’s capital, and asked President Woodrow Wilson for his people and the return of our flag (the proverbial Cherry Tree), chopped down by General George Washington, 1776. The President states that he wouldn’t know where to find the Moorish flag since it has been stored away for so long. The Prophet told him that he knew where to find it, if given permission to enter the storeageroom. Prophet Noble Drew Ali went and retrieved our flag, the Moorish flag. He then asked Mr. Wilson why did the government record the Asiatic as Moors on official record, and in actual practice label them Negro, Black, Colored and Ethiopians? Mr. Wilson’s reply was that we know nothing of our national descent and birthright, and it would not be in the interest of the American people to wake us up to to the truth about ourselves. Prophet Noble Drew Ali asked for the right to teach us the truth about ourselves and our Divine Creed. Mr. Wilson told the Prophet that we would not accept him or his teaching because he was of the same pigmentation of skin as we were and we would not accept our own. To prove his point he told our Prophet to go out and get 5,000 to follow him. He was so sure he could not get anyone to follow him, he reduced the figure to 50. Prophet Noble Drew Ali went out and sounded the trumpet and began to teach the everlasting Gospel to the lost tribes of Isra-el. Ten thousand answer the call. With this, the Prophet returned to Washington and was given authorization to teach Islam and to return our nationality to us. At this commitment the government of the United States, the former slaves were finally acknowledged as a seperate nation of people and the fact accepted that they were the true owner of this land called America. The great eagle spread her wings over the new foundation and vowed to protect it.

It’s my impression that the Moorish movement has been expanding and revitalizing itself after the centenary of Noble Drew Ali’s birth, celebrated in 1986. Among the groups I’ve communicated with are the Moorish Circle of Filfillment, the Moorish Great Seal, and the National Council of Sheiks of the Moorish National and Divine Movement, Branch #1, “The Beys of Missouri.” In How To Start Your Own Country (Loompanics, 1984), E. Strauss mentions a secessionist group in Washington, D.C., called the United Moorish Republic.
Another current of Moorish influence leads from Noble Drew Ali to W.D. Fard to Elijah Muhammad to the genius Malcolm X (Hajji Malik al-Shabazz), who discovered orthodox Sunni Islamduring his pilgrimage to Mecca, shortly before his assassination. He renounced Black Muslim racist theory, and inaugurated a new organization (Muslim Mosque, Inc.) which still survives – although Malcolm’s real influence runs deepest among the many black Americans who have embraced Sunnism (or Sufism, in which Malcolm was apparently taking some interest when death interrupted his intellectual trajectory), as well as those who carry on his struggle for justice in the radical movement in general. Elijah’s son Wallace Muhammad inherited the Nation of Islam mantle, but eventually he too decided for Sunnism and broke away to found the American Muslim Mission. The unreconstructed Nation of Islam is led by the well-known Louis Farrakhan.
There exists some evidence for a Moorish connection with “Black Judaism.” Ravanna Bey claims that Noble Drew established ties with the Falasha, or Ethiopian Jews. I’ve seen an old photograph of a “Moorish Zionist Temple of Moorish Jews” in Harlem; and the Ansaaru Allah of Brooklyn seem to have some connection both with the Moorish Science Temple tradition and “Nubian Hebrew Islam” and other militant “Black Jewish” groups.


I myself belong to yet another offshoot of the “Baltimore tradition” – the Moorish Orthodox Church of America. Founded in the late 1950’s by “Europeans” who (according to oral sources) had obtained Moorish Science Temple passports as “Celts” or “Persians,” including one Yale Sharif, the Moorish Orthodox Church attracted a bohemian element. Sharif later left the Church and embraced Sunni Islam, but the movement survived his departure. In the early-to-mid-1960s a Baltimore and a Manhattan lodge were active; the latter developed close ties with Bill Haine’s Ananda Ashram in Monroe, New York, which later moved lock, stock, and barrel to Millbrook, New York, to share the Hitchcock Estate with Timothy Leary and the League for Spiritual Discover, the Neo-American Church, and other psychedelic sects. The Moorish Orthodox Church was registered officially in Dutchess County.
In 1986 the Manhattan Lodge, which had been dormant, began to publish its newsletter again – the last issue of The Moorish Science Monitor having appeared in 1966 – and the Moorish Orthodox Church too underwent something of a revival. The Monitor was published from Providence, Rhode Island, during the 1980’s boom in self-published “zines” and networking; it then moved to Rochester, New York, and to Seattle. The Moorish Orthodox Church of America has branches also in Brooklyn; Ukiah, California; Chicago; San Francisco; Seattle; Orange County, New York (where there is an ashram and temple); and Bombay, India.
The Moorish Orthodox Church uses a form of nonheirarchic organization in which every member chooses his or her own title. We give an esoteric reading to Noble Drew’s teachings, and have always been willing to absorb influences from other sources. The Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan was an important influence in the 1960s, and we adopted his crest of a winged heart with a crescent and star as our own “banner”; the psychedelic movement was also important. Apparently the original founders of the Moorish Orthodox Church also had some connections with the “Wandering Bishops” and the autocephalous Catholic/Orthodox Churches movement – hence the name Orthodox – which was active in the 1950s. Like Noble Drew himself, we also honor (and are sometimes deeply involved in) other traditions, such as Buddhism, the Chinese and Japanese religions, Judaism, Hinduism, shamanism…usually in their more “heretical” forms. The Moorish Orthodox Church (and the Moorish current in genereal) has also served us as a powerful means of cultural transfer – it has been for us a guiding light in our appreciation of oriental culture, a bridge between our world and that of an esoteric Asia

All these branches and offshoots of the Moorish Science Temple add up to conclusive proof of at least one fact: as a prophet and founer of a religion, Noble Drew Ali was no flash in the pan. Moorish Science is still alive. Drew Ali’s faith has “behaved” like other faiths. As a student of the history of religions I find fascinating the developement of Moorish apocrypha and fissipation into sub-sects, each with different orally transmitted stories. One might imagine oneself present at the first century of Christianity or Islam; Moorish Science admittedly transpires on a smaller scale, but displays structural and archetypal similarities to “major” religions that are almost uncanny. It is also worth pointing out that the world still needs Noble Drew’s message of love, truth, peace, freedom, and justice – and that our own society especially needs his subtle message of racial pride combined with tolerance and love.
As for me, I admire above all Noble Drew’s aesthetic, his unique and special blend of Afro-American, Native-American, High Magical, and Oriental symbolism and imagery – as well as his courage, his martyrdom, and his revolutionary stance against “Pharaoh.” By Americanizing the prophetic spirit he injected our culture with a kind of folk Sufism. On the esoteric leve, anyone who loves Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom, and Justice is a member of the “Asiatic race” and the Lost/Found Moorish Nation of North America.



Lost/Found Moorish Timelines in the Wilderness of North America

Part Two


During the Great Columbian Exhibition in Chicago (1893), a world’s fair attended by numerous Eastern Religious figures (such as Swami Vivekananda), American blacks, claiming initiation from visiting Moslem dignitaries founded the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of Nobles of the Shrine (and its sister affiliate the Daughters of Isis) – black Shriners. Certain photographs exist of Noble Drew Ali in Egyptian Shriner gear; even his famous Napoleonic pose is Masonic, as are his title, headgear, and other favorite symbols. I have seen documents purporting to represent Moorish Masonry which may refer to the existence of an Adept Chamber within Moorish Science, mention in its Catechism.
According to my informant M. A. Ahari, Noble Drew Ali was “a Pythian Knight, a Shriner, a Prophet of the Veiled Realm, and, of course, a thirty-second degree Mason.” He suggests that Masonic “catechisms” may have been the model for the Moorish Catechism; one is reminded here of Joseph Smith and the Masonic influence on Mormonism, which has undergone a veiling and metamorphosis similar to that of the Masonic roots of Moorish Science.
The other major source for Drew Ali’s teachings – or at least for an ambience or “taste” in Moorish Science – may well be traced to communities of “Moors” existing in America since the eighteenth century (or even earlier, especially in the Spanish colonies). Undoubtedly some slaves (such as the Fulani) were Moslems, and just as African traditions survived in the land of captivity, so must Islamic identity and folkways have been preserved. Thus we have the Delaware Moors, and even more striking, the tribe of Ben Ishmael, whose Islamic name was no doubt Ibn Isma’il.
About 1785 a group of freed and runaway slaves and poor white indentured servants fled from Noble (!) County (now Bourbon County) in Kentucky and settled on the future side of Indianapolis – then a wilderness. There they mingled with Pawnee Indians and took up a nomadic life modeled on that of local hunter-gatherer tribes. Led by a “king” and “queen,” Ben and Jennie Ishmael (who later supposedly vanished into the far West), they were known as fine artisans, musicians and dancers, abstainers from alcohol, practitioners of polygamy, non-Christian, and racially integrated. They believed that land could not be owned (a typically Native-American idea), and that property should be movable (they even built movable houses). By about 1810 they had established a cycle of travel which took them annually from Indianapolis (where the village gradually became a city slum) through a triangle formed by the hamlets of Morocco and Mecca in Indiana and Mahomet in Illinois. James Fenimore Cooper described them in The Prairie (1872) but until recently literary historians believed he invented them.
Later “official” white pioneers detested the Ishmaels, and apparently the feeling was mutual. From about 1890 comes this description of an elder: “He is an anarchist of course, and he has the instinctive, envious dislike so characteristic of his people, of anyone in a better condition than himself.” The elder is quoted directly: “The law is against us…It is meant to crush the poor.” The observer continues: “He abused the law, the courts; the rich, factories – everything.” The elder stated that “the police should be hanged”; he was ready, he said, to burn the institutions of society. “I am better than any man that wears store clothes.”
The Ishmaels, like the “Kallikaks” in New Jersey and the “Jukes” in New York, drew the attention of early eugenicists, who decided that the mongrel tribe should cease to pass on its evil heritage. The Tribe of Ishmael: A Study in Social Degradation (1880), by the Rev. O.C. McCulloch set the tone. The Good Pastor¬†wanted Ishmael families broken up and the men castrated. In 1907 Indiana passed a draconian eugenics law, and the Ishmaels themselves reacted by abandoning nomadism and fleeing Indianapolis for Chicago, Detroit, and other nearby cities. They almost vanished.
When Noble Drew Ali left Newark for Chicago in 1925 he gave as his reason the opinion that the Midwest was “closer to Islam.” He might have been referring to the “Egyptian” Shriners – but he also might have meant the Ishmaels – or both. AN Ishmael woman with the delightfully nomadic name Mrs. Gallivant passed down a tradition that Ishmaelites were among Drew Ali’s first converts in the area.

Other reasons are given for the move to Chicago: that the Moors were persecuted for refusing conscription during World War I; or that Drew Ali was discomfited by the appearance of a Russo-Syrian peddler of silks and rain coats named Abdul Wali Farrad Mohammed Ali, who began to lure some of the Moors away to his own brand of Islam, closer to the Arabic model but apparently tainted with race-hatred (the white man as “blue-eyed devil”). This may or may not be the same Wallace Fard who later (according to Moorish legend) convinced Elijah Muhammad to leave Moorish Science and set up his own Nation of Islam, the “Black Muslims.” But whatever Drew Ali’s reasons, Chicago proved far more hospitable than Newark, and the Moorish Science Temple entered its golden age.
On joining the Temple converts were given new surnames – Bey or El – and told to wear their fezzes at all times. Meat, alcohol, and smoking were forbidden (along with shaving, cosmetics, and hair straighteners), and morality encouraged. In contrast to many black Christian churches, Friday worship was quiet and unemotional. Hymns were sung, replacing Christian with Islamic words (“Moslem’s That Old-Time Religion”), the Koran was recited and discussed, a sermon was given. Men and women sat separately, and prayed, “Allah, the Father of the Universe, the Father of Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom and Justice. Allah is my protector, my Guide, and my Salvation by night and day, through His Holy Prophet, Drew Ali. Amen.”
Members were issued nationality cards or “passports” and a copy of the Divine Constitution and By-Laws. As new temples opened in Pittsburg, Detroit, Baltimore, and other cities throughout the Midwest and South, Grand Sheiks, Governors, and Elders were appointed, charitable work was carried out, and Drew Ali was praised by the press for his community spirit. The Moors paraded in fancy dress (with camel), and a weekly newspaper, The Moorish Guide, appeared. A company was set up to manufacture Old Moorish health products such as antiseptic bath compound and oil, blood purifiers and other traditional herbal remedies, and teas (not magic spells and nostrums as some historians claim). New holidays were celebrated including Drew Ali’s birthday, and Moorish Tag Day.


“Sunday schools” were taught from the Koran Questions For Children, the so-called Catechism, wherein some esoteric hints of an inner teaching may be discerned. “What is Aught? Aught is ALLAH.” Truth is defined as HOLY BREATH. Meccas is the site of Eden. The true name of the first man is known only to the Executive Rulers of the Adept Chamber (3rd Heaven), and presumably the higher Masonic initiates. Devil and angel are names for the lower and higher selves. The devil was made by the Elohim, the Seven Creative Spirits or SEVEN EYES OF ALLAH, but in truth Satan was nothing but “the shadow of our lower selves and will pass away.”
The Moorish Science Temple was officially incorporated in 1928, and in the same year Drew Ali inaugurated Unity Hall, at 3140 Indiana Avenue, as headquarters. At the height of his success, he campaigned for Oscar DePriest, the first black to have served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1901. Moors paraded in the victory celebration and the Moorish Chorus entertained the jubilant crowd.

Meteoric success brought disaster in its wake. Young and fanatical Moors had taken to “flashing their cards” at people in the street and ranting about the overthrow of European civilization. The police took notice; an official in Detroit later described “those fellows! What a terrible gang! Thieves and cut-throats! Wouldn’t answer anything. Wouldn’t sit down when you told them. Pretending they didn’t understand you, that they were Moors from Morocco. They never saw Morocco! Those Moors never saw anything before they came to Detroit except Florida and Alabama!”
The sect’s hidden wealth attracted unscrupulous and shady types who achieved high position, milked the faithful, and began to conspire against the Prophet himself. Drew issued a warning to both the rowdies and the conspirators: “…end all radical agitating speech while at work…or on the streets. We are for peace and not destruction. Stop flashing your cards at Europeans; it causes confusion…Any member or group of members who hold malicious feeling toward the temple or the Prophet, or violate the divine covenant of the Moorish Movement will receive their reward from Allah for their unjust deeds.” He ends with a plea to the faithful to protect their Prophet.
In 1929, disaster struck. The history of the Moorish Science Temple now takes on a violent edge, an air of tragedy, The Chicago Defender, a “race” newspaper, had happily boosted Noble Drew Ali in his rise to fame, with stories about him and his wife, Pearl Drew Ali, and her Young Peoples’ Moorish League. But the paper changed its tone when the shooting started. The Moorish Science Temple was now a “cult,” and the Prophet was a “prophet”-in-quotation-marks and “illiterate,” his followers ignorant and misguided.
The headline read: “Blame Split In Cult For Brutal Crime.” Claude D. Greene, Noble Drew’s business manager, was shot and cut, stabbed four times in neck and body, at the Unity Club, 3140 Indiana Avenue, by a “slaying crew” of the “cult.” After a city-wide hunt – forty arrests were made within an hour – Noble Drew Ali was found “in hiding” at 3365 Indiana Avenue at “a feast.” An informant named Small Bey told police that Greene was the head of a break-away group within the Moorish Science Temple, and that Noble Drew had arranged to have him “bumped off” by one George (or perhaps Ira) Johnson Bey or El (still unarrested).
“Cult Leader Lured Girls To His Harem.” One was fourteen years old, and there were two others as well, or so the Defender alleged. (This charge is stoutly denied by Moorish historians, and indeed the newspaper allegation is vague and probably based on slander or rumor.) Noble Drew is now in jail with nine of his followers, the report continues. Johnson Bey has been spotted in Detroit. Drew Ali made $35,000 last year. “He can scarcely read and write. In addition to duping his followers with religious hokum, he sells medicine made by himself and alleges it is blessed by the Prophet Mohammad. The ignorance of the crowd following him is appalling, the police probe brought out.”
While in jail Drew issued a statement to his followers: “Though I am now in custody for you and the cause, it is all right and is well for all who still believe… I have redeemed you all and you shall be saved, all of you, even with me. I go to bat Monday, May 20, before the Grand Jury. If you are with me, be there. Remember my laws and love one another. Prefer not a stranger to thy brother. Love and truth and my peace I leave you all. Peace from your Prophet, Noble Drew Ali.” There were to be his last words.
The trial apparently never took place. Released on bond, the Prophet died – some say from sever, third-degree police beatings, others say assassinated by his rivals in the movement. In his sincere and undoubted innocence, Noble Drew Ali had met a martyr’s end.
The Defender article on Drew’s death mentions a trial, but I have been unable to find any other evidence that the Prophet actually appeared in court. According to the story, “Enough evidence could not be obtained…to convict him (of Greene’s murder) but it is believed that the ordeal of the trial together with the treatment he received at the hands of the police in an effort to obtain true statements are directly responsible for the illness which precipitated his death.” Greene was said to have diverted funds from Moorish Science Temple business ventures; Pearl Ali claimed that her husband “was not very wealth, as he had devoted his entire life to the service and advancement of his people.”


Lost/Found Moorish Time Lines in the Wilderness of North America – Part 1

by Peter Lamborn Wilson

Prophet Noble Drew Ali, founder of Moorish Science Temple of America, 1925, four years before his death, posing formally as Prophet, Sharif, and Mason. From Who Was Noble Drew Ali? by Isa al-Mahdi.

The Image:
crumbling 1920s photograph of an American black man dressed in robe, sash, and fez, posing formally hand on breast like Napoleon, lebeled “Prophet Noble Drew Ali 1886-1929.”
To recover the meaning of this obscure and enigmatic portrait we must rediscover a lost or secret portion of our own history, for American history is defined for us as much by its absences and disappearences as by its official presences – indeed, perhaps even more so.
The official sources describe Noble Drew Ali as founder of the first black Islamic sect in America. In truth he was less than this, for there were black Moslems here before him; but he was also more than this – he was an American prophet. He could have stepped from the pages of Melville or Ishmael Reed, “a thought of Allah clothes in fles” – a fact, a poetic fact.

Timothy Drew was born (most probably) January 8, 1886, in North Carolina, child of ex-slaves, among the Cherokee Indians – who are said to have adopted him – so that later in life he always wore a feather in his fez, or so they say, for a great deal of this account is pure oral history. His mother foresaw great things of him, but she died and left the child to a wicked aunt who beat him, leaving lifelong scars, and once even threw him into a blazing furnace. But Allah saved him. He ran away and joined the gypsies. One day as he walked alone he heard a voice say, “If you go I will follow”; he tried to ignore it but it kept repeating itself until finally he left the gypsies and sought after knowledge.
An interesting hypothesis concerning Timothy Drew’s ancestry: was he perhaps descended from Bilali Mohamet, a slave who lived on Sapelo Island off the Georgia coast? Author of a “diary” written in Arabic, Bilali Mohamet proves continuity of Islamic identity in nineteenth-century America; no doubt he can be considered at least a spiritual grandfather of Noble Drew Ali.
According to a privately published essay by Ravanna Bey of the Moorish Academy of Chicago, Drew’s father was said to have been of Moorish extraction, his mother of Cherokee ancestry. By the early 1880s, Ravanna Bey claims, the Drew family had settled in Newark, New Jersey, where they are said to have met and studied with the “Master Adept” Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897), who visited the U.S. in the winter of 1882-1883. The Drews were not only initiated into the Salafiyya, Afghani’s political reform movement, but also into the Brethren of Purity, the Ikhwan al-Safa. According to most authors, Drew knew nothing of any deeper mysteries until his visit to the Orient, sometime before 1912.
Aged sixteen he shipped out as a merchant seaman – some say he took a job as a magician in a traveling circus (he is also said to have worked as a railway expressman) – and somehow ended up in Egypt. There he met the last priest of an ancient cult of High Magic who took him to the Pyramid of Cheops, led him in blindfolded, and abandoned him. When Drew found his way out unaided the magus recognized him as a potential adept and offered him initiation. He recieved the name Sharif [Noble] Abdul Ali; in America he would be known as Noble Drew Ali. In Egypy his prophecy manifested as a book, the “Circle Seven Koran”; or it might have been in Mecca, where he was somehow empowered by SUltan Abdul Aziz al-Sa’ud, ruler [sharif] of the city and later of the whole country.
In 1912 or 1913, aged 27, in Newark, New Jersey, he had a dream in which he was ordered to found a religion “for the uplifting of fallen mankind” and especially for the “lost-found nation” of American blacks. According to Drew Ali, blacks are “Asiatics,” specifically Moors; that is, descendants of the biblical Moabites through the prophetess Ruth, later the inhabitants of Western Africa or Morocco, which he proclaimed a sort of spiritual homeland or promised land (like Ethiopia for the Rastafarians). Going back yet further, he believed his ancestors were Canaanites, and that Ham (or Adoniram as the Masons call him), father of Canaan, was present at the building of Solomon’s Temple. Thus he called the first center of Moorish Science, in Newark, The Canaanite Temple.
The hypothesis of a Moorish origin for at least some American blacks has been taken up by historians inspired by such as Ivan Van Sertima, Cheikh Anta Diop, John G. Jackson, and others. What, they ask, happened to the Moors of Spain after 1492? Many were forcibly converted to Catholicism, and were known as Moriscos. Others, however, were enslaved. Soon after 1492 the Spanish were sending black slaves to the New World, some of whome are known to have been Moors or Moriscos. Some authors have even suggested that Moors and other Africans may have reached the New World before Columbus (the work of Ishmael Reed’s Before Columbus Foundation deals with such questions). Whatever the case, clearly Moorish Moslems were among the first “discoverers” of America.
Moorish Science, however, propagates a more colorful and less sustainable image of the “Moorish Empire.” The Empire once included most of Europe as well as Asia. Ireland was one of its last strongholds. The legend of St. Patrick and the snakes is said to be a mask for the real story – the expulsion of the Moors from Ireland. in 1929, in Chicago, St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) was celebrated as Moorish Tag Day (“tags” were sold to rais funds for charity). “In later days, some of the Moors celebrated this day in rememberance of the Moors who were driven out of…Ireland.”
I have been unable to discover a locus classicus for this legend. However, I find it fascinating in light of the fact that the Irish in America sometimes made common cause with blacks (and Indians) against their common oppressors. Irish were frequently called “worse than niggers.” In 1741, in New York City, Irish, blacks, and Indians joined in a conspiracy to riot; one of the Irish firebrands was heard to say he’d try to “kill as many whites” as possible. The civil War (and the New York Draft Riots) drove a wedge between the Irish and black lumpen proletariats, but antebellum America was, oddly, less racist than post-bellum America, at least for the marginalized poor. This forgotten harmony among the outcasts of three races no doubt helps to explain the existence of Maroon communities and “tri-racial isolate” communities, some of which still survive – and Noble Drew Ali may have been influenced by them. According to oral sources, he recognized “Celts” as Asiatics and hence eligible for membership in the Moorish Science Temple.
Scholars have been able to trace the sources for most of Noble Drew Ali’s scripture, the Circle Seven Koran, but no one seems to have discovered the source of his ideas about Moorish Science itself, or the Moorish Empire. In 1912, the young Drew Ali apparently wrote a letter to President Woodrow Wilson, asking him to turn over the Moorish flag, which he believed had been hidden in a safe in Independence Hall in 1776 by George Washington himself. The reason for this strange act constitutes something of an origin myth for the Moorish Science Temple. Noble Drew believed that blacks in America were actually Moors, that is, in contemporary terms, natives of Morocco. In 1774 the Founding Fathers had met in Philadelphia and decreed that only “Negroes” were subject to slavery. In 1776 this decree became law under the now-independent regime. Since the blacks had forgotten their true identity as Moors, they accepted this essentially linguistic act of terrorism and, along with the word, the condition of slavery. Now, according to the “Black Laws of Virginia” of 1682, Moors (Moroccan nationals) were exempt from such bondage. Morocco was the first country to recognize the U.S. diplomatically, in 1786. Clearly, “Moors” could not be “slaves.” But George Washington, of course, was a slaveholder – and not about to tamper with bourgeois concepts of property. He cut down the red banner of the Moors and hid it away. Tha masking legend for this act is the story of Washington cutting down the “proverbial cherry tree.”
If the blacks had only “honored their father and mother” and not “strayed after the strange gods of Europe,” they would not have suffered slavery, nor would they now be ignorant of their true identity – “nationality and birthright.” It is said that the hidden flag was turned over to Noble Drew Ali, thus prompting the founding of the Moorish Science Temple in 1913. I can offer no objective proof of the literal truth of this story, but its symbolic richness throws more light on Drew Ali’s prophetic sense of mission than anything in the Circle Seven Koran or other early Moorish Science Temple texts. “The name means everything; by taking the Asiatic’s name from him and calling him Negro, black, colored, or Ethiopian, the European stripped the Moors of his power, his authority, his God, and every other worthwhile possession.” The flag is the symbol of this identity.
The Circle Seven Koran must be considered a modern apocryphon. The specific sources of ancient apocrypha and pseudepigrapha are largely unknown, but we can actually trace the genesis of Drew Ali’s “Koran.” About half of it (II-XIX) is taken from The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ by “Levi” H. Dowling of Ohio (1908), a still-popular account of Christ’s sojourn in India from adolescence to age thirty during the Gospel’s “lost years.” Liberal and mystical-theosophical in tone, The Aquarian Gospel (which Dowling said was revealed to him out of the Akashic Record) in turn owes its inspiration to La Vie Inconnue de Jesus Christ by Nicola Notovitch (1894), a Russian Jew converted to Orthodoxy who claimed to have discovered an ancient manuscript in a Tibetan monastery in Ladakh, which he persuaded the monks to translate for him. It dealt with the Indian travels of “Saint Issa”; and indeed there exists in Kashmir a supposed tomb of Jesus, who (according to some Moslems) wasn’t crucified but fled to the East. The founder of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam (one of the early influences on American black Islam), Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, also produced a Jesus In India (1899) inspired by Notovitch and by oral tradition.
Drew Ali made only a few changes in the sections of Aquarian Gospel he used, for instance changing “God” to “Allah” and removing the description of Jesus as blond and blue-eyed. Chapter I, a poetic metaphysics of human and divine nature, may have been written by Noble Drew Ali himself (at least, I’ve been unable to trace any source for it). As for Chapters XX through XLIV, “Holy Instructions From The Prophet,” these too derive from another source, a book called Unto Thee I Grant (also known as The Economy of Life, and as Infinite Wisdom). AMORC, the American Rosicrucian Society, keeps this text in print, and to my delight, Unto Thee turns out, like The Aquarian Gospel, to be in turn a kind of apocryphon or pseudepigraphal text. The editor, or “revisor,” one Sri Ramatherio, claims that the English version dates to 1760. AMORC seems to possess editions from that period, so we can assume that this date is correct. However, the text itself makes far moure exalted claims. Supposedly an unnamed “English Gentleman” representing British interests in China arranged in 1749 for a translation to be made of a Chinese text, which was in turn a translation of a Tibetan work of great antiquity, made by the Gentleman’s friend, a Chinese Prime Minister name Cao-Tsou, who obtained it from the Dalai Lama. Since the text is clearly not Buddhist, the Chinese translator is said to have believed the work was composed by Confucius or Lao Tzu. Presumably this legend was offered as an explanation of the book in 1760. Srim Ramatherio, who rediscovered the text in a Rosicrucian collection, noted that it contains references highly unlikely in a Tibetan work, such as crocodiles, the sea, and, we might add, tulips, Arabian perfumes, and a beaver!, and he leaps to the conclusion that the Tibetans had somehow acquired a translation of a work by Akhnaten, the “first monotheist” Pharoah of Egypt.
Ramatherio’s “revision” of 1925, with its mention of Egyptian monotheism, is probably the version seen and apprporiated by Noble Drew Ali in 1927. However, the Circle Seven Koran does not agree in every respect with the text of the 1986 AMORC edition (which is apparently the second printing of the thiry second edition, which was issued in 1979). Drew Ali’s version, aside from obvious changes made by him, contains sentences missing from the 1986 Unto Thee, including passages of a rather pessimistic or puritanical tone. “Be always prepared to give an account of thine action; and the best death is that which is least premeditated,” appears as XLIV/23 in the Koran but is missing from the 1986 Unto Thee, for example. It would seem that someone has tried to iberalize” the message. In other cases the differences are trifling or even baffling.
Unto Thee, IX/5, “Misery,” reads: “Reflection is the business of man; a sense of his state is his first duty; but who remembereth himself in joy?” The parallel passage in the Koran (XLIV/19) reads: “Reflection is the business of man; a sense of his state is his first duty; but who remembereth himself as a boy?”
Frankly neither reading makes much sense to me.
The sentences which are found in the Koran but not in Unto Thee (1986) are not, I believe, additions by Noble Drew, but were taken by him from the edition he saw. The questions remain: how much did Ramatherio tinker with pre-1925 editions in his “revision” and how much tinkering has gone on since 1925 in the thirty-two subsequent editions?
Although Ramatherio makes great claims for The Economy of Life as a mystical work, its most striking feature is its practical, ethical, somewhat literalist, rather world-weary conservatism. Our hypothesis is that the work was composed before 1760 (but not much before) in England by someone who had the Bible open to Proverbs as he wrote; the author may or may not be the same person who publishes the Legend of the book with its Sino-Tibetan claims. The author of the Legend was probably a Rosicrucian or member of some related Masonic order. The continuing appeal of the work owes more to the Legend that the text. Ramatherio added to the Legend, and Noble Drew made it his own.
And who’s to say that these imaginal Tibets and Egypts of Noble Drew Ali, Levi, Notovitch, Ramatherio, and the English Gentleman, which possess the charming two-dimensionality (or perhaps fractal dimensionality) of a hallucination or a packet of Turkish cigarettes, are not in their own sweet way as valuable as the “real” items? (And just how “real” are the four canonical gospels, for instance?) The world of apocrypha is a world of books made real, which may well be understood and appreciated by readers of Borges, Calvino, Lewis Carroll – or certain of the Sufis. The apocryphal imagination turns “Tibet” or “Egypt” into an amulet or mantram with which to unlock an “other world,” most real in dreams and books and dreams of books, visions induced by holy fasting or noxious alchemic fumes.
In the world of apocrypha the Images of established religion and canonical texts acquire a kind of mutability, a tendency to drift, to reflect the subjectivities of the (often anonymous) visionaries who sift through the fragments in order to produce fragments – so that texts become fluid organic mosaics with replaceable parts, each bit catching and reflecting a shard of light, like a magpie’s hoard. This is not plagiarism in the crude sense of the word. Like Borge’s man who wrote Don Quixote, the apocryphist re-creates within the Imagination the texts he venerates, even as the texts themselves take on a certain autonomy, a nomadic life of their own. And thus are born the scriptures of heresises, the canons of the gnostics, the fugitive poetics of self-revelation, the rants of the cults of love and light.
The most puzzling part of the Circle Seven consists of the final chapters, XLV-XLVIII, which deal with the “Asiatic” origins of the Moors. Here Africa is called, “Amexem,” and the dominion of the Moors is said to have extended even to Atlantis and America (so that Latin and Native Americans are actually “Asiatic races”). The Moors were stripped of their nationality in 1774 by the white Founding Fathers of America, and their Moorish identity lost and forgotten. Noble Drew Ali has come to restore it. None of my Moorish Science Temple informants or fellow-researchers have succeeded in discovering a source for this section, which has a style of its own. SImilar to Chapter I, it is less grammatical but more poetic than all the rest. The presumption and consensus is that Chapters XLV-XLVIII were composed by Noble Drew himself. Some authors have denied this on the grounds that certain newspaper reports called the Prophet illiterate, or nearly so. Oral tradition however asserts that “he wrote his own biography, and in disgust at the slow pace people were returning to Islam, threw it into the Sea of the Cares of the World. Both this and his writing on the Charter of Temple #9 Baltimore (now in Chicago) separate him from the commonly called unlettered Prophet Muhammad.
Drew Ali is a racialist but not a racist. He calls on every nation to “love instead of hate”; and “every man need to worship under his own vine and fig tree.” He was concerned especially and naturally with his own people, but considered that any “Asiatic” had the right to join the Moorish Science Temple, including Amerindians, Chinese, and Japanese, and even whites as “Celts” or “Persians.” Pale folk come in for some criticism in the Circle Seven, but there is no atmosphere of race-hate (as with Elijah Muhammad’s later Nation of Islam) – the emphasis is always on “Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom, and Justice.” Levi’s and the English Gentleman’s biblical pastiches combine with Drew Ali’s Islamic influences to produce a kind of folk-poetic style that permeates the whole of Moorish Science. In 1965, when I met the Moorish “Governor” of Baltimore in his old-fashioned junk shop, he sprinkled his discourse with metaphors of roses and musk, as well as Southern black dialect, in what can only be called an American Sufi style.
Contemporary readers may find the most attractive aspect of his Koran its emphasis on spiritual individuality and self-sufficiency. In part this reflects Levi’s theosophicoid influence, in part a natural American (Transcendentalist) tendency, and in part a rather Sufistic reading of Islam. “You are, each one, a priest just for yourself.” “Allah and man are one.” “I (Jesus) brought immortality to light and painted on the walls of time a rainbow for the sons of men; and what I did all men shall do.” Thus the Circle Seven Koran. Drew Ali commented, “When we rely upon others to study the secrets of nature and think and act for us, then we have created a life for ourselves, one which is termed, ‘Hell’.”
The Prophet Muhammad is mentioned only twice in this Koran, as the fulfiller of the works of Jesus. Drew Ali was addressing a mostly Christian readership; moreover, it must be admitted that he knew more of the spirit than the letter of “real” Islam. Given the nature of his supposed oriental wanderings, we may wonder if he had any contact with Islam other than in his poetic imagination. Until recently I might have answered, No, but in preparing this essay I found surprising and colorful new source material unknown to most historians of black Islam in America, which I believe solves some of the problems of Drew Ali’s sources of inspiration.
The Koran mentions Marcus Garvey as the “forerunner” of Noble Drew Ali (some say he was Drew Ali’s cousin, as John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus), and Moorish Science is generally regarded as an offshoot of Garveyism. Socially and politically this is true, but does little to explain the Islamic ingredients of Moorish Science. Some scholars mention Ahmadiyya missionaries, but I find this hypothesis unconvincing. The Ahmadiyya are very “orthopractic,” despite their heresies, and would at least have introduced the Islamic Koran (as they apparently did later with the Nation of Islam). Indian Sufi musicians under Hazrat Inayat Khan visited Ameica as early as 1912, a year before Drew declared his prophethood. Then there is also the story about Jamal al-Din Afghani and the Brethren of Purity; the story of Drew Ali’s own oriental wanderings; and finally, as a possible source of knowledge of Islam – the public library. But in the end none of these theories satisfies completely. Some are mere guesses, others probably legendary, others simply not compelling enough. I believe that Noble Drew Ali’s “Islam” had historical roots, of several kinds – first in various secret societies, second in certain surviving groups of Islamic-descended black Americans.
The first deep source of Moorish Science is Masonry. Connections between Islam and Freemasonry may go back to the Crusades, to pacts between Templars and Ismailis (“Assassins”). Eighteenth-century Rosicrucians claimed sources in the Yemen for their alchemical wisdom. The freethinkers of the Enlightenment held favorable opinions of Islam, not because they understood it very well, but because it represented the antithesis of Christianity; “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Frederick II, VOltaire, Goethe, and Nietzsche all admired Islam; dandies as well as revolutionary Masons adopted the accountrements if the “wicked Turk.” If this Masonic reading of Islam can be called a misreading, nevertheless it contains a fortuitous element – an example of heresy acting as a means of cultural transfer. That is: an image of Islam (however distorted) had in fact moved from East to West and brought about cultural ferment. Much of its energy will be found within Masonry.
European lodges admitted blacks, but American Masons were segregationist. The so-called clandestine Prince Hall Lodges of “black Masonry” actually possess legitimate European charters and have a history going back to the American Revolution, under such names as the Chapter of the Eastern Star, Order of the Golden Circle, and Knights of the Invisible Colored Kingdom.
In 1876-7 some New York businessmen, all thirty-second degree or thirty-third degree Scottish Rite Masons, founded the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine – the “Shriners.” They concocted a legend claiming initiations from a Grand Shaykh of Mecca, honors from the Ottoman Sultan Selim III, a charter from Adam Weishaupt of the Bavarian Illuminati, and links with the Bektashi Sufi Order. They bestowed the title “Noble” on themselves, wore fezzes, displayed a crescent moon and star with Egyptian ornaments (including the Great Pyramid), and founded lodges called “Mecca,” “Medina,” “Al Koran,” etc. Later Shriners found this esoteric mishmash embarrassing, repudiated the legend, devolved into a charitable fraternity, and saved their fezzes for parades and costume balls.