Nation of Islam: Cult of the Black Muslims/Chapter 5
A. National Headquarters
Since 1934, when Elijah was forced to move from Detroit, the national headquarters of the cult have been at Temple No. 2, in Chicago. Muhammad's Temple No. 2 of the Holy Temples of Islam or, as it is sometimes called, Muhammad's Mosque No. 2, is located at 5335 South Greenwood Avenue, and adjacent to it is the University of Islam No. 2, at 5333 South Greenwood. In the basements of these buildings are the offices of the cult'sof the FOI and their secretaries. Two secretaries who handle incoming mail, filing, et cetera, are employed at Elijah's long-time residence at 4847 South Woodlawn. Headquarters for the cult newspaper, "Muhammad Speaks," are at 634 East 79th Street.
B. National Membership
Though the NOI has never published membership figures, estimates reported by the public news media have ranged from a low of 25,000 to a high of 250,000, with the number frequently put at 70,000. All of these figures are grossly exaggerated.After his defection, Elijah estimated the the membership of the cult as 7,000; and this figure approximates the estimate
TEMPLES OR MOSQUES
University of Islam Adjacent to Temple No. 2, Chicago, Illinois
Temple No. 4, Washington, D.C.
Concerning the NOI's membership,said no one in the NOI hierarchy had any positive idea of the actual number of members. As has been known by the FBI for years, the membership at any given time could only be estimated, as there is a constant influx of new persons, which is balanced by an egression of old members. New people begin attending meetings on a fairly regular basis. They have their names entered in the "Book of Life," maintained in Chicago, and obtain their "X" names. But as new members enter into the cult's activities, many others at any given time are in various stages of disillusionment--they fail to attend meetings regularly, fail to make the required contributions, do not accept the temple leaders' discipline, and are soon completely out of all the cult' activities.
C. Temples or Mosqueshas said that approximately 100 new persons a month join the Chicago Temple but that "members leave as fast as new ones join" and, therefore, for a number of years the total membership in Chicago has remained almost the same. Several years ago one of Elijah's sons, speaking at a meeting of the Chicago Temple, complained that during the 1961 annual Muslim convention 500 persons "signed up" for membership but only five of them remained in the temple.
Individual temples, or mosques, are located in various cities throughout the United States, but all are under the complete discipline of the national headquarters at Chicago. Elijah has designated altogether 38 numbered temples, one of which has been inactive for several years. The 37 active numbered temples are attended by about 4,300 of the total of slightly over 5,000 members of the cult. Only six of these temples have a membership of over 300 members each. These six temples are located in Chicago; Detroit; New York City; Washington, D: C.; Philadelphia; and Los Angeles. Almost half of the NOI's total membership belong to these six temples. Six other temples have memberships of between 100 and 300, and all the rest (25 numbered temples) have less than 100 members each-- several having less than 20 members each.
Aout 750 NOI members attend the meetings of 31 unnumbered NOI groups in various cities in the country. Many of these groups are led by visiting ministers from nearby temples, who frequently are accompanied by members from their own temples in an attempt to stimulate interest in these neighboring cities. Meetings usually are held in small, rented roomsor in homes of the participants. Estimates of normal attendance at meetings
with many having less than 10.
Most temples are located in the heart of the lower economic or deteriorating Negro neighborhoods. Except for the larger temples, very few are owned by the NOI and most are rented halls which are frequently on the second floor over a store or some other commercial establishment. The notable exceptions are in Chicago, the national headquarters, and in Washington, D.C., where the only NOI-built temple is located.
It is interesting to note that half of the total Negro population of the United States (as of the 1960 census) reside in the 11 Southern States which made up the Confederate States of the Civil War period. Yet, in this area, the NOI has only six temples and 17 small, unnumbered groups having a membership of only about 600 out of the total cult membership of approximately 5,000. Obviously, the NOI has made no great impression on the Southern Negro.
D. Temple Officers
The highest authority in an individual temple is the minister. He is appointed by Elijah and remains in authority only as long as Elijah believes he is helping the cause. The minister constantly echoes the teachings of Elijah and exhorts his group of Elijah's followers to contribute to the many collections taken for the support of the local temple and its officers and the national organization. In the larger, established temples, the minister devotes his full time to NOI activity and receives his entire support from donations made by the members of his temple. Usually, his home or rented residence, his auto, and all personal necessities for himself and his family are paid for by the various funds collected at his temples Those ministers in smaller temples with few regular members frequently must obtain some outside employment to supplement the assistance they receive from the temple. Nearly all ministers do considerable travelling. They make guest appearances at other temples to conduct meetings, or they lead delegations from their temples to attend social affairs and rallies at other temples.
The most articulate and widely known minister, until his expulsion last year, was Malcolm X Little, of MM No. 7. in New York City. As chief spokesman and travelling representative of Elijah Muhammad and the NOI for nearly ten years, he had made numerous public appearances in lectures and debates before college forums, on radio and television, and through interviews given to the public press. A tall, well-dressed, 38-year-old former convict, he freely admitted having been a dope addict, numbers runner, and burglar before becoming "rehabilitated" by Elijah Muhammad. Since his entrance on the NOI scene in early 1953, his dynamic, magnetic personality had been instrumental in the recruitment of many of the present ministers. In examining the background, education, and personalities of the nine most publicized and active ministers (including those from the six leading temples), one notes a distinct difference in the type of minister active prior to Malcolm's rise to prominence and the type which joined the cult after 1953 and rose to power, influenced and assisted by Malcolm.
Four of the nine ministers had been members of the NOI prior to 1953. Three of these became Muslims in the early 1940's, and each served a prison term for refusal to register for the Army draft. Each had been a Muslim for years before attaining the status of minister. The fourth of these ministers was Malcolmwho, though a member of the NOI prior to 1953, had not yet risen to a leadership position. He had earlier been rejected for military service because of low mentality. Only one of these four ministers, whose average age is 43, completed high school.
The remaining five of the nine leading ministers joined the NOI after Malcolm had become a leading official in the cult. All five had been either influenced by Malcolm to join the cult or had received his assistance in their rather rapid rise to leadership positions. All had a high school or college education, one being a Ph. D. and former college professor. These younger men, whose average age is 33, are eager, ambitious, and definitely opportunistic. Two of these five men were former entertainers, one a comic and one the leader of a group of calypso singers. The former college professor had been first a member of the Socialist Workers Party, and then a prominent member of a group of dissidents who broke off to form the Workers World Party. Finally, after contacts with Malcolm, he allied himself with the Muslims.
As might be expected, the many Muslim ministers, with varied backgrounds, education, and experience, and with very little control over them from national headquarters, use a variety of techniques in maintaining the interest of their members and in their appeals for new Muslims. It could be said the ministers' style of preaching is a blend of the revival preacher and the ward-heeling politician. They deliver their messages sometimes in a calm voice with unctuous earnestness and sometimes with rash and inciting statements startling their listeners. Anything goes, as long as it holds the interest of the present followers of Elijah, gains new converts to the cult, and keeps the donations coming into the temples' many funds.
Below the minister, the next highest authority in an individual temple is the captain of the FOI, the group within the NOI composed of the adult male members. Though answerable to the minister, the captain is responsible for discipline in the temple and is the leader of the temple's FOI. In the larger temples, the captain frequently receives financial support and is furnished an automobile from the donations of the members. The captains are usually aggressive, domineering men who relish the opportunity to command the members. They maintain strict military-type discipline over the temple members. The minister and captain are the important officials in each temple, but frequently there are conflicts of authority between them. This became of sufficient concern to the national hierarchy that during 1962 Elijah ordered that maintain closer control over the captains. Previously, the minister could appoint or remove his captain without consulting national headquarters.
Trouble between the temple officers leads to the development of factions in the temple. Some members support one and some the other leader to obtain favored treatment. Those members suffering most usually just drop out of the temple but occasionally they form a dissident group and complain to the national officers. As a result, a national officer usually comes to the temple, questions the members, and decides what action is to be taken. Sometimes the dissident members are expelled or, when the official believes the continuance of the temple is endangered, one or the other offending temple officer is transferred to another city.
Other, lesser officials in the individual temples are appointed by the minister according to his need for assistance in conducting the activities of the temple. The female NOI members are headed by one of their number who is called captain of the MGT. Both the FOI captain and the MGT captain have as many lieutenants assisting them as are needed, according to the size of the membership. Here again, there is no standardization in number of officers in the various temples. Favoritism displayed by the minister leads to ridiculous situations at times. Normally, each captain is assisted by two or three lieutenants, but one temple minister set up his own elite group of twelve particular friends within the temple and made all of them lieutenants. Other members derisively called them the "palace guard".
Larger temples generally have investigators, instructors, inspectors, secretaries, et cetera, each with his own assistants. Some temples also have assistant ministers, who are generally ambitious young men occasionally allowed to lead portions of the temple meetings, and field ministers, who travel to nearby areas to meet with small groups of people in an attempt to bring in new converts.
E. Fruit of Islam (FOI)
The Fruit of Islam (FOI) is the special elite group within the NOI, composed of the male members. Under the leadership ofexercises, and receives judo and karate training. The avowed purpose of this training program is to create healthy minds and bodies among the faithful followers of Elijah. Acting as bodyguards and escorts for temple and the individual temple FOI captain, each temple's FOI is organized and governed by a system with general orders similar to the system in a regular military organization. Regularly, the FOI participates in close-order military drills, engages in group physical
FRUIT OF ISLAM
Elijah Muhammad (1) Arriving at Airport in New York and Guarded by2) and FOI Men
Calisthenics in Temple No. 2
Besides the protection of officers and property of the cult, the FOI enforces compliance With the many cult rules imposed on all members. Probably most important of these many rules is that every Muslim must sell the NOI newspaper, "Muhammad Speaks." The FOI sees to it that the members fulfill their obligation to sell the paper. To discipline those members breaking the rules, as well as nonmembers who cause trouble for the cult, goon squads have been organized in some of the temples. These small groups of selected men, frequently led by former professional boxers, well-trained in karate and judo, have been employed to threaten or, on occasions, to brutally assault other Negroes. Charts have been used to show vulnerable spots on the human body, and instructors demonstrate the lethal blows that can be used. One instructor advised members of his group to "obtain salt brine" and soak their hands in it to toughen them enough to break planks.
The FOI is deadly serious. In one temple preparing for a visit from Elijah, the captain told the FOI to "be more like soldiers" and not to be smiling all the time. He said, "I want you to look like killers. We are not here to play. We will protect the Messenger at all costs."
In most large temples, the FOI is broken down into several groups. One consists of men 18 to 25 years old, about six feet tall, with good physiques, and in excellent health. These men, smooth-shaven and with close-cropped hair, and neatly attired in dark suits, act as honor guard at all public events. Young men 16 to 18 years of age and men over 25 years are generally placed in other groups. Most temples also have a junior FOI composed of boys up to 16 years of age who are trained for eventually joining the senior groups.
F. Muslim Girls Training (MGT)Similar to the military-type organization of the FOI is the NOI's female counterpart called the Muslim Girls Training (MGT), sometimes referred to by the female members as the General Civilization Class. Led by its captain and as many lieutenants as are necessary, this group engages in the many activities Elijah believes necessary for his female followers. They have classes in homemaking, hygienics, calisthenics, and other subjects, such as Muslim history and the English language. They are constantly urged to be "properly dressed"; that means, they must wear long, loose-fitting dresses or white robes, flat shoes, and no lipstick and cover their heads with a white shawl-type headdress. They are expected to purchase their apparel
MUSLIM GIRLS TRAINING (MGT)
"Properly Dressed" Sisters of NOI
Elijah's Daughter Ethel Sharrieff Instructs the Sisters
And, like the FOI, it has a junior MGT of girls under the age of 16.
Two schools are presently being operated for NOI children, the University of Islam No. 1, in Detroit, and the University of Islam No. 2, in Chicago. Actually, neither is a university. The one in Detroit is attended by about 125 students in grades one through nine, and the one in Chicago has about 500 students and includes high school subjects. Few stay to graduate. The University of Islam No. 2 graduated in February, 1964, only four from high school and seventeen from the eighth grade.
of the Chicago school, said in a recent issue of "Muhammad Speaks" that the purpose of the NOI schools is, besides teaching the regular academic subjects, educating "the children of Muslims in the knowledge of self, through the history of black men from ancient times to the present." She described how the schools turn their boys and girls "into self-respecting, intelligent, well-mannered, disciplined citizens."
While this seems commendable, those inside the movement know the real purpose is to indoctrinate the students with Elijah's teaching while keeping them ignorant of American history and government and out of contact with the "white devil" children. It is known that NOI schools have many problems of discipline, many students being suspended and others dropping out because of pregnancy.
The Chicago and Detroit schools have operated since the middle 1930's, but over the years they have not been without their problems with education and health officials. During 1963, the Illinois Legislature considered a bill concerning control of certain schools, specifically aimed at control of the Muslim school; but, although it passed the senate, it failed to get through the house.
Other temples, on occasions, have attempted to start schools but to date have been unsuccessful. Several temples do operate one-day-a-week classes for NOI children, and others have some form of an adult education program.
For several years after 1958, there were numerous requests and much publicity regarding donations for a proposed large NOI educational center in Chicago. Though Chicago authorities blocked this building program several years ago, Elijah has recently inaugurated a new program for an educational center in Chicago. He says this center will be "not for Muslims exclusively, but for the whole black nation." He is, therefore, appealing to all "so-called American Negroes" to contribute to the MM No. 2 educational fund. Elijah feels this center would assure the "so-called Negroes" of his desire to give them "knowledge of self."