Islam is growing fast among African Americans, who are undeterred by increased scrutiny of Muslims in the United States since the September 11 attacks, according to imams and experts.
Converts within the black community say they are attracted to the disciplines of prayer, the emphasis within Islam on submission to God and the religion’s affinity with people who are oppressed.
Some blacks are also suspicious of U.S. government warnings about the emergence of new enemies since the 2001 attacks because of memories of how the establishment demonized civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
As a result, they are willing to view Islam as a legitimate alternative to Christianity, the majority religion among U.S. blacks.
“It is one of the fastest-growing religions in America,” said Lawrence Mamiya, professor of religion at Vassar College, speaking of Islam among black Americans.
He said there were up to 2 million black U.S. Muslims but acknowledged there are no precise figures.
Black Americans typically attend mosques separate from Muslims from immigrant backgrounds despite sharing common beliefs, according to Aminah McCloud, religious studies professor at DePaul University in Chicago.
But imams in Atlanta, a U.S. center for black Muslims, said they were subjected to less scrutiny than Muslims from the Middle East and Indian sub-continent.
RAP BROWN’S MOSQUE
Many blacks converted during the civil rights era, when Malcolm X helped popularize the Nation of Islam, attracting boxer Muhammad Ali among others. Islam still attracts prominent blacks such as rapper Scarface, a recent convert.
The larger Masjid of al-Islam mosque in another mainly black neighborhood of Atlanta is part of Warith Deen Muhammad’s group. Its imam, Plemon el-Amin, said he was involved with local interfaith work as well as with a local Islamic school.
One recent Friday, Mark King, a new convert, and hundreds of others at the mosque listened to a preacher urge Muslims to seek God through the Koran. Followers of other faiths should seek God through their own holy books, the preacher said.
King, who wears his hair in dreadlocks, converted after visiting Africa for the first time and in Gambia read the Koran and realized its teaching chimed with his own beliefs, not least in fighting injustice.
“For young African Americans, there is some attraction to learning about traditions that have been associated with resistance to European imperialism,” said King, who has adopted the name Bilal Mansa since his conversion.