The Significance of Racial and Ethnic Consciousness to Anti-Racist Resistance: A Case Study on the Moorish Science Temple of America


Melissa McLetchie

M.A. Candidate- Dept. of Sociology

York University

May 6, 2019


While many people are familiar with the contributions of “Black” nationalist groups like The Nation of Islam (NOI) and the Black Panther Party (BPP), few know the significance of the group the that helped spearheaded the nationalist movement in the United States. The Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA/MST) was founded by Noble Drew Ali in the early part of the twentieth century. What made the MSTA significant was their bold presentation of self during a time of intense racial oppression and mistreatment of “Blacks”. The MSTA was “a religious group catering to (B)lack Americans in numerous northern cities in the 1920s” (Varda, 2019, p. 686). As a minority group they were able to “create a space for themselves amid the oppression of the major white culture” (Varda, 2019, p. 687). 

Few scholars have acknowledged the important part Noble Drew Ali played in cultivating the sense of pride held by many “Black” people in the United States and Canada to this very day. However, “by virtue of his disproportionate impact, Ali should be understood as a principle architect of early-twentieth-century black social thought and movement” (Varda, 2019, p. 687). The Moorish Science Temple of America was the first group to offer “congregants an alternative to the stifling reality of the urban north by fashioning a distinct conception of (B)lack American identity at odds with both the dominant notions of black worth as well as those advanced by more well-known (B)lack nationalists of the day” (Varda, 2019, p. 687).

 It is this influence that inspires the following questions: How did the resistance theories of the Moorish Science Temple of America position the organization in relation to the dominant political and social rhetoric of “Black” worthlessness and inferiority? And what can the practices of the Moorish Science Temple of America teach us about the significance of racial and ethnic consciousness to anti-racist resistance?

Drew Ali and the Moors

                The MSTA was founded by a man named Timothy Drew, who later came to be known as “Prophet Noble Drew Ali”. The first temple was established in 1913 under the title of “‘The Canaanite Temple’ and the subsequent ‘Moorish Holy Temple of Science’” (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, p. 6). The organization was established during the time of Garveyism, a movement named after Marcus Mosiah Garvey II, founder and President of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Under Garveyism “Negro” and “Black” people were encouraged to denounce their pre-emancipation titles and identity. He asserted that only by doing this would “freemen” be able to recognize their disenfranchisement, lynching, and utter disrespect as crimes committed by European Americans (Adwo El, 2014, p. 28).

            Noble Drew Ali carried on Garvey’s message by declaring that “so-called Negroes… possessed a distinctive nationality” (Johnson, 2015, p. 297). He declared that they were not what their oppressors claimed them to be, but were in fact “Moorish Americans, descended from the ancient Moabites” (Johnson, 2015, p. 297). Any thorough review of the history of near-Asian lands would reveal “such places as Canaan and Moab” (modern day Morocco) … “extensions of what we now call the African continent” (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, p. 17). Distorted history has attempted to deny the Africanity of those known throughout history as Moors in the interest of “Eurocentrism’s pigmentocratic status quo” (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, p. 19), which “implies that one’s political power and social worth are directly related to the lightness of their complexion” (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, p. 19). This same deception was used by European Americans during and after slavery to justify their abuse and oppression of “Blacks”.    

The teachings of the MSTA stressed the importance of Black American’s creating an identity separate from the European American construction of “Blackness” that “had specifically to do with being both black and American, particularly if one was also from the South” (Nance, 2002, p. 630). Noble Drew Ali taught that,

“If Black Americans embrace(d) their true Moorish ‘nationality’, as he termed it, the U.S. government (under which they lived) and all other nations would respect them and could regard them as a dignified people with (a) history (that) merited respect”.

(Johnson, 2015, p. 299)

In 1790 there in one such documented instance of “so-called Negros” and slaves using their Moorish nationality to gain their freedom.

The Sundry Free Moors Act of 1790 was the legislation passed by the House in South Carolina after four African couples who were brought to America and enslaved, argued that they were in fact subjects of a Prince in alliance with the U.S. Under their petition they claimed,

Some years past (they) had the misfortune while fighting in the defence of their country, to be captured with their wives and made prisoners of war by one of the Kings of Africa. That a certain Captain Clark had them delivered to him on a promise that they should be redeemed by the Emperor of the Moroccan Ambassador then residing in England, in order to have them returned to their own country. Instead of which he brought them to this State, and sold them for slaves (South Carolina, Stevens, Allen, & South Carolina, 1984).

Since only “Negros” could be slaves under the Negro Act of 1740 and skin colour was “prima facie evidence” (McCord, 1840) of negro identity, we can confidently conclude that the Moors in question were phenotypically “Africoid.” Their enslavement in the U.S. was a direct violation of Chapter 1, Section 4 of the Negro Act of 1740 which states:

The term negro is confined to slave Africans, (the ancient Berbers) and their descendants. It does not embrace the free inhabitants of African, such as the Egyptians, Moors (bolded for emphasis), or the negro-Asiatics, such as the Lascars (McCord, 1840).

The petitioners argued that under their Moorish nationality,

They may not be considered as subject to a Law of this State (now in force) called the negro law, but if they should unfortunately be guilty of any crime or misdemeanor  against the Laws of the Land, that they may have a just trial by a Lawful Jury” (South Carolina et al., 1984).

Their authentic designation as Moors exempted them from being slaves along with the punishment of oppressive laws that constrained the lives of other “so-called Negros”. They were therefore able to move about the country as “freemen” with their own distinct culture and religion (Islam). Although their presence in the U.S. is often disregarded and ignored, evidence of the alliance between the Morocco and America hides in plain sight. The history of the Moors’ existence almost 200 years prior to Noble Drew Ali is represented by the crescent moon (a well-known Islamic symbol) and the palm tree on South Carolina flag.

Tut Underwood, South Carolina Public Radio, 2017

It has proven difficult to connect Noble Drew Ali to his Moorish predecessors “since much of his early life is shrouded in mystery” (Easterling, 2013, p. 2). We do know that he was born to “an ex-slave father and a mother who was part Cherokee and part Moorish” (Easterling, 2013, p. 3). Ali was orphaned as a child and spent time studying in Egypt as a teenager. Even with limited biographical information on Drew Ali, we can learn much about the man and his movement from the ways he resisted the dominant political and social rhetoric of “Black” worthlessness and inferiority. Noble Drew Ali openly encouraged “so-called Negros” in America to reject all European American practices that were used to control them as slaves. He believed that if they were to resist Christianity, refrain from using slave names, and proclaim their Moorish nationality it would take them out of the subordinate position they had been placed in.

Resisting Christianization

                When African’s were stolen and enslaved in the “new world”, they were forced to abandon their former ways of life including their religion. For many scholars “Christianization and slavery were essentially processes of cultural destruction”(Johnson, 2015, pp. 299–300). Christianity was presented by American Europeans as the only way to salvation for barbarous Africans. The fact that many African Americans continued to practice Christianity after emancipation was problematic to Drew Ali. It was disturbing to know that so many “free” Africans “embraced the Christian salvation myth and its civilizing mission” (Johnson, 2015, p. 300) since it was so-far-removed in practice from revelation. “Blacks” in the southern states were oppressed by racist laws; they had their churches bombed and burned, and public lynching’s were common place. It was irrational to believe that “a missionary religion that targeted ex-slaves after the Civil War (and) emphasized that Christianization would achieve racial uplift and redeem converts from African decadence”(Johnson, 2015, p. 300) could also promote and support equity between the “races”.

            Noble Drew Ali stressed the importance of “so-called Negros” rejecting Christianization; the same religion that was used to justify their oppression for centuries. It was Drew Ali’s claim that “Christianity was alien to African Americans” (Johnson, 2015, p. 300), and that as Moors their ancestral religion was Islam. The Christianity presented to slaves “concealed their religious heritage (Johnson, 2015, p. 303) by removing their presence from history. By rejecting Christianity and “returning it to its rightful European owners, ‘so-called Negroes’ themselves were returning to the gods of their forebears” (Johnson, 2015, p. 303) which would “reawaken” them from their slave-mentality and amnesia.

            During the nineteenth century “it was extremely rare for African Americans to reject Christianity” (Johnson, 2015, p. 300). Drew Ali re-established what it meant to be “Black” and American, by “launching Islam as a (B)lack particularistic tradition in the United States” (Varda, 2019, p. 692). The intersectionality of this new existence incorporated aspects of “race”, religion, and nationality. The Circle Seven Koran is the main religious text of the MST and is a combination of “appropriated Christian concepts and other mystical texts to explain the origins of Moorish divinity” (Varda, 2019, p. 693). Within the Circle Seven Koran “Drew Ali rhetorically positioned Islam as an inherited legacy for (B)lack Americans by naming a kinship between racial origins and national identity” (Varda, 2019, p. 693). The information in the religious text reintroduced potential converts to their true selves.

In the Circle Seven Koran, “so-called Negros” learned of their ethnic and religious history, most of which was contradictory to what they had been conditioned to believe about themselves. The MSTA appealed to many people because of their defiance of dominant racist discourses and legislation. The Moors in Chicago were bold and refused to accept an inferior social status during a time when “Black Americans continued to face gross inequities in housing, education, health care, and basic social services” (Varda, 2019, p. 689). It is important to also remember that during this era the “criminality of the Negro was a central concept in numerous public discourses” (Varda, 2019, p. 689), and “Blacks” were subjected to harsh punishments for any violation of the law, be it fact or fiction.

 Drew Ali reshaped the identity of his congregants into Moorish American’s, a designation which offered “the possibility of an emancipatory release from what he posited as the shackles of white Christendom and their own perceived racial inferiority (Varda, 2019, p. 692). By openly rejecting Christianity and accepting Islam as their true religion, the MSTA positioned themselves as outsiders in-every-way. Ali proved successful by deploying his own version of Islam (Islamism) that contested both the myth of black inferiority as well as the accommodationist position of the black church toward white supremacy (Varda, 2019, p. 692).

Religion is significant to racial/ethnic consciousness because it promotes solidarity through sameness. According to Banton (2002), “religion teaches its adherents to identify with others who share their faith and tells them how to behave towards those who do not” (159). Drew Ali used social practices of slavery and other types of racial oppression to demonstrate why Christianity was not an appropriate religion for “Negros”. The fact that white Christians burned “Black” churches and bodies, is not reflective of a religion that is open to all people. The fact that the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses outside the homes of “Black” Christian ministers is not reflective of a religion that identifies people of colour as brethren in faith. In order to enlightened coverts to their true self, Drew Ali would have to strip them of the religion that told them they were “Niggers”, “Negros”, “Coloured”, and “Black”. Only after embracing the religious teachings of their ancestors (Islam), could “so-called Negros” begin to align with their Moorish identity.

Rejecting Names and Embracing Nobility

                In the classic film Roots (1977) there is a powerful scene where Kunta Kinte (a plantation slave) is being publicly whipped for rejecting the name “Toby” so graciously (emphasised for sarcasm) given to him by his “master”. As Kunta is being whipped, the overseer repeatedly asks, “What is your name?”, and every time he reply’s “Kunta Kinte.” After dozens of lashes, Kunta painfully squeezes out the name “Toby”. This example is a harsh reminder of how the identity of African’s enslaved by European Americans was literally beaten out of them. The “masters” reassigned new names to the enslaved Africans to reinforce their ownership over them. In the Moorish Science Temple of America, congregants were encouraged to reject and release their “slave-names” and to take-on titles that signify their nobility and “high character”. Drew Ali invited congregants to add “El” or “Bey” to their surnames to symbolically illustrate their membership in the MSTA and simultaneously renounce their slavery-linked surnames. Renaming allowed members to embrace monikers denoting “Moorish dignity.” Moreover, the symbolic act of renaming functioned to further distinguish Moorish Americans from the dominant image of disrepute attached to southern blackness (Varda, 2019, p. 696).

The five titles used in the MSTA are El, Bey, Ali, Al, and Dey. According to the MSTA teachings, “El” represents the law makers/law givers; “Bey” are law enforcers; “Ali” is a title reserved for those who are, or who have reached a “Master” degree in their line of studies; “Al”  is also reserved for obtainment by degrees in the sciences:  Mathematical, Geometrical, Psychological, etc.; and “Dey”  is meant for and reserved for the same in degrees of Astrological, Cosmological, other sciences, etc. (“National Identification Cards,” 2019).  None of these titles are derogative or inferior in anyway which challenged the social and political discourses of white supremacy. These titles presume a heighted level of intelligence which undermined the “white” European perspective that “Negros” were unintelligent.

Name-changing is a practice significant to promoting ethnic and racial consciousness within religious organizations because it signifies that members “have undergone a religious conversion and become new persons” (Banton, 2002, p. 18). Names were used by the MSTA as a way to further identify themselves as Moors. Under a Moorish American identity, they would be exempted from those statues used to further oppress “so-called Negros” after the Civil War.  The MSTA counteracted racism by rejecting names and racial categories which placed them at a social, political, and economic disadvantage. Drew Ali taught congregants that “they were not ‘Negros’; this was only a label that white people had placed upon them to make discrimination easier” (Banton, 2002, p. 19).

            The MSTA taught Moorish nobility during a time where people of colour were conditioned to believe they were ugly and unworthy of nice things. It was propagated in popular newspapers that Black Americans possessed the advantage of being ‘nearer the savage stage of man’s development,’ and hence more willing to ‘live in shabbier houses, eat meager food, wear dirtier clothes, than men will do among whom the living standards of a white civilization are maintained’ (Varda, 2019, p. 690).

To promote “high character” and distance themselves from “Black” Americans, Ali encouraged “his male members to wear fezzes and sport beards” (Varda, 2019, p. 696). In addition, “Black” worthlessness and inferiority was rejected by adopting new styles of clothing which emphasize(d) their ancient nobility. European American’s were confused by the image of “Blackness” displayed by members of the MSTA. Their expensive-looking silk and brocade clothing did not fit the dominant discourse of “so-called Negro” poverty and filth. Their ethnic consciousness as Moors and the way they presented this consciousness in their style of dress rejected and resisted (the) racist order of the larger culture (Varda, 2019, p. 686).

Rejecting Denaturalization

            In the 18th century, the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship (1786) was negotiated by Thomas Barclay with the Prince of Morocco, Sidi Muhammad Ibn Abdallah. The Treaty was enacted “in an effort to recognize the national sovereignty of the United States as well as proclaim friendly relations between the two nations” (Easterling, 2013, p. 58). As descendants of the Moabite people (ancestral inhabitants of modern-day Morocco), the Moors in America are protected under this treaty. Drew Ali taught “so-called Negros” that emancipation had granted them no true freedom. As long as they were refused citizenship by the state, they were being denied membership in American society. “So-called Negros” had no access to adequate housing, education, or health care, and “in the Southern states, Jim Crow laws made explicit those racial exclusions governed by back room politics and social convention in the post Reconstruction period” (Varda, 2019, p. 689).

            The denial of citizenship to “Blacks” meant the denial of civil rights and liberties. Their emancipated slave-status had award them no further recognition nor social respect. Noble Drew Ali used the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship (1786) as the foundation for a recognizable nationality for his congregants. This treaty validated Noble Drew Ali’s idea of nationhood, and gave the MSTA the right to be both Moorish and American without contradiction (Easterling, 2013, p. 60). The U.S. denying citizenship to “Negros” was not an issue for the Moors because they identified as Moorish-American. In Chicago, they were known to “militantly declare to those they encountered on the street ‘I am a citizen of the United States!’” (Varda, 2019, p. 686).

            Drew Ali’s minor rhetoric challenged dominant political and social discourses that “constructed a narrative of black worthlessness that emphasized black Americans’ ill-suited character for citizenship” (Varda, 2019, p. 691). To Drew Ali, declaring one’s nationality as a Moorish American was the culmination of all his teachings. He would tell his followers “if you do nothing else- declare your nationality” (“National Identification Cards,” 2019). In the MST nationality is everything, you cannot be a Moor without one.

Members of the Moorish Science Temple (MST) were provided Nationality and Identification Cards that were to be presented to anyone who attempted to detain or harass them (Varda, 2019, p. 705). The card worked to further distance the organization from “so-called Negros” and reinforced their unique social position as allies of the state. When racist discourses attempted to portray “Blacks” as savages underserving of citizenship, the Moorish Nationality and Identification Card dignified their existence and “announced the bearers as Moorish Americans whose belonging and citizenship should not be questioned” (Varda, 2019, p. 706).

Self-consciousness and Resistance

                Noble Drew Ali constantly stressed to the “so-called Negros” around him that the Emancipation proclamation had granted them no true “freedom”, for they lived in a land that rejected them by denying them social membership. The title “Negro” given to enslaved Africans reduced them to nothing more than a piece of property; “he was resident in the United States and owned by American citizens but was not part of the societal community in the present sense” (Parsons, 1965, p. 1010). By continuing to use that same designation after being “freed” would imply that property is what they still were, and property can have no rights nor nation. Drew Ali emphasized the need for “greater self-knowledge and self-reliance amongst African Americans” (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, p. 190). His movement was presented as the remedy to their demeaning social, political, and economic condition. For how could people truly be free if they didn’t even know who they truly were?

            As Moor, Drew Ali was an outsider to the racial tensions plaguing the U.S. at the time. He was able to see the causes and consequences of slavery from an enlightened perspective. This is not to say that he didn’t experience instances of racism like other people of colour. However, his presentation of self through his elaborate style of dress and “high character”, made him appear foreign to both American Europeans and African Americans. In the movie Green Book (2018) set in 1962, there is a scene where African American classical pianist “Don Shirley” leans against his car in the deep South, while his European American driver “Tony Vallelonga” attends to their over-heating engine. “Shirley” is well dressed in clothing unlike anything worn by “Whites” or “Blacks” of the time and presents a “high character.” Across the road a group of “so-called Negros” tend the fields of a plantation. They are so astonished and intrigued by the occurrence of “white” man serving a “Black” man that they stop working and stare in admiration.  “Shirley’s” self-consciousness and “high character” distanced him so much from “so-called Negros” that his driver would often explain to his comrades that “Shirley” was not like the “others”.

            This example demonstrates how resistance strategies of the Moorish Science Temple (MST) would have significantly challenged the dominant social order of their time. The structure of social institutions in the U.S. at the onset of the Moorish movement, highly influenced the groups’ successful formation. Noble Drew Ali’s daring style and promise of freedom was appealing to “so -called Negros” who had never owned anything. He was known to tell his audiences “the garment I have on represents power and if you obey my voice…you will have power… I am going to free you” (Varda, 2019, pp. 685–686). How could what Noble Drew Ali offered be any worse than the social condition that “Blacks” were already in?

The formation of the MSTA was influenced by the structure of social institutions which made it easier for individuals to come together (Banton, 2002, p. 4) under the association of their Moorish ancestry. In addition, the “great migration” that took place after the North defeated the South in the American Civil War likely impacted the pace at which the organization grew. Banton (2002) tells us that “group formation is also influenced by the processes of change affecting the society, many of which was to be observed in the changes in individual lives” (p. 4). The relocation of the MSTA headquarters to Chicago “coincided with a dramatic increase in the city’s black population” (Mubashshir, 2001, p. 10).

            The MSTA challenged racist legislation and social discourses of “Black” inferiority with knowledge-of-self and self-reliance. The MSTA taught that “true self-reliance only comes with self-confidence, and self-confidence is rooted in one’s awareness of their past achievements” (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, p. 190). Building of the wisdoms of scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois which “emphasize(d) that slavery had not emptied America’s Africans of any and all things African” (Johnson, 2015, p. 308), Drew Ali hoped to reintroduce “so-called Negros” to their forgotten selves.  The key to racial and ethnic consciousness is knowledge. To this day Moorish Science Temples in the U.S. and Canada hold weekly class to educate “Black” people on their Moorish ancestry.

Critics of Drew Ali’s Moorish ancestry and that of his followers have argued that “it is not possible for Negroes to view themselves as other ethnic groups viewed themselves…because the Negro is only an American, and nothing else… he has no culture and values to guard and protect” (Johnson, 2015, p. 310).  The MSTA have been accused of Orientalism and appropriating the cultures of others. They have defended their ancestry on numerous occasions, by highlighting that Morocco’s own political authorities have recognized the validity of the Moorish-America’s claim to ‘Moorish’ birthrights. The unchallenged declarations of Moorish (and) Moroccan lineage suggest that the Moroccan government has had no problems with the Moorish Science Temple’s platform. Delegations from Morocco even came to Washington, D.C. to meet with the Moorish Americans of the MSTA in 1988 (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, pp. 204–205).

Discourses that aim to deny African’s in the U.S. and Canada the right to a culture, do so only to keep “Blacks” in a subordinate social position and promote “white” supremacy. School curriculums ignore the numerous contributions of “Black” people over the course of history. Instead of celebrating the ancestry of “Black” people, their existence is shackled to the atrocities of slavery within a single calendar month. For this reason, racial and ethnic consciousness is significant to the dismantling of racism. When Drew Ali encouraged his congregants to reject Christianity and slave-names, and proclaim their Moorish nationality, he positioned them as ethnically and racially foreign to the U.S. It was Booker T. Washington who initially revealed that “when white Americans understood black bodies as American Negroes, hostility was sure to follow, but when those same bodies were understood as foreign, “all the signs of indignation disappeared” (Varda, 2019, p. 696).

Nationality Over Race

“Black” scholars and activists have always used racial and ethnic consciousness as a strategy to undermine social injustices based on the colour of a person’s skin. W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of “double consciousness” is probably the best-known. According to his theory, “double consciousness involves participating in an ‘American’ culture that sees his African heritage as degraded…(and) painful self-consciousness, an almost morbid sense of personality and a moral hesitancy that arises which is fatal to self-confidence” (Balfour, 1998, p. 349). Much of Du Bois’ writing was used as an attempt to curb racial inequalities by enlightening his white readers as to what is was like to be a “Black” person in America. He spent much of writing almost begging whites for acceptance and inclusion.

Somewhat similarly, James Baldwin’s writing “considers the psychological impact of racial division on black and white Americans” (Balfour, 1998, p. 351). He used his own experiences of dealing with “the color line” as well as the experiences of his Father and Grand-Father to awaken his predominantly “white” readers as to what it meant to be a “Negro” in America. He challenged the notion of American “democracy” by highlighting the denial of democratic rights to all residents. In an interview from 1970, Baldwin was asked “What is the definition of a black man and his power?” To which he responded: 

““The Black Man” doesn’t exist, any more than the white man. We shouldn’t confuse the fact of living with the demands of living. We speak of the white man because white men have always held the power in all the history of the world, and we speak of the black man because, in theory, black men don’t have power. Therein is the root of these terms: if you are white you have power; if you are black, you don’t have power…. It’s the world’s perspective, which says to me not “black” but “nigger”; and the whole question, in the end, if you are black, can be summed up this way: getting to the point where you’re not called “nigger.””

(Farès & Thompson, 2011, p. 65).

In Baldwins argument, “Negros” had earned their right to citizenship because their blood, sweat, and tears helped to build the Nation. He attempted to challenge racism with his knowledge of the historical contributions of African slaves. He accepted and embraced his “Negro”/“Black” identity and hoped that this acceptance would somehow shift the dominant perception of “Black” undesirability.

            In relation, Frantz Fanon’s theory of “third-person consciousness” discusses being “Black” in relation to white people; an existence amplified by the “colour line.”  His perspective of self-consciousness was tied closely to skin colour, and how it influences social spaces. His writing expressed a certain sadness over his complexion and the way it opened him up to belittlement by his white companions, and strangers. In Black Skin, White Masks (2016) he writes, “I wanted to be a man, nothing but a man…some identified me with ancestors of mine who had been enslaved or lynched; I decided to accept this” (p. 113). In much of his work we get the impression that the ancestral legacy of “Blacks” in the U.S. began with slavery. In his attempted to resist racism he accepts his racialization as the consequence of this supposed ancestry.

            Du Bois, Baldwin, and Fanon all tied their racial and ethnic consciousness in some way to what European Americans thought of them. Little to no emphasis was placed on their ancestral origins outside the U.S. It is as if the existence of Africans began with American slavery, a rather odd conception. This perception had settled rather comfortably throughout both academic and non-academic discourses. “Mainstream” school curriculums in North America completely ignore the positive contributions of Africans throughout history, highlighting the need for Moorish Science Temple teachings.

Drew Ali’s theories of resistance are far removed from those mentioned above. The racial and ethnic consciousness instilled in his congregants was a fusing of race, religion, and nationality in such a way that they commanded respect from both African and European Americans. The “‘white’ rights and favoured status granted to ‘Moorish’… nationals in colonial American and U.S. society” (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, p. 197) proves this. As the sister of the Grand Sheikh of the first Moorish Science Temple in Canada (2008), I have seen evidence of congregants using their Moorish Canadian nationality to de-escalate confrontations with local police. By proclaiming their nationality as Moors and presenting their identification cards, they have avoided harassment and detainment in this country.

Instances such as these work to reinforce Noble Drew Ali’s argument that “the historical limitations and disenfranchisements of so-called ‘Negroes’/’Blacks’ was directly related to the legal designates which were applied to them” (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, p. 197), and that “those U.S. residents who denied the used of their ‘free National name’ would endure whatever mistreatments the citizens care to bestow” (Pimienta-Bey, 2002, p. 197). One can only resist oppression and racism with knowledge; knowledge of your true self.


The Moorish Science Temple of America started a social movement in the United States during a time of immense racism, that was highly-recognized and respect for quite a few years. Noble Drew Ali offered oppressed “so-called Negros” the opportunity to break the shackles of a degenerate identity by rejecting Christianity and slave-names, while embracing and openly proclaiming their Moorish-American nationality. Using a combination of race, religion, and nationality, he resurrected the true identity of “Blacks” in America, one that offered them an ancestry they could be proud of.

The “Moorish movement” of the 1920s can teach us a lot about how to combat racism in the present-day. While protests against police violence and advocacy for legislative changes are a step in the right direction, they have done little to counter-act the dominant discourse of “Black” inferiority. Could it be that the Moors had it right all along? Is it truly possible that by proclaiming a Moorish nationality, and embracing an ancestral name and religion, “Black” people in the U.S. and Canada could finally move beyond the “colour line”? I will leave that up to you to decide.


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Varda, S. J. (2019). Drew Ali and the Moorish Science Temple of America: A Minor Rhetoric of Black Nationalism. PUBLIC AFFAIRS, 35.

The Significance of Racial and Ethnic Consciousness to Anti-Racist Resistance: A Case Study on the Moorish Science Temple of America

Melissa P. McLetchie is a PhD student in the department of Sociology at York University in Canada. She is very passionate about social justice initiatives aimed specifically at breaking down barriers for Black-Canadians.

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