Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Nation of Islam and a good memoir

i'm reading this memoir thats pretty good by Sonsyrea Tate entitled Do Me Twice. yes, i know, going off the title, i would never have picked this book up. sounds like something by Zane. but Sonsyrea Tate has another book i read a while back- Little X. its about her life growing up in the Nation of Islam.
her paternal grandparents converted when the Nation of Islam was becoming popular in the 60's, and her mother converted when she married her father. she and her family attended the NOI temples and schools, they dressed as the NOI and they followed the religious rituals. the first book is more about being a child and the standards and beliefs that she received as a child from the NOI. the second book is more about her problems with the beliefs she had and her rebellion from the religion.

here is an excerpt from Do Me Twice:
"i thought about my growing resentment toward Islam as i'd known it and realized the main thing i disliked was that it changed every decade or so. at least in America it did. it was as if it was being created and re-created as we went along. i needed a religion that would remain the same when everything else changed, something solid to hold on to in a confusing, ever-changing world. if your religion is confusing and unstable, you're in trouble. the very name of my religious organization changed three times before i was fifteen.
we started out as the Nation of Islam, then after Elijah Muhammad's death our organization evolved and was renamed the World Community of Al-Islam in the west. we were told to consider ourselves Bililian Muslims, after the darkest Muslim that followed the original prophet of Islam in Mecca. (before then, we'd been taught not to associate with the Muslims of middle-eastern orthodoxy because our Nation of Islam version of Islam was different, and, for us, better than their ancient, foreign religion.) Elijah Muhammad's son, Warith Deen Muhammad, who led or organization and re-named it the World Community of AL-Islam in the West, changed the name of our organization again. He now said we would call ourselves the American Muslim Mission.
as we changed customs and practices to align ourselves with the world-wide Orthodox Muslim community, Warith Deen Muhammad said we would no longer follow a central leader because Arab Muslims did not do that and we were modeling ourselves after them.

while i am far from religious, i find it one of the most interesting subjects to study. a year or so ago, i was obsessed with Islam-i was reading almost any book (suggestion: Muhammad by Yahiya Emerick-very very good read about the Prophet Muhammad and the spread of Islam)i could find on the subject and even tried learning Arabic (still in the process...). and now i'm reading more about the black power movement, and the Nation of Islam was and has been a strong constant in the struggle.

now that i live in Brooklyn, i have a new perspective on them as a group. i see them every now and them in the Atlantic Terminal Subway Station or the 125th Station in Harlem selling The Final Call (their newspaper), which i try to buy when i can.
on one hand, i respect them and wish that some things they implemented in the lives of their followers could have been duplicated on a mass scale for all blacks. for example, Sonsyrea talks about how they learned to love themselves as black children in school, and were taught to hold Africa and its cultures to the utmost respect. they were a community based organization that embraced collectivism and community living-buying food from other blacks, bulding businesses, hospitals and organizations that were aimed at blacks to help blacks. and it shouldn't be forgotten that this is the organization that fostered Malcolm X. Elijah Muhammad also enforced one of the best diet plans than many nutritionists. these are things the black community needed and still needs.
however, on the other hand, i could never join an organization like this. for one, its a religious organization. i would never associate myself with any religion, let alone a theistic one. second, the NOI is a very patriarchal religion, but then again so is Islam (and so is Christianity). Sonsyrea speaks about wanting to go into the work force and earn her own money while her mother was trying to teach her that her job was to be a mother and a wife before anything else (her mother had 10 children, while their hot water, electricity and telephone were being turned off for lack of money). the Million Man March is one example-having a march for black men as if black women have not suffered in this oppression that they have and as if we have nothing to add. almost all the articles in their newspaper are written by a man to a man, and the only advertisements or promotions i see in the paper mentioning women speaking have to do with cooking. in addition, Louis Farrakhan is absurdly homophobic, and i've discussed my thought on homophobia in the black community already.
mainly my problem (my problem with all religions) is the dogma involved. Elijah Muhammad's diet plan is one of the best i've heard, but he forced this on his followers and told them they would go to hell if they didn't follow it. its almost humorous to think i'd go to hell for eating pork and white rice...

think. comment. criticize. read the books.

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