A recent story in New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press sheds light on a highly esoteric group which can make a claim to being an indigenous American form of Islam, the Moorish Science movement. The story concerns Lee S. Crudup, who now goes by his “Moorish-American” name of Nature El Bey. Earlier this year, he was charged with—and acquitted of—failing to cooperate with Asbury Park police by giving a false name. He was convicted of not registering or insuring his car, and served 14 days in jail. He has now filed a federal suit, along with the Moorish Science Temple of America, accusing Asbury Park authorities of kidnapping him and illegally depriving him of his property under color of law. His numerous unorthodox legal arguments include that police have no right to stop citizens—only the sheriff, who holds the sole law enforcement office created by the state constitution, can do so, El Bey told the newspaper. But the larger issue seems to be the Moorish Science doctrine that Moorish-Americans constitute a separate nationality and are not subject to US law—or only to a strict constitutional interpretation. This doctrine has also brought followers of Moorish Science into frequent conflict with the IRS.
Because these beliefs reflect the Common Law interpretations popular on the grassroots right, Moorish Science has come under the scrutiny of hate-group watchdog organizations. The Asbury Park Press quoted Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League saying Moorish Science is a variation of the larger “sovereign citizen” movement. It also said that Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates “identifies it as a black nationalist religious movement.”
Actually, the Moorish-Americans reject the labels “black” and “African,” asserting that African-Americans are really the inheritors of a great Moorish civilization that existed on both sides of the Atlantic in ancient times, and are part of the “Great Asiatic Race,” which includes all non-white peoples. Followers wear the fez and claim to be adherents of Islam, while also recognizing other religions as legitimate paths to truth. They generally take Muslim names, or add the suffix “El” or “Bey” (a Turkish honorific) to their given names. First established in Newark in 1916 by the Prophet Noble Drew Ali, who published a founding document known as the “Circle-7 Koran,” the movement flourished in Chicago and was an important precursor of Elijah Muhammed’s Nation of Islam—but unlike the latter, it never espoused racial hatred. The Moorish movement’s official slogan is “Uplifting Fallen Humanity by Learning to Love Instead of Hate.” The movement is today somewhat factionalized, with the largest tendencies being the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Moorish Science Temple of America, Inc.
Given that the Asbury Park Press story ran on Sept. 11, the New Jersey Moors must have been relieved that no attempt was made to link the movement to Islamic terrorism. One former member of the Moorish Science movement has been tied to al-Qaeda and convicted on federal terrorism charges. But the former Clement Rodney Hampton-El, who was born into Moorish Science, abandoned it for orthodox Sunni Islam and changed his name to Abdul Rashid Abullah (usually known simply as Dr. Rashid) more than 20 years before travelling to Afghanistan to fight in the Mujahedeen in 1988, and falling into the orbit of the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, supposed mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. In 1995 he was convicted in the Blind Sheikh’s supposed follow-up plot to bomb multiple New York City landmarks, and is currently serving a lengthy prison term. (See our ten-year retrospective on the 1993 WTC attack.) There is an in-depth biography of Dr. Rashid on the lugubrious website Rotten.com, “An archive of disturbing information.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation‘s own web page on files released through the Freedom of Information Act reveals that the FBI investigated the Moorish Science Temple in 1953 for advocating draft evasion—and, incongruously, in 1940 on suspicion of “committing subversive activities by adhering to and spreading of Japanese propaganda.” This confusion doubtless stemmed from the group’s “Asiatic Race” rhetoric. The FBI site states that both investigations were inconclusive and brought no convictions.
WW4 Report editor Bill Weinberg’s weekly program on New York’s WBAI, the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade, claims a lineage back to the Moorish Science movement. The program was founded c. 1988 by Peter Lamborn Wilson, who bequeathed it to Weinberg and Ann-Marie Hendrickson in the mid-’90s. Wilson was a founder in the early ’60s of the Moorish Orthodox Church (MOC), a sort of white bohemian offshoot of Moorish Science. However, the influence of Moorish Science on the MOC was more aesthetic than doctrinal. The MOC, with which Weinberg is unofficially affiliated, is today an amalgam of Sufism, heretical (bishar) Islam, ecstatic Christianity and gay liberation. Weinberg says he considers himself a “spiritual atheist.”
See our last post on the mysteries and paradoxes of Moorish identity.