Islam, African-American Style
Schools run by African-American Muslims make up a small percentage of Islamic schools in the United States. They have their roots in the original Nation of Islam, a black nationalist movement.
Detroit was the site of the first Nation of Islam school, which opened in 1932. Forty-one Nation of Islam schools--called Muhammad University of Islam schools, even though they taught elementary and secondary students--eventually opened in other large American cities. Most of them were closed when the Nation of Islam went through a transition after the death in 1975 of Elijah Muhammad, the movement's leader.
Wallace D. Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad, revised the curriculum for the schools, reopened them in 1977, and renamed them after his mother, Sister Clara Muhammad. Today, 24 schools operate as part of this system. Wallace D. Muhammad, now known as W. Deen Mohammed, led his followers away from some of the separatist teachings of his father to what is seen as a purer interpretation of the Koran and the practice of universal Islam.
In 1978, Louis Farrakhan revived the Nation of Islam, retaining its original name. This group is associated with five schools in the United States, including one in Detroit. They're called Muhammad University of Islam schools, as the early Nation of Islam schools were.
W. Deen Mohammed has encouraged more interaction between his followers and Muslims immigrating from Islamic countries. It's not unusual now for immigrant families to enroll their children in schools established in the original Nation of Islam legacy; likewise, some American-born blacks send their children to schools founded by immigrants.
The Council of Islamic Schools in North America--a networking organization with no paid staff--has brought together educators from both immigrant and American-born groups in an effort to become an official accrediting body. But the effort has lost momentum, and approval is a long way off.
Other organizations are springing up, meanwhile, to give a boost to Islamic schools. The Universal Institute of Islamic Education in Sacramento, Calif., provides teacher training and curriculum. In 1988, African-American Muslims established the Muslim Teachers College in Randolph, Va., which offers a bachelor's degree in education.
Vol. 18, Issue 19, Page 29Published in Print: January 20, 1999, as Islam, African-American Style