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"Islam in North America: The Nation of Islam" Lesson Plan

Amir Hussain
Professor of Theological Studies
Loyola Marymount University

Course: An Introduction to Islam
Syllabus Section: Islam in North America

Most introductory courses on Islam have a section on Islam in North America. For instructors not familiar with the issues of teaching about Islam in America, Marcia Hermansen has written an excellent background chapter, "Teaching About Muslims in America." This chapter can be read by the instructor prior to designing her/his course. What follows are the appropriate sections from my lecture outlines, along with suggestions on how to best incorporate the resources of OISO into teaching Islam in the classroom.

Islam in North America


Before the opening lecture on Islam in North America, students should have some familiarity with the "big picture," the broad strokes of the tradition. To do this, students should read the entry "United States of America" before they come to class. Instructors teaching in Canadian universities and those interested in incorporating Canadian examples should also assign students the entry on "Canada." Once students have sufficient background information, you can start to explore more specific elements. One important element is the Nation of Islam.

Antecedents to the Nation of Islam

It is important to mention to students that there was a history and consciousness of Islam in African American communities. To illustrate this history, one can talk about:

  • Marcus Garvey (d. 1940) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (1917)
  • Noble Drew Ali (1886-1929) and the Moorish Science Temple of America (1913)

The Nation of Islam (Black Muslims)

It is against this backdrop that one can introduce the Nation of Islam (NOI). Depending on the level of detail of the course, one can also have students read the biography of Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) [born Elijah Poole]. From there, one can move to a discussion of Malcolm X (1925-1965) [born Malcolm Little]. This will help the students to understand the following topics:

  • Malcolm's role in the Nation of Islam
  • The split between Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam
  • Malcolm's pilgrimage and the conversion to Islam
  • Malcolm X becomes Al-Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz
  • The Organization of Afro-American Unity

The Nation after the Death of Elijah Muhammad

After the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, there were a number of changes when leadership of the NOI moved to Warith Deen Muhammad. Warith Deen Muhammad changed the name of the NOI to the Bilalians, then the American Muslim Mission, and finally the Muslim American Society. He also changed the title of NOI leaders from "ministers" to "imams" and meeting places from "temples" to "masjids." He brought the NOI into Sunni "orthodoxy," including observing the five daily prayers, celebrating the Ramadan fast, and the Eid festivals. At his death in 2008, he was widely recognized as one of the most important mainstream Sunni Muslim leaders in North America.

The NOI was revived under the principles of Elijah Muhammad by Louis Farrakhan.

Questions for Discussion

  • How did the Nation of Islam change following the death of Elijah Muhammad? Describe the changes made to the NOI by Warith Deen Muhammad, as well as the revival of the NOI by Louis Farrakhan.
  • Explain how Malcolm X was transformed, first by his work with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, and then again when he returned from Mecca as Al-Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz.
  • Discuss the place of African American Muslims among the larger American Muslim community.
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