Besides Luqman, the single most powerful symbol for the connection between Africa and Islam is Bilal Ibn Rabah. He was a black slave of Abyssinian origin owned by Ibn Khalaf of the mighty Ummayyah clan in Mecca. Bilal was one of the first Muslims recorded in history and was severely brutalized when his master tried in vain to force him to become an apostate. Abu Bakr then ransomed Bilal, who became a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad. Bilal had a melodious voice and became Islam's first mu'adhdhin, the reciter of the call to prayer. (Curtis 2002) The fact that a black former slave is the prototype for the Muslim call that five times a day resounds from the minarets of the mosques is given a tremendous symbolic significance: it is the black man who leads humanity to God.
Islam thus could be presented as an African religion, while Christianity became associated with colonialism and slavery. In Islam many blacks found a faith that was on their side, traditionally opposed to European expansionism. Islam thereby could serve as a vehicle for black unity and resistance, as it did in the creed of the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad taught that "Islam is the natural religion of the Black Nation," (Curtis 2002) while the blacks could expect nothing good from the Christian church: "There is no hope for us in Christianity; it is a religion organized by the enemies (the white race) of the Black Nation to enslave us to the white race's rule. But our unity under the crescent with our Allah's guidance can get us any thing we desire and some of this earth we can call our own." (Curtis 2002) The Nation of Islam was not the first faith to claim Islam as the African Americans' "original" and "natural" religion. It was preceded by another urban-based nationalist religion, the Moorish Science Temple, which helped pave the way for the NOI.
New fortification lines defending the deviating features of the NOI creed run parallel with the adjustment to outward Islamization.
In the old Nation, the criticism coming from Arab Muslims was easily declared irrelevant with reference to their status as white Muslims, believers "by faith and not by nature." (Curtis 2002) According to the revealed historiography, these white coreligionists were descendants from the few female devils who were left behind when the king of Mecca forced the white devils into Caucasian exile 6,000 years ago. White Muslims are "not true believers," but pale copies who will escape the destruction but not enter the postapocalyptic world. (Curtis 2002) In time, this dismissal-oriented line of reasoning decreased as contacts with the Muslim world improved. Arab Muslim delegations were received with great esteem by the Messenger, as for instance when the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed K. Sowaidi, visited the NOI in 1972. (Curtis 2002) Elijah Muhammad invited white Muslims to eat dinner at the Palace and to participate as guests in the Saviour's Day festivities. (Curtis 2002)
This attitude of reconciliation and collaboration necessitated a refurbished mode of explaining the differences of opinion between the two camps. Farrakhan proceeds from a perspective familiar from the intraIslamic debate between various conservative, modernist, and Islamist tendencies concerning which path God has ordained as traversable in the twentieth century. (Curtis 2002) As will be obvious, white Muslims still cannot count on having a valid ticket reserved for the NOI hereafter, but the arguments are now refined and Islamized, and a road to redemption is cleared by offering orthodox Muslims an opportunity to respond as Bilal calls humanity back to God.
In matters of doctrine, the orthodox Muslims and the NOI follow routes running in directions disparate enough to rule out the possibility that both travel the same road.
One of them must have left the straight path and must therefore change or die. Farrakhan asserts that the Nation has "a superior guidance" through "the hidden Ones," or "the hidden Imams," Master Farad Muhammad and Elijah the Messiah. (Curtis 2002) "We see ourselves as being directly guided by Allah," Farrakhan said. "This is why we do not accept the guidance of the scholars of the old world of Islam. They must be reformed. They must be guided back to the right path." (Curtis 2002)
As do many Muslim modernist and Islamist ideologues, Farrakhan argues that the traditional Islamic position of favoring the implementation of Islam in state and society through a blind and unconditional imitation (taqlid) of the past, obviously has led to internal stagnation and decline. If religion does not evolve in step with the evolution of society, it ceases being a useful guide and becomes hampering and oppressive instead. "The Islamic world has degenerated," Farrakhan argues. Who are they, trying to teach the NOI true Islam? They should better take a closer look at themselves. (Curtis 2002) The very condition of the Muslim world proves that its authorities have drifted far astray. In addition to the poverty, exploitation, and racism poisoning life in the traditional Islamic heartland, the Muslim world is divided into a large number of warring states and sects. Today, Farrakhan charges, you find internal Muslim strife with "Sunni, Shia, Hanafi, Sufi, killing each other," a situation that stands in sharp contrast to what was preached and realized by the Prophet: the believers' unity as a reflection of God's unity. (Curtis 2002)
The traditional Islamic reliance on the hadith is taken as another example of contemporary Muslim deviation from the straight path: "Muslims have raised the hadith and made it equal to the Qur'an. Wrong brothers, that's why we deviated. We've taken our doctors of law for lords besides Allah." (Curtis 2002) Muslim scholars may denounce the NOI teaching that Master Muhammad is God in person as shirk, but in reality it is they who deserve to be criticized, Farrakhan exclaimed in anger: "The Muslim world bows to America, and you know she is an infidel -and go charge me with shirk! Religious hypocrisy! You bow to America!" (Curtis 2002)
The criticism voiced within the ranks of the ulama should come as no surprise, Farrakhan argues, as "some of the scholars are devils" who "study the faith to cause people to deviate." (Curtis 2002) Their kind have caused "the human family to fall into a state of spiritual darkness, yet claiming God." "Come on Muslims," Farrakhan said, "I don't care how many prayers you make, you are as far away from the life of God as the sun is from the earth." (Curtis 2002) Final Call Middle East correspondent Ali Baghdadi takes a similar position, writing that "the majority of so-called Ulema...violate the principles of Islam that they espouse.... They are motivated by personal gains and interests and not religious and moral convictions." (Curtis 2002)
God's foreknowledge of the internal decline and corruption that were to appear within the Eastern community of believers made him reveal to the Prophet Muhammad that a necessary future renewal was ordained to come from a faraway land. In the latter days, Muhammad ibn Abdullah said in a hadith, "the Sun of Islam will rise in the West." (Curtis 2002) Another tradition specifies the identity of those given the honor of realizing the divine scheme. The prophet Muhammad said, "I heard the footsteps of Bilal going into Paradise ahead of my own." (Curtis 2002) The interpretation of this hadith is unambiguous, as Muhammad ibn Abdullah "didn't mean his own personal footsteps.
He was white. He was an Arab. And he was saying that it is the Blacks who are going to lead the Arab world back to the faith that they had forsaken, and lead them into the Paradise their God promised to them by the prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and the Quran." (Curtis 2002)
The scholars of the Muslim world know that renewal is an unavoidable necessity but have, difficulties in accepting leadership from the African American. "They want Islam to come from white people and not from black people, and then if it comes from black people those black people must be under their control." (Curtis 2002) The Prophet Muhammad, knowing that a racist element would block clear sight in the latter days, advised those future white Muslims in a hadith: "You should accept wisdom and leadership even if it comes from one whose skin is black as soot and whose hair is like dried raisins." (Curtis 2002)
Islam does not teach color, but says that Muslims do. Given the racism prevalent in Muslim society for centuries, sudden assurance of the multiracial brotherhood of Islam is brushed aside as hypocritical lies, impressing no one. (Curtis 2002) Farrakhan claims that the time has come for a test in which mere lip service will not do: "You Muslims who have problems with Black people, what would you do if the Mahdi was in fact Black? Would you handle it? Would your latent or dominant racism stop you from accepting your salvation? That is the greatest trial of all for the whole world. Can you accept Mahdi and Messiah as Black people? If you can't, then you go out with this world as it goes out." (Curtis 2002) Black world hegemony as a future possibility has been envisioned by at least one white Muslim. This Muslim revolutionary, who himself has chosen a direction leading to confrontation with the mainstream scholars of Islam, is Libya's Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi, who for a long time has given the NOI both financial and moral support.