The Nation of Islam: An American Millenarian Movement
by Martha F. Lee
Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1996. 144 pp. $14.95 (paper).
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Lee's slight but readable survey is probably the best single source for the Nation of Islam's history, easily eclipsing the book that for thirty-five years has provided the standard account, C. Eric Lincoln's The Black Muslims in America (Beacon Press, 1961; 3d ed. published by Africa World Press, 1994). Four figures dominate the tale: Elijah Muhammad, who built the religion; Malcolm X, who gave it energy (and then left); Wallace Muhammad, who almost succeeded in burying it; and Louis Farrakhan, who resurrected it. The constant tension from about 1960 has been that between mainstream Islam and the idiosyncratic NOI theology, with the former inexorably but inconsistently making advances against the latter. This trend applies even to Farrakhan, who has led his group "in a direction similar of Wallace Muhammad . . . while retaining Elijah Muhammad's original millenarian teachings."
In keeping with its origins as a school thesis, The Nation of Islam provides rather more theory (of millenarianism) than most readers will wish to read, but the author's no-nonsense and sensible account make those pages worth overlooking. Much more disappointing is that this 1996 imprint ends its coverage nearly ten years earlier, thereby missing a host of important and sometimes surprising developments as Farrakhan turned the Nation of Islam into a force on the national scene, the favorite allegiance of gang members, and the ally of Middle East rogue states. How can a self-respecting publisher go to press with such an out-of-date manuscript?
Related Topics: Daniel Pipes | September 1996 MEQ
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