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Nation Of Islam Movement Essay

1409 words - 6 pages

Nation of Islam Movement

“God is black. All black men belong to Islam; they have been chosen. And Islam shall rule the world” (Baldwin 319). This is the principal message of the Nation of Islam movement. Although the movement has existed since the early 20th century, it gained a lot of momentum in America in the 1960’s, according to African-American essayist and novelist James Baldwin. In his essay, Down At The Cross, Baldwin conveys that the movement reached more blacks during the sixties because time was ripe for it. During the 1960’s, black and white Americans began actively questioning and challenging the status quo. Baldwin believes the Christian world had become ...view middle of the document...

In his essay, Baldwin is critical of Elijah Muhammad’s methods but he does not underestimate his role in the movement or minimize his achievements. Instead, he underscores how time often lends the opportunity for change, not the influence of men alone. In his essay, Baldwin seems to be addressing young students like ourselves when he cautions us to be wary of a movement that encourages a polarization of the races. He cautions against the policy of glorifying one race and consequently degrading another and points out how, historically, this thinking has led to the justification of murder. He emphatically opposes Negroes achieving freedom by doing to others what has been historically done to them, stating that “[w]ho-ever debases others is debasing himself” (334). This quote implies that the Nation of Islam perpetuates the idea of violence, which to Baldwin, is counter-productive and not in the best interest for blacks trying to achieve equality. An example of this violence can be found in a New York Times article written by Joseph Lelyveld about a rally held in Harlem in the early sixties. Upon encountering a young Negro who opposed the views of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, members of the Fruit of Islam, a paramilitary band within the Black Muslims, “knocked [the man] to the sidewalk” (Lelyveld 1). Police tried to rescue the young man, but a group of about 10 Muslims got hold of the man and carried him several street blocks until they dumped him against a metal fence. It was only until then that law enforcers were able to help the man (1). Again, this type of violence was not uncommon in America during the 1960’s, so it was not considered to be the particular by-product of the Nation of Islam alone. For this reason, some black Americans were able to disassociate the violence from the movement itself and empathize more with the movement’s ideals. For others who relished the violent upheavals of the 1960’s, the Nation of Islam movement was a perfect vehicle to express their views.

Despite the fact that Baldwin separates himself from the militancy of the Nation of Islam movement, he is sympathetic to some of its themes. While supporting non-violence, he, like the Black Muslims, resents that non-violence is considered by whites to be a virtue in Negroes. He agrees that whites react this way because they are fearful of a threat, real or perceived, to self image, property, and even life itself. More importantly, Baldwin agrees that “[w]hite people cannot, in the generality, be taken as models of how to live. Rather, the white man is himself in sore need of new standards, which will release him from his confusion and place him once again in fruitful communion with the depths of his own being” (Baldwin 342). Like Muhammad, Baldwin recognizes that the white man needs to change his attitudes toward blacks before any positive changes can be made. Similarly, Baldwin writes that “…the power of the white world is threatened...

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