10 Things To Know About Noble Drew Ali

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Written by Ann Brown
Noble Drew Ali
Noble Drew Ali, founder of Moorish Science Temple (precursor to Nation of Islam). Photo: Wiki Commons

Have you ever heard of Noble Drew Ali? If not, he is the religious leader responsible for bringing Islam, nationality, and birthrights to North America. Having lived between 1886 and 1929, Ali was the founder and prophet of the Moorish Science Temple of America. This was the first mass religious community in the history of American Islam and the Black nationalist model for the Nation of Islam. In 1927, Ali wrote the “Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple,” also called the “Circle Seven Koran,” to instruct his followers on pre-slavery religion, nationality, and genealogy.

Here are 10 things you should know about Noble Drew Ali.

Noble Drew Ali
A photo of the 1928 Moorish Science Temple Conclave in Chicago. Noble Ali Drew can be seen in white in the front row center. Photo: Wiki Commons

In The Beginning

Born Timothy Drew, his parents were former slaves in North Carolina. His earliest followers believed that he was an orphan for most of his childhood and was raised by the Cherokee Indians, Encyclopedia.com reported.

World Traveler

According to his own accounts, Ali left home at 16 and joined a band of gypsies who took him overseas to Egypt, Morocco, and the Middle East, according to Wikipedia.

Student of Mysticism

While Ali was in Egypt, he impressed a high priest who trained him in mysticism and gave him a “lost section” of the Quran.

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Man of the Sea

Ali worked for several years a merchant seaman.

The Start of American Moors

Ali established the Canaanite Temple, the first Moorish-American community, in Newark, New Jersey, in 1913. He renamed his community several times before founding new temples in several midwestern and southern cities. The Moorish-American community grew to approximately 30,000 members and was the largest Islamic community in the United States before the ascendancy of the Nation of Islam in the 1950s, according to Encyclopedia.com.

Beyond The Fez

Ali’s followers, the Moorish Americans, donned turbans and fezzes. They also changed their slavery surnames, instead using “El” or “Bey.” They even created their own nationality cards and flag and referred to themselves as “olive-skinned Asiatics,” descendants of Morocco, instead of Negroes or colored people.

To support his case for a Moorish-American identity, Ali emphasized two important points: first, Black Americans were really “Asiatics,” the descendants of Jesus, he believed, and second, the destiny of western civilization was linked to the rise of the Asiatic nations — Asians, Africans, Native Americans, and African Americans, according to Encyclopedia.com.

The New “Church”

By 1928, The Moorish Science Temple of America, Inc. was an established fact. “It is believed that this procedure of elevating the movement to the Moorish Science Temple of America, Inc. from the Canaanite Temple in phases was to prepare the people for this great ‘new thought’ movement; entirely different from the churches they had been used to,” according to the Moorish Science Temple of America.  With the incorporation came a new charter, a Divine Constitution and bylaws consisting of seven acts.

Nation Of Islam

Current Nation of Island leader Minister Louis Farrakhan credits Ali with bringing Islam to the U.S.

“Now let’s look at Noble Drew Ali: A man that died a young man; he lived from 1886 to 1929.  I salute my brother: He is the first man to bring Islam to us in the way he tried to bring it; and, I thank him and I thank Allah for him! …He’s calling all Black people in America ‘Moors’; but ‘Moors’ is the name given to the Muslims from North Africa that invaded the Iberian Peninsula, and brought Islam to Spain and Portugal and southern France! So, he’s calling us ‘Moors’- and he dressed his followers in the fez of the Muslim people of the East! He also is quoted as saying, ‘Moors, you sleep too much. Wake up, and see the seven bridges crossing in the sky. Can you see that you are a people?’ Not an ‘organization’ – we are a people! We are a nation!’”

Source: The Moorish American National Republic

On The Decline

Money led to the downfall of the Moorish-American community after corrupt businessmen joined the group in the late 1920s. “They embezzled a fortune from its small businesses and the Moorish Manufacturing Corporation and began to plot the prophet’s death,” Encyclopedia.com reported.

Charged With Murder

On March 15, 1929, Ali’s business manager, Claude Greene, was murdered in Chicago and Ali was arrested. Ali was incarcerated in Atlanta. After being released several weeks later, Ali mysteriously died at home.

The Movement Continues

“The Moorish Movement is still alive today,” according to The Moorish Science Temple Of America. “There are many small temples all over America still following the great teachings of Prophet Noble Drew Ali.”


About Ann Brown

Ann Brown has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in CocoaFab, Black Enterprise, Essence, MadameNoire.com, New York Trend, Upscale, Moguldom, AFKInsider, The Network Journal, Playboy, Africa Strictly Business, For Harriet, Pathfinders, Black Meetings & Tourism, Frequent Flier, Girl, Honey, Source Sports, The Source, Black Radio Exclusive, and Launch. She studied journalism at New York University and has her B.A. Born in New York, Ann lived in Praia, Cabo Verde, for nearly a decade. She created “An American In Cabo Verde,” a Facebook community.