The Moorish Science Temple was considered the model for the Nation of Islam but its founder, Noble Drew Ali, was often shrouded in mystery. While the temple grew to have thousands of members, its downfall came after a murder that may or may not have involved Drew Ali.
Here are seven things to know about the religious sect and the murder that broke up Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple.
Timothy Drew, better known as Noble Drew Ali, was born Jan. 8, 1886 and died on July 20, 1929. He founded the Moorish Science Temple of America and was considered a prophet by his followers, but his beginnings are not exactly known.
There are numerous stories of how and where he was born and where he was reared but the one most widely believed is that he was of Cherokee descent. There are reports that Drew Ali worked as a circus magician or merchant seaman before traveling at the age of 16 to Egypt, Encyclopedia.com reported.
In Egypt, he was anointed as El Hajj Sharif Abdul Ali, according to the Rise of the Moors organization.
At age 27, Drew Ali established the Old Canaanite Temple, a civic Moorish organization, in Newark, New Jersey.
During the Middle Ages, the Moors were the Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, and Malta. They were initially the indigenous Maghrebine Berbers, a name that was later also used to describe Arabs.
The Moors were known for innovation and science. The Moorish culture has influenced architecture and literature. “William Shakespeare is known to have studied at the feet of Moorish poets and playwriters during the renaissance,” according to The Rise of the Moors.
When he established his temple, Drew Ali’s aim was to reunite the Moors to their original glory. He claimed that African Americans were all Moors, descended from the ancient Moabites. Moabites were members of a West-Semitic people who lived in the highlands east of the Dead Sea (now in west-central Jordan) and flourished in the ninth century B.C., Britannica.com reported.
Drew Ali described the African-American Moors as hailing from Northwest Africa.
It has been reported that during his travels in Egypt, Drew Ali met a high priest of Egyptian magic. In one version of Drew Ali’s biography, the Egyptian high priest saw him as a reincarnation of the founder, according to Chicago Reader. In others, he claims that the priest considered him a reincarnation of Jesus, the Buddha, Muhammad, as well as other religious prophets. The high priest trained Ali in mysticism and gave him a “lost section” of the Quran.
This text he called the “Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America” (not to be confused with the Islamic Quran). It was also known as the Circle Seven Koran.
In the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple, Noble Drew Ali argued that truth, peace, freedom, justice and love were the Islamic ideals that his followers should emulate, according to Encyclopedia.com.
Drew Ali crafted his Moorish Science ideology from a variety of sources, a “network of alternative spiritualities that focused on the power of the individual to bring about personal transformation through mystical knowledge of the divine within.”
In 1913, Drew Ali formed the Canaanite Temple in Newark, New Jersey. Drew Ali and his followers went on to form congregations in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Detroit. Drew Ali ultimately settled in Chicago in 1925, saying the Midwest was “closer to Islam.” He considered Chicago the new Mecca. The following year he officially registered Temple No. 9.
The Moorish-American community grew to more than 30,000 members and was the largest Islamic community in the U.S. before the rise of the Nation of Islam in the 1950s.
Drew Ali’s esoteric spiritual philosophy was constructed from Islamic, Christian, and Freemasonic sources, according to Encyclopedia.com. The Moorish Americans wore turbans and fezzes, replaced their surnames from slavery with “El” or “Bey” and created their own nationality cards and flag.
They called themselves “olive-skinned Asiatics” and descendants of Morocco rather than Negroes or colored people.
The temple was on the rise until in the late 1920s when corrupt businessmen joined the Moorish-American community. “They embezzled a fortune from its small businesses and the Moorish Manufacturing Corporation and began to plot the prophet’s death,” Encyclopedia.com reported.
On March 15, 1929, Drew Ali’s business manager, Claude Green-Bey, was murdered in Chicago. Prior to this, there had been a conflict over funds between Drew Ali and Green-Bey. Green-Bey split from the Moorish Science Temple of America and declared himself Grand Sheik. He took a number of members with him. Green-Bey was stabbed to death at the Unity Hall of the Moorish Science Temple on Indiana Avenue in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Drew Ali was out of town at the time of the murder, but he was arrested upon his return to Chicago. No indictment was sworn for Drew Ali at that time.
Green-Bey’s murder brought light to several love affairs Drew Ali was having. There were allegedly three women linked to him. Two were reported to be underage which would have meant he was guilty of statutory rape.
Not long after his release by the police, Drew Ali died on July 20, 1929 at age 43 at his home in Chicago. Like his early life, his death was mysterious and the exact circumstances of it are unknown. According to his death certificate he died from “tuberculosis broncho-pneumonia.” Many of his followers, however, speculated that his death was caused by injuries from the police or from other members of the faith.
A number of candidates claimed to be in line to lead the temple after Drew Ali’s death. Even his chauffeur declared that he was meant to lead. The governors of the Moorish Science Temple of America selected Charles Kirkman-Bey to be the successor to Drew Ali and named him Grand Advisor.
In 1986, the Moroccan Ambassador to the U.S. officially recognized the Moorish Science Temple’s Islamic linkage to Morocco through Drew Ali, according to the Rise of the Moors.
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Wallace Fard Muhammad, the founder of Nation of Islam, had been a prominent member of the Moorish Science Temple of America, where he was known as David Ford-El. Following the death of Drew Ali, Fard Muhammad claimed to be the Prophet reincarnate. His leadership, however, was rejected and he broke away, moved to Detroit, and founded the Nation of Islam.