Other African-American Faith Traditions

Non-Christian-based faiths are also prominently influential within African-American life.
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Updated on: August 30, 2006

Other African-American Faith Traditions

Over the past century, a number of non-Christian faith traditions have taken root in the African-American community. Here's a brief overview of some of the most influential movements.

Nation of Islam

The Nation of Islam is probably the most visible African-American expression of the Islamic tradition.

On the March

The Nation of Islam, also known as the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, was founded in 1930 in Detroit by Wallace Fard, a salesman who described receiving a vision from Allah intended specifically for African-Americans. Fard was succeeded by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole), who led the faith from 1934 onward and was regarded by his followers as the “messenger from Allah.”

Emphasizing austerity, devotion to Allah, a distinct cultural identity, and tangible support for the African-American community, this faith combines elements of traditional Islamic practice and ideas adapted from a variety of other belief systems. The Nation of Islam has often been outspoken in its rhetoric, but its pronouncements on race relations in the United States may be best understood as an inevitable cultural reaction to the centuries-long legacy of white brutality and hatred toward African-Americans.

In recent years, Islamic practice in the United States has been enriched and broadened by exposure to other forms and structures of this international religion. In particular, the 1964 visit to Mecca by Malcolm X, and his much-analyzed spiritual development after being exposed to Muslims of many nations, has taken on great symbolic importance for many African-Americans attracted to the tenets of Islam.


This Jamaican tradition fuses an ecstatic version of that island's Christianity with the Pan-African ideology made popular by Marcus Garvey. It is heavily influenced by Garvey's reading of the Old Testament and places sacramental emphasis on marijuana and the communal power of reggae music.

This tradition, popular in many corners of the United States, has a strong “back-to-Africa” element that is also a sign of Garvey's influence on the faith. Rastafarianism emphasizes Africa's role as the birthplace of humanity and promotes autonomy and self-reliance among people of African descent. Rastas are well known for their celebration of ecstatic music and their use of marijuana in health and religious settings; what has received less attention is the tradition's insistence on wholesome, chemical-free food and its tradition of pacifism.


This intriguing, fast-growing tradition combines certain elements of Christianity and a variety of African-based nature religions. It is popular in immigrant Afro-Cuban communities, and has been the subject of a great deal of scholarly research and popular investigation in recent years.

Excerpted from

The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History
The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History
Melba J. Duncan
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History © 2003 by Melba J. Duncan. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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