Drew Ali
Drew Ali in 1925
Timothy Drew

(1886-01-08)January 8, 1886
North Carolina, United States
DiedJuly 20, 1929(1929-07-20) (aged 43)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Cause of deathtuberculosis and bronchopneumonia[1]
Resting placeBurr Oak Cemetery
SpousePearl Drew Ali & Mary Drew Ali

Noble Drew Ali, possibly born as Timothy Drew or Thomas Drew, (January 8, 1886 – July 20, 1929), was an American religious leader who, in the early 20th century, founded a series of organizations that he ultimately placed under the umbrella title, the Moorish Science Temple of America; including the Canaanite Temple (1913–1916), the Moorish Divine and National Movement (1916–1925), the Moorish Temple of Science (1925–1928), and the Moorish Science Temple of America (1928 onwards). [2][3] Considered a prophet by his followers,[2] he founded the Canaanite Temple in 1913 while living in Newark, New Jersey. From there, he made his way westward and eventually settled in Chicago between 1922 and 1925. Upon reaching Chicago, his movement would gain thousands of converts under his instruction.[3] Upon the murder of a rival Moorish Science Temple leader, Drew Ali was arrested (but never charged) and sent to jail; he died on July 20th, 1929, shortly after being released.

It is traditionally held that Drew Ali founded the first officially state-registered Islamic organization in U.S. history, and was the first American-born Islamic religious leader.[4] Although the Moorish Science Temple of America has largely declined, Drew Ali's legacy is significant because of its influence on the founding and ideology of the Nation of Islam. From a Sunni Islamic perspective, Drew Ali's Islamic teaching inroads are generally held as no more than a romanticized history. This is because there is no evidence that he taught the Sunni-fiqh 'tarbiyah' (aka Islamic-pedagogical) prerequisite, salat (prayer), sawm (fasting), or even directly quoted the Quran of Muhammad, in any of his literature. In fact there was a negative ruling in Sunni Islamic law given by a recognized authority (fatwa) against assertions that Drew Ali taught Islam by Sunni-tarbiyah standards.[5]

Early life

Several details of Drew Ali's early life are uncertain, as true information became mixed with that of legend by his devout followers.[6] He is believed to have been born Timothy Drew, on January 8, 1886, in North Carolina.[3][7][8][4] Sources differ as to his background and upbringing: one reports he was the orphaned son of two former slaves born in a Cherokee tribe,[4][9] while another describes him as the son of John A. Drew-Quitman, military and political leader of the Cherokee (Coharie) Nation and Eliza Turner-Quitman full blooded Washitaw-Tunica mother.[8][10]

One version of his life, common among members of the Moorish Science Temple, holds that Drew was raised by an abusive aunt, who once threw him into a furnace.[6] This version holds that he left home at 16 and joined a band of Romani people who took him overseas to Egypt, and the Middle East.[6][8] Drew Ali also reportedly worked as a circus magician, or a merchant seaman, before purportedly traveling to Egypt.[4] He never received a formal education, but at some point came into contact with Eastern philosophy.[4]

In 2014, a completely different understanding of Drew Ali's early life was presented with the publication of an article in the online Journal of Race Ethnicity and Religion.[11] The article presented newly compiled evidence, including census records, newspaper ads, newspaper articles, a World War I draft card, and street directory records, to link Noble Drew Ali to one "Thomas Drew," who was born on the same date as "Timothy Drew" but originated from Virginia instead.[11]

Religious formation

Drew Ali reported that during his travels in Egypt, he met a high priest of Egyptian magic. In one version of Drew Ali's biography, the leader saw him as a reincarnation of the founder.[8] In others, he claims that the priest considered him a reincarnation of Jesus, the Buddha, Muhammad and other religious prophets.[8] According to the biography, the high priest trained Ali in mysticism and gave him a "lost section" of the Quran.[8]

This text came to be known as the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America (not to be confused with the Islamic Quran). It is also known as the "Circle Seven Koran" because of its cover, which features a red "7" surrounded by a blue circle. The first 19 chapters are from The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, published in 1908 by esoteric Ohio preacher Levi Dowling. In The Aquarian Gospel, Dowling described Jesus's supposed travels in India, Egypt, and Palestine during the years of his life which are not accounted for by the New Testament.

Chapters 20 through 45 are borrowed from the Rosicrucian work, Unto Thee I Grant, with minor changes in style and wording. They are instructions on how to live, and the education and duties of adherents.[12]

Drew Ali wrote the last four chapters of the Circle Seven Koran himself. In these he wrote:

The fallen sons and daughters of the Asiatic Nation of North America need to learn to love instead of hate; and to know of their higher self and lower self. This is the uniting of the Holy Koran of Mecca for teaching and instructing all Moorish Americans, etc. The key of civilization was and is in the hands of the Asiatic nations. The Moorish, who were the ancient Moabites, and the founders of the Holy City of Mecca.

Drew Ali used this material to claim Jesus and his followers were Asiatic. ("Asiatic" was the term Drew Ali used for all dark or olive-skinned people); he labeled whites as European, although he labeled whites who became a part of the MSTA as "Persians" or "Celts".[13] He suggested that all Asiatics should be allied.[14]

Drew Ali believed that African Americans were all Moors, who he claimed were descended from the ancient Moabites (describing them as belonging to Northwest Africa as opposed to Moab as the name suggests).[15] He claimed that Islam and its teachings are more beneficial to their earthly salvation, and that their 'true nature' had been 'withheld' from them.[8] Male members of the Temple wear a fez or turban as head covering; women wear a turban.[4][8][16]

As Drew Ali began urging the "Moorish-Americans" to become better citizens, he made speeches like, "A Divine Warning By the Prophet for the Nations", in which he urged them to reject derogatory labels, such as "Black," "colored," and "Negro."[8] He urged Americans of all races to reject hate and embrace love. He believed that Chicago would become a second Mecca.

Drew Ali crafted 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".[14] In the interwar period in Chicago and other major cities, he used these concepts to preach Moorish pride. His approach appealed to thousands of African Americans who had left severely oppressive conditions in the South through the Great Migration and faced struggles adapting in new urban environments.[14]

Founding the Moorish Science Temple

Attendees of the 1928 Moorish Science Temple Conclave in Chicago. Noble Drew Ali is in white in the front row center.

It is possible that Drew Ali did actually travel to Egypt and Morocco, but historians believe that after leaving North Carolina, he moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he worked as a train expressman.[6] According to MST tradition, in 1913, Drew Ali formed the Canaanite Temple in Newark.[4][8][17] He left the city after agitating people with his views on race.[18] Drew Ali and his followers migrated, while planting congregations in Philadelphia; Washington, D.C., and Detroit. Finally, Drew Ali settled in Chicago in 1925, saying the Midwest was "closer to Islam."[19] The following year he officially registered Temple No. 9.

There he instructed followers not to be confrontational but to build up their people to be respected. In this way, they might take their place in the United States of America by developing a cultural identity that was congruent with Drew Ali's beliefs on personhood.[20] In the late 1920s, journalists estimated the Moorish Science Temple had 35,000 members in 17 temples in cities across the Midwest and upper South.[21]

The ushers of the Temple wore black fezzes. The leader of a particular temple was known as a Grand Sheik, or Governor. Noble Drew Ali was known to have had several wives.[22] According to The Chicago Defender, he claimed the power to marry and divorce at will.[23] The Moorish Science movement was reportedly studied and watched by the Chicago police.

Drew Ali attended the 1929 inauguration of Illinois Governor Louis Lincoln Emmerson. The Chicago Defender stated that his trip included "interviews with many distinguished citizens from Chicago, who greeted him on every hand."[24] With the growth in its population and membership, Chicago was established as the center of the Moorish Science movement.

Internal split and murder

In early 1929, following a conflict over funds, Claude Green-Bey, the business manager of Chicago Temple No. 1 split from the Moorish Science Temple of America. He declared himself Grand Sheik and took a number of members with him. On March 15, Green-Bey was stabbed to death at the Unity Hall of the Moorish Science Temple, on Indiana Avenue in Chicago.[25]

Drew Ali was out of town at the time, as he was dealing with former Supreme Grand Governor Lomax-Bey (professor Ezaldine Muhammad), who had supported Green-Bey's attempted coup.[26] When Drew Ali returned to Chicago, the police arrested him and other members of the community on suspicion of having instigated the killing. No indictment was sworn for Drew Ali at that time.


Shortly after his release by the police, Drew Ali died at age 43 at his home in Chicago on July 20, 1929.[27] Although the exact circumstances of his death are unknown, the Certificate of Death stated that Noble Drew Ali died from "tuberculosis broncho-pneumonia".[1] Despite the official report, many of his followers speculated that his death was caused by injuries from the police or from other members of the faith.[28]

Others thought it was due to pneumonia. One Moor told The Chicago Defender that "The Prophet was not ill; his work was done and he laid his head upon the lap of one of his followers and passed out."[29][30] His funeral took place on July 25, 1929, with hundreds attending. The services were held at the Pythian Temple in Chicago, followed by the burial at Burr Oak Cemetery in nearby Alsip.[31]

The death of Drew Ali brought out a number of candidates who vied to succeed him. Edward Mealy El stated that he had been declared Drew Ali's successor by Drew Ali himself, while John Givens-El, Drew Ali's chauffeur, declared that he was Drew Ali reincarnated.[32] However, the governors of the Moorish Science Temple of America declared Charles Kirkman-Bey to be the successor to Drew Ali and named him Grand Advisor.[33][4]


Wallace Fard Muhammad, the founder of Nation of Islam, may have been a prominent member of the Moorish Science Temple of America, where he was known as David Ford-El,[34] however, due to his obfuscated and poorly-documented history, this is disputed by scholars.[35] After Drew Ali's death, he claimed to be the Prophet reincarnated.[36]

When his leadership was largely rejected, he broke away from the Moorish Science Temple, moved to Detroit, and founded the Nation of Islam.[37] Nation of Islam leaders denied any historical connection to the Moorish Science Temple of America, until February 26, 2014, when Louis Farrakhan acknowledged Noble Drew Ali's contribution to the Nation of Islam.[38]

In 1986, the Moroccan Ambassador to the United States officially recognized the Moorish Science Temple's Islamic linkage to Morocco through Drew Ali.[4]

See also

Notes and references


  1. ^ a b Perkins, p. 186, as well as other less reputable sources. Perkins cites "Standard Certificate of Death No. 22054, Timothy Drew, issued July 25, 1929, Office of Cook County Clerk, Cook County, Illinois". The certificate was filed by Dr. Clarence Payne-El, who was reportedly at Drew Ali's bedside when he died. See also Scopino.
  2. ^ a b Gomez, Michael A. (2005). "Chapter 6: Breaking Away – Noble Drew Ali and the Foundations of Contemporary Islam in African America". Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 200–217. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511802768.008. ISBN 9780511802768. LCCN 2004027722.
  3. ^ a b c "Noble Drew Ali | American religious leader". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Noble Drew Ali (1886–1929)". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  5. ^ Majid, Satti Shaykh (1997). "Report (For Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim Abü Salim, to commemorate his retirement from the Secretary-General of the National Records Office, Khartoum)". A Sudanese Missionary to the United States: Satti Majid Shaykh Islam in North America: 145.
  6. ^ a b c d "archives.nypl.org – Moorish Science Temple of America collection". archives.nypl.org. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  7. ^ Wilson, p. 15; Gomez, p. 203; Paghdiwala; Gale Group.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Paghdiwala, Tasneem (November 15, 2007). "The Aging of the Moors". Chicago Reader. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  9. ^ Wilson, p, 15.
  10. ^ Gomez and Paghdiwala give both versions.
  11. ^ a b Abdat, Fathie "Before the Fez-Life and Times of Drew Ali", Journal of Race Ethnicity and Religion, Vol 5, No 8, August 2014 [1]
  12. ^ Ghaneabassiri, Kambiz (2010). A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order. Cambridge University Press. p. 220. ISBN 978-0521614870.
  13. ^ Home, Stewart (1997). Mind Invaders: A Reader in Psychic Warfare, Cultural Sabotage and Semiotic Terrorism. Profile Books Ltd. ISBN 9781852425609.
  14. ^ a b c Nance, Susan. (2002) "Mystery of the Moorish Science Temple: Southern Blacks and American Alternative Spirituality in 1920s Chicago" Archived 2012-04-15 at the Wayback Machine, Religion and American Culture 12, no. 2 (Summer): 123–166, accessed 29 Aug 2009
  15. ^ Yusuf Nuruddin (2000). "African-American Muslims and the Question of Identity: Between Traditional Islam, African Heritage, and the American Way". In Hadda, Yvonne Yazbeck; Esposito, John L. (eds.). Muslims on the Americanization Path?. Oxford University Press. p. 223. ISBN 9780198030928. Retrieved April 10, 2018. Hence it is in the Moorish Science Temple that we encounter fables about the "ancient Moabite kingdom now known as Morocco, which existed in northwest Amexem. which is now known as northwest Africa."
  16. ^ "moorish science temple of america los angeles - Google Search". www.google.com.
  17. ^ Paghdiwala, p. 23.
  18. ^ Paghdiwala
  19. ^ Wilson, p. 29.
  20. ^ Gomez, Michael A. (2005) Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas, Cambridge University Press, p. 219, accessed 29 Aug 2009
  21. ^ Chicago Tribune, May 14, 1929.
  22. ^ Chicago Tribune (1929) and Chicago Defender (1929).
  23. ^ Chicago Defender (1929).
  24. ^ Chicago Defender, January 1929.
  25. ^ Chicago Tribune
  26. ^ Gale.
  27. ^ "Drew Ali, "Prophet" of Moorish Cult, Dies Suddenly". Chicago Defender. July 27, 1929. p. 1 – via ProQuest.
  28. ^ McCloud, p. 18; Wilson, p. 35. The Chicago Defender, whose news articles had turned critical, said that "it is believed that the ordeal of the trial together with the treatment he received at the hands of police in an effort to obtain true statements are directly responsible for the illness which precipitated his death" (July 27, 1929).
  29. ^ Quoted by Paghdiwala, p. 24. Also quoted by Nance (2002, p. 659, note 84) with a reference to "Cult Leader Dies; Was in Murder Case", Chicago Defender, July 27, 1929.
  30. ^ "Hold Final Rites for Moorish Chief", Chicago Defender, August 3, 1929, page 3.
  31. ^ "Drew Ali Laid to Rest". The Chicago Defender. July 25, 1929. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  32. ^ The story of Givens fainting appears, among other places, in Gomez, p. 273.
  33. ^ McCloud, p. 18. Gardell, p. 45.
  34. ^ Prashad, p. 109.
  35. ^ Morrad 2019.
  36. ^ Ahlstrom (p. 1067), Abu Shouk (p. 147), Hamm (p. 14), and Lippy (p. 214) all state that Fard claimed to be, or was considered by many Moors to be, the reincarnation of Drew Ali. According to Turner (p. 92), Ford El, also known as Abdul Wali Farad Muhammad Ali, unsuccessfully challenged Drew Ali in Newark in 1914.
  37. ^ Ahlstrom (p. 1067), Lippy (p. 214), Miyakawa (p. 12).
  38. ^ "Saviours' Day 2014 Keynote Address: 'How Strong Is Our Foundation; Can We Survive?'". www.finalcall.com. Retrieved September 17, 2017.


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  • Chicago Tribune (September 1929) "Seize 60 After So. Side Cult Tragedy", September 26, 1929, p. 1.
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