Freemasonry and Black Nationalism

With permission The Beehive is proud to reprint Brother Steven Adkins essay on Freemasonry and Black Nationalism. This essay comes from Brother Adkins thought provoking website – Laws of Silence.

Brother Adkins hails from Florida but now is residing in France. Adkins has opened my eyes to the realization of the effect of religion on Freemasonry and also the effect of Freemasonry on religion.

Actually to carry this thought a little further, when we choose a philosophy of life, that philosophy really has many different components. We choose a religious philosophy, a fraternal philosophy, and a way of life to be lived here on earth, a political philosophy, a medical and healing philosophy and so forth. So when we choose a political party to represent our thought, when we choose a religion and/or a denomination within a religion, when we choose a doctor, when we choose a civil society to associate with, we are making the choices that integrate themselves into what we are, our essence.

Many would segregate each choice into separate boxes existing wholly on their own. I am more inclined to believe that all our choices on living life tend to be intertwined and interrelated. And nothing has more strengthened this conviction in me than Adkins essay below.

Agree or disagree with what Adkins has put forth here, but in the process realize how one choice, one direction you choose may influence the next choice that you make.

Freemasonry and Black Nationalism

The United States is a dizzying kaleidoscope of religious belief and practice, a situation rooted in the country’s origins — in part, anyway — as a haven for religious dissidents.  Many colonists had been harassed, imprisoned and put to death for their religious beliefs, yet instead of changing their ways, they chose to pack up everything and risk a long and perilous sea voyage, to set up home in a strange and vast land filled with a large aboriginal population, completely mysterious to them.  They were true believers, ready to risk it all for their faith.

The circumstances that encouraged emigration to North America ensured that the colonists included a large percentage of devout, dedicated and spiritually innovative believers.  While some of their theological nuances may seem a bit nit-picky to our minds, back then, innovation was a big deal and deadly serious.

But not all of these strangers arrived by choice.  African slaves first arrived in Jamestown in 1607, the same year the colony was founded.

The U.S. continues to this day to be innovative and unusually fervent in matters of religion, compared to say, a lot of Europe.  Something like 90% of Americans express some sort of belief in some sort of supreme being.  50% attend some kind of religious service on a regular basis.  In terms of the sheer number of new sects and splinter groups sociologists refer to as New Religious Movements (NRMs), I can’t think of another country in the world, except maybe Brazil, with such diversity.  Some of these American sects, such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, have gone on to become accepted around the world.  The US even had a Mormon presidential candidate in 2012.  That would never happen in Europe, at least as things stand today.  For one thing, countries such as Germany and France afford NRMs much less tolerance under the law than in the U.S.  The nourishing effect of tax-free religion cannot be underestimated.  NRMs can become mini-Empires:  the Church of Jesus Christ (Mormons), the Unification Church (Moonies), Scientology, even the Nation of Islam.

The religious landscape has diversified even further up until the present time.  It’s not a only a historical phenomenon, but an ongoing process.  Take for example the Five Percenters (aka the Five-Percent Nation or the Nation of Gods and Earths).  Founded in 1964, they trace their origin to dissidents from the Nation of Islam (founded 1930), in turn rooted in the Moorish Science Temple (1913).  The Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, are well known as a result of the standoff with Federal authorities at their compound in Waco that resulted in the fiery death of nearly 80 people; they broke away from Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists in 1955; these latter left the Seventh-Day Adventists circa 1930.  And so on.

A long-standing interest

My interest in all this dates to my adolescence.  In my last years of High School I got into a kind of comparative religions kick.  I wasn’t a seeker, merely fascinated.  Me and a guy named T— Chung (whose Chinese immigrant parents left oranges on their kitchen counter before a Buddha statuette topped with a red light bulb) used to go around every Sunday and check out a new denomination.  We only got around to Catholic Mass and various mainline Protestant sects.  There was a long Pentecostal service we went to, which was a somewhat frightening experience.  Speaking in tongues (glossolalia) and being Slain in the Spirit (video) are impressive things to witness, especially from someone whose own religious background was a rather stodgy Anglicanism.

Somewhat earlier than this, I’d studied Wicca and read the Tarot; spent hours on the Ouija board and read all I could about mythology, religion, occult lore and practical magick.  Those stark black paperback edition of The Satanic Bible and The Necronomicon were more than books to me, but totemic objects, radiating power on the bookshelf.  Hell, I was only what, 13?

Later, I would attend Christian Science Lectures and visit a Mosque in Atlanta, much to the joy of the Muslims there, especially the young ones.  I spent a week in a Sri Lankan monastery in rural West Virginia, doing Vipassana meditation and chanting four hours a day.  I was blessed by a curandero in a corn field in northern Guatemala and witnessed fertility rituals on a hilltop outside of Chichicastenango and in an eerie incense-filled cave near Santa Cruz del Quiche.  In 2000, I became a Freemason.  I eventually took the Royal Arch and the 32 Scottish Rite Degrees.  I am also a minister in the Universal Life Church, if you’re looking to get married….

Academically, I did a double major, studying History and the Humanities.  One of my concentrations was in Religious Studies.  I got a solid foundation in the Bible, the Gospels, Islam and Buddhism.  I traveled to Israel, Jordan and Egypt.  I would later audit a course in ancient mystery religions at Cornell University.  When it came time to do my Senior research paper, my topic was once again religion:  Religion and the Afro-American Identity.  Slavery had torn people from their homes and thrust people of different languages and cultures together; white racism lumped all these different peoples together under degrading epithets:  the brutal reality of “the peculiar institution” was made even harsher by the fact of having been effectively shorn of an identity as something other than as a slave or an inferior sub-species of human being.  My starting point was that as African-Americans had been thoroughly deracinated by the African Diaspora, many came to feel that spiritual regeneration had to be based upon creating a new collective identity.

Africa became a mythical place, dreamed of but out of reach.  Some African-Americans, from Virginia to Brazil, longed to return to what eventually became an idealized Promised Land, a Black Zion.  To make a long story short, in my paper I proposed that several Afrocentric NRMs began with re-establishing an identity; in the cases I dealt with in my paper, these were “Asiatics”, “Moors”, “Original Men”, and Yorubans.  I focused on the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League (UNIA), Moorish Science, the Nation of Islam and Oyotunji, an African village in the South Carolina organized along traditional Yoruban lines.  It is an interesting place:  a polygamous King, traditional religion, the works.  In 1992 I was able to visit and interview the King’s deputy at the time, driving up to the village from Florida in the company of my good friend and collaborator, The Gid, your co-host here on Laws of Silence.

I didn’t produce a very good paper; in hindsight, the B I received was generous.

The immediate impetus of this current post was an article I read about Jay-Z and the Five Percenters.  Having some (but very limited) familiarity with the subject, I wasn’t satisfied with the one-dimensional reports I read, so I decided to read Michael Muhammad Knight’s excellent book on the topic.  Other books followed and my interest was rekindled in my old paper.  In that first paper, I think my instincts were sound, but the exposition was lacking; I decided to revisit the topic with the benefit of more research under my belt.

I will cover some of the same ground here but will take a slightly different approach.  I propose that an under-recognized influence on African-American NRMs is Freemasonry (which wasn’t even mentioned in my original thesis).  We find its influence in the organization and trappings of the UNIA, the Koran of Moorish Science, the parables of the Nation of Islam and the “science” of the Five Percent.  We will also look at its surprising appearance in Rastafarianism.

Prince Hall and Freemasonry

Prince Hall

Prince Hall

My story begins with a man named Prince Hall.  Prince Hall may have been born in Barbados or New England in 1735.  We do  know he was a slave at age eleven, but was a free man by 1770.  Somewhere along the line he had the good fortune to have received an education, for he was literate; combined with his natural intelligence and energy, he was to become an effective community leader, organizer, educator and abolitionist.  He was also the founder of what is now known as Prince Hall Masonry.  In seeking to become a Freemason, Hall assumed that black Americans would benefit from the blessings of Liberty promised in Revolutionary rhetoric.  Not so.  In 1775 he and 14 other free black men petitioned a Boston Masonic Lodge for membership and were refused.  They then successfully petitioned a military Lodge under the aegis of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.  These men then founded African Lodge No. 1, which was later issued a charter by the Grand Lodge of England as African Lodge No. 459.  Hall went on to organize Lodges in Boston, Philadelphia and Providence, RI.

In Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic, historian James Sidbury writes that Prince Hall Lodges “asserted emotional, mythical and genealogical links to the continent of Africa and its peoples.” (74)  Hall himself was also vociferous supporter of the Back-to-Africa Movement (presenting a plan to the Massachusetts Senate in 1773), black unity and economic independence.  Hall and his brother Masons issued another call for immigration in 1787, stressing the need for the movement to be led by black people.  He stressed that black independence was beneficial for the moral and economic improvement of blacks and whites alike; he justified emigration and stressed an “African” identity, as opposed to any one particular African ethnicity — as the name of their Lodges indicate.  Hall’s emigration efforts led nowhere, which led him to concentrate his later efforts on education, Freemasonry and abolition.

Emigrating to Africa to establish colonies continued to be a literal goal, but alongside the concrete planning for such a venture, a spiritual meaning of the phrase “Back-to-Africa” took root and began to flourish in the Masonic Lodge.

In Black Pilgrimage to Islam, sociologist Robert Dannin writes: 

Evidence of the struggle between churched and unchurched ideologies is also reflected in the history of the Prince Hall Masonic lodges where Ethiopianist and Arabist proponents clashed repeatedly. Ethiopianism had roots in the missionary experience as a quasi-biblical justification for emigration. It originated in the work of Martin Delany and came to rest in Marcus Garvey’s familiar scenario of a pure African nation. Though radical in style, it belonged to and constituted a theology of redemption. Arabism, on the other hand, was a representation or Islam constructed out of fragmentary knowledge. Like other folk traditions and vestigial religious beliefs it was discordant to the ears of churchmen.

Dannin argues that “Freemasonry was…integral to the construction of black civil society in colonial America” and that “the red Fez [of Moors and Shriners, for example] survives as an artifact” of the colonial black merchant class, bound by Masonry and struggling for abolition.  Simply put, the Lodge nurtured the two tendencies that will appear in this informal paper:  the Ethiopianist trend (such as in Rastafarianism) and the Arabist trend (in the Nation of Islam, for example).

Freemasonry and other fraternal organizations were certainly an important feature of African-American civil life.  A book entitled Social and mental traits of the Negro; research into the conditions of the Negro race in southern towns, a study in race traits, tendencies and prospects (1910) lists literally dozens of fraternal groups in the South alone.

Martin Delaney:  The first Black Nationalist?

Martin Delany

Martin Delany

Prince Hall was a direct influence on Marcus Garvey, as was Martin R. Delany.  Some have argued Delany was the first Black Nationalist.  Abolitionist, writer, journalist, philosopher, inventor….he was also one of the first three blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School and the first black field officer in the U.S. Army, obtaining the rank of major.  In 1853 he wrote a short book entitled The Origin and Objects of Ancient Freemasonry:  Its Introductioninto the United States, And Legitimacy among Colored Men.  The book posits an Ethiopian origin for Freemasonry and places several Biblical events there; it is truly an Afrocentric text.  As for emigration, he had already written his first book proposing mass emigration, perhaps to the West Indies or South America, in 1852.  In 1854 he led the National Emigration Convention and read his Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent; this work is considered to be one of the urtexts of Black Nationalism.

Delany traveled to Liberia in 1859 to look into the possibility of settlement; he stayed nine months and signed a treaty for settling “unused” land in exchange for bringing skilled workers to the region, but white missionaries undermined his plans and the outbreak of the American Civil War put an end to them.  He later sought an appointment as Consul General to Liberia.  As Reconstruction began to be curbed and whites successfully began limiting the voting rights of blacks in the South, a group of African-Americans in Charleston again took up plans for emigration; in 1877, they formed the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company, with Delany as chairman of the finance committee.  A year later the company purchased a ship called the Azor for the voyage.  Delany was president of the board that organized the voyage but he withdrew in 1880 to concentrate on supporting his family.

This was his last involvement with emigration before his death.

Marcus Garvey and the UNIA

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) continued to develop plans to help African-Americans migrate to Liberia, sending a delegation there in 1923 to scope out the situation and make a survey of potential settlement areas, a project supported by the Liberian government.  Apparently Liberia was going to lease land to the UNIA for one dollar per acre.  The plan fell through, however, and the Liberian government cut a better deal with the Firestone Rubber Company.

When Garvey died in 1940, James R. Stewart was elected to head the UNIA.  In 1949 he moved to Liberia, where he became a citizen.  The Parent Body of the UNIA was located there until Stewart’s Death in 1964.  Liberian President William Tubman became Potentate and Supreme Commissioner of the UNIA in 1954 and was a close friend of Stewart.  Tubman was President of Liberia from 1944 to 1971 and became known as the “Father of Modern Liberia”.  He was also a Prince Hall Mason.  He was succeeded by his VP since 1952, William Tolbert, who was also Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Liberia.

In “The Tragic History of Freemasonry in Liberia”, author Chris Hodapp writes: 

From the beginning, Liberian society quickly developed into three classes: settlers with European-African lineage, who came to be known as Americo-Liberians; freed slaves from slave ships and the West Indies; and indigenous native people from the existing tribes already living in the territory. Liberia was dominated by a single political party for over 130 years, the True Whig Party, based in large part on the American Whigs, the precursor to the Republican Party in the years after the American Revolution and before the Civil War. The Liberian Whigs were almost entirely Americo-Liberians, and top government officials were uniformly Freemasons. By the 1970s, there were seventeen lodges at work in the country under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free & Accepted Masons of the Republic of Liberia, with approximately 1,000 members, and the longstanding sentiment of the tribal population was that decisions about the nation were all made secretly behind Masonic closed doors.

This clique of about a dozen Americo-Liberian families dominated the country’s politics and excluded indigenous Africans and descendants of slaves from points other than the U.S.  This hegemony and the exclusion of indigenous Africans from the Lodge meant that when a coup d’état was staged by Samuel Doe in 1980, the Lodge was targeted alongside the existing political regime; the hand-in-glove relationship between Lodge and State is personified by William R. Tolbert, Jr. who was both President of Liberia and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Liberia at the time of the coup.  Naturally, the Lodge was outlawed by Doe in 1980.

During the turmoil and violence which has taken place since the coup in 1980, the Grand Lodge building was virtually destroyed and fell into ruin, eventually becoming the home of thousands of squatters.  The squatters were evicted in 2005 and the Lodge is apparently currently rebuilding their Lodge building….and their influence.

Henry McNeil Turner

Henry McNeil Turner

Liberia (and to some degree Sierra Leone) was the focus of the American Back-to-Africa movement.  Garvey — and his inspiration, Delany — would both travel there.  Henry McNeal Turner, the dynamic bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, traveled there four times in the 1890’s.  He encouraged emigration and organized conferences in Africa for that purpose.  He also taught that God was black, something Garvey’s later African Orthodox Church would teach and a fundamental tenet of Moorish Science, the NOI and the Five Percenters.

Turner was also a Prince Hall Mason, joining while living in Washington, D.C. between 1862 and 1863.  His decision to join, however, was not universally approved of within the AME Church, which had a strong anti-Masonic Faction despite the fact that the Church’s founder, Richard Allen, was a Prince Hall Mason himself.  Allen had previously established the Free Africa Society with Absalom Jones, circa 1792.

Richard Allen

Richard Allen

Jones went on to found the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, part of the Episcopal Church, in Philadelphia.  He too, was a Mason.  Prince Hall personally founded African Lodge No. 1 of Philadelphia; Jones was Master of this Lodge and Allen was its treasurer.  This African Lodge was the first to be granted a charter by African Lodge No. 459 in Boston; in granting the Philadelphia Lodge a charter, Prince Hall began its evolution into a separate, “black” Freemasonry.  Today, Prince Hall Masonry (PHM) enjoys mostly friendly relations with its “white” counterparts, which have overcome questions of “regularity” and now recognize Prince Hall Masonry, with various degrees of visiting rights.  Only eight states have resisted recognition.  All of these are located in the Deep South and follow the contours of the Confederacy, except for West Virginia.

According to The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol I: 

In 1922….Hodge Kirnon stated that “there is no indication that Garvey meant [the UNIA] to be anything more than a fraternal order.” …. Amy Jacques Garvey later recalled that Garvey became a Mason “through the influence of John E. Bruce and Dr. [F. W.] Ellegor [but] he did not attend Masonic meetings, he was always too busy, so the connection dropped.” Moreover, she disclosed that UNIA chapters operated quite freely within the ranks of black fraternities.

During the final four years of his life, Garvey turned even more emphatically toward the Masonic ideal based on secret knowledge. With the defeat of Ethiopia in the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935…. Garvey revised dramatically his previous estimates of what political movements alone could be expected to accomplish. Thus, he viewed as problematic the absence of “masonry in his [the Negro’s] political ideals,” noting that “there is nothing secret in what he is aiming at for his own hope of preservation.” Garvey was alluding to the evolution of the fraternal idea from its earlier craft stage into a potent political vehicle, one based on the organization of secret revolutionary brotherhoods.

From the start, the UNIA shared numerous features with fraternal benevolent orders. The UNIA’s governing Constitution and Book of Laws held the same status and function as Freemasonry’s Book of Constitutions and Book of the Law. The UNIA’s titular “potentate” was clearly analogous to the “imperial potentate” of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, or black Shriners. The High Executive Council of the UNIA and ACL reflected the Imperial Council of the black Shriners and the Supreme Council of Freemasonry in general. The elaborate and resplendent public displays by the UNIA, particularly during its annual conventions, drew upon the example of the black Shriners and other fraternal groups …. Other features shared with fraternal orders included solemn oaths and binding pledges, special degrees of chivalry (such as the Cross of African Redemption, Knight of the Sublime Order of the Nile, and Knight of the Order of Ethiopia) …. (lxi-lxii)

Like any radical movement, the UNIA faced internal challenges from members who didn’t find the organization radical enough.  A mere five years after its founding, a group of (primarily) Caribbean socialists within the UNIA founded the African Blood Brotherhood for African Liberation and Redemption (ABB).  Just as the UNIA worked within Prince Hall Lodges, the ABB tried — and failed — to operate within the UNIA.  The ABB became highly critical of Garvey but failed to oust him, so they left the UNIA, eventually dissolving in the 1920’s, its members merging into the Workers Party of America, the legal name of the Communist Party in the U.S.  In a 1922 report to the Comintern, ABB co-founder Claude McKay, a Jamaican-American writer and poet, speaks positively of the UNIA, though criticizing its capitalist ventures.  McKay suggested that a series of “masonic degrees” be utilized to create a vanguard from among the advanced members of the organization (It is unclear if McKay is speaking here of the ABB or not).  He states that these degrees would act as a 

….lure to draw membership for the organization and as an inspiration to studies and activities on the part of the membership.  They may be seven in all, with the seventh degree reserved for those who become truly class-conscious, and the lower degrees forming a series of steps towards the seventh on the basis of development toward the class-conscious ideal. (7)
A Report on the American “Negro Problem” for the Communist International, 1922

If I may be permitted a bit of whimsy, I find it a bit poetic that in October, 1919, one George Tyler attempted to assassinate Garvey with a .38 caliber revolver.  A Tyler is an officer of a Masonic Lodge, charged with, among other things, guarding the door during communication in order to keep the uninitiated from entering.  Coincidence….of course.

Noble Drew Ali

Noble Drew Ali

Noble Drew Ali and Moorish Science

The Canaanite Temple was founded in 1913, one year before the UNIA.  It was based in Newark and after some internal conflict, moved to Chicago in 1926, where it was re-named the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA).  It represented a political alternative to the UNIA, but it was a more overtly spiritual movement — its politics and spirituality wend hand in hand.  While Garvey’s affirmation of a black Jesus may have seemed scandalous, it didn’t go as far as Moorish Science theology and that of its descendants.  Garvey said God was black.  The Five Percenters say that the Black Man is God!

The MSTA was founded by North Carolina-born Timothy Drew, who styled himself Noble Drew Ali.  Some sources indicate Drew’s father was in fact a Moroccan Muslim and his mother, a Cherokee. His Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple [all following references to the “Koran” will be the Moorish Science text] borrowed liberally from a Rosicrucian book entitled Unto Thee I Grant and a New Age work entitled The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Drew claimed to have received this “lost” section of the Holy Koran from an Egyptian high priest of magic, who he claimed had trained him in mystical practices and saw in him the reincarnation of the prophets Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad.

Moorish Science -- Circle 7 Logo

Moorish Science — Circle 7 Logo

The identity of the African-American was the foundation of Ali’s teachings; liberation was only possible for the “Negro” after understanding his true identity, which is what?  Moorish.  Specifically, Moroccan.  Ali used the word “Asiatic” to designate African-Americans.

Although ostensibly Islamic, Ali drew from many sources, including Theosophy, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Gnosticism….and Freemasonry.  The Masonic influences on the Koran are most evident in Chapter Five, in which working tools are discussed.  Although they are presented as the tools of a carpenter and not a mason, many of the tools are the same and those that are not still have explanations which are perfectly coherent with Masonic teaching: 

  1. These tools remind me of the ones we handle in the workshop of the mind where things were made of thought and where we build up character.
  2. We use the square to measure all our lines, to straighten out the crooked places of the way, and make the corners of our conduct square.
  3. We use the compass to draw circles around our passions and desires to keep them in the bounds of righteousness.
  4. We use the axe to cut away the knotty, useless and ungainly parts and make the character symmetrical.
  5. We use the hammer to drive home the truth, and pound it in until it is a part of every part.
  6. We use the plane to smooth the rough, uneven surfaces of joint, and block, and board that go to build the temple for the truth.
  7. The chisel, line, the plummet and the saw all have their uses in the workshop of the mind.
  8. And then this ladder with its trinity of steps, faith, hope and love; on it we climb up to the dome of purity in life.
  9. And on the twelve step ladder, we ascend until we reach the pinnacle of that which life is spent to build the Temple of Perfected Man.

This is straight up Masonic language and doctrine, even using numbers with heavy Masonic symbolism:  3, 7 and 12.  The Moors acknowledge this Masonic link.  They claim, however, that it was Freemasonry who based their doctrine upon the beliefs and practices of the original Moors at some point in the foggy past.  This is reminiscent Mormon teachings about their Temple Endowment Ceremonies.

The Mormons have a long and fractious relationship with Masonry.  Joseph Smith became a Mason and during his group’s sojourn in Nauvoo, Illinois, urged his followers to join so that they might infiltrate the Lodges and use them to further their aims — much like the Bavarian Illuminati founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776.  Smith was later murdered by a mob while in jail following accusations (true, as it turns out) of polygamy and intended to set himself up as a theocratic king.  Just before he was shot, Smith is said to have given the Masonic sign and call of distress.  In any event, those Endowment ceremonies are clearly modeled on and adapted from Masonic ritual; one only needs to compare the texts — and the chronological order in which they appeared.  The Masonic rituals are historically anterior to the Mormon ceremonies, but the Mormons use the same arguments as the Moor men to explain their similarities:  the Masonic rituals are garbled versions of the Mormon rituals, learned sometime in the distant past.  Masons preserve the Mormon truth, but in an incomplete and distorted form.

Some claim that Noble Drew Ali was a Freemason and a Shriner; others vehemently deny it.  While it is quite possible, lack of evidence either way rules out any firm affirmation….or denial.  The fact remains, however that Masonic language is in his version of the Koran.  Question is, how did he come by it?

Sacred Drift

Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey, writes a great essay on the history of MSTA which includes the following passage regarding Drew Ali’s debt to Freemasonry.  I tried to pare it down to essentials, but it’s still a long citation.  All apologies to Wilson:

The first deep source of Moorish Science is Masonry. Connections between Islam and Freemasonry may go back to the Crusades, to pacts between Templars and Ismailis (“Assassins”). Eighteenth-century Rosicrucians claimed sources in the Yemen for their alchemical wisdom. The freethinkers of the Enlightenment held favorable opinions of Islam, not because they understood it very well, but because it represented the antithesis of Christianity; “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Frederick II, Voltaire, Goethe, and Nietzsche all admired Islam; dandies as well as revolutionary Masons adopted the accountrements if the “wicked Turk.” If this Masonic reading of Islam can be called a misreading, nevertheless it contains a fortuitous element – an example of heresy acting as a means of cultural transfer. That is: an image of Islam (however distorted) had in fact moved from East to West and brought about cultural ferment. Much of its energy will be found within Masonry.
In 1876-7 some New York businessmen, all thirty-second degree or thirty-third degree Scottish Rite Masons, founded the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine – the “Shriners.” They concocted a legend claiming initiations from a Grand Shaykh of Mecca, honors from the Ottoman Sultan Selim III, a charter from Adam Weishaupt of the Bavarian Illuminati, and links with the Bektashi Sufi Order. They bestowed the title “Noble” on themselves, wore fezzes, displayed a crescent moon and star with Egyptian ornaments (including the Great Pyramid), and founded lodges called “Mecca,” “Medina,” “Al Koran,” etc. Later Shriners found this esoteric mishmash embarrassing, repudiated the legend, devolved into a charitable fraternity, and saved their fezzes for parades and costume balls.

During the Great Columbian Exhibition in Chicago (1893), a world’s fair attended by numerous Eastern Religious figures (such as Swami Vivekananda), American blacks, claiming initiation from visiting Moslem dignitaries founded the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of Nobles of the Shrine (and its sister affiliate the Daughters of Isis) – black Shriners. Certain photographs exist of Noble Drew Ali in Egyptian Shriner gear; even his famous Napoleonic pose is Masonic, as are his title, headgear, and other favorite symbols. I have seen documents purporting to represent Moorish Masonry which may refer to the existence of an Adept Chamber within Moorish Science, mentioned in its Catechism.

According to my informant M. A. Ahari, Noble Drew Ali was “a Pythian Knight, a Shriner, a Prophet of the Veiled Realm, and, of course, a thirty-second degree Mason.” He suggests that Masonic “catechisms” may have been the model for the Moorish Catechism; one is reminded here of Joseph Smith and the Masonic influence on Mormonism, which has undergone a veiling and metamorphosis similar to that of the Masonic roots of Moorish Science. “Lost/Found Moorish Timelines in the Wilderness of North America” Suleiman and “Mohammedan Masonry”

The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (the “Shriners”) was founded in New York in 1870 (Not 1876-7 as Wilson states).  In 1872 they established their first Temple in New York City:  Mecca Temple.  The chief officer of the Temple was known as a “Potentate” (a title the UNIA later adopted).

The words “temple” and/or “mosque” are no longer used; this seems part of a general “de-mystification” of the Shrine, which changed its ponderous name in 2010 to Shriners International.  They have also dropped the requirement that a man need be a Master Mason to apply.

The Shriner’s rituals and emblem were created by Walter Fleming, apparently based on notes taken at a performance witnessed by William J. Florence at a party given by an “Arabian diplomat” in Marseilles; after this performance (which he later reported seeing again in Cairo and Algiers), the spectators were initiated into some kind of secret society.  True or not, it’s interesting that like the later African-American groups, authority is said to have derived directly from the Middle East.  Despite any real connection to Islam, Shriners are still distinguished by the red fezzes they wear.  These white Shriners were soon followed by a black group drawn from Prince Hall Masonry: 

The Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South and Its Jurisdictions, Inc…..was established as an Imperial Council of Prince Hall Shriners on June 3, 1893, in Chicago, Illinois, by 13 Prince Hall Masons under the leadership of John George Jones….


The first annual session of the newly organized Imperial Council was held on September 25, 1901, in Newark, New Jersey, [where the Canaanite Temple was founded a decade later] it was here that a Constitution was formally adopted, establishing the fraternity as it is today….

(A.E.A.O.M.N.S. website [now archived] )

After completing this article, or after I thought it was complete, I came across an article from 2011 entitled “Abdul Hamid Suleiman and the Origins of the Moorish Science Temple” by Patrick D. Bowen.  Bowen has uncovered some newspaper articles that suggest Noble Drew Ali might have been influenced by one Abdul Hamid Suleiman; although he gave no names, Drew Ali himself said he received his knowledge from an Egyptian.   Here’s a summary of Bowen’s work.

Abdul Hamid Suleiman was first mentioned in the press in August, 1922 as a result of his appearance at the African-American Masonic convention held that month in Washington, D.C.  He went before the leadership of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.E.A.O.N.M.S.) — the African-American Shriners — and demanded they come under the aegis of the “Mecca Medina temple of Ancient Free and Operative Masons from 1 to 96 degrees,” or “true Shrine.”  He claimed to have incorporated this Lodge in N.Y.C.  The Shriners turned him down.  Suleiman may have been a member of the French Rite of Misraïm, which no longer exists as a separate Rite, but which at one point had 96 degrees and is one of the rites of so-called “Egyptian” Masonry (the other being the Rite of Memphis).

In 1923 an article in the press appeared describing Abdul Hamid Suleiman and his claim to have derived his authority from Mecca and that it was his mission to spread Islam among African-Americans.  The article notes that a mosque had already been established in Newark, N.J.  Suleiman had described his movement as “Mohammedan Masonry,” a movement equally Islamic and Masonic.  Bowen believes that it is quite possible that Suleiman influenced Drew Ali; he speculates that Ali may even have been a member of Suleiman’s movement.

In later contact with the press Suleiman presented himself as a Muslim from Khartoum and “head of all Masonic degrees in Mecca”.  Although Suleiman’s claims are dubious, Bowen did find a lodge with the name Mecca Medina Temple, established on Feb. 4, 1910, in N.Y.C.  Among the incorporators were a Robert B. Mount and a Dr. Prince de Solomon.

Although it cannot be proven without a doubt, it would appear that Suleiman and de Solomon were the same person.  A “Mecca Medina Temple of A.F. & A.M.” filed for incorporation on July 15, 1920 in Youngstown, Ohio.  A January, 1920 census report lists a Dr. Prince de Solomon in Mercer, Pennsylvania — 30 miles from Youngstown.  This is quite possibly the same Dr. Prince de Solomon who had helped found the N.Y.C. Mecca Medina Temple ten years earlier.  In addition to their names and Suleiman’s claim to have founded a lodge in N.Y.C. with same name as one founded by de Solomon, de Solomon was described in the 1920 census as a black, Arabic-Speaking Egyptian, whose occupation was “minister”.  Pretty much how Suleiman described himself.  Both men used the title of “Dr.”  While none of this is proof perfect, there are too many similarities to dismiss it out of hand.  I believe they are one and the same person.

In 1927 a newspaper reports that one “Dr. Abdull Hamid Sulyman,” claimed that the only true Shrine came out of Mecca and required conversion to Islam.  We also learn the same year, that he’d been working as a fortune teller and was accused of swindling a client; he claimed to have “qualified as a professor of mystic and occult sciences in a university under the auspices of the Mohammedan faith in Khartum [sic].”  Recall that Ali claimed to have been instructed and recognized by an Egyptian “high priest of Magic”; was he referring to Suleiman?  Khartoum is now in the Republic of Sudan but was at that time, and from its origin, considered to be a part of Egypt.

Oddly enough, there were at least eight other African-Americans advertising themselves in New York as Islam-connected spiritual advisers — with the title “Mohammedan Scientist” being most common appellation.  The idea of spiritual knowledge as a kind of science is something reiterated in the Nation of Islam and its offshoot, the Five Percent Nation.  In an age when America’s rapid scientific progress was whole-heartedly embraced by a great swath of the American people, “science” became something of a corollary to faith.  Christian Science, Moorish Science, Scientology, Nation of Islam mythology, not to mention various UFO cults; all of them did not simply teach spiritual principles, they were “dropping science”.

In 1928 we again hear of Suleiman as someone who had “won notoriety as the founder of the Oriental Branch of the Masonic Order.”  In 1929, one “Prince Abdul Hamid Sulyman of Khartum, Egypt, priest of Mecca” — note the use of the title “Prince” — appeared as a speaker at the banquet of “Grand Orient of Ancient, Free and Accepted Scottish Rite Masons of Union Faith.” In 1934, an “A.H. Sulyman” is listed as an officer and past master of the Atma Lodge A.F. & O.M., which was connected to a Mecca Chapter O.E.S.

After 1928, Suleiman disappears from the newspapers.

Concurrent with his Masonic activities, Suleiman was promoting Islam among African-Americans and for that purpose a mosque for his group had been started in….Newark.  The name of Suleiman’s movement was the “Caananites Temple” [sic].  His followers included Muslim immigrants and he claimed several mosques existed.

The name “Canaanite Temple” is evocative because it was in fact the original name of Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple….in Newark.  Several of the Moors’ own founding legends mesh with what we know about Suleiman.  One says that after founding the Canaanite Temple in 1913, in 1918 Drew Ali faced competition from an unnamed “Arab immigrant” who “appeared in Newark and professed orthodox Islam among African Americans. His efforts interfered with Noble Drew Ali’s work, and a conflict resulted in the breakup of his first temple.”  As a result, Ali relocated to Chicago and established a temple there in 1919.

Another story is even more explicit, stating that the Canaanite Temple was established in Newark by Drew Ali in 1913 with the help of one “Dr. Suliman”.  They fought over leadership and split in 1916.  In 1925 Drew Ali and his followers went to Chicago.

Bowen asks: 

Going further, given the suspicions that Wallace Fard and Elijah Muhammad were associated in some way with Drew Ali’s group, is it possible that there is a link between Suleiman and the two central figures of the early Nation of Islam?


Can we completely rule out the possibility that it was Suleiman who was influenced by Drew Ali, not the other way around?

Whatever its precise origins, Moorish science attracted a lot of Garveyites and ex-Garveyites.  Chapter 48 of the Holy Koran even identifies Marcus Garvey as who?  John the Baptist….with Noble Drew Ali as Jesus: 

In these modern days there came a forerunner of Jesus, who was divinely prepared by the great God-Allah and his name is Marcus Garvey, who did teach and warn the nations of the earth to prepare to meet the coming Prophet; who was to bring the true and divine Creed of Islam, and his name is Noble Drew Ali who was prepared and sent to this earth by Allah….

The Moors were attracted to the nationalism of the UNIA and were inspired by its Back-to-Africa program.  After the failure of the UNIA’s emigration plans, it appears that “Back-to-Africa” became more symbolic than literal; not a migration, but a mindset.  No group after the UNIA proposed emigration on the scale that Garvey, Delany and Hall had proposed.  The UNIA’s Black Star line was created both for transporting people back to Africa and for commercial ventures.  The establishment of black-owned businesses and economic development were key features of the UNIA’s program.  They saw it as a key to financial independence and thus, liberation of both body and mind.  The Moors and the Nation of Islam would later put this into practice as well, but their nation wasn’t to be found in Africa, but North America.

The UNIA’s motto “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”, was derived from the influence of one Dusé Ali.  Another Ali!  Dusé Ali was an Egyptian-born British actor and journalist.  He was also a Muslim, a Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist.  He was to exert considerable influence over Marcus Garvey, who wrote for Ali’s newspaper, the African Times and Orient Review.  Ali later returned the favor, briefly writing for the UNIA’s Negro World (fear of a black planet?) after leaving Britain for good in 1921.  He later lived, and died, in Nigeria.

Wallace Fard Muhammad

Wallace Fard Muhammad

Wallace Fard Muhammad

In 1929 a mysterious fellow by the name of Wallace Fard Muhammad (presumed to have been born Wallace Dodd Ford) joined the Moorish Science Temple.  After Drew Ali’s death, a struggle for control of the MSTA — and its considerable financial resources — erupted and Fard ended up fleeing Chicago for Detroit.  On the 4th of July 1930, he founded his own group, the Nation of Islam.  Like Noble Drew Ali, his ethnic background isn’t exactly clear, and he himself gave varying accounts.  Was he a New Zealander of East Indian extraction?  Were his parents Spanish?  After he began to develop a following, he claimed to have come from Mecca, which is what his successor Elijah Muhammad taught.  In any event, Fard again had to flee in 1933, this time as a result of an apparent ritual murder carried out by a member of the Nation.  He returned but was re-arrested and again asked to leave.  He left for good in 1934 and was never heard from again, though there is evidence he lived until the 1960’s and continued to maintain contact with Elijah Muhammad under the alias Muhammad Abdullah, an Ahmadi imam.

When asked about this rumor, Abdullah responded: 

It is all right to say I am Fard Muhammad for Wallace [Warith] D. Muhammad. I taught him some lessons. But I am not the same person who taught Elijah Muhammad and I am not God.

Which could still be interpreted to mean he was indeed Fard….

Elijah Muhammad (né Poole)

Elijah Muhammad (né Poole)

The Nation of Islam

The NOI is based on Islam and a look at their basic tenets as set forth in the Five Pillars shows that the NOI is a lot closer to al-Islam than many Muslims would like to think.  Many “regular” Muslims are bothered by the “extra-Quranic” teachings of the NOI — though it should be noted that there are numerous venerable commentaries and writings considered to contain prophetic traditions, known as hadith, and some are very controversial.  There is also not an insignificant amount of animosity — in some countries at least — between the principal Muslim branches, schools and sects over doctrinal differences that are as significant as the “heresies” of the NOI.

What is most perhaps most offensive to “regular” Muslims are the NOI’s teachings about Fard.  After he disappeared in 1934, his disciple Elijah Muhammad (né Poole) began teaching that Fard was the Mahdi, the redeemer of Islam who will rid the world of Evil, and that Elijah was his Messenger.  He later began teaching that Fard was God, Allah incarnate.  The NOI also began incorporating ideas from Theosophy into its teaching and there is clear evidence that Fard had encouraged his followers to study Jehovah’s Witnesses material.  Some of this extra-Quranic material also demonstrates a familiarity with Masonic Lore.

Masonic legend centers on the story of Hiram Abiff, chief architect of Solomon’s Temple.  One day, after a hard day’s work on the Temple, three ruffians, or “unworthy craftsmen”, confronted Abiff.  They asked the architect to be shown the signs of recognition for Master Masons so that they might flash the signs and be able to work for higher wages.  Thrice they demanded and thrice they were refused.  So the three craftsman killed Hiram and hastily buried is body, marking the spot with a sprig of Acacia.

In the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the three ruffians represent the white man, who asked for higher knowledge from the black man and were refused.  Infuriated, they rose up against the “Original Man” (original because according to the NOI, whites were bred from blacks by a scientist named Yacub).  The white rebels were defeated.  The white man’s rebellion was akin to Lucifer’s rebellion against Allah; no coincidence that in the NOI, white men are referred to as “devils”.  After this failed coup, the white man was led away in chains to exile in the caves of Europe.  The Masons teachings, say the NOI, are corrupted history.  A familiar pattern emerges:   A group borrows from Masonry then tries to distance itself from the source by reversing the roles; their own ancient predecessors were the source of these legends and rituals and Masons are just repeating it wrong.  The cable tow that binds Masons in brotherhood, says the NOI, recalls the chains as the devil was led away.  The apron, they say, recalls the crude garment the devil was given to cover his shameless nakedness.

Lambert titled his essay “Lost/Found Moorish Timelines”; in one sense he is talking about what much of history has as its goal, that is to say the re-discovery the lost past and bringing it back into the realm of public knowledge.  But it’s also a reference to the “lost” (some might say “stolen”) identity of African-Americans, which was “found” by Noble Drew Ali.  This critical aspect of rediscovering the true identity of the African-American is why the NOI sometimes refers to itself as the “Lost-Found Nation of Islam.”  It also brings to mind the concept of the “lost word” which is the central component of the Royal Arch Degrees.

Consulting my hefty copy of Mackey’s Encyclopedia, I looked for the entry on the Lost Word.

The Word, therefore, may be conceived to be the symbol of Divine Truth….the Word itself being then the symbol of Divine Truth, the narrative of its loss and the search for its recovery becomes a mythical symbol of the decay and loss of the true religion among the ancient nations….and of the attempts of the wise men, the philosophers, and priests, to find and retain it in their secret mysteries and initiations….(Boldface added)

Whether intentional or not, this concept of the Lost Word, which can arguably be said to represent one of the fundamental tenets of Freemasonry, is also a neat summation of exactly what Moorish Science and the Nation of Islam have attempted to do.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses founder Charles Taze Russell also had a curious relationship with Freemasonry.  Early versions of Witness literature carried a cross and crown motif exactly like the one used by a) Christian Science and b) Masonic Knights Templar.  Some point to Russell’s grave as further proof of a connection — his tomb is a pyramid.  It also features the cross and crown symbol.  Russell wasn’t a Mason, though he once had this to say: 

Do our Masonic friends understand something about the Temple, and being Knights Templars, and so on? We more.


I am very glad to have this particular opportunity of saying a word about some of the things in which we agree with our Masonic friends, because we are speaking in a building dedicated to Masonry, and we also are Masons. I am a Free Mason. I am a free and accepted Mason, if I may carry the matter to its full length, because that is what our Masonic brethren like to tell us, that they are free and accepted Masons. That is their style of putting it. Now I am a free and accepted Mason. I trust we all are. But not just after the style of our Masonic brethren. We have no quarrel with them. I am not going to say a word against Free Masons. In fact, some of my very dear friends are Masons, and I can appreciate that there are certain very precious truths that are held in part by our Masonic friends.

However, his sermon clarifies that he’s just using to Masonic lingo to riff on his own theology 

Although I have never been a Mason…

It’s a curious bit of seemingly contradictory rhetoric, at times rambling, but as this 1913 sermon entitled “The Temple of God” demonstrates, at the very least, a fairly thorough knowledge of Freemasonry, if only to “deconstruct” its symbols and reapply them, redefined to fit his own spiritual system.  Russell also seems to be playing the game that the Moors and the Mormons play, hinting that Freemasons are in possession of a corrupted truth gleaned from ancient Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The statement that the Witnesses are Templars (in their Watchtowers?) is not just a whimsy.  As I previously pointed out, the logo of a cross and crown features not only on early JW literature, but in the context of Masonic Templar degrees as well.

Garvey had been associated with the founding of the Independent Episcopal Church in 1921.  Its first bishop, George Alexander McGuire, was from Antigua and was consecrated in Chicago under the aegis of the Syrian Orthodox Church by a remarkable figure named Réné Vilatte, in 1921.  McGuire served as the chaplain for the UNIA for many years, leaving in 1924 when Garvey decided to move his group’s HQ to the West Indies.  At this time he also changed the name of his church to the African Orthodox Church.  The name reflects its Pan-African outlook, identifying with all Africans as opposed to one ethnicity, such as Ethiopians, Moors or Muslims, much like Hall’s “African” Lodge.  The church paraded a black Madonna and Child though the streets of Harlem.

Part Byron, part Marquis de Sade, part Rasputin, McGuire’s mentor Vilatte led a life that would make for a great book, but it would hard to track; he changed churches like people change clothes.  His religious affiliations were legion, so it’s no surprise he (like Fard) used Jehovah’s Witnesses literature for material.  He once said of the Witnesses:

I do certainly believe that the ‘little flock’ [Jehovah’s Witnesses] will be an instrument by whom all the families of earth will be blessed; because all the churches are in a very poor situation and the world in great desolation.

Vilatte turned out to be a scandal on legs and he was a known associate of occultists, Rosicrucians and of course, Freemasons.

Enter the UFOs….

In a surprise to me, current NOI leader Louis Farrakhan relatively recently ordered that all higher level officers in the NOI must undergo auditing and study Dianetics until they have been certified “clear”.  Surprising, perhaps, given that the founder of Scientology (1954) was prone to uttering some of the crudest racist commentary imaginable.  Not surprising, perhaps, if you consider that NOI leaders will receive a ten percent cut of the fees for every Muslim they send to be audited.  And ten percent of the fees involved would be a fairly handsome sum, seeing that becoming a “clear” can cost well over 100,000 dollars!

There is also an affinity between the NOI and Scientology in that they share a belief in UFO’s. 

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad told us of a giant Mother Plane that is made like the universe, spheres within spheres. White people call them unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Ezekiel, in the Old Testament, saw a wheel that looked like a cloud by day but a pillar of fire by night. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that that wheel was built on the island of Nippon, which is now called Japan, by some of the Original scientists….It is made of the toughest steel. America does not yet know the composition of the steel used to make an instrument like it. It is a circular plane, and the Bible says that it never makes turns. Because of its circular nature it can stop and travel in all directions at speeds of thousands of miles per hour. He said there are 1,500 medium wheels in this Mother Wheel, which is a half mile by a half mile [800 m by 800 m]. This Mother Wheel is like a medium human-built planet. Each one of these medium planes carry three bombs.

“The Divine Destruction of America: Can She Avert It?” Louis Farrakhan, 1996

This Mother Plane will ultimately destroy America, but spare the black man — a kind of Space Age version of the Rapture.  The faithful will be saved and the rest of the world destroyed.

This belief in being saved by a spaceship is not unique to the NOI.  The Heaven’s Gate sect killed themselves en masse in order to free their souls to join a spaceship passing the earth, hidden in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet.  I’ve always assumed Parliament’s Mothership Connection was inspired, at least in part, by the Mother Plane story and the NOI’s teachings.  In 2012, New Age-types headed towards Bugarach mountain in southwest France, expecting to be saved from the destruction attendant on the end of the Mayan calendar by a UFO either located within or coming to the mountain.  They were disappointed, one supposes.  Or perhaps not; the Jehovah’s Witnesses have had to revise their date for Armageddon on several occasions.  Of course eschatological anticipation is not unique to the NOI or the Witnesses, but the centrality and intensity of the Witnesses’ belief that they would be spared from the impending apocalypse, not to mention their often confrontational proselytizing, would certainly have been an affinity between these two highly-disparaged, combative “cults”.

NOI Flag

NOI Flag

In most sects, such as Roman Catholicism or any number of TV evangelical groups, many followers live in poverty while their leaders live in opulence.  The NOI, like the Moors before them — but on a much more successful level — have, or once had, substantial holdings: large companies, real estate, medium businesses and in the case of the NOI, even banks.  I am not suggesting the NOI is a simply money scam; but it’s a fact that bears mentioning.  Today the NOI has been greatly diminished since the son of Elijah Muhammad steered the NOI towards a reconciliation with Sunni Islam, prompting Farrakhan to take up the old name and ideology to form a schismatic group that continues to this day.  The NOI, despite the historical record and the obvious similarities to Moorish Science, deny that they are an offshoot of the latter.

Dreadlock Rasta

Another NRM to grow out of Marcus Garvey’s influence is Rastafarianism.  Rastas teach that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is God and that Garvey was his prophet, his John the Baptist, much like the role the Moors claim for Garvey vis-à-vis Noble Drew Ali.  Marcus was always the prophet, but for different Jesuses.  Rastafarianism is not merely a derivation of Garveyism, though many Rastas, like many Moors, were Garveyites.  Like the Moors, the Rastas drew from diverse sources:  Caribbean folklore, western esotericism, AMORC and…Freemasonry.

In Dread Jesus, Wm. David Spencer argues that the Rasta use of the word “Jah” for God (or Yahweh) derives from Freemasonry.  Spencer also reveals that Rastafarianism’s principle founder, Joseph Hibbert, was a member of the Great Ancient Brotherhood of Silence, or Ancient Mystic Order of Ethiopia, a Masonic Lodge.  Author Gregory Stephens says Hibbert became a Mason in Costa Rica and returned to Jamaica preaching the divinity of Selassie.  Hibbert’s roots were in the Ethiopian Baptist Church, which was founded by George Lisle in the 18th Century.  Lisle was a Freed American slave who became a pastor and “America’s first missionary” — in Jamaica.
According to Doreen Morrison:

He developed a concern for his African brothers and sisters, determining that he would seek to enhance their lives by introducing a relevant contextual church able to speak holistically to their needs whether they were enslaved or free. To this end he and his followers co-opted the notion of ‘Ethiopianism’ and began to refer to themselves as Ethiopian Baptists.

“George Liele and the Ethiopian Baptist Church: The First Credible Baptist Missionary Witness to the World”.

This is certainly reflected in Hibbert’s Ethiopian outlook.

Spencer also writes that another key figure in the emergence of the Rasta movement, H. Archibald Dunkley, was also in the same Lodge.  So it’s certainly possible his Masonic experiences had some influence on the movement’s beliefs; at the very least it shows that some Masonic beliefs held an attraction for these men at some point.  That said, neither Holy Piby author Robert Athlyi Rogers (d. 1931) or “1st Rasta” Leonard Percival Howell (1898-1981) were Freemasons, as far as I can tell.

What is clear though is that the founders were nourished in the same esoteric traditions and milieu that fed the Moors and the Nation of Islam, reaching some similar conclusions along the way.  As Bob Marley sang:  “Mighty God is a living man.”  Selassie in this case.  For Elijah Muhammad, Fard.  Then there was Clarence Smith.

Clarence 13X (“Allah”) and the Nation of Gods and Earths

The Allah Formerly Known As Clarence 13X

The Allah Formerly Known As Clarence 13X

Just as Marcus Garvey begat Noble Drew Ali, who begat Wallace Fard Muhammad, who begat Elijah Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad begat Clarence 13X, né Clarence Smith, aka who?  Allah.

The basic concept of Allah’s Five Percenters is that there is no “mystery God” in the sky, that God is in the here and now.  Not just one man, but all men.  All black men anyway.

From 1930 to 1934 W. Fard Muhammad gave a series of written lessons to Elijah Muhammad; these were collected into The Supreme Wisdom. The lessons taught that the world is divided into three categories:  85% of the population are the masses of the people who “are easily led in the wrong direction and hard to lead in the right direction”. The 85% are led by 10% of the people:  rich “slave-makers” who manipulate the 85% with false religion, mass media and the control of information.  The third group are the 5%, or “poor righteous teachers” of the people.  The 5 Percenters, obviously, are this last group.

Their teachings are hard to summarize because Allah didn’t see his movement so much as a religion, but an ultra-democratic way of thinking, spiritual karate that could complete other religious practice.  “Dropping science” is teaching 5 Percenter “doctrine”, working with an almost Kabbalistic “Supreme Alphabet” and “Supreme Numbers” — a kind of acrostic wisdom or urban gematria divided into 120 lessons, sometimes referred to as “degrees”.  These are based on the Supreme Wisdom lessons of the NOI devised by Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad — not indoctrination but a method for reaching one’s own conclusions.  Like the Masonic practice of a “Questions and Answers” session as part of the preparation for receiving a degree, the system involves a lot of rote memorization of formulaic phrases designed to impart moral and metaphysical lessons.  When the Gods get together to talk about what the lessons mean, for example, they refer to it as “building”, a natural metaphor which also has a strong association with Masonic metaphor:  the trowel, square, compasses, plumb line, the ashlars….

Five Percenter Compass Symbol, MST and NOI Merge

Five Percenter Compass Symbol, MST and NOI Merge

Like Muslims, the “Gods” are prohibited from eating pork.  They have a tolerant attitude towards cannabis and other drugs, but heroin is prohibited.  One’s word is bond.  Other than that, it’s up to the God to say what his doctrine is.  He is God after all.  White men are still the devil, or were, it’s hard to say; Allah’s stance was evolving and current Five Percenters disagree on what it actually means.

The Gods adopt new names based on the supreme alphabet, usually with Allah at the end, i.e. Strength Allah.  Black Muslims, of course, dropped their slave name for an “X”. Moors affixed El or Bey to their names.

Hip-Hop has been influenced a great deal by the Five Percenters and it shows up in the slang: G, word, represent, dropping science, the “zig-zag-zig” of XClan. Pioneering DJ/MC Kool DJ Herc was also from Jamaica, he combined mixing records with rapping based on the toasting of Jamaican MCs over one-off reggae dub plates with the vocals removed.

Towards a conclusion….

Interesting that from Prince Hall to Marcus Garvey, down to today’s Hip-Hop, there has long been a Caribbean connection to these nationalist and esoteric movements.  Prince Hall may have been born in Barbados.  Delany had suggested the West Indies as a goal for emigration.  Garvey was Jamaican, as were the circle of intellectuals who comprised the leadership of the UNIA.  The Rastafarians were also born in Jamaica, with a pan-Caribbean parentage.  Most of these men were Freemasons or were themselves formed by churches founded by Freemasons.  Michael Muhammad Knight’s books indicate a strong Caribbean-American presence in the Five Percenters, and the Moors had a lot of ex-Garveyite members, presumably many of them Caribbean as well; though Masonic borrowings exist through the Moors, the NOI and the Five Percenters, the leadership doesn’t seem to be composed of Freemasons, as it seems almost all their Black Nationalist predecessors were.  Perhaps this is a reflection of the decline in the influence of American Freemasonry in general.  Hip-Hop overlaps with many of these already Boolean circles; many pioneers were Jamaican, and MC’ing is generally acknowledged to have derived from Jamaican dance-hall toasting over dub plates.  Something worth exploring is the extent to which Prince Hall masonry exists in the Hip-Hop community; at first impression it would appear significant.  The link between the development of Hip-Hop and the Five Percenters is revealed in its shared slang and just this year Jay Z scored some publicity by sporting the 5 Percenter’s logo.  And of course, many MC’s and DJ’s identify themselves as Muslims and members (or supporters) of the Nation of Islam.

Although it has been proposed that the dominant trends in Black Nationalism found in the Lodges was towards “Ethiopianism” and “Arabism”, the only large-scale plans for literal emigration were to Liberia.  As we’ve stated, Garvey and Delany would both eventually travel there.  Henry McNeal Turner traveled there four times.  He encouraged emigration and organized conferences in Africa for that purpose.  He also taught that God was black, something Garvey’s later African Orthodox Church would teach and is fundamental to Moorish Science, the NOI and the Five Percenters.  The leaders of the UNIA, the Grand Lodge of Liberia and even the government of Liberia itself were all basically one extended group of Freemasons.  Small wonder the nation’s flag features a Lone Star representing the Five Points of Fellowship, like most of the mostly short-lived Masonic republics founded in the “Golden Circle” centered on Havana; republics which sought, ironically, not to promote liberation, but to expand slavery.  The Moors also have a flag with a five-pointed star — the flag of Morocco — but I’d be hard-pressed to make a case for a Masonic influence there.  Still, it does remind me that the flag of Morocco once featured a six-pointed star, which makes me think of Judaism; this in turn, makes me think of the equally complex genealogy of Black Jews, a corollary and overlapping phenomenon to what we’ve written here.  It’s just a big a part as the groups we’ve discussed, but I’ve got a long way to go before I can even attempt to write anything coherent about it.

I hope that upon finishing this, you don’t feel the same way about what you’ve just read.

Works to Consult

I’ve read all of the following books, some rather recently, but others 20 + years ago — but they all came into play when writing this post.  Not being an academic paper, I can play a little loose with how I cite my sources.  Obviously, I’ve also read or perused the articles and books cited directly in the text.

Posted in Featured, The Bee Hive and tagged , , .

Fred is a Past Master of Plymouth Lodge, Plymouth Massachusetts, and Past Master of Paul Revere Lodge, Brockton, Massachusetts. Presently, he is a member of Pride of Mt. Pisgah No. 135, Prince Hall Texas, where is he is also a Prince Hall Knight Templar . Fred is a Fellow of the Phylaxis Society and Executive Director of the Phoenix Masonry website and museum.


  1. Interesting article. One concern: The statement was made that Great Ancient Brotherhood of Silence, or Ancient Mystic Order of Ethiopia was a ” black or Prince Hall “Masonic lodge. Neither the author or the reference from Spencer’s book provided proof or evidence of this. Any direct or indirect sources to this claim would be very much appreciated as it is not a correct statement and can quickly be unfortunately repeated as a “fact”.

  2. I grew up exposed to all the groups you mentioned, so its interesting that it has crossed into academic research that doesn’t involve law enforcement, or sociology. The longer things, mems, and logos spermatikos are in a culture then the more cross pollination develops.

  3. “Turner was also a Prince Hall Mason, joining while living in Washington, D.C. between 1862 and 1863. His decision to join, however, was not universally approved of within the AME Church, which had a strong anti-Masonic Faction despite the fact that the Church’s founder, Richard Allen, was a Prince Hall Mason himself. Allen had previously established the Free Africa Society with Absalom Jones, circa 1792.”

    Brother Milliken, I am recently engaged with researching any possible links between Prince Hall Masons, the AME Church and the founding of an HBCU in Ohio. Specifically, the school is Wilberforce University established in 1856 by the leading efforts of a Bishop Daniel A. Payne who was an AME church member. Also, there were many other AME church leaders to assist him. I was attempting to dig into uncovering if these men might have been Ohio or Pennsylvania Prince Hall Masons too. However the above quote from Brother Adkins kind of puts a kink into things, if at all true. Would you know how to contact Brother Adkins so that I might explore the Anti-Masonic Faction of the AME Church which does shine a new light on the subject. Thanks.

  4. p. 35 of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African-American Religion in the South: “There was, however, a strong anti-Masonic movement within the A.M.E. Church, appalled at the order’s secrecy, power (real or imagined) and elaborate ritualism. Turner’s erstwhile patron, Payne, was numbered among the opponents of freemasonry. The former’s decision to join the secret order thus had a double-edge significance.”

    That said, the book goes on to say the AME and Freemasons were sometimes at odds, but they often worked together and that in many states, especially North Carolina, a lot of Church leaders were also Freemasons.

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