Idolatry is the first sin for Islam, whoever commits that can’t even define himself a real Muslim. Representation of the deity is strictly forbidden, because his morphology can’t be known: none can perceive it, only imagine it, risking to have a misleading idea. Plus, that would make lose the sense of a mystical mystery. Extremists didn’t even accept the comics on the prophet Mohamed made by the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, not to mention the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But there is a less known branch of Western Islam which actually gave flesh and humanized Allah.
Harlem, 1964, during the civil rights protests: Clarence Smith (later Clarence 13X), a student of Malcolm X created the Five Percent Nation, also known as Nation of Gods and Earths. The organization was born from the militant faction called Nation of Islam, but very far from traditional Islam. As a matter of fact, they were labeled as heretics.
5 percenters referred to their males as Gods, while the women were the Earths. Allah was nothing but the acronym of Arm, leg, leg, arm, head, basically the human body – thorax excluded. If this isn’t a personification…
Obviously, becoming a God wasn’t that simple. First, you had at least to be black. Nation of Islam acknowledged that status to its founder, Wallace Fard Muhammad, but the dissident Clarence Smith didn’t, as Wallace was half white. Nation of Islam assumed the black men superiority, because the first people who started civilization were Africans. So, they had to be the direct descendants of God and white people were just weak, evil and inferior to them. In this racist and chauvinistic ranking, a black woman was still above the whites.
5 percenters had also interesting beliefs, though. 5% of (black) men were blessed by the divine enlightenment which defeated the darkness of ignorance. Their mission was to spread the word to the 85% of population, those kept unaware by the 10% left, which were the worst people ever. They had knowledge, but only used it for personal benefits. Pretty much the establishment to beat in the name of an absolute Truth.
Numbers were very important for five percenters. They created a system which gave a specific value to each digit:
4- Culture of freedom
5- Power of refinement
8- Build or destroy
9- Born (or birth)
American toponymy was changed by the Muslim tradition as well. Harlem became Mecca, Brooklyn Medina, Queens the desert, Detroit D-Mecca, Chicago C-Medina, New Jersey the New Jerusalem, Connecticut the New Paradise, St. Louis Saudi Arabia, Dallas Sudan and Seattle Morocco.
5 percenters were targeted by the American authorities more than the orthodox Muslims. They were seen as a messy gang which didn’t help the community at all. After the murder of Clarence 13X in 1969, maybe for an internal feud, many affiliates were arrested because considered a menace to society.
Nowadays, traces of the Nation of Gods and Earths are more or less only in hip hop (even among white rappers), is not that clear if for a real conviction or to build a character, but in Harlem it’s easy to find murals with the number 7 (God).
Leaving aside all the mistakes that a break-down movement can do – like racism and sexism – 5 percenters left some important teaching on knowledge, mathematics, sense of community, refusal of (certain) hierarchies and the humanization of religion. All things that can’t harm, especially in times were tensions of many kinds are rising again.