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‘Slavery can also be mental’: Why members of the Moorish Science Temple don’t identify as ‘Black’

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As a Black Protestant minister, Jonya Pratcher El had read the Bible cover-to-cover and studied it word-for-word many times and still had many unanswered questions. Stepping away from ministry for a while, one day he asked God for clarity and the truth.

“Lord, just show me the truth,” he prayed. “Give me the wisdom to handle what the truth is.”

Five minutes later, Pratcher El received a notification on his phone that prompted him to a YouTube video about nationality. He delved deeper and found the Moorish Science Temple of America. Today, Pratcher El is the divine minister — the second in command — of Indianapolis’ Moorish Science Temple, which was established in 1930 with the help of several Black Hoosiers.

In the 1920s, Timothy Drew, who later became known as Noble Drew Ali, established a form of Islam called the Moorish Science Temple of America. With the first temple in Chicago, the Grand Major Temple, the religion has grown to have more than 260 temples across the nation and more than 1 million followers around the world.

The establishment of this religion came during the Great Migration, when many Black Americans, moved from rural communities in the South to industrial cities in the North. Ali published his own version of the Quran called the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple in 1927.

Moorish Americans honor multiple prophets, including Prophet Drew Ali, Jesus, Muhammad and many others, believing them to be the same person reincarnated. Ali taught his followers they were not Black, African American or “Negros,” but that they should identify themselves as “Moors or Moorish Americans,” to link them back to their Muslim roots of Northwest Africa.

Jonya Pratcher El led Sunday school

“When a person can control your history, they can control your present and can dictate your future,” Pratcher El said during Sunday school Oct. 23 at a local temple.

“Slavery is not just physical,” added Grand Sheik Saddam Tinnin-Bey, leader of the temple. “Slavery can also be mental.”

The religion has a combination of influences including Ali’s teachings of identity and nationality, different religious influences — such as Christianity and Freemason customs — along with adopting certain Islamic symbols including the red fez, a cylinder-shaped hat sometimes paired with a black tassel on top. Ali’s followers also sometimes change their names, adding El or Bey, what they call a Moorish tribal name, to the end of it.

Tinnin-Bey was formerly a Black Protestant Christian before proclaiming his Moorish nationality as a Moorish American, but as a teenager, he stopped attending his church after being “fed up” with the church and finding the teachings to be “confusing.”

Members of the Moorish Science Temple of Indianapolis began and ended Sunday school in October with a prayer. Making a “V” shape with the heels of their feet touching and holding both hands in the air — five fingers up on the left hand and two up on the right — they started reciting a prayer.

“Allah, the Father of the universe, the Father of love, truth, peace, freedom and justice. Allah is my protector, my guide and my salvation, by night and by day, through his holy prophet, Drew Ali. Amen.”

Pratcher El led the Sunday school meeting with members who were present, both physically and virtually, and educated them on the teachings of Ali.

“I challenge anybody who has heard me speak, don’t believe me,” he said. “Don’t just take what we’re saying at face value and run with it. There are actual documents that you can look up that substantiate everything that we said.”

Some of the documents that Pratcher El mentioned were government identification documents, federal directive 15 — the racial and ethnic standards for federal statistics and administrative reporting — and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s race and ethnicity code.

Membership is free, according to Tinnin-Bey. The only thing members must do is proclaim their nationality as Moorish Americans and practice love, truth, peace, freedom and justice.

Contact religion reporter Abriana Herron at 317-924-5243 or abrianah@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @Abri_onyai. Herron is a Report for America corps member and writes about the role of Black churches in the community.

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