The Moorish Science Temple of America
Sheik Robert Webb-Bey, Sheik Azeem Hopkins-Bey, Chairman Terrence Hopkins-Bey
The Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) is a religious organization founded in 1913 by Noble Drew Ali, born Timothy Drew. Among many beliefs, he asserted that Black people are descendants of the Moors who governed North West Africa. As such Black people, or "so-called Black people" as the Moorish community phrases it, are not Black but Moorish Americans "Moslems" of Islamic faith. Noble Drew Ali was reported to have stood on street corners in Chicago proclaiming: "Come all ye Asiatic of America and hear the truth about your nationality and birthrights, because you are not negroes. Learn of your forefathers ancient and divine Creed. That you will learn to love instead of hate." In addition to the assertion of a specific national identity, the MSTA was founded instill national pride and spiritual upliftment at a particular point in American history when "so-called Black people" were searching for a sense of belonging in the midst of the Great Migration and shifting national politics.
Interview: Sheik Azeem Hopkins-Bey Discusses His Father Joining the Moorish Science Temple of America in 1970
In December 2016, I sat down with Sheik Azeem Hopkins-Bey of Temple 11 in Philadelphia along with the chairperson, his cousin, Terrence Hopkins-Bey to discuss a range of ideas. Sheik Azeem Hopkins-Bey is referred to as "Brother A" and Terrence Hopkins-Bey is referred to as "Brother T."
Interviewer: When did you join the Moorish Science Temple of America? What motivated you to join?
Brother A: I was raised in the Moorish Science Temple of America. I'm Brother A. Hopkins-Bey, Grand Sheik of Temple #11 in the city of Philadelphia. I was raised in the Moorish Science Temple of America by my parents who joined the Moorish Science Temple of America in 1970.
Interviewer: Have your parents ever talked about why they decided to join the Moorish Science Temple of America?
Brother A: They expressed they went through various religious organizations and studied under various teachers as well as teachings. They found that the teachings of the Moorish Science Temple of America and Prophet Noble Drew Ali were definitely liberating on various levels.
Interviewer: What were your parents practicing before they joined the Moorish Science Temple of America?
Brother A: They were raised in the church. Growing up they were part of Black Panther organization and the Nation of Islam briefly. They studied the Eastern Sunni aspects of the teachings of Islam, but when they encountered the Moorish Science Temple of America, my father first on September 11, 1970, it really penetrated his heart because at that time he was in the so-called black power movement. My father was basically trying to find liberation for himself as well as his people. He was raised in the gang life--the gang atmosphere in the city of Philadelphia. In trying to search for truth he became frustrated, and this frustration in a sense boiled over, and Almighty God blessed him by putting him in the company of a brother who was wearing the fez which is the official headdress for brothers in the Moorish Science Temple of America. He encountered this brother with the fez on. My father had a spirit of debate. He would like to challenge your position, and he would challenge various individuals on their position in regards to life and philosophy.
My father was basically trying to find liberation for himself as well as his people. He was raised in the gang life, the gang atmosphere in the city of Philadelphia. In trying to search for truth he became frustrated...
When he encountered this brother, he questioned him, and his response was "I ama Moorish American.” My father wanted to know more, and the brother, in turn, recited Act 6 of the Divine Constitution and Bylaws. That message really penetrated his heart. It penetrated his soul. He stated that Act 6 was something he could not debate with because it was the truth. It resounded in his heart, and he subsequently joined the Moorish Science of America. He then took the teachings home to his wife and family because the teachings are not just for the brothers; they are for saving families. He brought the teachings home to his wife, my mother, who subsequently joined and today, you know, is her spiritual anniversary of rebirth because today December 18, 1970, is when she joined the Moorish Science Temple of America. By January of 1970, the rest of the family, my siblings, my older brothers, and sisters, joined. I was not born yet.
Interviewer: If you’re a child and your parents join the Moorish Science Temple of America, do you go through a process of declaring your nationality or do you just become part of the community because your parents are part of the community?
Brother A: It's something that's conferred of the parents if you're born in the Moorish Science Temple of America. However, they do receive a nationality and identification card which is the sign of official membership in the Moorish Science Temple of America. You may have nationality cards, like our cards may say one, age one or one month when you officially receive the card for the parents on behalf of the child. Even though my parents joined the Moorish Science Temple of America and raised me in the community, is not something that I accepted simply because of my mother and father. I knew that I would have to answer up to individuals who have questions about why I was a Moorish American and followed the teachings of Noble Drew Ali so I studied. I studied Christianity. I studied the Bible. I studied the Eastern interpretation of Islam as far as the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alayhi Wasalam. I've studied these things. I've studied my teachings and I've analyzed my teachings to figure out is this the truth? What does this mean? I have to know for myself for me to truly live the life as a student of the Prophet Noble Drew Ali. For me and for anyone who is born in the Moorish Science Temple of America it doesn't mean you're going to stay in the Moorish Science Temple of America. So for me, the enlightening process, a process of enfoldment was me truly accepting these teachings for myself regardless of the fact of my mother and father were part of the Moorish Science Temple of America. It was a process, and early on I didn't understand everything. I can recall being young saying that “we don't believe in Jesus.”
Even though my parents joined the Moorish Science Temple of America and raised me in the community, is not something that I accepted simply because of my mother and father. I knew that I would have to answer up to individuals who have questions about why I was a Moorish American and followed the teachings of Noble Drew Ali so I studied.
That was my own interpretation as a child trying to explain that we're not Christians. We don't believe that Jesus is the father of the universe, but we believe that Jesus is a messenger of Almighty God Allah. I studied the teachings of the Prophet and went deep in analyzing them as far as death. I was interested in the questions:
What happens when you die?
What does our teaching speak to what happens when you die?
I gave it proper thought and also studied other teachings and philosophies in regards to the afterlife. I've discovered the teachings of Prophet Noble Drew Ali. It is a universal teaching and a universal message of love that applies to all, not just members of the Moorish Science Temple of America and not just to those who say, "I'm a Moor or a Moorish American," but it applies to everyone regardless of nationality, race, creed, socioeconomic status. This is what I discovered, and it's liberating to the soul to discover the truth, to arrive at the knowledge of the truth.