May 22, 2005

Crazy Prophets

I don't know what it is, but something strikes me as strangely similar between the stories of Ben-Ami Ben Israel and Fard Muhammad.

Ben-Ami Ben Israel was originally Ben Carter, a black steelworker from Chicago. He was the founder of the Black Hebrews. He claimed that a vision from Gabriel revealed to him that black people were descended from the lost tribes (of Jews, lost in the Second Exile), because they had wandered for 1,000 years and ended up in West Africa. Then these Jews were taken to America as slaves. Carter and a few dozen followers went to Liberia and then to Israel. In the Negev desert they eventually worked out a communal lifestyle, were tolerated by the Israeli government (which doesn't consider them Jews under the Law of Return) and now run vegetarian restaurants around Israel. They live communally to increase their numbers (today around 2,000). Oh, and did I mention: they're racists. Aside from rejecting the Talmud and matrilineal Judaism, they argue that white Jews stole the religion and aren't true Jews.

Fard Muhammad was really Wallace Dodd Ford, a man of mixed Polynesian-Caucasian descent. He started the Black Muslims (the Nation of Islam; not all black Muslims are 'Black Muslims'). He claimed alternately that he was another prophet, even though Mohammed was supposed to be the final prophet of Islam, or that he was himself God. His followers gained some power and notoriety, mainly on the argument that black people should be Muslim (historically inaccurate, since West Africans were much less likely to be Muslim than East or Northern Africans) and so this group rose on the fringes of the civil rights movement. Beside his heretical teachings about the Prophet and his own divinity, he also said that white people were created by an evil scientist on an island off of Greece (supposedly the same island where John had his visions recounted in Revelations in the Bible). Race war was inevitable and black people had to prepare by learning their history and the nature of the universe.

Needless to say both these guys were kinda bonkers. The parallels are very interesting, since it looks lioke both men lied about their ethnicity, made up interesting stories about their lineage and created a worldview wherein racist persecutors, marked by artificiality, oppress the group. It's also interesting that both tried to claim a monotheistic religion solely for black Americans, even though the genealogy of both groups to their claimed ancestors is beyond tortured.

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