Ezaldeen, Muhammad Born: 1886 Died: 1957 Occupation: founder of the Addeynu Allahe Universal Arabic Association From: Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History. Detroit was directed by the temple’s first leader, James Lomax who formed what may have been called the “Mohammedan Church Temple.” Noble Drew Ali reportedly personally came to Detroit to remove Lomax from his position and accused him of grafting funds from the temple, though at his trial a month later, Lomax was found innocent of the charge. The schism, though, still resulted in violence, including a shootout with police, six months before Ira Johnson’s in Chicago. Ultimately, the Detroit temple schism had major implications for the future of Islam in America. Fearing for his life, Lomax fled from Detroit and ended up in, first, Turkey, where he struggled to start a colony for African American Muslims, and then Egypt where he was trained by an important emerging Sunni organization. Now going as Muhammad Ezaldeen, he returned to the U.S. in late 1936 and became, with Sheik Daoud Faisal, one of the leading African-American Sunni leaders in the 1930s to 1950s, organizing and uniting Muslims all along the East Coast (from New York to Florida) and as far west as Detroit. His group, the AAUAA, which still exists today, even developed connections to Malcolm X.
This is a photo from the MSTA convention in 1928, and in this front row of people are MSTA leaders from that time. Noble Drew Ali is standing and wearing a white turban and robe. Lomax/Ezaldeen is the man standing to the right of Drew Ali See Notes on the MSTA Schisms in Detroit and Pittsburgh, 1928-29 You can download this paper atAcademia.edu website: Click Here Muhammad Ezaldeen founded the Addeynu Allahe universal Arabic Association, an early Sunni Muslim organization comprised predominantly of African Americans, in the late 1930s. Ezaldeen, who received his religious education in Egypt in the 1930s, was a pioneering figure in the spread of Sunni Islam among African Americans. Perhaps his most noteworthy contribution was the design of a religious curriculum that both adhered to the main teachings of Sunni Islamic tradition and addressed the particular social and political concerns of African Americans.
Ezaldeen was born James Lomax on October 14, 1886, in Abbeville, South Carolina. After attending school in Columbia, South Carolina, he traveled north to Chicago, where he was a founding figure of the Moorish Science Temple of America (MST) in 1926. He was appointed to lead the MST temple in Detroit. In a 1928 photo, Lomax appears directly next to Noble Drew Ali, perhaps symbolizing his proximity to power in the MST. During this decade, he was also known as Lomax Bey and Ali Mohammed Bey and became a regional governor of the group, but in 1929, after political infighting, Ezaldeen left the MST and never returned.
In 1930, Ezaldeen reportedly traveled to Turkey under the name Ali Mohammed Bey to deliver a petition to Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk on behalf of African Americans facing prejudice and legal segregation in the United States. The petition included a proposal to relocate a group of his followers to Turkey to settle on any underpopulated farming land. Harkening back to the ideal of the yeoman farmer who could determine his own fate, the idea that African Americans could be free only by owning and farming their own land had deep roots in U.S. and African-American history. For Ezaldeen, land was the key to the liberation of 20th-century blacks still largely economically dependent on whites. Although Ezaldeen’s hopes to relocate to Turkey did not materialize, reports of his travels abroad caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which regularly tracked African Americans who had any ties to foreign persons or states.
In 1931, Ezaldeen traveled to Egypt, where he remained until 1936. During his five years in this Muslim country, Ezaldeen studied Islamic religious traditions under the auspices of the General Centre World Young Men Muslim Association, which reported that he “embraced Islam, and stayed in the hospitality and good care of the General Centre for five years.” According to other reports, he also studied, although to a lesser extent, ancient Egyptian culture and history and was trained to be a tour guide of the historical sites. Ezaldeen may have also studied at al-Ahzar University, one of the oldest continuously operating universities in the world, but evidence for that claim is inconclusive.
Once he returned to the United States, Ezaldeen put his training to use by establishing an organization devoted to community development and the teaching of the Qur’an and the sunna, or the traditions of the prophet Muhammad. From 1936 to 1938, he lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he tried to establish the Addeynu Allahe Universal Arabic Association (AAUAA) in August 1938. The first branch formally incorporated was in Camden, New Jersey, in August 1938. Unable to secure a charter by state officials, he left for Buffalo, New York, where, it is reported, some local residents were anxious to learn Arabic. On October 29, 1938, Ezaldeen was chosen as imam, or leader, of a nascent community of black Muslims, and sometime thereafter, he incorporated a unit of the AAUAA in West Valley, New York.
Over the next five years, Ezaldeen’s followers contributed part of their salaries, often earned in factories around Buffalo, to the purchase of a farm. Called Jabul Arabiyya, or the “Mountain of Arabic-Speaking People,” this farm became the first headquarters of the AAUAA. Ezaldeen instructed members to build homes, a mosque, stores, and a jail so that they could establish their community life and govern themselves according to shari’a, or Islamic “law and ethics.” Financial and social challenges brought hardship, but a 1946 article in the Buffalo Courier-Express pictured a vibrant, if poor, farming community that tended to livestock and educated children in a small house on the farm. Another unit of the AAUAA soon emerged in Hammonton, New Jersey, outside Philadelphia, now called Ezaldeen Village.
In 1941, Ezaldeen relocated to Newark, New Jersey, where he eventually moved his headquarters above a curtain shop at 95 Prince Street. It is unclear why he moved to Newark. One observer has speculated that the move may have had something to do with the wishes of his wife, Set or Karema, who at one point may have also been a Moorish American. She lived in the East Ward of Newark upon her death in 1995. Prince Street had become a thriving commercial center, and there was an active MST community in the vicinity at 230 Court Street. An article in the Newark Evening News of September 26, 1940, states that by that year there were more that 1,200 members of the MST there.
Ezaldeen proceeded with the establishment of the new AAUAA unit, which became a competitor to the program and teachings of the MST. The AAUAA offered courses on the Qur’an, the sunna, the Hametic (Black) Arab heritage, and the Arabic language. Tensions between the MST and the AAUAA were evident but kept to a minimum and did not contain Ezaldeen’s influence. Wahab Arbubakar, a student of Ezaldeen’s, recalled that when he met Ezaldeen, he spoke about the one true Allah, the prophets, the holy books, and the hereafter. Arbubakar had not known much about Islam prior to meeting Ezaldeen; he recalled that the most profound religious teaching he heard from Ezaldeen was the al-fatiha (opening chapter of the Qur’an) and the adhan, or “call to prayer.”
Ezaldeen also taught his students that the term Arab was a linguistic term and not a racial one. Although he taught that the original Arabs were black (Hametic), the emphasis in his teachings was placed on language and faith, not race, as the highest form of identification for a person. Malik Arbubakar, son of Wahab Arbubakar, stated that “Professor Ezaldeen was keen to pointing out that we were Hametic Arabs and he taught us that just because our foreign-born brothers and sisters came from Arabia and other Muslim countries, did not give them any greater claim on al-Islam than we had.”
Ezaldeen adopted two flags for the organization. One symbolized the belief in the Islamic faith and the other was the flag of the United States of America. The first was described as the Universal Al-Islamic flag. Green in color, it featured two crossed golden swords and Arabic writing containing the declaration of Islamic faith that “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” This flag and the U.S. flag came to symbolize Ezaldeen’s desire for a marriage between what he described as the best of Eastern and Western values. Ezaldeen thought of Islam as an integral part of the American identity of African Americans.
In 1943, Ezaldeen joined Wali Akram (1904–94), a former Ahmadi Muslim American and founder of the Sunni Muslim mosque in Cleveland, in an effort to unite Sunni African-American Muslims around a common agenda. Ezaldeen’s work in propagating the faith, especially among African Americans, had been recognized by Akram, and together they organized a meeting to establish the Uniting Islamic Society of America (UISA). Its 1943 conference, held in Philadelphia, was hosted by Ezaldeen’s AAUAA, and Akram was elected president of the new organization. As president, he drafted a “Muslim Ten Year Plan” and assigned responsibilities to the delegates. Ezaldeen was given a prominent role as spiritual adviser to the group, and members of the AAUAA were also assigned to important posts.
Differences of opinion between Akram and Ezaldeen on matters of religion, dawah methodology, and community development, however, curtailed the organization’s progress, and it dissolved by 1946. The backgrounds of both men were factors that contributed to some of the disagreements. While Akram had been a Muslim in the United States for at least 20 years, Ezaldeen had been the only one from America to formally study Islam in a Muslim country. The knowledge and political recognition that Ezaldeen acquired from Egypt certainly helped to legitimize him as an authentic teacher of Islam in the United States.
As Ezaldeen’s reputation for being a learned man in the religion grew, especially in the Mid-Atlantic States, he attracted more members to the AAUAA. Among his most prominent students in the Newark and New York area were Wahab Arbubakar, Heshaam Jaaber, Akeel Karam, Musa Hamad, and Daoud Ghani. In Newark, even followers and sympathizers of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad would sometimes visit Ezaldeen when he established the AAUAA on Prince Street because they respected him for his knowledge of Islam. Members of the Council of the Brothers, a social reform organization of the 1950s, would sit down with Ezaldeen and listen to his teachings.
In the years after the last conference organized by the UISA, Ezaldeen’s health began to deteriorate. He suffered health problems after having stepped on a nail while building a house for his family in West Valley. His leg had to be amputated, and then he lost his remaining leg due to a life-threatening infection. He used a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Many people, both local and foreign, continued to visit him at his Prince Street location in Newark. By the 1960s, the AAUAA unit that Ezaldeen founded in Newark remained small compared to the growing local branch of the Nation of Islam, but it retained its status as a national association. Members could be found in Hammonton, Whitesboro, and Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Cleveland; Columbus; Buffalo; Rochester, New York; and Jacksonville, Florida.
Ezaldeen died on June 5, 1957, and was buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Linden, New Jersey. Throughout his life, Ezaldeen shared his knowledge of Sunni Islam and confronted the racism suffered by his followers. He played a major role in helping to establish Islam as a lasting part of African-American and American religious life.
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Text Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):
- Naeem Nash. “Ezaldeen, Muhammad.” In Curtis, Edward E., IV, ed. Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. African-American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE01&iPin=EMAH0092&SingleRecord=True (accessed May 24, 2015).