“In the interior of western Africa around the same time, Askia the Great, of Mande ethnicity, established a new ruling dynasty in Songhai by overthrowing the preceding Lemta Tuareg dynasty associated with Sonni Ali. As Songhai expanded, a number of new towns were established or came under its control. One of its early conquest involved Kebbi, a small kingdom lying between the middle Niger and Hausaland whose capital at Same [northwestern Nigeria] was surrounded by seven stone walls (Bovill 1958: 105, 107-108).”
“Aska’s conquest took his empire to the west of Bornu [northeastern Nigeria]. Songhai’s expansion of greatest importance involved its conquest of Hausaland [Niger, northern Nigeria], located at southern end of ancient caravan routes that rant to Timbuktu [Mali] as well as Oualate and Taghaza [southeastern Mauritania]. When King Sonni Ali came to power in 1464 as founder of Songhai, with its capital at Gao [Mali], ancient Mali perceived Songhai as far more menacing threat to it well being than occasional incursions by Europeans along Africa’s Atlantic coast suggest that European incursions in coastal areas initially were without great consequence on the jockeying for economic and political advantage among indigenous states deep in the interior. The Portuguese, Spaniards, and Turks were not the only peoples obsessed with discovering the source of Sudanese gold in the early 16th century. It was because of a similar obsession that the sultan of Moroccan dispatch Leo Africanus south of the Sahara on two reconnaissance trips during this period. In order for Askia to maintain his hold on these Hausa city-states, he also had seized nearby Agadez [Niger] and expelled much of its Tuareg leadership.”
“Even well north of the Sahara, it was only with ambivalence and in stages that Europeans and Africans increasingly began to view each other as rivals and opponents as well as trading partners. It was against this background for example that in Morocco by 1511, Sufi opposition developed against that country’s Wattasid dynasty that rule from Fez largely as a result of its habit of making treaties and trading with Europeans. In 1525, this opposition was sufficiently strong that a Said dynasty managed to eject the Wattasides from Marrakesh. By 1541, Morocco Sadi dynasty was able to force the Portuguese from most of the ports that were occupying along the Atlantic coast of Morocco. As Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur greatly feared attack from several of his European neighbors as well as from Turkey, which had a presence in nearby Algiers and also felt threatened by European involvement along the Atlantic coast of western Africa south of the Sahara, he made the fateful decision in the late 16th century to order an attack intended to capture the Songhai Empire.”
In addition to Moulay Ahmad al-Mansur’s hope of gaining control of Songhais gold mines, he looked forward to controlling its most important cities namely Timbuktu and Gao. While a minority of the 4,000 troops that he sent on this mission were of Moorish and Moroccan background, its majority was composed of soldiers of various European ethnicities, including Maltese, Spaniards, Greeks, French, and English. In general, these European soldiers fell into the following categories, renegades, prisoners of war, European slaves in Africa, and mercenaries, and they were placed under the command of a Spaniard eunuch named Judar or Djouder, who the Moroccans had captured as an infant and converted to Islam.
Beginning with Judar Pasha, it was in this way that between 1591 and 1654, a number of Moroccan pashas of Timbuktu who were nominally subject to Marrakesh came to rule at Timbuktu alongside puppet Songhai Askias. At the latest, the death of Askia Nuh in 1597 effectively brought to an end to an independent Songhai Empire. In addition to transforming Songhai’s leaders into mere pashas of Morocco, the subjugation of Songhai provided a cover for the relocation of multitudes of its citizens from Songhai to Morocco, where during a long period many of them were reduced to slaves. Though treated differently from these common slaves among their compatriots, many people belonging to Songhai’s considerable intelligentsia were forced to remain in Morocco for a time as prisoners or hostages.
Tuaregs took advantage of the fall of Songhai to expand their control over populations scattered from the Niger to Lake Chad.
Even while Morocco was intervening in Sudan, it began to feel the impact of European hostility toward Moors spilling into its own cities Beginning in 1609 and continuing for at least five years, for example, Moroccan cities received many former Muslims from Spain who, on being expelled from Europe, settled in such cities as Rabat and Sala or Sale. Motivating their expulsion from Spain was widespread suspicion on the part of many Spaniards that many Moriscos (i.e. Christian Moors) were clandestine adherents to Islam despite their having converted to Christianity under pressure.
In many of the larger cities of Maghreb during the 17th and 19th centuries, were between 10 and 20 percent of the populations consisted of slaves, that situation had no quantitative equal in Europe. Still, the activities of European pirates and slave traders in Europe and elsewhere were as barbarous as the various oppressive systems that were indigenous to Africa.
In 1628, or three years after the accession to the English throne of Charles I, Britain still hoped that Roe’s treaty might provide a solution to piracy between it and such ports of northwestern Africa as Algiers, Tunis, Tetuan, and Sale. In the 1630s and 1640s, a large proportion of the Corsair ships raiding the coast of England came from Sale, piloted through the English Channel by Irish or English captives. In 1631, Morat Rais, who was renegade working for the Arabs though he was of Dutch ancestry, raided the Irish town of Baltimore, and Africans from the city of Sale took 500 English captives in 1636 leading to a retaliatory English expedition on Sale under Captian William Rainsborough the following year…”
“Between 1712 and mid-century, the Arma descendants of mostly European troops that Morocco had sent south of the Sahara to overthrow the Songhai Empire had lost their grip on power in this area that Segou, by now a real empire, seized large areas previously taken by Morocco from Songhai, including the cities of Bamako, Jenne, and Timbuktu.”
“The claim of origins of the East goes beyond the Yoruba and Hausa. Law mentions the kings of Ghana, who claimed descent from the Caliph ‘Ali, the son in law and fourth successor of Muhammad; the founder of the first royal dynasty in Songhay believed to be of Yemeni origin; the royal dynasty in Mali, which claimed descent from two companions of Muhammad; and the royal dynasty of Borno, which claimed descent from Sayf ibn dhi Yhazan, who “although living before the time of Muhammad, can be thought of as proto-Islamic hero, as a defender of Mecca against Christian imperialism.” See Black and Slave: The Origins and History of the Curse of Ham By David M. Goldenberg
“The Saharan Kunta people trace their descent to Uqba ibn Nafi’, the commander of the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb in North Africa. So too the Berbers, who claim a Canaanite or Yemenite ancestry. The genealogical claims made by virtually every significant Arabic and Berber speaking ‘noble’ group in the Sahel invoke an Arab Muslim origin. And more. Murry Last writes to me “In the 1960s my professor and I did a survey and a count of all the peoples in West Africa (for whom there were traditions)-of all the peoples that claimed Middle Eastern origin-and when we reached 43 we called it a day…More such stories coming up almost every year.” See Black and Slave: The Origins and History of the Curse of Ham By David M. Goldenberg
“The explanation was given for these genealogies, that they reflect the inhabitants “desire to relate themselves to what was seen as a prestigious world civilization,” makes sense for the genealogies that are traced to Muslim or proto Muslim heroes. But how can they explain the traditions that consider the ancient ancestor to have been Canaan, who is not considered to be the forefather of the Muslim/Arabs? The Arabs trace their genealogy to Shem, not to Canaan. The answer seems to lie in the common Muslim tradition, examined above, which goes back to the 7th century, that Canaan was the ancestor of the Kushites and other dark-skinned African peoples.” See Black and Slave: The Origins and History of the Curse of Ham By David M. Goldenberg
Wilson Moses identified several from the 19th and first half of the 20th century. We can add Joseph Theophile Foisset as early as 1831, and William Van Amringe (1848). As part of his division of mankind into four distinct species (Shemitic, Japhethic, Canaanitic, Ishmaelitic), Van Amringe considered “the Negroes of Central Africa, Hottentots, Cafirs, Australasian Negroes etc., and probably the Malays etc.” to be descended from the Canaanite branch. See Black and Slave: The Origins and History of the Curse of Ham By David M. Goldenberg
Most accounts of Ali’s religious genesis began with his founding of the Canaanite Temple in 1913 Newark, New Jersey without actually probing its veracity and accuracy. Interestingly, Ali himself never utilized the term “Canaanite Temple” in his literature. At best, he indirectly insinuated his pre-1925 beginnings in Koran Questions No. 9 and 10 claiming the MSTA was founded in Newark, New Jersey in 1913 but without actually revealing the name of this proto-MSTA Temple, its exact location or its doctrines. 79 Contrary to Ali’s declaration, his phase of religious leadership did not actually begin in 1913 in Newark, New Jersey as the draft card revealed Drew to be a laborer by the SBC in Port Newark in 1918 .
Rather, this skimpily described religious past was crafted by Ali to suppress his proto-Moorish, Newark identity as Professor Drew and to veil the historical truth that the actual Canaanite Temple was founded by Abdul Hamid Suleiman (1864-?), an immigrant from Khartoum, Sudan who founded the Temple as part of his larger Ancient Mecca-Medina of Ancient Free and Operative Masons, a network of black Mohammedan-Masonic movements operating in various cities in the 1910s and 1920s. 80 Still, Drew’s evolution from Professor Drew to Prophet Noble Drew Ali in Newark City demonstrated Drew’s organizational genius in his (a) shrewd rewriting of the Newark’s historical religious past by erasing Suleiman’s tutelage over the Canaanite Temple and interpolating himself into MSTA literature, (b) his calculated selecting of a potent surname Ali to boost his image among African-Americans, and (c) opportunism in seizing advantage of the disintegrating remains of Suleiman’s Canaanite Temple in 1923 to fashion out the earliest stirrings of Moorish Temple of Science and (d) retaining Mecca-Centric elements of the Canaanite past into the MSTA to attract former Canaanite followers.
In April 1923, the popularity of Suleiman’s colored Canaanite Temple at the corner of Bank and Rutgers St., Newark nosedived when Suleiman and his assistant, Muhammad Ali, were charged and arrested by the Supreme Court of New Jersey for carnal abuse of a follower’s child. 81 With the leaders embroiled in legal matters, a bitter struggle for the temple’s power and purse strings followed. One faction renamed itself as Canaanite Temple No. I, based at 102 Morton St., Newark and legally incorporated itself for the purpose of “ religious worship and teaching of religion, Moslam and Islan ”. 82 Professor Drew, the Egyptian Adept Moslem who resided a mere 3 miles away from Canaanite Temple No. 1 was not oblivious to the confusion within the leadership echelons of Suleiman’s Temple. Amidst the leadership vacuum, Professor Drew reinvented himself as a religious prophet by deliberately suffixing the powerful surname “Ali” that connected him to three important sources of authority in the minds of black urban masses; Caliph Alee (599-661), the imagined founding father of Masonry and son-in-law of Islamic Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah, Duse Muhammad Ali (1866-1945), an inspirational pan-Africanist Garveyite intellectual who dabbled with Masonry and the incarcerated Mohammed Ali, the influential local chief organizer for the Canaanite Temple. As Canaanite Temple No. 1 had legally incorporated in Newark in 1924, Drew embarked on an evangelical crusade elsewhere under a new Moorish banner to re-structure Hamid Suleiman’s satellite temples in New York and Ohio and travelled to Southern cities of North Carolina, South Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia before establishing his headquarters at Chicago, Illinois in 1925.
Drew’s future silence on Suleiman and the Canaanite Temple from 1913 till 1925 was understandable considering it was not pioneered by him. Narrations of Ali’s days in Newark by MSTA followers involved an amalgamation of truth and reverse role-playing where Ali was depicted as the original founder while Suleiman instigated its breakdown. Sister Eunice El revealed that, “ The Prophet…also founded the Canaanite Temple in the year 1913 in Newark, New Jersey. He had over 900 members. After a period of time, a man came to Newark from Sudan, Egypt teaching languages. In his last speech in Newark, the Prophet said Justice would overtake him the language teacher for scattering his children. It did! He was soon arrested in New York City and jailed on charges of being an imposter .” 83 This was clearly a description of Suleiman who prided himself as a master of the Arabic language to newspaper reporters and was later arrested in New York City in 1927 for fraudulently swindling a customer’s money. Significantly, this meant that Ali was not the founder of the Canaanite Temple and a better estimated starting date of the proto-MSTA movement would be 1923, rather than 1913, as Suleiman’s grip over the Canaanite Temple eroded. Yet in Ali’s radical surgery of the remnants of Suleiman’s temple into the MSTA, he also ingeniously preserved several elements of the Canaanite Temple’s Mecca-Medina blueprint to attract Suleiman’s former followers.
First, Ali’s Koran contained a pictorial insertion of Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, the King of Mecca clearly representing a transcended outgrowth of Suleiman’s’ earlier claims to legitimacy through a fez signed by Hassan Hissien, Grand Sherrif of Mecca. 84 Second, Ali’s Koran Questions’ glorified eulogy of Mecca, as opposed to Morocco, in portraying the former as the modern twentieth-century equivalent of the biblical Garden of Eden whose cosmological purity was guarded by angels divulged a spill-over effect from Suleiman’s Mecca-centric proclivities. 85 Third, Ali’s MSTA uncannily paralleled Suleiman’s Canaanite Temple in its firm rejection of Christianity as a pre-requisite prior to membership. Fourth, a popular myth propagated by Ali concerning his travel to Washington D.C to obtain authority to preach Islam appeared to be an exaggerated imitation of Suleiman’s 1922 high profile visit to the capital to convince Caesar R. Blake, the Imperial Potentate of Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine to submerge the latter’s movement into his Mecca-Medina Temple. This particular myth has been another source of contention where different Moorish factions disagreed whether this event took place in 1913 with President Woodrow Wilson, 1925 with President Calvin Coolidge or whether it even took place at all. 86 After Ali’s death, these myths continued to inspire future Moorish leaders to court discussions with American Presidents such as Joshua Traylor Bey who wrote several letters to President Herbert Hoover in 1931 and 1932 before controversially appearing in the White House without an appointment, to no avail. 87
Patrick Bowen’s seminal study of Abdul Hamid Suleiman has reinvigorated the quest to explore Ali’s actual relationship to the Canaanite Temple in Newark further. And my comparative study of Ali’s MSTA structures with Suleiman’s Canaanite Temple suggested that Professor Drew opportunistically reinvigorated the Canaanite Temple from its splintered Mecca-centric leadership in 1923 Newark to a powerful religious Moorish American faith before cunningly rewriting Suleiman out of the religious texts verall, the essay aims at elucidating light on Ali’s past before he adorned the MSTA fez between 1886 and 1924 as Thomas Drew by examining external empirical sources to enhance academic scholarship on black American Islam. Such an approach has engendered an accurate portrait of Ali’s reinvention as Thomas Drew, Eli Drew, Professor Drew and Prophet Noble Drew Ali who transcended socio-economic and religious issues afflicting African-Americans at the turn of the twentieth century.
As Drew essentially rooted from the same socio-economic class as his followers and underwent a similar rural-urban, South-North transition, this allowed him a strategic insight into the psyche of his converts. Ali’s sensitive intuition of the urban African-American spiritual pulse facilitated his successful transformation into a genuine religious leader his converts. Scrutinizing the gulf between the empirical and mythical Ali also demonstrated his skillful evangelizing methods centered on constructing a “new” past to serve his needs as a newly emergent Prophet in black urban America in 1925. While this new empirical portrayal of Ali iconoclastically unraveled deeply engrained Moorish dogma, this should not gnaw away at the religious convictions of present day Moorish believers. Ali’s past as Thomas Drew should not render their myths redundant since the legends clung onto by MSTA followers function as a form of Moorish hadith that preserves the Prophet’s legacy through oral and written chains of transmitted faith. Moorish myths also powerfully connect the contemporary MSTA community to their saviour. Conversely, the reconstruction of Ali’s empirical past should galvanize the faith of contemporary followers in their Prophet.
First, discoveries of Ali’s empirical identity has the potential to bind the splintered community through a common shared heritage and stake in their Prophet’s pre-1925 past as several myths have been a source of discord between different Moorish groups. Second, this revisionist biography rescues Ali’s historical legacy from being an object of scorn from the non-MSTA religious community that has been overly eager in condemning such myths as fictitious legends of fantasy. Contrary to the mainstream critiques of Ali as a dubious sage, the empirical Ali effectively counters such negative caricatures by revealing the uneducated Thomas Drew to be a mercurial Orientalist maverick and genuine prophet who sagaciously tapped on his painful past and sensitively appreciated the shifting religious philosophies to opportunistically invent a new religious structure, the MSTA that successfully catered to the spiritual needs of the marginalized black American underclass in the 1920s.