What defines Islam (Nation of Islam and other non-mainstream groups)?

On the second page of this Pit Thread, several posters got into some vehement discussions as to whether members of the group Nation of Islam should be considered Muslim.

My understanding is that Islam as a whole is rather accepting of the several different theological strains within the religion, though posters in the linked thread seem to be saying (rather angrily) that Nation of Islam is not considered by many to be within the religious family. This recalls the debate as to whether many religious groups that worship Jesus Christ, though with differing theologies, should be considered Christian (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventests, etc.).
What defines the bounds of what most Muslims consider to be Islam? How do the theological beliefs of the Nation of Islam or other non-mainstream groups fit within Islam? Are members of these groups accepted at pan-Islamic gatherings and rituals like the Haj, and who would make such decisions?

The Nation of Islam is not accepted as Muslim by either Sunni or Shi’ite Muslims. A simple definition for what makes a Muslim is one who follows the five pillars. Nation of Islam does not follow the pillars ergo they are not Muslims.

Another big problem with N. of I. is the racism. True Islam condemns, and always has condemned, any kind of racism in any form. Universal brotherhood is a core componant of Islam and all that “white devil” stuff is condemned as outright heretical garbage in legitimate Islam.

Also, Elijah Mohammed is not recognized as prophet and many Muslim clerics refer to N. of I, as “Farrakhanism” rather than Islam. I’m pretty sure that N. of I. adherents are not allowed into Mecca but I guess that Farrakhan, himself, got in there somehow.
I know for sure that every real Muslim I’ve spoken to about this (Sunnis, mostly) have said that N. of I. is not Islamic. I think that N. of I. is probably on a par with White Supremacist churches like Christian Identity. They call themselves Christian, but are not recognized as such by any mainstream (or even most fringe) Christian churches.

Now if True Islam would only condemn religious bigotry as well…

Of the Five Pillars of Islam, are there particular Pillars that Nation of Islam does not accept, or do they simply not observe them as a whole?

Are there any other branches of Islam that, in their writings or in practice, encourage racial discrimination? Although I understand that universal brotherhood is a goal of Islam, what I hear around me is that many Islamic groups (particularly racial and ethnic groups) have what could be considered racist views about other groups (Islamic or not).

What about non-mainstream groups other than Nation of Islam?

Care to prove that it doesn’t? Any more than any other major religions?

The Nation of Islam rejects the Shahadah (the profession of faith) because it conflicts with their belief in Elijah Mohammed as the ultimate prophet. Fasting during Ramadan is optional and fasting is only required during the month of December (as opposed to the Muslim month of Ramadan). Alms to the poor is rejected because NOI believes that charity benefits the wealthy (don’t ask me how). Prayer is not required five times a day, and the method of prayer is different (no prostation required). The Hajj is not rejected but not required either.

There is a group called The Nation of God’s and Earths which teaches black racism, but
that is actually a splinter group from NOI. There are no other quasi-Muslim groups which teach racism that I know of.

There’s a group in India called the Ahmadiyyah Movement and another group called the "Submitters who are generally regarded as heretical because they follow false prophets, but they do not espouse any racial idealogy that I know of.

There’s also the Bahai and the New Age Sufi brotherhoods (distinguished from the traditional Sufi brotherhoods), but all those groups also reject racism.

As well as the Alawites/Nusayris ( often considered a Muslim sect, and I believe may refer to themselves as such, but like the NOI teetering on the edge of being a separate religion ) and the Druze ( ditto, only more generally considered a separate religion these days ).

  • Tamerlane

Along the same lines, is there a “pope” equivalent in Sunni or Shi’ia Islam? If not, how do they, as a group, not accept something like N of I as being Islam.

Nope, there is not. The hiearchical structure in Islam is very weak and diffuse, even in Twelver Shi’ism ( which is slightly more hiearchical than Sunnism, recognizing differences between, say, Ayatollahs and Grand Ayatollahs ). It mostly boils down to consensus views ( and religious titles spring from a combination of consensus view of peers, following, and/or a certain level of scholarship which again is generally vetted by peers ).

There are no supreme authorities. The office of Caliph might be said to have been a rough analog to the Pope, but very rough - there was no universal authority or infallibility invested in a Caliph’s pronouncements and even Sunni religious historiography considers many Caliphs as being mere Maliks ( secular kings ). Of course the Shi’a tradition only recognized one Caliph, period. At times governments ( most famously the Ottomans ) established hiearchies of religious authorities - But those were government functionaries whose religious pronouncements only went as far as theire personal influence allowed and/or the state was willing to enforce them.

I would imagine you could almost certainly find some Muslims that take a broader view of Islam that would consider the NOI a very heterodox sect of Islam, just as many consider the Nusayris or Ahmadis Muslims. However majority opinion seems to be that they are not ( or at least are extremely misguided ), based on some of the practices already articulated above.

By the way it is probably worth noting that most black Muslims in the U.S. today are not members of the NOI as currently construed.

  • Tamerlane


Thanks. I didn’t think there was a Muslim “pope”, although if he existed, maybe he’d be called the “abu”, if I get the meaning of that arabic word correct.

So, when someone says “such and such is not a Muslim religion” is that basically saying, “most mainstream Muslims do not consider such and such to be a Muslim religion”? Kind of like Christian. The pope gets to decide who is and who isn’t Catholic, but who is to decide if, say, LDSers are Christians or not? No one.

I meant to say objective levels of scholarship. i.e. In order to be considered a religious authority at any level, one should at least be literate enough to read the Qur’an in the original Arabic.

However even this standard is occasionally violated/ignored. There are plenty of illiterate mullahs in remote or rural or tribal areas who hold the position based on some combination of rote memorization, a carefully cultivated air of piousness, or even simply being from a family that has traditionally provided religious leadership in some village.

That’s one of the problems with appealing to or citing religious authorities in Islam - Virtually anyone can lay claim to such a title. But their influence is only as broad as the number of people they can get to go along with them.

  • Tamerlane

That’s it exactly.

  • Tamerlane

I hope I don’t piss anyone off here, but would I be right in saying Bahai’i is to Islam as LDS is to Christianity?

Well, you hoped wrong.

If you’re interested, you can check out a good number of faiths at http://www.belief.net. Here’s a short list to get you started:


Well, as Monty’s mildly irate reply ( understandably so, given his background ) shows, there is one big difference. Members of the LDS consider themselves Christians, while Baha’i by and large don’t consider themselves Muslims, even though they acknowledge the divine inspiration of the Qur’an and Muhammed ( which, however, they believe has been superseded by newer revelations ). I believe the Baha’i themselves would say their relationship to Islam is more like Christianity’s relationship to Judaism.

Unfortunately many Muslim fundamentalists, especially Shi’a hardliners in Iran ( Baha’i originated there and budded off of Shi’ism ) consider Baha’i lapsed Muslims - i.e. apostates, which has been the trigger for considerable oppression at times.

  • Tamerlane

I thought the Nation of Islam did have some rather dodgy racial ideas (Farrakhan is not allowed into the UK because of this).

NOI could not be described as muslim any more than the KKK could be described as Christian.

The key thing here is acceptance, both Sunnis and Shi’ites generaly accept each other as Muslims. However, the Nation of Islam is not accepted as a Muslim sect and members are now banned (by the Muslim authorities in Saudi Arabia) from making the Hajj.

At the end of the day, if you believe it is enough to claim you are a member of a relgion and to follow ideas derivitative but distinct from the ideas espoused by that religion is enough to make you a member of that religion, then yes NOI is a Muslim sect, but otherwise, no.

Thank you, Monty. I’m sorry if I offended you or anyone here. My understanding was that most mainstream Christians think the New Testament pretty much covers everything, and therefore folks who add the next few stories are on the fringe. From their viewpoint…

Me, as an agnostic with a Buddhist father and a Methodist mother, well, I might show up at a Unitarian gathering once in a while.

But am I wrong in thinking that Baha’i is the next step from Islam?

Again, I’m sorry, Monty, I’m new to GD. I should have started a new thread, methinks…

Ah. Thank you for explaining that to me in easy to understand language. Again, I apologise to those I may have upset with my ignorance.