Ancient Black Astronauts and Extraterrestrial Jihads: Islamic Science Fiction as Urban Mythology
Yusuf Nuruddin has a fascinating articel on the intersection of Islam, urban mythology and Science Fiction which came out 10 years ago in the Socialism and Democracy Journal. Here is the article in full.
Ancient Black Astronauts and Extraterrestrial Jihads: Islamic Science Fiction as Urban Mythology
Science fiction motifs are prominent in the ideology of two inner city alternative religious movements,1 the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE)2 and the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.3 Both organizations have roots in heterodox interpretations of Islam and have an enormous influence on the inner city African American youth subculture which far exceeds their actual membership numbers. Through Hip Hop4 and oral tradition, central elements of the ideologies of the two organizations have been disseminated and circulated throughout inner city communities from coast to coast. Because the NGE (also known as Five Percenters) and Nuwaubian Moors are rival organizations appealing to the same pool of potential recruits, and because there are striking similarities or overlap between the central tenets of their belief systems, there is a lively ideological discourse between the two organizations. Members of each organization strive to demonstrate to potential recruits, via intense debate and discussion, how their belief system is correct and their rival’s system is flawed. This debate and discussion spills over into the wider inner city subculture, where non-members are free to pick and choose any elements of either ideology, creating a syncretized and generalized belief system, which I argue constitutes an urban mythology.
Urban mythology is a term of my own coinage. It should not be confused or conflated with the folkorists’ terms “urban legends” or “urban myths” which connote contemporary popular beliefs – often “false, distorted, exaggerated or sensationalized” – which have been circulated by rumor.5 I define urban mythology as narratives about supernatural characters and events, generated by, and widely disseminated amongst, oppressed peoples in contemporary urban ghettos, which seek to explain the nature of the cosmic universe and its relationship to the oppressive social environment, often in eschatological terms.
The term supernatural characters refers to divine or heroic beings; the narratives have a contemporary and urbane sophistication distinguished from the folklore of the rural south, and the narratives are widely disseminated so that they no longer function solely as the ideology of a particular alternative religious movement but have become a universal feature of the urban subculture – a mythic superstructure generated by an economic base of poverty in the midst of affluence and racially oppressive social relations. In their ideological context, the narratives were approached by movement adherents with varying degrees of literal and figurative understanding.6 As mythology or mythic superstructure, the narratives are approached with even wider latitude: e.g., as esoteric wisdom, as entertainment, as oratorical content, as fabulation, as misguided anti-Christian belief, as a code to establish fraternity and belongingness, and as a code for speaking about race relations. Race relations are, of course, central to the narratives which attempt to explain the reason for the present system of white domination and black subordination. The explanations are cosmological – involving myths about creation, a time of Edenic bliss, the fall of (the black) man, and an eschatological re-ordering of justice and righteousness in the cosmos. The myths are complex, however, and defy any simplistic black hero/white villain dichotomy. Most importantly, in the context of this present volume, the myths incorporate science fiction scenarios as I shall later explore in depth.
Contextualizing Urban Mythology
Eurocentrism, the system of cultural hegemony imposed upon global culture to consolidate and perpetuate a half-millennium of Western conquest and colonization of peoples of color, is pervasive and affects all aspects of culture including mythology. The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome constitute the much vaunted cradle of Western civilization; hence Greco-Roman mythology is valorized throughout contemporary culture from curricula, to cinema to comic books. To a lesser extent, Norse mythology is valorized in the same venues, giving tacit recognition to the alternative Nordic or Ayran model of white supremacy. Zeus, Jupiter, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Odin and Thor continue to exert dominion in global haute culture and popular culture, while Quetzalcoatl, Shango, Oshun, Ogun, Isis, Osiris, Marduk and Enki – the gods of the Aztecs, the Yorubu, the Ancient Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, and other non-Western cultures –- are marginalized, given perfunctory mention in multicultural curricula, found in remaindered sales annex texts on world mythology, exoticized as museum curios, or simply relegated to the dustbins of history.7
If these ancient or time-honored myths of non-Western peoples have been relegated to second-class status, it is reasonable to assume that the contemporary mythology of non-Western peoples, especially the mythology spawned in the African American ghettos, would not be accorded any status recognition in the field of Folklore and Mythology. Folklorists and scholars of comparative mythology are not apt to search for parallels between the Nation of Islam’s (NOI) mythological villain, Yakub, a big-headed scientist whose genetic engineering experiments unleashed the “evil white race” upon the world, and Pandora, whose curiosity unleashed plagues and ills upon the world. Race and class factors above all, seem to determine which narratives are labeled as mythology and which are labeled as absurd or outlandish cult beliefs.
While there is no agreement on the definition of the term “myth,” an excerpt from a definition by Mark Schorer is instructive: “Myths are instruments by which we continually struggle to make our experience intelligible to ourselves. A myth is a large controlling image that gives philosophical meaning to the facts of ordinary life, that is, which has an organizing value for experience.”8 In this definition, myth-making is a continual process for humans, rather than a process which occurs only in primitive or ancient classical societies. Urban myths are instruments by which the poor and downtrodden struggle to make sense of their oppressive inner city experience. Urban myths give philosophical meaning to the quotidian facts of domination and exploitation.
William G. Doty, whoresearched over fifty definitions of the term “myth,” categorized the essentials and offers the following comprehensive working definition of “mythology”:
A mythological corpus consists of (1) a usually complex network of myths that are (2) culturally important (3) imaginal (4) stories, conveying by means of (5) metaphoric and symbolic diction (6) graphic imagery, and (7) emotional conviction and participation, (8) the primal, foundational accounts (9) of aspects of the real, experienced world, and (10) humankind’s roles and relative statuses within it.
Mythologies may (11) convey the political and moral values of a culture and (12) provide systems of interpreting (13) individual experience within a universal perspective, which may include (14) the intervention of suprahuman entities as well as (15) aspects of the natural and cultural orders. Myths may be enacted or reflected in (16) rituals, ceremonies and drams, and (17) they may provide materials for secondary elaboration, the constituent mythemes having become merely images or reference points for a subsequent story, such as a folktale, historical legend, novella or prophecy 9
Doty elaborates upon each of these seventeen aspects; a few of the elaborated aspects are worthy of our consideration when conceptualizing urban mythology. The most important of these is Doty’s assertion that myths are (8) primal foundational accounts. Upon first glance, this might seem to uphold the idea of mythology as a product of primitive society and contradict the notion of a modern urban mythology. What Doty actually states is that “myths are primary stories of a culture, the stories that shape and expose its most framing images and self conceptions.”10 Urban myths then are the primary stories of an urban or inner city (sub)culture.
The African American people were transformed from rural peasants to an urban proletariat via the Great Migration, a period beginning roughly in 1910 and continuing for decades with 1930, 1950 and 1960 cited by various social scientists as the dates when the migration subsided. During the Great Migration nearly one half million African Americans moved from the rural south to northern cities including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles and a number of smaller industrial cities. The urban mythology popularized by the Five Percenters, first established in New York in 1964, and Nuwaubian Moors (est. New York, circa 1970),11 has its roots in the narratives of the Nation of Islam (est. Detroit, 1930), and its predecessor the Moorish Science Temple (est. Newark, 1913). The point of emphasis here is that contemporary urban mythology has its origins in the myths of the black religious “cults” which flowered in the urban north during the earliest wave of the Great Migration. Hence these myths are the primary stories of the urban culture, the narratives which arose simultaneously as a black urban culture arose.
At least two more of Doty’s seventeen aspects are worth close examination or emphasis: myths may convey (11) political and moral values and (13) individual experience within universal perspective. Part of the resistance to ascribing mythological status to urban narratives might be the notion that these narratives are after all merely political metaphors rather than expressions of universal truths. Yet in his discussion of point #13 Doty states that “myths highlight distinctions between ‘my people’ (the immediate group: kin, socio-economic, or geographical neighbors) and ‘them’ (those medially removed: persons from another territory, enemies).” In his elaboration of point #11, Doty states that: “While myths may well be cohesive in a monofocal society… they may be divisive in a polyfocal society such as our own….”12 These explications serve to further confirm my thesis that urban mythology is indeed a valid branch of world mythology. I believe that understanding these narratives through lens of this paradigm, urban mythology, will yield a new field of urban mythology studies, as scholars begin to explore the mythemes in depth especially from the perspective comparative mythology. Heretofore, these narratives have been studied only as examples of religious ideology. One seminal contribution of this paper to the field of African American Studies is a shifting of our perspectives. Cultural elements which scholars may have overlooked, dismissed or considered only marginally significant, absurd or “cultish” may in fact be central to the black experience and critical to our understanding of urban subculture or black popular culture.
Science Fiction Motifs in Urban Mythology
It is my observation that science fiction motifs are prevalent throughout contemporary urban mythology. This is consistent with the thesis of Alexei and Cory Panshen, who argue convincingly in The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence that science fiction is the mythology of the contemporary world. Mythology, the Panshens assert, fills a human need for imaginative transcendence –- a need to transcend boundaries of the normal world by entering imaginative worlds of wonder, amazement and astonishment. Yet ancient myths of “gods and ghosts, witches and wizards, brownies and elves, ogres and angels, cyclopses and centaurs, giants and jinns”13 were based on an idealistic worldview which affirmed magical causation. Hence these myths gradually lost their power during the centuries following the scientific revolution, when human consciousness was reshaped by materialism, rationalism, empiricism, skepticism, quantification, science and technology. As a result of this shift from an idealistic to a materialistic worldview affirming scientific causation, a proto-science fiction literature gradually evolved, reaching maturity and gaining ascendancy over ancient mythic literature by the 19th century with the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
The literature of science fiction with its robots, mutated humans, spaceships and aliens provided imaginative transcendence in a language that was consistent with modernity. Ancient myths told of
magical powers: wishing rings, enchanted swords, draughts of immortality, caps of invisibility, seven-league boots, ever-filled purses, wells of wisdom, runes, spells, curses and prophecies [and] mysterious realms with names like Eden and Arcadia, the Forest Primeval, Valhalla, the Isles of the Blessed, and the East of the Sun and the West of the Moon.14
The literature of science fiction also speaks of “transcendent powers, beings and realms,” but they have been conceived of in scientific rather than magical ways. Spaceships, time machines, and molecular teleporters transport us to transcendent realms, not to the Asgards or Hades of ancient mythology nor but to planets in outer space, 30th-century scenarios, or parallel worlds. The Panshens also point out that unlike both the genre of fantasy, which is incompletely mythic because it “cling[s] to ancient images of transcendental possibility which no longer appear plausible,” and the genre of mundane fiction which is consistent with our contemporary worldview but fails to transport us to unknown realms, the genre of science fiction is fully mythic because it is consistent with our contemporary worldview –- our scientific knowledge –- as well as transcendent.15
The genre of science fiction has its canon, its conventions and its protocols. As John Clute and Peter Nicholls, authors of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction point out, “works of fiction which use science fiction themes in seeming ignorance or contempt of the protocols” are deemed invasive, or incompetent and unworthy of attention.16 Certain overworked and unimaginative themes are referred to pejoratively as space opera (a sci fi extension of the term soap opera).17 Stories with predictable religious themes, e.g., the “aliens revealed as Adam and Eve” plot, or other plots which provide simple-minded science fiction frameworks for Biblical myths are a special sub-category of the space opera dubbed “Shaggy God stories.”18 The space opera category also includes “hacky” outworn spaceship stories. UFOs –- unidentified flying objects -– with extraterrestrial origin, the obsession of Hollywood (e.g. ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), television (Roswell), popular imagination (e.g., alien abductions) and religious cult (e.g. Heaven’s Gate) are a special anathema to sci fi writers. Clute and Nicholls note that “[m]ost genre science fiction writers are hostile to the notion of flying saucers…. the hostility is fueled by the infuriating public assumption that science fiction writers are deeply interested in ufology.”19
However, Eric S. Rabkin, in “Science Fiction and the Future of Criticism,” argues against the canonical definition of science fiction, stating: “If we ask what science fiction is, we may find many answers. One that I have promulgated… is that it is the branch of fantastic literature that claims plausibility against a background of science.”20 In this context, one might consider the fantastic genre of heterodox anthropological (or pseudo-anthropological) literature which attributes human origins to ancient astronauts, such as Zecharia Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles series –- a major source of inspiration (or plagiarism) for Nuwaubian beliefs -– as a branch of science fiction. Because the Nuwaubian Moors have borrowed heavily from Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles as a basis for their own myth-making, a careful exploration of Sitchin’s ancient astronaut theme is necessary.
Ancient Astronauts as a Science Fiction Motif
Sitchin is not a science fiction author; he purports to write non-fiction. His advocates describe his work as meticulous paradigm-shifting scholarship which challenges our traditional views of about astronomy, ancient mythology, religion, anthropology and pre-history. Skeptics, on the other hand, state that “Sitchin, along with Erich von Daniken and Immanuel Velikovsky, make up the holy trinity of pseudohistorians.”21 Interestingly, Sitchin’s predecessors Velikovsky (1895-1979) and von Daniken (1935- ), do rate entries in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. However, Velikosky –- famous for his controversial, impressively documented but now discredited theories, e.g., Worlds in Collision (1950)and Earth in Upheaval (1955), concerning catastrophic planetary events which were allegedly documented in legend, mythology, and religious scriptures -– is described as a “pseudoscientist.” Von Daniken is also ballyhooed by the Encyclopedia. His best-known work, Chariots of the Gods (1969) -– a thesis about an alien spacefaring race who visited Earth before and at the dawn of human civilization, creating monuments such as the pyramids of Egypt and the statues of Easter Island – was a huge commercial success despite serious scientific flaws, and it spawned a host of even more dubious imitations. Debunkers soon followed in hot pursuit, and Clute and Nicholls argue that the vast publicity had a negative impact on science fiction; consequently the notion of ancient astronauts became “an anathema”, in fact “a taboo,” to sci fi writers.
Zecharia Sitchin “stands on the shoulders” of Velikovsky and von Daniken. His complex cosmohistory contains both Velikovskian planetary collisions and von Danikenian alien astronauts. In his Earth Chronicles series which began with Twelfth Planet (1976), Sitchin utilizes his purported wealth of archeological and linguistic knowledge to provide unique interpretations of the Enuma Elish, the ancient Sumerian clay tablets which are titled by their opening words, “When the heavens above…” The Enuma Elish, also referred to as The Seven Tablets of Creation or The Chaldean Genesis, contain the Babylonian or Mesopotamian myth of creation. Mainstream archeological scholarship interprets this myth as a description of a war between the gods where order emerges from chaos. Sitchin uniquely translates the Enuma Elish as a cosmic history which describes chaotic events in the solar system leading to the formation of the planet Earth. Sitchin states that the Sumerian cosmohistory revolves around the existence of an alleged trans-Plutonian tenth planet -– a Planet X recently hypothesized or deduced by astrophysicists who state that it would account for certain unexplained planetary phenomena (e.g. orbital wobbles) -– which was purportedly known as Nibiru to the ancients, who counted it along with the sun, moon and other planets as the twelfth heavenly body or “twelfth planet” of the solar system. Nibiru is an “intruder” planet in the solar system (a large foreign meteoroid-like object which was pulled into the sun’s gravitational field) with a resulting elliptical orbit which brings it close to the inner planets once every 3,600 years. Because of this orbital path it collided eons ago into a planet named Tiamen, a Saturn-sized planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. The collision destroyed Tiamen, jettisoning fragments millions of miles towards the inward regions of the solar system. The bulk of these fragments congealed, forming a new smaller planet, Earth, while the remaining debris became the many planetoids of the asteroid belt. The collision also caused the newly formed Earth to be “seeded” by the Niburian life-forms, thus life which evolved on earth was genetically related to Niburian life.22
Sitchin’s cosmohistory fast-forwards billions of years to a time period on Earth less than a half-million years ago, when our planet is inhabited by Homo erectus -– a primitive species of human life. By this time in cosmic history, the outermost planet Nibiru, in contrast, is home to a technologically advanced humanoid species capable of space travel. The Enuma Elish, as eccentrically deciphered by Sitchin, reveal that circa 430,000 B.C., these space-faring aliens from Niburu landed on Earth, in the region of Mesopotamia/Sumer, some setting up a colony in search of huge quantities of gold. Circa 250,000 B.C., the lower echelon aliens who were forced to labor in the gold mines under horrid conditions, revolted against the higher echelon alien administrators. The Niburian colonizers -– referred to in various ancient Middle Eastern texts and scriptures as “the gods” or “those who came down from the heavens” (e.g., Sumerian: Anunnaki; Hebrew: Anakeim, Nephilim, Elohim; Egyptian: Neter) -– in order to quell the rebellion and prevent future uprisings decided to no longer enslave their “compatriot” Niburians as mine workers, but to genetically engineer a permanent slave caste from the genes of the primitive Earthlings. These genetic engineering experiments were conducted under the direction of the Anunnaki’s chief scientist, Enki, and chief medical officer, Ninhursag. An initial ape and human gene-splicing experiment proved unsuccessful, but a splicing of Anunnaki (Sitchin’s preferred term for the aliens) genes and Homo erectus genes created the desired result – the race of humankind now known as Homo sapiens. Though initially designed as a hybrid species which could not procreate, the demand for mine workers was so great that the human experiment was further refined until Homo sapiens were able to biologically reproduce. Soon, there was a population explosion and the excess numbers of human beings were expelled from the Anunnaki colonies, such that they began to spread all over the earth. Unexpected sexual attractions developed between the Anunnaki and the Earthlings, such that – as recorded in the Hebrew bible – the “sons of gods” began to lay with the “daughters of men.” Because the Earth had been seeded with Nibiru genetic material, in the Nibiru-Tiamen planetary collision eons ago, Annunaki and Earthling genes were compatible and the couplings proved fertile. The Anunnaki high council disapproved of this miscegenation, and wiped out most of the Earthling population 12,500 years ago, via the great flood, as recorded in the Hebrew Book of Genesis and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. However, some humans were saved through the efforts of Enki, who looked favorably upon his creation mankind. These flood survivors labored for the Anunnaki for thousands of years not only in their mining operations, but in the construction of their cities, their palaces (later revered by humans as temples), and astronomical installations not only in Sumer but in globally far-flung places such as Egypt, India, Central and South America. Six thousand years ago, as the Anunnaki’s mission on Earth was coming to a close, they decided to develop their Earthling offspring to the stage of self-sufficiency or independence. Beginning in Sumer and then proceeding to the other Anunnaki centers above, the Anunnaki created a genetic strain of humans with a high proportion of Anunnaki genes who would act as rulers of the human race and intermediaries between mankind and the Anunnaki (giving a new twist to the doctrine of the divine right of kings). This royal bloodline of human monarchs was taught mathematics, architecture, astronomy, etc., and the result was a sudden leap or advancement in human civilization as witnessed in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and among the Mayans, Aztecs and Incans.
It is certainly a mesmerizing if quite incredible tale! Sitchin’s public persona is that of an elder erudite scholar and his admirers are legion. But as one critic observes, “Like von Däniken and Velikovsky, Sitchin weaves a compelling and entertaining story out of facts, misrepresentations, fictions, speculations, misquotes, and mistranslations.”23
Islam and Science Fiction Motifs
If Sitchin stands on the shoulders of Velikovsky and Von Daniken, then the Nuwaubians stand on the shoulders of Sitchin – and the Nation of Islam and Nation of Gods and Earths. Heterodox Islam, especially African American heterodox Islam, offers much in the way of science fiction motifs. By contrast, orthodox Islam, e.g., Sunni and Shi’a belief systems, have very little cosmology which can inspire works of Islamic science fiction. The rare exceptions may be (1) the Qur’anic verses concerning those who slept for centuries in the caves; the reduction of evil men into apes; and the jinn-beings of smokeless fire; (2) the hadith concerning the Prophet’s night visit to the heavens on the horse Baruq; his cracking of the moon with his finger; and Al Masih ad-Dajjal -– the one-eyed Anti-Christ; and (3) the Shi’a theory of occultation.
Nevertheless, mythic literature and/or science fiction written by and/or about Muslims need not rely upon Islamic cosmology. A renowned contribution of Islamic civilization to the world’s corpus of ancient mythic literature is The Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Some of the stories in this collection, e.g., “The City of Brass” and “The Ebony Horse” might be considered proto-science fiction, according to Clute and Nicholls.24 Modern Arabic literature (ca. 1960 onwards) boasts the science fiction genre in short stories, novels and plays. Clute and Nicholls provide a survey of this literature, much of which is relatively unknown to the West because it has not been widely translated. Considerable Arabic science fiction literature has been written by authors who dabble in the genre. However, there are dedicated science fiction genre writers, most notably: Mustafa Mahmoud, an Egyptian novelist, short story writer and advocate of UFOlogy, who is considered “the father of Arabic science fiction”; Imran Talib, a prodigious Syrian novelist, short story writer and literary critic of Arabic science fiction; and Ali Salim, an Egyptian satirical dramatist.25 The range of their themes is hinted at by a sampling of the translated titles of their works. These include Mahmud’s Raising from the Coffin, The Man with a Temperature Below Zero, and The Spider; Talib’s Planet of Dreams, There Are No Poor on the Moon and Beyond the Barrier of Time; and Salim’s A Man Who Laughed at Angels and Satan from Heliopolis.26 Science fiction literature has been produced in many Arab countries; the diverse themes have included life in 32nd-century Libya; the encounter of mysterious aliens by a Palestinian hero living in the occupied territories; and fantastic discoveries and excavations as in Salim’s plays. Outside the Arab-speaking world, the most important Muslim science fiction writer may be the Indian Anglophone writer Javed Akhtar. Islamic scripture is central to the plot of his novel Ultimate Revelations which revolves around Rashid Khalifa’s heterodox mathematical code for deciphering the Qur’an.27 The Qur’an is also central to the plot of Western writer Chris Lawson’s short story, “Written in Blood”: a Muslim doctor uses a microbe to write the Qur’an onto the unused part of the human DNA.
Several other Western science fiction authors and filmmakers have portrayed Islam and Islamic themes in literature and cinema. Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, which was also adapted to film, is the best-known work. The novel which symbolizes the dependence of the West on oil and the resulting power strugglesalso contains vivid analogies to Islam (the religion of Zensunni) and the Prophet Muhammad (Paul Atreites). Recent sci fi novels, of course, have themes based on the politics of current events (as seen through rightwing Western eyes) -– the global conflicts pitting the free Western world against Islamic extremism and terrorism. Stereotypical Muslim fundamentalism is replicated in outer space colonies or the earth’s distant future in Louise Marley’s Terrorists of Irustan, Maureen McHugh’s Nekropolis andKatie Waitman’s The Divided. In contrast, the Muslims characters are either protagonists or figures rendered sympathetically in space travel adventures such asPhilip Jose Farmer’s Unreasoning Mask, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy and Sarah Zettel’s Fools War. A number of alternative histories feature the Islamic world or Muslim characters. Some examples are: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice and Salt in which bubonic plague wipes out Europe leaving China and the Islamic empire to vie for world supremacy; Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus in which a multicultural team of time travelers from the future (including a Muslim) travel back to 1492 in an attempt to intervene in history by transforming Columbus from a greedy imperialist to an international peacemaker; and Donald Moffet’s Crescent in the Sky and A Gathering of Stars, a set of novels in which Islam has been spread throughout the known universe, and ambitious men seek to become the first Caliph of an interplanetary Islamic empire.28
This is a short sample survey of Islam and science fiction: it does not purport to be comprehensive. However, in any survey, one would be remiss not to mentionthe hugely popular film series Star Wars, As seen through the eyes of Muslim movie-goers, the series is resplendent with Islamic symbolism: The Force which “penetrates all things and binds all things together” is analogous to a pantheistic Sufi understanding of the Islamic principle of Tawhid, The Oneness of Allah; Obi Wan Kenobi is analogous to the Prophet Muhammad; Luke Skywalker wields a laser beam weapon made of a Green Light, and thus is analogous to an angelic being, Al Khidr, The Green One or The Green Light; the Jedi Warriors train for years under their teachers just as Sufi students — spiritual warriors -– train under their Shayhks; and it should come as no surprise that Darth Vader and his forces of darkness represent Shaytan or Satan and his minions.
Islam and Science Fiction Motifs in African American Literature
African Americans have embraced orthodox Islam since at least the 1920s, but the largest growth and development of the African American orthodox (Sunni and Shi’a) Muslim population took place after mid-sixties, and was no doubt influenced by the conversion of Malcolm X / Al Hajj Malik Al Shabazz from the Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam. The Islamic movement in America has attracted a disproportionate share of intellectuals and artists. These black intellectuals and artists have created an Islamic African American bohemian subculture. Because a critical mass of intellectuals and artists have been participating in the creation of this bohemian subculture for only four decades, and because literary production has been stifled by strains of conservative religious thought, African American Muslim fiction has not matured as rapidly as African American Muslim poetry, visual arts, fashion design, and crafts such as jewelry design. Hence, African American Sunni Muslims have produced little in the realm of science fiction literature with one or two exceptions described below.
The African American novelist Stephen Barnes, who has not publicly declared any religious affiliation, has produced two novels Lions Blood (2002) and Zulu Heart (2003) which depict the saga of an ongoing alternate history, in which events from the time of Ancient Greece have been altered such that by the 1279 A.H. (1863 A.D.) when the narrative of the first novel opens, much of the world is ruled by Islam, Christianity is a minor sect rather than a world religion, Europe is under the fearful sway of Viking slave-raiders, an Aztec empire is powerful in Mesoamerica, and African Muslims have colonized North America calling it Bilalistan, have pushed the indigenous Native Americans northward and have enslaved Northern Europeans on plantations in the antebellum south.
The only work of science fiction by a known African American Muslim author is the epic poem entitled Beyonder by Jalaluddin Nuriddin of the legendary recording artists/poets ensemble, The Last Poets. Recorded on the vinyl album, Delights of the Garden, in 1976, Beyonder is a futuristic dystopian apocalyptic tale describing: the ecological disasters -– cataclysmic floods, typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes, sweltering heat waves, swarming raids of rats and insects, panic and hysteria, epidemic plagues and bacteria -– which afflict mankind during the earth’s final convulsions; man’s fear of divine retribution -– “sinners lamented/hypocrites repented/ and a handful of the righteous prayed”; and mankind’s last futile hi-tech attempts to escape its inevitable doom.
“In a subterranean retreat/ they had all gathered to meet /The last of men and jinn” (a racially coded phrase in which “men” are evidently the subordinate people of color, and “jinn” are the white ruling elite), “with utmost discretion /they huddled in session/ to ponder the predicament they were in.” In the ensuing dialogue, between the leaders of men and jinn, the spokesmen for the men have decided that this is, indeed, doomsday and they should to submit to the Will of God and meet their final end without resistance. The leaders of the jinn argue with the leaders of the men that only fools would give up without fighting for a chance to survive. Believing that they are temporarily safe in their underground shelter from the contaminated surface atmosphere, the jinn wish to bide their time to plan an escape from the doomed planet via launching a fleet of spaceships. Through their mastery of science and technology, they will escape the dying planet and conquer a new frontier “Come let us take our place/ out there in space/out there amongst the stars.” Since the earth is in violent upheaval, no longer spinning on its axis, etc., the escape plot still has uncertainty “…the only thing that we don’t know /is will our gravity let us go/and this what we’ve got to find out first.” To aid them in all of their machinations and calculations is their supreme technological invention – an android – who can survey the all conditions on surface of the contaminated earth and relay information to the underground command shelter. “We have summoned the prefect/ of ecological defect/whom we feel can check our fall.”
His name is Sir Manikin
An android jinn
Programmed in the netherlands
He can deduct and deduce
Manufacture and produce
And is made in the likeness of a man
He has cunnining and guile
And is versatile
And can adapt to any situation
Neither heat nor cold
Can affect his control
Or cause his deterioration29
“Amidst gasps and sighs” the android “suddenly materialized/standing suspended in mid-air.” After introducing himself he describes his composition:
I’m endowed with a microscopic brain
Developed from a sperm bank strain
Protected by a beryllium skullcap
Programmed with a complete history of mankind
By the designer of my mind
And made to indefinitely adapt
My anatomy is composed of titanium and platinum ore
With a cobalt 60 core
Located in the cavity of my diaphragm
An infinitesimally small amount
Relative to current critical mass count
Only .002 micro-milligrams
I am covered with a thin layer of diamonite mesh
In a skin-tone flesh
Molded with detailed precision
I can disappear in an inkling
And reappear on the twinkling
While photographing an infrared vision 30
Here is the supreme irony: mankind (“the jinn,” as code-word for whites, are described eccentrically by some African American Muslims as “mankind” -– beings who are “kind of like man” but not true man) has created a man (or “manikin” -– kin of man), or at least a marvelous copy of man -– an android, who is even smarter, stronger and more beautiful than the original. Mankind has technologically reproduced himself. From an Islamic perspective, this is, of course, the height of arrogance and folly, as it is an attempt to abrogate powers of creation that belong to Almighty Allah alone.
The subordinated people of color will have nothing to do with this last-ditch effort at survival. It was the misuse of science and technology which brought about the environmental catastrophes to begin with, so rather than depend on technology for salvation, the men simply want to return to the corpse-ridden surface of the earth and face their deaths in the toxic atmosphere swiftly. Against the advice and warnings of the jinn, the men don suits with jet-propelled boots and hurtle mile after mile to the surface from 12,000 feet below. Fearing that the exiting men will allow contamination to seep in, the jinn call upon Sir Manikin to intervene and stop their ascent. But Sir Manikin though he can move with lightning speed, arrives too late and finds the souls of the men as well as the souls of his masters (the souls of the jinn) with the Angel of Death -– the Angel of Death who ultimately destroys this android “tool of fools” as the Archangel Gabriel’s trumpet blasts.
Islam in Afrofuturist Literature
Barnes’s alternative history and Nuriddin’s epic poem can also be classified as examples of Afrofuturism. Because Barnes’s work is the only extant example of Islam in African American science fiction novels, it may prove instructive to broaden the parameters to examine Islam in Afrofuturist novels. Afrofuturism, though it includes black science fiction or Afrocentric science fiction, is more broadly defined as African American signification about “culture, technology and things to come”31 (or, in the case of alternative histories, “things that might have come” from a reconfigured past). Afrofuturist literature is speculative fiction; it may treat African American issues within the context of contemporary technoculture and “appropriate images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future” or it might “highlight an ignored strain” of AfroDiasporan culture -– “a techno-visionary tradition that looks as much toward science-fiction futurism as toward magical African roots.”32 According to Mark Dery, we must not look simply to science fiction to find Afrofuturism, “It must be sought in unlikely places, constellated from far-flung points.”33
Alondra Nelson cites Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo -– which is neither science fiction nor alternative history but a novel ostensibly structured like a detective story — as the quintessential Afrofuturist text. “Less a whodunit than an epistemological mystery,” the hilariously satirical novel raises many profound historical, philosophical, cultural and racial issues in its intricate plots and subplots. Among the issues raised by Reed, and of chief concern in this essay, is the question of an African American Muslim future. Nelson writes:
Reed has used the word necromancy to describe his project as a writer, defining it as “us[ing] the past to explain the present and prophesize about the future… Necromancers used to lie in the guts of the dead or tombs to receive visions of the future. That is prophecy. The black writer lies in the guts of old America, making readings about the future.”34
Mumbo Jumbo’s two protagonists, Abdul Hamid Sufi, an African American Muslim, and Papa La Bas, a voodoo hougan, a gris-gris man, are united in their determination to stop a racist Wallflower Order from containing the latest outbreak of the epidemic Jes Grew -– virulently contagious black culture (e.g. Jazz Age music and dance) which causes civilized white people to shake their bodies like primitive Africans. Yet Sufi and La Bas vie with one in a contest to decide which is more “authentically black” and relevant to African American survival -– inner city Islam or African-derived religion, the latter described by La Bas as “The ancient Vodun aesthetic: pantheistic becoming, 1 which bountifully permits 1000s of spirits, as many as the imagination can hold. Infinite Spirits and Gods.”35 Sufi castigates La Bas and La Bas’s associate Herman:
(Sufi): The people will have to shape up or they won’t survive. Cut out this dancing and carrying on, fulfilling base and carnal appetites. We need factories, schools, guns. We need dollars…36
(Sufi continues, denouncing Jes Grew): Oh that’s just a lot of people twisting they butts and getting happy. Old, primitive, superstitious jungle ways Allah is the Way. Allah be praised….
It’s you 2 and these other niggers imbibing spirits and doing the Slow Drag who’s holding back our progress.
We’ve been dancing for 1000s of years, Abdul, La Bas answers. It’s part of our heritage.
Why would you want to prohibit something so deep in the race soul? Herman asks.
In Afrofuturist terms, Reed speculates about the African American future — will it be best served by a homegrown Islamic culture or by a “neo-hoodoo” culture? Although Reed’s novel is set in the context of the 1920s and Abdul Hamid Sufi is reminiscent of several early Muslim figures (including Noble Drew Ali, founder of the Moorish Science Temple; Garvey’s Sudanese-Egyptian mentor Duse Muhammad Ali; his inverted namesake Harlem labor leader Sufi Abdul Hamid; and Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam), the character anticipates Malcolm X and the questions which are raised resonate in today’s debate between African American Islamists and Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian)-influenced Afrocentrists.37 Reed’s necromancy prophesizes that African-derived neo-hoodoo culture, as represented by La Bas (i.e., Elegba, the Yoruba deity), must triumph in the end. Islam, even in its inner city iterations, ultimately proves to be too foreign and antithetical to the African American Jes Grew culture.
Reed’s Afrofuturist novel also provides us with a picturesque portrait of Abdul Hamid who is at once an ex-convict, an autodidact, a bibliophile, and a polymath:
Abdul Hamid, the noted magazine editor stands, his arms folded… He wears a bright red fez and a black pin-stripped suit and a black tie emblazoned with the crescent moon symbol…
Look I spent 9 long years in prison for stabbing a man who wanted to evict my mother. 9 years in the clink and two of them in solitary confinement. It is then that I began to read omnivorously… I applied myself. I went through biochemistry, philosophy, math, I learned languages, I even learned the transliteration and translation of hieroglyphs… I had no systematic way of learning but proceeded like a quilt maker, a patch of knowledge here a path of knowledge there but lovingly knitted. I would devour the intellectual scraps and leftovers of the learned. Everyday I would learn a new character and learn how to mark it. It occurred to me that I was borrowing from all these systems: Religion, Philosophy, Music, Science and even Painting and building one of my own composed of their elements. It was like a Griffin. I had patched something together out of my own procedure and the way I taught myself became my style, my art, my process… I am building something that people will understand. This country is eclectic. The architecture the people the music the writing. The thing that works here will have a little bit of jive talk and a little bit of North Africa, a fez-wearing mulatto in a pin-striped suit. A man who can say give me some skin as well as Asalamalaikum.38
The image of the African American Muslim self-taught omnivorous reader (e.g., Malcolm X), whose learning style is described in African American folk art terms –“quilting patches of knowledge together,” is similar in many ways to the image of the genius in “mainstream” science fiction literature:
The figure of the heroic and irreplaceable genius is recurrent in American SF. In contrast to the ‘mad scientist” figure common to the horror story, the genius of SF is usually seen as a benign figure. The figure is distinctive for the way he tries to solve a deep problem in the ideology of capitalist democracy. The genius is promoted as an egalitarian ideal free of issues of class and social background. At the same time it represents a fantasy of being transcendentally superior to its world39
Reed’s Afrofuturism provides us with a legendary prototype, one which stands in opposition to the ideological “science” of Herrnstein and Murray’s Bell Curve: the inner city high-IQ self-taught genius and street-corner philosopher and who aspires to uplift his people. This is the prototype and on any street corner in any inner city, one will meet representatives of it, ranging from those who are true ghetto geniuses to those who are merely street-corner public intellectuals. Many of these organic intellectuals gravitate to orthodox Islam to create an alternative bohemian Sunni Muslim culture. Many gravitate to heterodox Islam and are adherents or ex-adherents to groups such as the Moorish Science Temple, The Nation of Islam, the Five Percenters and the Nuwaubian Moors.
Heterodox Islam and Science Fiction Motifs in Black Urban Culture
While this Sunni science fiction such as Nuriddin’s Beyonder is futuristic and looks to the end of time, to Judgment Day, heterodox Muslim science fiction is concerned with origins, Genesis, the creation which occurred “In the Beginning…” While Afrofuturism presents us with the image of the benign genius, and while some of the more outstanding members of heterodox Muslim groups often fit that prototype, their mythology is centered around the actions and consequences of a singularly mad scientist -– a sinister black man named Yakub, who lived 6,000 years ago when black people, the Original People, were the only race on the planet earth and lived like gods in a technologically-advanced utopia.
Yakub had a super intellect and thirst for knowledge. He began school at age four and displayed a penchant for scientific inquiry. Known as the “big-headed scientist” on account of his unusually large cranium which symbolized his vanity as well as his mental powers, he earned degrees from all of the colleges and and universities in the land by the age of eighteen. Though one of the preeminent scholars of the Nation of Islam, his greatest achievement took place outside of school when he was just six years old. While toying with two pieces of steel, he learned the secret of magnetism, that opposites attract. The larger lesson for Yakub was that if he could create a race of people completely different from the Original People, that race could attract and dominate the Black Nation through tricknology -– tricks, lies and deception. The essence of the black man, which consisted of a black and brown germ, was the key to creating such a race. If he could simply graft or separate these germs until none of the original black genetic code was left, he would be able to create a species of man, called “mankind,” who would rule the earth forever.40
Yakub, who craved power, enlisted some 60,000 followers into his scheme. His movement preached a doctrine of wealth and luxury for all who would join. Because the movement created dissent and trouble in the Holy City of Mecca, the capital of the black empire, Yakub and all of his followers were exiled to the island of Pelan (also known as Patmos) in the Aegean Sea. Here Yakub was finally able to realize his depraved childhood ambitions. He set up genetic engineering laboratories -– and wantonly using many of his own followers as the guinea pigs, he carried out a program of selective breeding and genocide (infanticide of babies of unwanted pigmentation), which involved separating the brown germ (i.e. genes or genetic code) from the black germ, until he created the brown (South Asian) race. Continuing to utilize this formula of eugenics and extermination, Yakub and his team of scientists separated the germ for red pigmentation (i.e., Amerindian racial characteristics) from the germ for brown pigmentation (i.e., South Asian racial characteristics), and so forth, successively grafting the red race (Amerindians), then the yellow race (East Asians), and finally Yakub’s desired creation, the white race (Caucasians). This entire process of “grafting” or genetic engineering took 200 years, and Yakub who lived to the grand age of 150 had died in the interim; but his followers had carried on his experiments successfully, creating a master race which was physically weak, spiritually and morally depraved, yet intellectually cunning. By manipulating this race of evil-doers, Yakub had intended to become the ruler of the earth. His ambition was thwarted by his own mortality but this weak and wicked race, Yakub’s grafted devils, were destined to dominate the Original Black Race for the next six thousand years.
This is the core of the central myth of the Nation of Islam and their splinter group the Five Percenters, though there are very rich narratives that both lead up to and continue the story of Yakub and his “grafted devils.” Before exploring some of the connecting narratives, it may prove useful to compare the parallels in the Yakub myth with Biblical narratives, the saga of Sir Manikin, and narratives of the Nation of Islam’s predecessor, the Moorish Science Temple of America.
Claude Clegg has pointed out that the myth of an ancient but scientifically and technologically ultramodern utopian civilization is comparable to the Biblical narrative of Eden -– a Garden of Paradise. The rise of a dissenting group, fueled by boredom and led by the evil genius Yakub, is comparable to the appearance of the serpent in the Garden. The resulting actions of Yakub and his expulsion from the Holy City of Mecca, are comparable to the Fall of Man, and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden.41 The rise of an evil master race spells the downfall of the planet’s original utopian black civilization.
Jalaluddin Nuriddin’s epic poem, Beyonder, supplies interesting contrasts and parallels with the Yakub myth. Some of the same motifs are present, yet they are inverted. In Beyonder, we are in the near future rather than the distant past. The world leaders and their scientific and military elite – a ruling cabal of white capitalist racist patriarchs – faced by environmental disasters of monumental proportions, an Earth in ecological upheaval, create an android as mankind’s savior. This has Qur’anic as well as (perhaps unintended) Biblical allusions. The Qur’anic verse (22:74) is a warning to idolaters that the false gods whom they call upon cannot even create so much as a fly even if all the gods of the polytheists met together for that express purpose. It also connotes that the power to create life belongs to The Creator alone. The android then is mankind’s highest conceit, a hi-tech bioengineering cybernetic marvel, a combination of machinery, computer programming and human cerebral genetic material (“a microcosm brain developed from a sperm bank strain”), more man than robot, and more superman than man. The genius theme, seen in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo and the myth of Yakub is repeated in Beyonder; Sir Manikin’s microcosmic brain is programmed with the complete history of mankind, he is nearly omniscient. From a Christian perspective (probably unintended by the Muslim author) the analogy is that mankind has created their own savior-god, a mechanical Christ to save them not from spiritual perdition but physical doom. Again, from these monotheistic perspectives, it is the height of folly, the ultimate futile act of a materialistic culture gone astray.
These concerns are echoed in Rastafarian Afrofuturism,42 notably the work of the Reggae group, Steel Pulse. In the lyrics to “Wild Goose Chase” (on the Earth Crisis LP), the Reggae group laments with irony that they once believed the destruction of creation would be nuclear war and radiation, that they thought Judgment Day would come when they drop the neutron bomb… but now instead they see that mankind is unleashing even greater follies upon itself which ultimately will lead to self-annihilation — “mass producing test tube babies” and the “cloning of cats to have dogs” (i.e., genetic transfer across species, etc.). These narratives question the ethics and the wisdom of genetic engineering, cloning, android experimentation, etc. The Steel Pulse refrain interjects “Don’t they know they’ll falter?!” This is not similar to the neo-conservative religious backlash against stem cell research but it is a lament that Western capitalistic science — propelled by individuals seeking wealth, fame and glory; corporations seeking profits; and nations seeking power and domination — races ahead with blinders on, unaware or unmindful that even in hi-tech laboratories, human or mechanical error is inevitable, and that genetic accidents or unintended consequences of monumental proportions are bound to happen, unleashing a Pandora’s box of destructive life-forms upon humanity. The tale of Yakub is one which seeks to explain the origin of racial oppression, and which reduces the status or mystique of the oppressor by revealing his less than noble beginnings,43 but it is also a cautionary tale about the abuse and misuse of science. Finally there is even a linear connection between the tale of Yakub and the tale of Sir Manikin: The evil black power-seeking genius Yakub creates the white race in order to gain dominion over the world but is thwarted by his own death; the white race eventually rules over the Original Black Man and other people of color; the white ruling class, in the height of its tyrannical rule over the peoples and natural resources of the earth, creates ecological havoc unleashing pandemics and natural disasters that threaten the survival of humanity; the white ruling class putting its faith in science and technology creates Sir Manikin the android as their savior; Sir Manikan fails.
The tale of Yakub has older roots than the Nation of Islam. The myth of Yakub, which has been disseminated coast to coast throughout the black urban subculture by the Five Percenters and by oral tradition and Hip Hop lyrics, has its origins in Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple, founded in 1912 during the earliest stages of the Great Migration from the rural south to the urban north. Rather than myths, the narratives of the Moors were legends (narratives of events, which while fanciful or not completely verifiable, take place within the realm of history and the realm of possibility). The Moors claimed that they were the descendants of the “ancient Moabite kingdom now known as Morocco, which existed in northwest Amexem, which is now known as northwest Africa.” On more solid historical ground, they claim that Moors (i.e., West Africans) arrived in America in the pre-Columbian era. Ivan van Sertima, the anthropologist, and a number of historians have amassed evidence that Africans including Egypto-Nubians and Malians arrived in Mesoamerica and intermarried with the indigenous Amerindians, constructing together the Olmec civilization, the “morning” or earliest civilization of Mesoamerica which pre-dated the Mayans, Aztecs and Toltecs. The archeological wonders of the Olmec civilization are huge granite heads with very recognizable African features.44 The Moorish Scientist legend intertwines with these facts, it speaks of Yakubites rather than Olmecs, descendents of a Moor named Yakub, who landed on the Yakutan (i.e., Yucatan peninsula). Veering off into the realms of mythology, the Moors stated that the huge stone heads meant that the Yakubites evolved into a race of scientific geniuses with large heads (as depicted in the massive sculptures) and small bodies. Here we see the genius motif again in perhaps its earliest formation. It is this legend of Yakub, the big-headed scientist, which found its way into the NOI mythology.45
As greatly transformed by the NOI, the myth of Yakub became a Fall of Man myth; the NOI also had its Creation myth. The Creation myth of a self-generated god, arising as an embryonic Atom from the emptiness and Triple Darkness of Space, is similar in some respects to the Ancient Egyptian Heliopolitan Cosmogony. One might infer either that the creator of the NOI cosmogony had knowledge of the Heliopolitan cosmogony, or that the ancient and urban Creation myths both draw from a common archetype. Rival theogonies later arose in Hermopolis, Memphis (the famed Memphite theology), and Thebes, but according to the cosmogony of the priests of the city of Heliopolis the universe began as a watery chaos called Nun, out of these primordial waters the sun-god Ra or Atum emerged. By his own power he generated twin deities Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture) who in turn gave birth to Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). Geb and Nut gave birth to Osiris (order) and Seth (disorder) and their consorts Isis and Nephtys. These nine gods formed the Divine Ennead or group of nine.46 Interestingly, and perhaps not by coincidence, the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE) or Five Percenters, who call themselves “gods,” speak of the first nine followers of their founder Clarence “Puddin’” 13X as the First Nine Born.
Whereas Big Bang theorists date the origin of the universe from 10 to 20 billion years ago, the theogony of the NOI dates the birth of self-generated black god “Allah,” who self-generated from the empty and motionless blackness of space, at 76 trillion years ago. From the primordial womb of space a rotating Atom came into being, signaling the beginning of time, developing into a cosmic embryo, not unlike the Space Child in the film finale of Arthur Clarke’s 2001 Space Odyssey. A growing infant black anthropomorphic deity developed in the incubator that would later be known as the Earth. As his mental powers and self-awareness developed he realized that he was “Allah, the Supreme God,” and that he had the power to create. He then proceeded to create other gods like himself in his own image, and discovered light and fire and kindled a ball of gas which he called the Sun. “The other gods emulated him and threw spheres of flame (stars) into the darkness, some of which traveled to the outer edge of the infinite universe…. Allah created a wreath of stars 600 million miles from Earth – his home and favorite celestial body” to separate his home from the rest of the heavens. This is essentially Clegg’s rendition of the NOI’s Creation myth with some minor embellishments of my own.47
The NGE (Five Percenters) present a more complex picture of the creation. First of all, the Triple Darkness of Space is also referred to as The Essence. When Five Percenters speak of death they talk about (the spirit of) the dead person returning to the Essence. There is the notion that all things come from the Essence and all things return to it. Metaphysically, the Essence is an impersonal imperishable Absolute, an infinite inexhaustible Ground of Being. While this Essence or triply dark space is a Void, it is not formless; the Triple Darkness of Space is actually composed of three separate dimensional planes. Secondly, the self-manifested god who arises from this Essence, while anthropomorphic, is decidedly cerebral, i.e., the Cosmic Man is essentially a Cosmic Mind, and this Mind is presented in science fiction terminology:
The Birth of the Original Mind came forth from an Atom which created itself rotating at the speed of 24 billion miles per second (the speed of thought), covering an oblong area of 76 quintillion miles in diameter.48
The account goes on to say that the rotation of the Atom was actually the rotation of the first, then the second, then the third of the three planes of Darkness, each rotation at the speed of 24 billion miles per second, each throwing off energy to the next plane until the energy formed a Atom of Light. “As these levels of darkness continued their rotation, the speed of their rotation produced a thick shell of intense heat which surrounds the darkness of space. The heat is billions and billions of volts of electricity.”49 This shell is the brain-casing of the Cosmic Mind at the center of the Universe which evolved from the Atom of light.50
Here the Ancient Egyptian analogies are more clearly in line with the Memphite Theology than the Heliopolitan Cosmogony. Atum, “he who came into being of himself,” creates the other gods of the Divine Ennead through physicality. In one part of the Pyramid Texts it states that “he took his penis in hand and ejaculated through it” to produce the twins Shu and Tefnut. In another part, it states that he “sneezed out Shu and spat up Tefnut”51 In the Memphite Theology (also known as the Shabaka Texts), Ptah, the supreme artisan and divine blacksmith, is a self-created primordial fire like the Atom of Light (though he does not arise from any primeval waters or space), and his own creative actions are cerebral. Ptah is a god who creates other gods and celestial wonders through intellectual contemplation, thinking things into existence, rather than via divine masturbation or any other physical means (such hurling spheres of light across the heavens — though one could argue, perhaps, that the “hurling” took place via telekinesis or levitation).52 This Cosmic Mind, “Allah,” as portrayed here would be decidedly distinct and transcendent in relation to the subsequent gods (The Original People) who were cast in his image, just as the Judeo-Christian God created “man in his image and likeness.” That these gods were made in his image is perhaps an analogy for the faculty of mind or intelligence with which they are endowed and the dark complexion of their bodies reflecting the Triple Darkness of Space. The Cosmic Mind, too, offers the original prototype for theme of genius which runs through urban mythology.
The pseudo-scientific narrative of the creation of an atom of light from the high-speed rotation of the three spatial planes is a superficially plausible narrative of cosmogenesis. As a rational causal model or explanation for cosmic evolution, it is not far removed from the popular science narrative of the Big Bang, a layperson’s narrative which is detached from the supporting evidence of empirical astrophysics. The popular science Big Bang narrative simply states that in the beginning all matter was compressed into an immensely dense and extremely high temperature point of singularity (i.e., a primeval atom) which exploded and expanded producing a tremendous burst of light and gases some of which congealed into solid matter as the intense temperatures cooled. The seemingly absurd notion of the Triple Darkness of Space is no less mystifying than contemporary scientific concepts of dark matter53and dark energy54–- terms which “serve mainly as expressions of our ignorance,” much like the marking of early maps with ‘Terra Incognita.55 The NOI and Five Percenters would argue, in fact, that these scientific concepts are merely confirmations of what they have been saying all along.
The NOI/ NGE Creation Myth is followed by myths about primordial man in a state of bliss that are comparable to the Biblical Narratives about the Garden of Eden. Though these gods had command of the universe, and had created other inhabitable planets with intelligent life, their favorite abode was the Earth which became their habitat. They settled in the best part of Earth which was the continent of Asia (although other accounts say that the entire Earth was known as Asia). According to Clegg the black gods or Asiatic Black Men shaped the planet to their liking, especially by creating mountains. This was accomplished by utilizing modern technology -– “motorized bombs tipped with drills and packed with dynamite to borrow into the earth and blast up mountains as high as six miles.”56 Here the NOI mythology has familiar rings with both Greek and West African Yoruba mythology. Mountains, of course, were powerful, majestic, magical places in Greek mythology. Mount Olympus in particular was the home of Zeus and the principal Gods in the Greek pantheon; other mountains were used as the Thrones of the Titans. The mountain are created using elements associated with two of the most prominent West African orishas, Ogun the god of iron (metal drill) and Shango, the god of thunder and lightning (blasting power of dynamite).
Many other aspects of the Primordial Bliss myths resonate or are wholly borrowed — with a twist -– from other mythological systems, as in the case of Nation of gods or Asiatic Black Men being divided into Thirteen Tribes. Clegg sates according to the NOI that the religion of the Original People was Islam and that their disposition was righteousness. According to the NGE/Five Percenters, however, Islam is not defined as a religion but described variously as the culture (way of life) or the nature (righteous disposition) of the Original Man, or the order of the Universe. In short, this was a conception of Islam, not as a codified system of beliefs and practices, but as a the natural state of harmony of the macrocosmic universe and a state which men and women sought to replicate in their microcosmic world of personal conduct and social relationships. Islam as so defined was identical to the Ancient Egyptian conception of Ma’at,57 –- the law of harmony, balance, order, truth, righteousness, and justice that governed nature, personal conduct and social relations.
The narrative of the Nation of Islam also states that history of the Original Man occurred in 25,000-year cycles, and that these cycles of destiny were prophesized via clairvoyance by a group of twenty-four god-scientists who acted as scribes and wrote down the coming events of each cycle. There are mythological narratives associated with these cyclic historical eras. The myth of Yakub was the narrative that dominated the most recent cycle of history, but the previous cycles were also replete with defining narratives. In a very early cycle, a previous renegade scientist attempted unsuccessfully to blow up the Earth; but the resulting explosion hurled a huge part of earth into space, and it went into orbit around the earth and became known as the moon. In the process one of the Thirteen Tribes was completely annihilated leaving only Twelve. Another narrative involves a cycle of history which witnesses the rise of false religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, among one of the Twelve Tribes. In yet another cycle, the leader of the Tribe of Shabazz -– which had become the most prominent of the Twelve Tribes and had constructed a lavish civilization centered in Egypt and across the Red Sea in Mecca -– took his people into the unexplored jungles of Africa. His plan was to expose them to life in the wilds for millennia in order make them physically stronger and resilient and to build character, as they had become indolent from luxurious idyllic life on the Nile. The Tribe of Shabazz adapted to the climate and environment of the African wilds, but their phenotypes changed as a result. The Tribe’s straight hair was turned coarse and kinky, and its fine features were deformed into thick lips and broad noses.58
There is also an Eschatological or Judgment Day narrative about apocalyptic events which will come in the form of a rash of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters followed by the appearance of the Mother Ship, a stealth bombing space ship manned by black gods which will rain destruction over America.
The stories of these cycles and events make for an entire mythology replete with tales that rival the mythologies of ancient peoples. These tales, no longer the exclusive esoteric knowledge of the NOI or the Five Percenters, are the urban myths that I learned as a teenager in Brooklyn in the 1960s and which are continually being told and retold throughout urban America. These tales are being challenged, however, by a new set of stories.
Brother from Another Planet: Rival Urban Myth-Making
In Ancient Egypt, the priesthood in rival centers of political and sacerdotal authority of Ancient Egypt (e.g., Hermopolis, Memphis and Thebes) created rival gods and cosmogonies to compete with the original Heliopolitan cosmogony. In the inner city, a rival heterodox Islamic sect, the Nuwaubian Moors, created a mythology to compete with the NOI/Five Percenter mythology. The Nuwaubian Moors have been through several identities and name changes.59 They surfaced first in Brooklyn, New York in 1967, as an Islamic group named Ansar Pure Sufi but established their presence on the map or achieved their first fame as The Ansaru Allah Nubian Islaamic Hebrews Community circa early 1970s.60 Under this identity the Community was characterized by a unique combination of Islamic heterodoxy and orthopraxy, i.e. their doctrine was similar in many respects to the black supremacist doctrine of the NOI, but their dress code and ritual observance of Islamic practice were strictly in adherence with orthodox guidelines. Claiming guidance from all the monotheistic scriptures -– the Taurat (Torah), Zabur (Psalms), Injil (Gospel) and Qur’an –– they also observed the Sabbath. Centered in a large commune with several neighboring real estate holdings in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, the Ansars or Nubians dressed in white turbans and jalabeahs or thobesand peddled their wares -– jewelry, incense, oils and religious literature – on the streets and subways of New York. They had a ubiquitous presence in New York in the 1970s and early 1980s. They became a permanent fixture of the urban landscape during that era, and they began to spread far and wide to establish communities and a presence in other major cities. Their doctrinal literature – over 150 booklets with provocative titles and controversial contents, such as Are the Scriptures Tampered With?, Science of the Pyramids, The Pale Man, Christianity: The Political Religion, Polytheism: The Worship of the Canaanites, The Lost Children of Mu and Atlantis, Secret Societies Unmasked, The True Story of Cain and Abel, and Was Christ Really Crucified? -– was self-described as “the most dynamic books in history.” These booklets were highly prized and sought after by a wide spectrum of African Americans and Latinos -– the skeptics, the merely curious, the knowledge-thirsty and the spiritual-seekers. They would animatedly debate and discuss the doctrine with the Ansars sometimes for hours.
The doctrine built upon the central NOI Yakub narrative concerning the origin of the white race. In the Yakub narrative, after Yakub’s grafted devils were created on the island of Pelan, they went into the Holy City of Mecca, the capital of the Original Man’s civilization, deliberately stirring up “trouble and confusion among the righteous people by telling lies and using tricknology.” In contemporary political terminology they used a “campaign of disinformation to de-stabilize the government” of the Meccans. They were successful in their bid to cause the Original People “to fight and kill one another,” but the Meccans soon rallied together against the foreign “devils” deporting them and exiling them to “the caves of West Asia which is now called Europe.”61 In the caves of Europe, the white man “went savage for two thousand years” (i.e., lived like cavemen) until rescued by a Prophet Musa, who taught him civilization “and some of the forgotten tricknology that Yakub had taught, which is devilishment, telling lies, stealing and how to master the Original Man.”62 Clegg points out that this narrative “is a figurative portrayal of the defeat of Satan by the forces of God and his banishment from heaven (Revelations 12:7-10). As an example of urban mythology which seeks to explain oppression, the narrative effectively undermines the status of the oppressor. It “flips the script” of the stereotype of African Americans being descendants of savages in Africa so that it is now the oppressor who descended from savage cavemen (Neanderthal man, etc.) in the wilds of Europe.
The Ansaru Allah Community doctrine, especially as elaborated in their booklets, The Pale Man and The Sons of Canaan, sought at once to both corroborate and correct the NOI/NGE caveman narrative – in much the same way that the rival Memphite Theology of Egypt did not supplant the Heliopolitan Cosmogony but reconfigured it and coexisted with the original. Using the Biblical narrative of the Curse of Ham (Genesis 9:20-27),63 verses from Leviticus about leprosy (13:9-17), verses from the Holy Qur’an (18: 9-26) about people who fell asleep in the caves for centuries with a dog as their companion,64 an explanation of Mendelian genetics with distorted conclusions, and the pseudoscientific theory of Lemarckian heredity, the Ansar doctrine contended that the peoples of the scriptures were black, that Canaan, the son of Ham was cursed by Noah with leprosy — a disease that turns the skin white, and that the “sons” (descendants) of Canaan inherited this leprosy-induced albinoism and lived in the caves of the Caucasus Mountains where they engaged in bestiality and interbred with canines (“man’s best friend”), which made their bodies hairy. Photos of hirsute carnival sideshow freaks were provided as “evidence” of this cross-species interbreeding.
The two stories of the savage cave origins of the white oppressor -– the NOI/NGE version and the Nubian version -– coexisted and both became standard urban mythology for thousands of inner city African Americans who were not affiliated with any of these organizations, but who were heavily influenced by their mythology.
Hounded by Sunni Muslim groups who insisted that the Nubians with their white supremacist doctrine which was in contention with the true universalist message of Islam, were not Helpers of Allah’s cause but hinderers and imposters, the Nubians retaliated against Sunni doctrine and slowly began to undergo a metamorphosis involving successive adoption and integration of many “dispensations” (religious beliefs), occult philosophical and esoteric beliefs, and contemporary cult beliefs, fads and fashion. In their incarnation as Nuwaubian Moors, the group by 1993 had relocated its main base from Brooklyn to a 476-acre compound replete with impressive and colorful faux pyramids called Tamar-Re, “The Egypt of the West” in Eatonton, Georgia. By this time they were embracing a philosophy whose main tenets contained elements of the Moorish Science Temple teachings, Freemasonry, Afrocentric Kemeticism (glorification of Kemet or Ancient Egypt as an ancient black utopia), the Black Indian movement (a movement among African Americans who claim their Native American ancestry), and Sitchinism (the Ufology theories of Zecharia Sitchin). This eclectic doctrine of the group is called Right Knowledge -– shorthand for “Right Knowledge, Right Wisdom and Right Overstanding [Understanding].” The Nuwaubians claim that their name derives from Nuwaubu, a hieroglyphic language left to them by their ancient ancestors. They claim that very word “Nuwaubu” essentially means “right knowledge and right wisdom” or “sound right reasoning” -– which leads to right understanding. Right Knowledge competes with Five Percenter teachings for the minds and hearts of the young (and not so young) who are attempting to make sense of their impoverished, degraded and powerless position in society.
Another 150 or so booklets have been published by the group in its various incarnations since it dropped the Ansaru Allah identity. In several of these new booklets, most notably in Scroll #80 The Man from Planet Rizk and Scroll #82 Mission Earth and Extraterrestrial Involvement, the leader Malachi York65 claims to be a channel for Right Knowledge, an extraterrestrial from Rizk, the “8th planet of the 19th Galaxy of Illyuwn,” “a galactic being whose name is Yanuuwn” who was seeded on the planet. As a seeded entity and avatar, Malachi York was “pre-coded to awaken at a certain time, his DNA structures were genetically designed to go off like a time bomb in order to accommodate the Light Being, the Ether Being” seeded into his human body. Borrowing imagery from Rashid Khalifa (the mathematical power of 19 in the Holy Qur’an) and doctrines of the NOI/NGE (e.g., the birth of the Allah; the 24 god-scientists), the galactic being Yanuuwn is described as “over 76 trillion years old,” and the 19th of the 24 Elders who were known as Guardians of Light or Keepers of the Secret. Yanuuwn was known in ancient times as Melchisedek, Michael the Archangel, and Murdoq (in Sitchinism, Murdoq was the Sumerian god associated with the 10th planet Nibiru). York adds his own modifications to Sitchin, since only he not Sitchin has Right Knowledge. Niburu, according to York, is a planet-ship which was launched out from the planet Rizk with one of its routine trips, a circuit which lasts nearly 25,000 years (the NOI/NGE cycle of destiny) with a crew of 144,000 -– 24 of whom were the elite Elders -– to search for rare minerals (gold, silver, platinum, uranium) in our solar system. An electrical storm on Neptune caused this planet-ship to veer off course, and Nibiru crashed into the planet Maldek, also known as Vulcan (a nod to Star Trek fans), breaking that planet up and sending the remainder hurling out of the solar system. There it became the Lost planet and part of the Zeta Reticulli Galaxy. Nibiru, still veering off course, then came perilously close to Tiamat (Earth). The alarmed people of Tiamat, led by Kingu, the head of their Defense Force, launched an attack of eleven ships against Niburu. In a counterattack, Nibiru launched its seven War Ships. In the course of the battle that followed with Neptunian ships also in pursuit of the Nibiru ship, the Tiaman was blown up and the remainder of it was sent hurling into a different orbit, the Earth’s current orbit. One of the ships also bored a hole through the center of Tiaman creating a Hollow Earth (a hole through which Caucasian people would eventually emerge).
Interviewed Nuwaubians66 add more details to the story: 17 million years ago, before the first intergalactic battle, black people’s ancestors variously known as Elohim, Annunaki , angels or Riziquians existed in the 19th galaxy on the 8th planet Rizk. The Milky Way, which we live in, is the 18th galaxy. Riziquians means Providers, those who provide for the All-meaning all forces in existence. They are the workers for the Most High God, and they are gods also but not as great as the Supreme God. The planet Rizk was a part of the Original Tri-Solar System which was made up of three suns and twelve planets. The twelve planets had a moveable throne known as Nibiru, a spaceship made out of different crystals, gems and jewels. It had tiny microscopic solar panels, the size of pin-heads, which can convert light into energy enabling the ship to travel at the speed of light. The ship makes its routine route every 24,900 years which gives us the revolution known as the precession of the equinox. The ship went on its voyages in search of gold. Gold was needed to repair the layer of the Riziquian atmosphere which would be comparable to our ozone layer on earth. It is the layer which protects the planet Rizk from the ultraviolet radiation of the triple suns. The layer had been destroyed by the being known variously as Tarnish, Iblis or Shaytan (Satan). Shaytan was the leader of the 200 fallen angels, the “disagreeables” whom the Most High allowed to live on the planet Rizk. However, when conditions on Rizk became rough and hard, the Most High had to ask Shaitan to move off the planet or to a smaller part of it. Shaitan refused and instead set off major bomb, an atomic explosion like an H-bomb, which destroyed the Riziquian layer. The Riziquian scientists were able to repair the layer with gold, but there wasn’t enough gold on Rizk, so they sent out the movable throne ship Nibiru to mine the gold on the Earth, where there were ample supplies. Colonies were established on the Earth and transportation centers were set up on the Earth’s moon and on Mars. Human beings in the form of Homo erectus already inhabited the planet. Two Riziquians (Niburians -– since they were from the movable throne ship Nibiru) Nergal and Ninti67 spliced the genes of Homo erectus with their Riziquian genes and preoduced Homo sapiens. The Riziquians thought that as angels they shouldn’t have to work mining gold in caves, so they created a primitive being in their likeness to do it. Sitchin portrays the Annunaki (Niburians) as disagreeable or shaytanic, which is why he gets the story wrong. The Annunaki (Riziquians, Niburians) guarded over their creation, Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens originally had psychic abilities -– clairvoyance, intuition, psychometry and telepathy -– but after man’s early wars and fratricide (Cain and Abel), the Annunaki decided that humans were no longer worthy of using our higher senses until we had evolved, so they removed the barthery gland responsible for these higher senses from the hippocampus area of our brains. Yakub, who created one of the four branches of the Caucasian race, was born with two brains. The other branches of the Caucasian race were the Amorites who were descended from Canaan, the Fulgurites, and the Albarians who came from another planet. The two brains endowed Yakub with the genius to perform major scientific gene-splicing experiments with pigs, dogs and other animals in the Hollow regions of the earth in order to create the pale man. But shortly after he was done with his experiments, one of his brains exploded and he died.
Right Knowledge as Mythology/ Mythology as Right Knowledge
The above narrative extracted from booklets and interviews represents just the tip of the iceberg of the continuing narratives of ancient ancestral astronauts and extraterrestrial holy wars that constitute Right Knowledge, the theology/mythology issued from Malachi York, Yunuuwn, the brother from the planet Rizq. This theology and esoteric history is compiled in a nearly 1,700-page book of “scripture” called The Holy Tablets. The Tablets contain (1) seemingly endless sagas, written in faux biblical style, about mythical events such as Shaytan in reptilian form being defeated and bound on the planet Titan by Murdock/Melchisidek, (2) seemingly endless faux genealogies of the heroes and villains in these cosmological sagas, (3) full-page illustrated likenesses of these heroes and villains interspersed throughout the text, (4) opening pages as in a family bible for recording marriages, births, deaths, special events, and (5) constant testimony that Malachi York, e.g., Murdock, Melchisidek, Yunuuwn is “the awaited one.”
A critique of Right Knowledge as a messianic belief system or an ideology with adherents is not in the purview of this essay. There are thousands of people outside of the Nuwaubian movement who are not necessarily believers in the messianic mission of Malachi York, yet who have nevertheless embraced Right Knowledge as a mythology. It is a mythology-in-the-making that is gaining ground with the mythology of the NOI/NGE. In many ways these rival mythologies intermesh with and incorporate one another, as in the case of the Nuwaubians’ embellishment that Yakub was a “big headed” scientist because his cranium contained two brains. The various myths of a given small-scale society thus form, as Edmund Leach puts it, “a corpus. They lock in together to form a single theological-cosmological-[juridical] whole. Stories from one part of the corpus presuppose a knowledge of stories from other parts. There is implicit cross-reference from one part to another.”68
The term “Right Knowledge” implies that the system of Eurocentric cultural hegemony has provided the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed with wrong knowledge -– misinformation and disinformation which has been disseminated deliberately in order to delude the masses and perpetuate their oppression. There is no revolutionary movement; the legacy of inner city struggle of the ‘60s was buried by interminable battles between nationalists and Marxists over the salience of race versus class and the unresolved question “Which Way Forward?” In the absence of a revolutionary movement, mythology will continue to thrive. Hence some will contend that urban mythology is the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering, the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions, the opium of the people.
Others will see that the mythology of the NOI, NGE and Nuwaubians -– the urban mythology which has spread across the inner cities of America from coast to coast -– is indeed right knowledge and right wisdom, which leads to right understanding. Certainly it is a counter-hegemonic discourse which offers a trenchant social criticism of racial oppression, in language so simple that even a child can understand. It describes the rudiments of the system which we live under. As expressed by the Nuwaubians under the aegis of the AnsaruAllah Community, black people are under the “spell of Leviathan.” The word refers to both a biblical monstrous sea-serpent and a Hobbesian social contract — which black people didn’t sign onto — granting rule to a sovereign race and class. We’re inside “the belly of the beast” is the way the Panthers expressed it.
Urban mythology breaks the spell of Leviathan, empowering the oppressed by deconstructing the dominant ideology, the ruling ideas that have been spread by the ruling class. Psychologically it empowers the people by undermining the status and legitimacy of the oppressor and elevating the status of the downtrodden. Those who argue that these myths, rather than being examples of right knowledge, are simply false consciousness, have misunderstood the nature of myth: “As we explore the world of myth, we should remember that we are journeying not through a world of falsehood but through a marvelous world of metaphor.”69 The psychologist Carl Jung, in expounding on the fact that mythology is an expression in symbols and images of the most basic level of the human psyche, wrote:
It is possible to live the fullest life only when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them. It is a question of neither belief nor knowledge, but of the agreement of our thinking with the primordial images of the unconscious.70
This explains why the telling of the stories elicits expressions of glee and why the listener will invariably heartily give the narrator a pound (slap him five) for “blessing” him with the wisdom. The stories resonate regardless of the listener’s level of education – though, of course, their impact may be impeded by cultural indoctrination.
The title of this volume is Socialism and Social Critique in Science Fiction. Urban mythology, with its attendant science fiction motifs, is the people’s social critique. Although individual geniuses, individual literary mythmakers, and priests, such as W.D. Farrad, Elijah Muhammad, Clarence 13X, Jalaluddin Nuriddin, Ishmael Reed, and Dwight Malachi York, may convey these myths through literature, ultimately they are articulating the collective strivings of their people. As mythology scholar David Leeming explains:
A question that inevitably arises in connection with mythology is that of authorship. Who wrote the myths or, more accurately who told them? Almost invariably the answer must be the people themselves. The myth, like its close relative the fairy tale, has its origins in the collective “folk” mind. Perhaps it was the individual priests or shamans who gave some specific form to the “primitive” speculations, concerning the reason for spring, the origin of earth, and the nature of death; but the essential similarities within those various forms, irrespective of chronology and geography indicate a collective authorship, the human mind wrestling en masse with mysteries, attempting to make the earth conscious of itself.71
Urban mythology is the mythology of the wretched of the earth -– the wretched of the inner cities. It is their scathing social critique of the existing political and economic arrangements. Outsiders (i.e., those who have never felt the weight of oppression) who find the urban mythology absurd or humorous, juvenile or irrelevant, should heed Leeming’s words: “Myths are not to be regarded lightly… They are sometimes funny, occasionally bizarre, but they must always be taken seriously.”72
1. The sociological terms “alternative religious movements” or “new religious movements” are preferable to the older sociological term “cult” because of the pejorative connotations associated with the colloquial use of the word.
2. See Yusuf Nuruddin, “The Five Percenters: A Teenage Nation of Gods and Earths,” in Yvonne Haddad and Jane Idleman Smith, eds., Muslim Communities in North America (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994), pp. 109-132. The NGE is a splinter group which broke off from the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1964 under the leadership of Clarence 13X. The organization is youth–oriented with a huge appeal to adolescents and young adults, though there are many older members as well. The national headquarters is “The Allah School in Mecca” located in Harlem. The NGE is widely responsible for disseminating the “Lessons” (catechism Q&A) or doctrine of the NOI, but reinterpreting that doctrine in a very unique fashion. The males of the NGE refer to themselves as “Gods” and the females are designated as “Earths” (comparable to designations in other cultures such as Father Sky and Mother Earth, or God the Father, etc.). The NGE are also known as Five Percenters, in line with their belief that 85% of the people are enslaved and deceived, 10% are the slave-makers and deceivers, and 5% are the poor righteous teachers who teach “the Truth that the Black Man is God” and teach “Freedom, Justice and Equality to all the human family of the planet Earth”.
3. The Nuwaubian Moors are discussed at length later in this article.
4. See Hisham Aidi, “‘Verily There Is Only One Hip Hop Ummah’: Islam, Cultural Protest and Urban Marginality,” in Socialism and Democracy 36: Hip Hop, Race, and Cultural Politics (July-December 2004), pp. 107-126.
5. “Urban Legends,” Wikipedia (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_legend) 15 June 2006. The most prominent rumor is the false yet oft-repeated tale that pet baby alligators — flushed down the toilet by disinterested owners — have survived, grown to full adult size and now live and breed in the city sewer systems.
6. For example some Five Percenters call their narratives myths and state that “A myth is not the truth but it is a way to get at the truth.”
7. The Yoruba and other West African deities, however, have a life of their own throughout the Black Atlantic World (Africa and the African Diaspora) where Traditional African Religions or African-derived religions, e.g., Voudoun, Shango, Macumba, Candomble, are practiced.
8. William Doty, Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994), p. 10.
9. Ibid. p. 11.
10. Ibid., p. 25.
11. The Nuwaubian Moors were established originally under the name Ansar Pure Sufi in 1967; the group reached sizeable proportions in 1969/70 under the name Nubian Islaamic Hebrews; it achieved high visibility under the name Ansaru Allah Nubian Islaamic Hebrew Community in 1972.
12. Ibid, p. 29f.
13. Alexei and Cory Panshin, The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence (Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1989), p. 3. The word “jinn,” which appears frequently in this article, is of Arabic origin and has been transliterated variously as djinn, jinn, jinni or genie the latter being more familiar to Westerners through the tale of Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, and as a root derivation of the English word “genius” (one who is inspired by jinn or muses). The plural form is usually jinn and less frequently jinns. In the Qur’an, jinn are described as beings made of “smokeless fire” and are considered to be spiritual entities. Jinn can be good or evil, though Iblis or Shaytan (Satan) is considered to be a jinn (as opposed to a “fallen angel”) and the ruler of all evil jinn. Some of the gods of the polytheists, who take “possession” of their hosts, such as the orishas worshipped by the Yoruba, are considered to be jinn in the eyes of Muslims. Finally the word has taken on a very eccentric meaning among some, but by no means all, African American orthodox Muslims who either euphemistically or literally refer to the white race as “the jinn.”
14. Ibid., p. 3.
15. Ibid., p. 4.
16. John Clute and Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995), “Genre SF,” p. 483.
17. Ibid, “Space Opera,” pp. 1138-1140.
18. Ibid, “Adam and Eve,” p. 4 and “Space Opera,” p. 1138.
19. Ibid, “UFOs,” p. 1254.
20. Eric S. Rabkin, “Science Fiction and the Future of Criticism,” Scienece Fiction and Literary Studies (PMLA, Vol. 119 No. 3, May 2004), p. 459.
21. Robert Todd Carroll, The Skeptic’s Dictionary, “Zecharia Sitchin and The Earth Chronicles” (www.skepdic.com/sitchin.html) 2000 (updated April 26, 2001).
22. Material on Zecharia Sitchin has been synthesized and paraphrased from the following sources: www.sitchin.com; www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zecharia_Sitchin; www.crystalinks.com/sitchin.html; Robert Todd Carroll (n. 21); Jason Colavito, “Zecharia Sitchin’s World” (www.colavito.tripod.com/lostcivilizations/id14html); Robert Hafernick, “Sitchin’s Twelth Planet” (www.skeptic.com/essays/sitchin.htm); “Popular Experts: Zechariah Sitchin,” World Mysteries, (www.world-mysteries.com/pex_2.htm).
23. Robert Todd Carroll, The Skeptic’s Dictionary (n. 21).
24. John Clute and Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995): “Arabic SF,” p. 49.
26. Ibid., and “Mahmud, Mustafa,” p.768.
27. Rashad Khalifa, an Egyptian immigrant and U.S. citizen, with a doctorate in biochemistry, computer analyzed the frequency of letters and words in the Qur’an for several years and in 1974 claimed discovery of an intricate matematical pattern involving the number 19 throughought the text of the Qur’an as mentioned in verse 74:32. Based on his numerical theories and other beliefs such as the rejection of hadith, he started a sect, the United Submitters International , which was considered heretical. He was assassinated in 1990. See “Rashad Khalifa,” Wikipedia (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashad_Khalifa) and “Welcome to Submission” (www.submission.info/quran/appendices/appendix1.html).
28. The information in this section on Islam and science fiction literature is summarized from the following website: von Aurum’s Islam in Sci Fi (www.cs.rit.edu/~maa2454/SCIFI/sci_lit.php).
29. Jalaluddin Nuriddin, Beyonder, from The Last Poets Delights of the Garden LP (Douglas Records, 1977), liner notes.
31. Alondra Nelson, “Future Texts,” Social Text, Vol. 20 No. 2, June 2002, p. 9. Nelson is paraphrasing Mark Dery.
32. Erik Davis, quoted in Mark Dery, Black to the Future: Afro-Futurism 1.0 (www.detritus.net/contact/rumori/200211/0319.html).
33. Mark Dery, ibid.
34. “Future Texts,” p. 7.
35. Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (Garden City, NY: Double Day & Co., 1972), p. 35.
36. Ibid., p. 34.
37. See Yusuf Nuruddin, “African American Muslims and the Question of Identity: Between Traditional Islam, African Heritage and the American Way” in Yvonne Haddad and John Esposito, eds., Muslims on the Americanization Path? (Athens, GA: Scholar’s Press, 1998), pp. 267-330, esp. pp. 281ff.
38. Reed, Mumbo Jumbo, pp. 33, 36-38.
39. John Huntington, Rationalizing Genius: Ideological Strategies in the Classic American Science Fiction Short Story (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989), p. 45.
40. Claude Andrew Clegg III, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997), p. 49.
41. Ibid., p. 50.
42. Mark Dery considers both NOI beliefs and Rastafarianism as examples of Afrofuturism (the term which he coined). In Black to the Future: Afrofuturism 101 he writes: “The Rastafarian cosmology, like the Nation of Islam’s, with its genetically engineered white devils and its apocalyptic vision of Elijah Muhammad returning on a celestial mothership, is a syncretic crossweave of black nationalism, African and American religious beliefs, and plot devices worthy of a late-night rocket opera.”
43. According to the narrative, Yakub’s grafted devils are later exiled into the caves of Europe where they went savage for two millennia before being rescued and rehabilitated for their mission to dominate the earth.
44. See Ivan van Sertima, They came before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America (New York: Random House, 2003).
45. See Nuruddin, “African American Muslims and the Question of Identity” (n. 37), p. 277f. Several credible witnesses attest to the fact that photographs exist showing Farrad Muhammad (W.D. Farrad) and Elijah Muhammad, the founders of the NOI, in attendance at Moorish Science meetings led by Noble Drew Ali.
46. C. Scott Littleton, ed., Mythology: The Illustrated Anthology of World Myth and Storytelling (London: Duncan Baird Publishers, 2002), p. 12. There is no single generally accepted account among the Greeks either. Hesiod’s Theogony (8th century B.C.) is one of the earliest accounts. According to Hesiod, the universe evolved out of an enormous shapeless darkness known as Chaos. The goddess Nyx (Night) was the first of the offspring of Chaos to give birth to other elements. According to one Orphic tradition, however, uncreated Nyx (“Night”) existed first and was regarded as a great black-winged bird hovering over a vast darkness “without form and void” Though unmated, she laid and egg whence golden-winged eros (“Love”) flew forth, while from the two parts of the shell Ouranos and Gaia (“Heaven and Earth”) were created. And these brought into the world Okeanos (“Ocean”) and Tethys (“Nurse”). These in turn begat Kronos, Rhea, Phorkys and the other Titans; and … Kronos and Rhea … begat Zeus and Hera. According another Orphic tradition, it was Chronos (Time) who constructed the cosmic egg from which was born Phanes (who took on many forms, including that of Eros). In this version Nyx was the daughter and consort of Phanes-Eros and all creation resulted from their union. See, in addition to Littleton, William Sherwood Fox, Greek and Roman Mythology (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1928).
47. Clegg, Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, p. 42.
48. Excerpts from Supreme Wisdom: “The Teaching of the Mind and Its Creations.” Reprinted in Insight: A Digest of the Nation of Gods and Earths (March and June 1995). Supreme Wisdom is a publication of the Nation of Islam.
50. This dome-casing shell which also protects the universe is similar to the dome in the shape of a gourd or half-calabash which protects the universe according to the mythology of the Fon people of Dahomey.
51. Littleton, Mythology, p. 12.
52. It should be noted that Ptah is associated with authoritative speech; he created with his heart (which the Egyptians believed to be the seat of the intellect) and his tongue.In Christianity there is a similar concept of authoritative speech or Logos as the Son is the “Word” of the ever-co-existent Persons of the Trinity (though the Biblical text also uses the language of sexual creation; i.e., “only begotten Son”). In orthodox Islam, authoritative speech is also evident, as Allah is described in the Qur’an as creating simply by uttering the command “Be”: “He merely says ‘Be’ and it is.”
53. Matter particles of unknown composition, which do not emit or reflect enough light to be detected directly, but whose presence may be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter such as anomolies in the rotational speed of galaxies.
54. Energy whose composition is unknown, which accounts for approximately 70% of the total density of the current universe and which “causes the ezpansion of the universe to deviate from a linear velocity-distance relationship, observed as a faster than expected expansion at very large distances.”
55. “Dark Matter,” Wikipedia,(www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark _matter), quoting David Cline, from a 2003 article in Scientific American.
56. Clegg, Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, p. 42.
57. Symbolized by the goddess who bore a scepter in one hand, an ankh (“crux ansata”) or sign of life in the other, and wore a feather in her hair. The judgment of the dead was rendered by this feather which was placed on a scale to weigh the heart of the deceased, to see if it was light as a feather and worthy of paradise, or heavily burdened with sin.
58. The NOI, for all their bold proclamations of blackness, exhibited certain aspects of internalized racism in their doctrine. There was a level of psychic discomfort with, or even hatred for, Africa and African ancestry because of all the Western pejorative stereotypes of the continent and its peoples. Hence the Lessons of the NOI speak of the Asiatic Black Man rather than the African Black Man, and African hair texture and facial features were denigrated.
59. Some of the many identities and faces include; Ansar Pure Sufi, Nubian Islamic Hebrews, Ansaru Allah Community of Nubian Islamic Hebrews, Sons of the Green Light, United Muslims in Exile, Nubian Village, Holy Tabernacle of the Most High, Holy Tabernacle Ministries, Shoshoni Tribe, Right Knowledge, The Ancient Egyptian Order, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors and the Yamassee Native American Moors of the Creek Nation.
60. Ansaru Allah is transliterated Arabic for Helpers of Allah. Nubian refers to the black Nilotic empire to the south of Egypt, the first empire in recorded human history. The community traced its roots and its leader’s (concocted) genealogy to the Sudan (present-day Nubia), specifically to the Sudanese Mahdi movement led by Muhammad Ahmad against the British in the 19th century. Islaamic with the double “a” was the group’s unique transliteration. Competing with Black Hebrew Israelites, the group identified itself as representing the true legacy of the Hebrews; they used the crescent with the six-pointed Star of David as their symbol, observed the Sabbath and read the earlier scripture Torah in addition to the Last Testament, the Qur’an.
61. The NOI/NGE Lessons state that trouble-makers were stripped of all their belongings, “everything except their language,” run out of Mecca and forced to march across the hot Arabian desert 2200 miles to the caves of Europe, walking every step of the way. Upon arrival the evil-doers were bound by ropes in the caves like prisoners, to insure that they would not escape.
62. Nuruddin, “African American Muslims and the Question of Identity” (n. 37) p.305f, n. 17
63. The descendants of Ham or Hamites are generally believed to be black and the curse of Ham is cited by white supremacists as a justification for enslaving blacks, since Ham’s son Canaan was cursed to be a “servant of servants.” White Southern folklore speculates that Ham was guilty of performing fellatio on his drunk and naked father, Noah, who cursed him with big lips (a punishment to fit the crime) and blackness. The Ansar doctrine “flips the script.”
64. The context of the verses in this chapter of the Qur’an was a set of questions put to the Prophet Muhaammad by Christians and Jews in Mecca who wished to test his knowledge about esoteric or hidden Christian and Jewish traditions.
65. Dwight York has had many aliases during his community’s transformations: Al Imam Isa Al Haadi Al Mahdi, Rabboni Y’shua bar el Hadi, Dr. York, Malachi York, Nayya Malachizodoq-El, Amunnubi Rooakhptah, and Maacu Chief Black Eagle Thunderbird. He is now serving 137 years behind bars for child molestation, a charge which his believers adamantly believe was concocted by the government to destroy the group. Defectors from the movement believe otherwise.
66. Interviews conducted in Toledo in September 2004 and January 2005. Names are confidential.
67. Sitchin says Ninhersag and Enki were the gene-splicers. Perhaps this is what the interviewee meant to say, or perhaps the tape transcriber mis-heard.
68. Gregory Nagy, “Can Myth Be Saved?” in Gregory Schremmp and William Hansen, eds., Myth; A New Symposium (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), p. 244.
69. David Adams Leeming, The Worlds of Myth (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 8.
70. Carl Gustav Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1947), p. 129.
71. Leeming, The Worlds of Myth, p. 7.
72. Ibid., p. 5.