The Moorish Science Temple of America is an American national and religious organization founded by Noble Drew Ali, born Timothy Drew. He based it on the belief that African Americans were descended from the Moors of North West Africa and thus were Moorish by nationality and Islamic by faith. Ali put together elements of major traditions to develop a message of personal transformation through historical education, racial pride and spiritual upliftment. His doctrine was also intended to provide African Americans with a sense of identity in the world and to promote civic involvement.
One primary tenet of the Moorish Science Temple is the belief that African Americans are of Moorish ancestry, specifically from “Moroccan Empire.” According to Ali, this area included other countries that today surround Morocco. To join the movement, individuals had to proclaim their “Moorish nationality.” They were given “nationality cards.” In religious texts, adherents refer to themselves racially as “Asiatics,” as the Middle East is also western Asia. Adherents of this movement are known as Moorish-American Moslems and are called “Moorish Scientists” in some circles.
The Moorish Science Temple of America was incorporated under the Illinois Religious Corporation Act 805 ILCS 110. Timothy Drew, known to its members as Prophet Noble Drew Ali, founded the Moorish Science Temple of America in 1913 in Newark, New Jersey, a booming industrial city. After some difficulties, Ali moved to Chicago, establishing a center there, as well as temples in other major cities. The movement expanded rapidly during the late 1920s. The quick expansion of the Moorish Science Temple arose in large part from the search for identity and context among black Americans at the time of the Great Migration to northern and midwestern cities, as they were becoming an urbanized people.
Competing factions developed among the congregations and leaders, especially after the death of the charismatic Ali. Three independent organizations developed from this ferment. The founding of the Nation of Islam by Wallace Fard Muhammad also created competition for members. In the 1930s membership was estimated at 30,000, with one third in Chicago. During the postwar years, the Moorish Science Temple of America continued to increase in membership, albeit at a slower rate.