The Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE) is a religion that was started in 1964 which borrows ideas from traditional Islam. The NGE is also known as the Five Percent Nation of Islam, which refers to the NGE’s explanation that 5% of black people are chosen ‘Gods’ of the world and Islam is the black man’s natural culture (but not religion):
The 5%, who are the enlightened divine beings, the poor righteous teachers, having repossessed knowledge of the truth regarding the foundations of life and of oneself, and seek to liberate the 85% through education. (Wiki)
The Conflict with Traditional Islam.
In traditional Islam it is the worst form of blasphemy to liken any thing or being to God – so the teachings of the Five Percent Nation are viewed as condemnable heresy. Five Percenter men refer to eachother as ‘Gods’ and women are called ‘Earths.’ This concept is explained by the above passage that states that 5% of black men are “enlightened and divine beings,” but is made convoluted by turning the Arabic name of God, ‘Allah,’ into a simple acronym…according to the Five Percent Nation’s official website:
[...] the blackman is god and his proper name is ALLAH. Arm,Leg, Leg, Arm, Head.
The Five Percent Nation’s logo further distorts the link to traditional, monotheistic Islam, by stating ‘In the Name of Allah.’ The Arabic translation of this statement, “bismillah,” is probably the most frequently recited phrase in Muslim worship, and it carries intense intrinsic value. That said, the term ‘Five Percent Nation of Islam’ is a paradox in itself.
Appeal to Urban Blacks.
The religion is popular among urban black youth, and serves as a positive influence that distracts otherwise trouble-bound youth from illegal activities, providing a structured purpose to live. As Gods, they are required to treat their bodies with utmost respect, eliminating any contamination that comes from drug use; furthermore, it is their duty to educate the less-aware and nurture the people of their community…thus reducing the ‘black on black’ crime phenomenon. In the United States 94% of black homicide victims are killed by blacks each year (US-DOJ).
Accessibility to the Five Percent Nation is increased with the popularity of the religion amongst popular urban musicians like Ghostface Killah (disputed), Erykah Badu, Nas, Rakim, and Busta Rhymes (disputed, see update below). This allows most followers, who come from disenfranchised communities, to relate their beliefs to success…a success that is unapologetic and embraces a progressive urban black culture, rather than rejecting it.
Negative Perceptions of the Five Percent Nation (NGE).
While the Five Percent Nation emphasizes the importance of education and self-awareness, it can also be seen as a negative force that discourages equality amongst the diverse communities of the world…the Mentor Youth Street Academy website claims that “We [Five Percenters] do not believe in race mixing”. This alienation from the larger global community prevents the Five Percent Nation from expanding its reach beyond urban communities where the black race is of majority; thus, preserving the perception that the Five Percent Nation is a cult of the Nation of Islam (which itself is regarded as a cult of traditional Islam).
Positive Perceptions of the Five Percent Nation (NGE).
But, the other side of the coin allows a totally different, and positive, interpretation of the religion’s notion of extreme self-awareness exclusive to black peoples. What better way to motivate someone to change their life and improve their surroundings than to provide them with confidence. As Gods, black men realize that they have the power to change their situation for the better;and furthermore, break free of the vicious cycle of disenfranchisement that plagues the deteriorating African-American communities of the U.S. In fact…many Five Percenters encourage racial integration and strive to make a positive impact on the social condition of the world at large.
- Islam in the Mix: Lessons of the Five Percent - A great paper that addresses the presence of Five Percent culture in popular music
- Five Percenter Rap: God hop’s music, message, and black muslim mission – a fantastic, well-researched book by Felicia M. Miyakawa
- Los Indios – An interesting and insightful blog by Five Percenter, Sha-King Cehum
- Allah School in Atlantis – A Blog written by a devout Five Percenter, Saladin Allah Atlantis
- The Nation of Islam – not affiliated with the Five Percent Nation
Apparently Busta Rhymes has allegedly converted to traditional Islam – in November of 2008 I wrote that he was a Five Percenter, since this is a well-known and documented fact… I haven’t been able to confirm the new rumor. I found two sources that people are using to claim this rumor is true: An old interview with Busta Rhymes from 2007 where he talks about Islam and an article on Al Arabiya that quotes Napolean, a Muslim revert and rapper himself, as saying that Busta Rhymes is amongst the many rappers that have recently converted to Islam.
Another rapper that has definitely converted to Islam, without doubt, is Amir
Muhadith (formerly known as Loon) – check out this detailed interview with Al Jazeera.
Rappers that are definitely Muslim, and follow traditional Islam.
Mos Def, Scarface, Napolean (Mutah Beale), Freeway, Beanie Siegel, Brother Ali, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, One Be Lo, Jurassic 5, Lupe Fiasco, Q-Tip, Amir Sulaiman, Black Thought, T-Pain, Swizz Beatz, Loon (Amir Muhadith)
There are several other rappers and musicians that are rumored to be Muslim like Akon and Ghostface Killah – but I’m not listing the ones I can’t confirm.
5 Percent Nation of Islam.