Saturday, January 26, 2013

Review of "I was a Minister in the Nation of Islam" by Alexis Johnson

I Was a Minister in the Nation of IslamI Was a Minister in the Nation of Islam by Alexis Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read many books by ex-Muslims over the years, as religious conversion from Islam to Christianity is one of my main areas of academic research. But I had never happened across a book quite like this.

First, I did not realize how different and heterodox the Nation of Islam (NOI) is. The most interesting aspect of the book for me was learning about the NOI and what I found to be frankly bizarre stories about its founding figures. I would have liked some more quotations directly from NOI sources, but I always say this about conversion narratives. I want to read a well-documented, properly researched treatise, the convert wants to tell their story.

Second, the main purpose of the author in this book is clearly to warn American churches and Christians and black people against what he sees as the propaganda of the NOI and specifically Louis Farrakhan. He spends a good amount of the book explaining why, in his opinion, the NOI and Minister Farrakhan are not what they appear.

Another goal of his is to offer a salvation that is not based on race or ethnicity. The universality of the offer of salvation in Christianity is balanced by a very real awareness of injustices suffered by black and brown Americans, and the sometimes patronizing (if well-intentioned) behavior of white Christians. Thus he avoids the trope of self-victimization while also not ignoring the reality of racial injustice in the past and the present.

Strengths are the material on the founder of the NOI and the rather graphic and gritty description of his life in the drug trade before his conversion to the NOI. Weaknesses are his lack of sourcing his material (sometimes) and a rather disjointed final chapter.

People interested in the Nation of Islam, racial relations and religious conversion will find this engaging and well-crafted book of interest.

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