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Tuesday, 30 June, 1998, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
Nation Of Islam - who are they?
Members of the Nation of Islam arrive at the Stephen Lawrence inquiry
No smoking, drinking or gambling for Nation of Islam members
When smartly dressed men in suits, sporting red bow-ties, strode across television screens during coverage of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry on Monday, it was probably the first time many people in the UK had seen members of the Nation of Islam.

An import over the last decade from the USA, the Nation of Islam is an organisation preaching self-reliance for black people within an Islamic framework and has been praised for its work in inner city areas. It has attracted the famous, such as Mohammed Ali. Others, like Malcolm X in the 60's, and the present day leader Louis Farrakhan, have become household names.

Louis Farrakhan addresses the Million Man March
Louis Farrakhan - denies he praised Hitler
Louis Farrakhan is possibly the most powerful, black political figure in the USA today thanks to the success of his "Million Man March", a gathering of black Americans in Washington DC, in October 1995, which has been compared to Martin Luther King's famous march on the capital 32 years earlier.

But the NOI also has a history full of controversy.

No racial mixing

Their doctrine includes claims for a separate nation state for black Americans, reasoning that history shows they "cannot get along" with white neighbours; intermarriage between races is prohibited.

In a 1984 radio interview, Louis Farrakhan responded to accusations that he was a new "black Hitler" by saying that he saw Hitler as a "very great man". The NOI insists the word "great" was used in the sense of a man of historical importance but Mr Farrakhan's reputation was severely damaged by what at best seems to have been a political misjudgement in using the phrase.

NOI comes to UK

In 1986, fears over his ability to invoke anger amongst opponents, particularly the Jewish community, led to a ban being imposed on entry to the UK ahead of a proposed visit.

That exclusion order remains in place but, ironically, the NOI claim that it was this action that first raised awareness of their group in the UK's black community.

Over the last decade the NOI has become an established, though small political force among the black community in London - on the street, newspaper sellers promote their activities through "The Sign of the Times" publication.

The NOI says it has high profile supporters. While mainstream black leaders acknowledge the NOI's effectiveness in attracting mainly disaffected youth and say a dialogue is necessary, a prominent black Labour MP in the UK, Bernie Grant, expressed surprise at claims that he supported NOI causes. "It is the first I have heard of it", he said.

The size of the movement is difficult to judge and they rarely speak to the media but they do claim to have so-called "study groups" in Shepherds Bush, Hackney, Brixton and Tottenham.

In early 1997 the first NOI mosque in Europe was ordained in Hackney, in London's east end, administering study groups in Paris, Switzerland and Birmingham.

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