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Tuesday, 31 July, 2001, 10:23 GMT 11:23 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
Smart suits with red bow ties and religious zeal are the immediately recognisable features of members of the Nation of Islam.

The organisation's profile in the UK hit television screens two years ago as members paraded at the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

An import from the USA in the 1990s, 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.

Louis Farrakhan addresses the Million Man March
Louis Farrakhan has called for racial harmony
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 is possibly the most powerful, black political figure in the USA today thanks to the success of his "Million Man March".

The 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.

Racial harmony

But the NOI also has a history full of controversy.

Their doctrine has included 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".

Family march last year
The Million Family March was more diverse
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.

More recently his approach has softened. During a Million Family March in October 2000, Mr Farrakhan called for racial harmony.

Unlike the 1995 march exclusively for African-American men, the family march invited people from more diverse backgrounds.

NOI in the UK

He told the crowds God would be displeased by the deaths of both Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.

His supporters say the present message he wished to bring to the UK to discuss with followers and potential members in the black community concerned "self reliance, dignity and discipline".

But the NOI leader's previous comments had sparked fears over his ability to invoke anger amongst opponents, particularly the Jewish community, leading to a ban being imposed on entry to the UK in 1986.

Ironically, the NOI claim this action 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.

Study groups

The size of the movement is difficult to judge and they rarely speak to the media but they do claim to have "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.

NOI also runs the private school, Star Chamber Academy in Hammersmith, West London.

A 1998 attempt to recreate the Million Man March with a gathering of 10,000 black men in London fell well short of the target, with only 2,000 turning up.

See also:

31 Jul 01 | UK
Farrakhan UK ban overturned
27 Feb 00 | Americas
Farrakhan bid for Islamic unity
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