You may have heard the phrase In Hip Hop, “dropping knowledge” or “dropping science.” This phrase is used to describe an understanding or perspective this is our of or even beyond the ordinary. It has origins in the late 19th and 20th century Black Muslim traditions associated with the Nation of Islam, the Five Pecerent Nation, and the Moorish Science Temple of America. And it also hearkens to the increasingly significant role of the discourse “science” in modern life–even so-called non-secular life (e.g. Christian Science, Church of Christ-Scientists).
For today’s lab, we are going to be thinking about significations around the history of the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA). And rather than giving you a deep history of this group’s formation, I’d like you to take a look at three-four artifacts that we can take as emblematic of the group and its varied significations.
First, I’d like you to read this fascinating 2011 article from the New York Times. It’s called “Think You Own Your House? Check the Deed.” It’ll not only introduce you to the MSTA, but also to the contest over identity and authenticity. Pay special attention to the role of authority as you read this piece. Whose significations determine the rules of property? What texts do they draw upon? What are some of the key symbols?
Second, I’d like you to take a look at this image. What do you make of the aesthetics, especially in light of the history you’ve read about in the article above and in class.
I’d also like you to read the Chapter XXV, “A Holy Covenant of the Asiatic Nation,” from the Circle 7 Koran, a scriptural text of the MSTA.
What do you make of the prescriptions and origin myth presented here? What benefit does it bring to its readers? What assumptions does it make about Africa, America, and belonging?
I’d like you to read an FBI file on an MSTA group in Chicago from 1942.
Why do you think this group was under investigation? What thread were they to American sovereignty? And how does your understanding of the FBI and US history (pay particular attention to the date) inform your historical contextualization of this document?
Look below at the Moorish-American Nationality Cards, and read Chapter LXV, “The Divine Origin of the Asiatic Nations,” from the Circle 7 Koran.
Rasheed, Kameelah Janan. “Nationality Card.” Mapping The Spirit, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, 8 Jun. 2017, Web. 9 Nov. 2021. <https://www.mappingthespirit.com/stories/msta/nationalitycard>
What do you make of the aesthetics of this artifact? What good does this piece of paper do? How would you theorize it using what you’ve learned in this class?
Finally take a look at this video and use what you’ve learned to redescribed what you’re seeing. Draw upon the totality of your studies, especially the artifacts you’ve looked at in this lab.