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Hip-Hop News: The Five-Percent'ers: Religion or Gang
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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
12/22/2003 8:37:41 AM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Wu-Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes and Method Man.

LAUDED BY HIP-HOP ARTISTS from Busta Rhymes to the Wu-Tang Clan, linked to drug dealers and prison gangs, The Nation of Gods and Earths -- or, as they are popularly known, the Five Percenters -- have inspired controversy for almost 40 years. But this past summer, the group received a powerful endorsement from an unexpected corner. On July 31, the Federal District Court in New York ruled that Intelligent Tarref Allah, a 27-year-old convicted murderer currently serving 19 years to life, had been denied his First Amendment right of religious freedom, and is entitled to practice his Five Percent beliefs in prison.

Immediately deemed the "5% Fraud" by The New York Post, Allah's case is the latest installment in the ongoing tug-of-war between the predominantly black Five Percenters, prison officials, and the court system. In the 1980s the group was said to be associated with a drug ring in Queens, N.Y., and in the mid-'90s South Carolina prison officials reprimanded more than 300 inmates for refusing to renounce their Five Percent status. Last year, a New Jersey state court upheld the legitimacy of disciplinary actions taken by prison officials who had broken up an orderly meeting of inmate members.

These events are difficult to square with the self-avowed objective of the Nation of Gods and Earths: peace. For decades, the elusive group has left a bewildering combination of high-minded mysticism and street-level thuggery in its wake. One might expect no less of a movement whose members claim to be divine.

Sometime in the 1950s, Clarence Smith, an African-American originally from Danville, Va., returned to Harlem from fighting in the Korean War. He found that his wife, Dora, had joined the North American Lost-Found Nation of Islam -- that is, the Black Muslims.

Led by Elijah Muhammad, the Black Muslims centered their theology around the teachings of a mysterious, light-skinned man of purported Middle Eastern extraction who, posing as a silk peddler in Detroit in the early 1930s, had taught Muhammad and a chosen few others the true religion of the black man. Wallace D. Fard (he had many aliases, as his FBI file attests) revealed to Elijah Muhammad that he was in fact God incarnate, and bestowed upon him an array of occult, pseudo-Islamic teachings that held whites to be a man-made race of devils who bore no remnant of Allah's touch.

The Nation of Islam's black supremacist attitude, while off-putting to many, imbued the organization with an almost militant commitment to black self-sufficiency. It successfully rehabilitated hundreds of prisoners and street hustlers from a life of crime and drugs, most famously Malcolm X, who in 1954 became Minister of Harlem's Temple Seven.

Around this time, Clarence Smith became Clarence 13X and rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Nation of Islam's military training unit, the Fruit of Islam. Aside from his formidable physical skills (he supposedly learned karate while overseas), Clarence 13X had a hypnotic speaking style that quickly enabled him to become the student minister of Temple Seven.

But the Nation of Islam soon entered a period of turmoil during which Malcolm X was suspended and rumors of Muhammad's extramarital dalliances began to spread. Clarence 13X's own teachings began to stray from doctrine, and he and the Nation parted ways in 1963. Less than a year later, Clarence 13X reemerged and began teaching a revised Black Muslim theology.

"Allah," as Clarence 13X now called himself, reinterpreted the Nation of Islam's set of Lost-Found Lessons, a catechism that resulted from Fard's purported conversations with Elijah Muhammad. These Lessons, which every Black Muslim had to memorize, asserted that 85 percent of humanity is mentally dead and ignorantly destroys itself through vice and immorality, while another 10 percent possess the truth but oppress the first 85 percent by convincing them to believe i

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