Religion and law, from nearly the beginning of United States’ history, have had a complex relationship as various faith traditions have pursued state acknowledgement in support of their practices and ideals. A nuanced examination of this relationship is found in Spencer Dew’s book The Aliites: Race and Law in the Religions of Noble Drew Ali.

Drawing from Islamic language and democratic theology in 1920s Chicago, Noble Drew Ali (1886–1929), sought to reinvigorate a vision of America as a promised land, regardless of one’s skin color or creed, with active American citizenship as a salvific goal. Ali offered a re-categorization of the racial ontology of “blackness” adopting “Moorish” as a means of establishing a nationalistic identity in order to transcend racial limitations. Although loosely connected, three main communities have continued from Ali’s teachings: the Moorish Science Temple of America, the Washitaw, and the Nuwaubian Yamasee.

Alongside of a reforming of...

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