In the 40’s-60’s many African American Jazz musicians mistakenly converted to Ahmadiyya. Some of their names are Yusuf Lateef, Ahmad Jamaal, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner, Ahmed Abdul, Malik Idrees Sulieman, Talib Dawud, Dakota Staton and Abbey Lincoln. Back then, joining Ahmadiyya became a cool thing to do, these people never did research.

Art Blakey

Born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1919 hard bop drummer Art Blakey played drums behind Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis and Bud Powell, among other giants of jazz. While on a visit to West Africa (where Ahmadi Islam was quite strong), Blakey converted to Islam. “I went over there to see what I could do about religion,” he once said. “When I was growing up I had no choice, I was just thrown into a church and told this is what I was going to be. I didn’t want to be their Christian. I didn’t like it. You could study politics in this country, but I didn’t have access to the religions of the world. That’s why I went to Africa. When I got back people got the idea I went there to learn about music.”

Though he changed his name to Abdullah Ibn Buhaina, he continued to perform and record as Art Blakey, though friends called him “Bu”. In 1947, Blakey formed an all-Muslim band called the Seventeen Messengers.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad’s Blues

A very groovy live recording from one of jazz music’s enduring maestros. Like Blakey, Jamal was born in Pittsburgh and converted to Islam by way of other musicians who found, in Jamal’s words, “brought me peace of mind” in navigating the painful racist world of Jim Crow America. Jamal continues to play around the world, including a visit to Bangalore earlier this year.

I have often wondered whether Ahmad Jamaal’s version of Nature Boywas his tribute to HMGA. If it was, he never openly stated that. You can hear the lyrics in that jazz version of Nature Boy at the link I provided, but here they are:

There was a boy, a very strange enchanting boy.
They say he wandered very far, very far over land and sea.
A little shy, and sad of eyes, but very wise was he.
And then one day, one magic day he passed my way.
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings, this he said to me:
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.

I have often thought that the second line about Nature Boy “wandering” over land and see referred, in Jamaal’s mind, to HMGA’s teachings being spread “over land and sea.” The words “There was a boy” may have referred to HMGA’s name, Ghulam, which means boy or little boy. I think it also means slave, servant, etc., as I recall. The words, “sad of eyes” in the song always reminded me of this picture. “Just to love and beloved in return” is probably what Jamal felt after he became Ahmadi.

Back in the day, Islam was really a refuge for Black folks. And, at one time, Ahmadiyyat was the only Islam around in America. Blacks were rejected in American society. So the lines, “just to love and be loved in return” would have meant a lot to Jamal, as, I am sure, he felt love in the Jamaat and perhaps saw that line in Nature Boy as being reflective of the love he felt amongst Ahmadis.

Islam offered Black folks a sense of being connected to the wider world, not just despised “niggers” in white society. So, though there’s no way I can prove it, I feel very confident that Jamal created his jazz version of Nature Boy in tribute to HMGA. He was an artist; a musician. Artists often express themselves through their art, whether it’s painting, music, sculpture, etc.

Jamaal didn’t create those lyrics. He just did his own jazz version of Nature Boy. Nat King Cole, long before Jamaal, did a version of Nature Boy. But I still think that Jamal had HMGA in mind when he did his version. By the time I heard that he’d come back to The Movement, I had discontinued activity and discontinued going to Jalsa. The classism [CASTE-ISM, quite frankly] at Jalsa began to be overbearing, and, for me, that just destroyed the spirit of Jalsa.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________Ahmed Abdul Malik
Rooh (The Soul)

Though Malik claimed his origins were in Sudan most scholars suggest otherwise: his family were immigrants to New York from the Caribbean. Converting to Ahmaddiya Islam early in his life, he played bass for Monk, Randy Weston and others as well as branching out into north African music. He mastered the oud (Arabic lute) and made several albums that were either influenced by Islamic music or straight-ahead interpretations of Afro-Islamic music.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________McCoy Tyner
Inner Glimpse

Tyner adopted the name Sulaiman Saud at the age of 17 when he converted to Ahmaddiya Islam. A pianist from Philadelphia, he earned his chops playing with Coltrane before launching an influential and much acclaimed solo career. Tyner, like several other jazz men who adopted Islam, including Blakey, kept their personal life separate from their professional one. But in pieces such as this, Inner Glimpse, the spiritual dimension breaks through.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________Yusuf Lateef

Yusuf Lateef’s passing earlier this year was greeted by great sadness and high praise for one of the giants of modern jazz. A woodwind specialist who played flute, sax, oboe and bassoon as well as several eastern wind instruments including, on this track, the shenai. A lifelong adherent to Ahmaddiya Islam, he complemented his jazz composing and performing with musical and spiritual instruction, keeping alive the flame of this supposedly heretical stream of Islam burning in a younger generation.

Links and Related Essay’s

Islam and American Jazz

Muslims and Jazz in 1953

Yusef Lateef: A Jazz Legend and an Ahmadi Muslim


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