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Rhode Island’s Rise of the Moors are living on an ‘imaginary island,’ says Moorish Science Temple of America

The Rhode Island group’s leaders are a mish-mash of theology and misinterpreted law, mixed up with claims of sovereignty and allegiance to a Moorish nation, chief minister says

A screenshot from video streamed by the Rise of the Moors group during the I-95 standoff.
A screenshot from video streamed by the Rise of the Moors group during the I-95 standoff.Screen capture

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — The chief minister of the Moorish Science Temple of America-1928 said he warned the leader of Rhode Island’s Rise of the Moors several years ago that his views were misguided.

Shaykh Ra Saadi El said he had reached out to the R.I. organization after seeing the website for the Rise of the Moors and lectures by its grand sheik, Jamhal Tavon Sanders Latimer, 29, who goes by Jamhal Talib Abdullah Bey.

Chief Minister Shaykh Ra Saadi El and his wife, Senior Minister Yssi Saadi El, of The Moorish Science Temple of America, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Chief Minister Shaykh Ra Saadi El and his wife, Senior Minister Yssi Saadi El, of The Moorish Science Temple of America, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Bey and 10 others were arrested on July 3 after an armed standoff on I-95 in Wakefield, Massachusetts. During the standoff, Bey insisted that he and the other men were foreign nationals in the United States who were traveling through Massachusetts to Maine with a Moroccan flag attached to their vehicles. The standoff ended peacefully, but forced the shutdown of a busy highway over the holiday weekend while nearby residents were told to shelter in their homes.

Bey’s ideas were a mish-mash of theology and misinterpreted law, mixed up with claims of sovereignty and allegiance to a Moorish nation — far afield of the teachings of Noble Drew Ali, the founder and prophet of the Moorish Science Temple of America, Saadi El told the Globe on Wednesday.

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He said Bey thought he knew better than his elders and did not want to listen to him, said Saadi El, who is 70, and whose temple traces its roots back to Noble Drew Ali.

“I told the brother, ’When you get in trouble, I want to see someone from the Moroccan embassy to come save you,’” said Saadi El. “Now, they are all going to jail for what they’re doing. At the end, you made a fool out of yourself.”


A group of supporters of the Rise of the Moors attending the hearing walk past a State Police office outside at Malden District Court.
A group of supporters of the Rise of the Moors attending the hearing walk past a State Police office outside at Malden District Court.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Bey and others livestreamed the standoff over social media, insisting his group was peaceful and citing interpretation of court decisions and laws that he said allowed them to travel with firearms. Police said the guns seized after the standoff were loaded and not properly stored in the vehicles, as is required by Massachusetts state law.

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Later, when he was arraigned on multiple weapons felonies, Bey said that he didn’t understand how the state government could bring charges against him. The other men being arraigned were not cooperative, with some refusing to be identified or acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction over them.

Saadi El said the highway stop may have been a publicity ploy by Rise of the Moors. He called them “delusional,” pointing out that the treaty they cite between the U.S. and Morocco as the basis of Rise of the Moors’ sovereignty is a commercial treaty, signed when Morocco had no representation in the U.S.

“They are on the imaginary island of ‘I Am’ — meaning, whatever (they) want it to be,” Saadi El. “Now you’re going to see the island of ‘I Am’ meet ‘We the People.’”

Saadi El and his wife, senior minister Yssis Saadi El, said there have been offshoots of Moorish Science like Rise of the Moors founded by people who don’t understand the faith or interpret it incorrectly, thinking it allows them to refuse to get driver’s license, or avoid paying taxes, or, like Rise of the Moors, attempt to seize vacant property or issue flurries of lawsuits under claims of sovereignty.

“A lot are piecemealing information that they found on the internet, and ideas and concepts from people outside our organization, casting this patchwork of confusion,” Yssis Saadi El said Wednesday.

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The Moorish Science Temple of America is the first mass religious community in the history of American Islam, and it’s the Black nationalist model for the nation of Islam. The philosophy is living at peace and being law-abiding citizens, not speaking radically or going against any laws or government, she said.

Their temple, based in Atlanta, provides Moorish Islamic support for federal and state institutions. They teach in the prisons, and help inmates as they re-enter society, she said.

“Our community holds on teaching and harmony and our faith being a guiding force in how we interact with each other,” Yssis Saadi El said. “I’m a clinical social worker. I understand the mindset, the characteristics of those who want to protest the government. They have this energy that’s misdirected. They are young men and women that are introduced to an idea that inspires them — a personal pride of culture — but they took it out of context when they held the sovereign idea.”

Both Shaykh Ra Saadi El and Yssis Saadi El said they worried about where these fringe movements would lead.

“We have to nip this in the bud,” said Shaykh Ra Saadi El. “This idea is so far away from what the Noble Drew Ali is teaching, so far from the way of life we’re living.”

“The sad part of it is, there are going to be other people thinking they can do it better,” he added. “And there’s going to be a shoot out, if we don’t stop.”

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Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.