Why I Am a Five Percenter

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Overview

A thoughtful, insider view of The Five Percenters-a deeply complex and misunderstood community whose ideas and symbols influenced the rise of hip-hop.

Misrepresented in the media as a black parallel to the Hell's Angels, portrayed as everything from a vicious street gang to quasi- Islamic revolutionaries, The Five Percenters are a movement that began as a breakaway sect from the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1960s Harlem and went on to impact the formation of hip-hop. References to ...

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Why I Am a Five Percenter

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Overview

A thoughtful, insider view of The Five Percenters-a deeply complex and misunderstood community whose ideas and symbols influenced the rise of hip-hop.

Misrepresented in the media as a black parallel to the Hell's Angels, portrayed as everything from a vicious street gang to quasi- Islamic revolutionaries, The Five Percenters are a movement that began as a breakaway sect from the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1960s Harlem and went on to impact the formation of hip-hop. References to Five Percent language and ideas are found in the lyrics of wide-ranging artists, such as Nas, Rakim, the Wu-Tang Clan, and even Jay-Z.

The Five Percenters are denounced by white America as racists, and orthodox Islam as heretics, for teaching that the black man is Allah. Michael Muhammad Knight ("the Hunter S. Thompson of Islamic literature" -The Guardian) has engaged this culture as both white and Muslim; and over the course of his relationship with The Five Percenters, his personal position changed from that of an outsider to an accepted participant with his own initiatory name (Azreal Wisdom). This has given him an intimate perch from which to understand and examine the controversial doctrines of this influential movement. In Why I Am a Five Percenter, Knight strips away years of sensationalism to offer a serious encounter with Five Percenter thought.

Encoded within Five Percent culture is a profound critique of organized religion, from which the movement derives its name: Only Five Percent can act as "poor righteous teachers" against the evil Ten Percent, the power structure which uses religion to deceive the Eighty- Five Percent, the "deaf, dumb, and blind" masses. Questioning his own relationship to the Five Percent, Knight directly confronts the community's most difficult teachings. In Why I Am a Five Percenter, Knight not only illuminates a thought system that must appear bizarre to outsiders, but he also brilliantly dissects the very issues of"insiders" and "outsiders," territory and ownership, as they relate to religion and privilege, and to our conditioned ideas about race.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Music fans familiar with the Wu Tang Clan or Erykah Badu have heard references to the Nation of the Gods and Earths, better known as Five Percenters. This small group of proto-Islam believers relies on a philosophy that defines the black man as the Original Man or God, manifested as Arm Leg Leg Arm Head, or Allah. As a -born white man born in the suburbs, Knight (The Taqwacores), most recently educated at Harvard University, spends a good deal of the book exploring his difficulty in adopting the Five Percenter philosophy as a white man with insecurities about not being black, because most Five Percenters are African-American. His erudition and street credibility are on full display as he expounds—sometimes haphazardly—on subjects from abolition to the history of female sexuality that can be found at the intersection of feminist thought and religion. The result is a fascinating and unwieldy collection of his explanations of navigating his existence as a distinctly hated symbol in a world designed to exalt black men who have been taught to disparage white men. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
Thorough investigation of a misunderstood branch of the Nation of Islam, seen through a white Muslim's perspective. Often disregarded as a religion for rappers, gangsters and convicts, Five Percenters have long been marginalized as a dangerous and mystical offshoot of the also-scorned Nation of Islam. Even Knight (Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey Through Islamic America, 2009, etc.) admits, "Don't get me wrong—before my first trip to Allah School, they had me scared shitless." So begins the author's exploration of a religion founded in 1964 by Clarence Smith after breaking from the mosque led by Malcolm X in Harlem. But as much as this book is an investigation into the far reaches of American Islam, it also reads as a justification for the author's own religious identification. Inspired by the references to Islam in the lyrics of the hip-hop artists he loved as a youth, such as Public Enemy, and a fascination with Malcolm X, Knight's passion was further cemented when, at 15, he first met his absent father, only to discover he was a white supremacist. The Five Percenters, he writes, "offered both freedom and discipline, politics and spirituality, salvific manhood and then more salvific manhood." Through song lyrics, doctrine and his own spiritual journey, the author distills the essence of the Five Percenters' take on race, religion, sex, personal power and refinement. An insider's view of a largely unknown belief system woven tightly with the author's own journey of spiritual discovery.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585428687
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/13/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 361,335
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Muhammad Knight has studied Islam at a madrassa in Pakistan, the Allah School in Harlem, and Harvard University. His work has been censored, boycotted, confiscated, and threatened with legal action. This is his seventh book.

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