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Ever since C. Eric Lincoln published The Black Muslims in America, in 1961, many observers of the Nation of Islam (NOI) have seemed convinced by his claim that the movement was neither very “religious” nor “Islamic” in nature. In that classic study, currently in its third edition, Lincoln conceded that “the Black Muslim movement constitutes a legitimate religion within the definition of the sociology of religion” but also maintained that “religious values have a secondary importance.” For Lincoln, the success of the movement stemmed not from the particular nature of its religious activities but from its ability to provide a sense of “group solidarity” to the dispossessed black working class. According to Lincoln, this sense of community was produced through the group's embrace of black nationalism, which he understood to be “first a defensive response to external forces—hostile forces that threaten their creative existence.”
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