Dusé Mohamed Ali: An Early Influence on the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple of America

Dusé Mohamed Ali
Dusé Mohamed Ali (b. 11/21/1866 – d. 6/25/1945, Lagos, Nigeria) was born in Alexandria, Egypt to Abdul Salem Ali, an Egyptian army officer, and a Nubian mother who was a national of Sudan but whose name is unknown. In 1876, at the age of 10, a young Ali went to England with a French officer friend of his father for schooling. Six years later, Ali returned to Egypt to settle his father’s estate. In September 1882, Ali’s father died after serving in the Egyptian military against the British in the Battle of Tel el-Kebir in Kassassin, Canal Zone, Egypt. Ali soon thereafter return to England, spending most of his adult life outside of Egypt, traveling widely within pan-African communities in Great Britain, Nigeria and the United States. 

Before his father died, Ali intended to study as a doctor but subsequently decided that he wanted to act and write. After completing his studies at the University of London, Ali began to perform in London and the British Isles in such productions as Othello and the Merchant of Venice. Ali established a stage career as a touring Shakespearean actor, performing in North America and the British provinces. He wrote and produced various plays, including The Jew’s Revenge (1903), A Cleopatra Night (1907), and the musical comedy Lily of Bermuda (1909). In London, Ali founded the Hull Shakespeare Society.

His early fame as an international scholar occurred after he published a short history of Egypt, reportedly the first such work written by an indigenous Egyptian in modern times. The book, The Land of the Pharaohs, received critical acclaim when it was published in 1911. In its introduction, Ali states that he was inspired to undertake the historical account because of the “continual growth of misrepresentation in the English Press touching on Egyptian affairs.” He goes on to state that “Roosevelt Guildhall peroration has proved the last straw of a most weighty bundle” — referencing U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt’s speech on Great Britain and Africa at Guildhall in London. 

In Roosevelt’s1910 speech at Guildhall, he asserts that in Egypt, Britain’s treating all religions with fairness caused an anti-foreign movement in which “murder on a large or small scale is expected to play a leading part.” The British government’s response to the speech was to send Lord Kitchener to Egypt as Consul-General to suppress what was seen as a socialist tendency among the young Nationalist party in Egypt. The London Spectator reported on the Guildhall speech stating “We thank Mr. Roosevelt once again for giving us so useful a reminder of our duty.” It was these series of events that led Ali to embark on addressing the historical account in his book The Land of the Pharaohs.

Duse Mohamed Ali:
The Autobiography

Fleet Street Office in London of
African Times & Orient Review
(Columbia Digital Library Collection)
Also an avid community organizer, Ali founded the Anglo-Ottoman Society in London and the Indian Muslim Soldiers’ Widows’ and Orphans’ War Fund. He was active in the League of Justice of the Afro-Asian Nations and the African Progress Union, an association of West Indian and African exiles founded in London in 1913. In addition to community activism, Ali published works in the London-based weekly New Age, at the time edited by Alfred Richard Orange, writing articles on Egyptian nationalism and global pan-African oppression. 

In 1911, the First Universal Races Congress was held at the University of London for four days — 7/26/1911 to 7/29/1911 — featuring speakers from various countries to discuss how to improve race relations and how to combat racism impacting global African communities in the world. Ali helped with the arrangements for the even and met a number of the prominent West African merchants and professionals in attendance at the four-day event. With the help of Sierra Leone-born journalist John Eldred Jones, Ali soon thereafter published the first political journal produced by and for Black people — The African Times and Orient Review. This pan-African journal was launched as a monthly publication in June 1912, described as a “monthly devoted to the interests of the coloured races of the world.” The Oxford Companion to Black British History describes the journal as a “militant magazine” that was committed to the “exposure of various colonial injustices.” 

The August 1912 issue of the African Times and Orient Review included a letter by J.E. Casey Hayford titled “A Tribute From Africa”. Hayford was a Ghanaian lawyer, educator, writer and statesman, who would go on to led the first meeting of the National Congress of British West Africa in London in 1920. In 1911, Hayford had published the novel Ethiopia Unbound. By 1927, Hayford was elected to the Ghana Legislative Council. 

When the Jamaican-born Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. arrived in Britian in 1912, he became closely associated with Ali. In fact, Ali would become a mentor to Garvey as a staff member of the African Times and Orient Review. Garvey never converted to Islam but it is said that he learned a number of the basic tenets of Islam from Ali. He also learned a lot from Ali about pan-Africanism, the struggle of African people around the world against European oppression. 

July 1912 Issue of the
African Times Orient Review
From July to December 1913, the London-based African Times Orient Review was published monthly. From March 24 to August 18, 1914, it was published weekly. By the time the Great War (World War I) broke out on July 28, 1914, the journal was banned by Britain in India and its African colonies. The British government reported Ali as a ‘notorious disseminator of sedition.” In November 1917, a British colonial official stated that “in the old days the magazine was considered to be of doubtful loyalty, owing to Duse Mohamed’s pan-Ethiopian programme.” The journal stopped publishing after October 1918. The Great War ended November 11, 1918. Ali’s publication was relaunched as Africa and Orient Review, publishing from January 1920 to December 1920. 

After closing the London-office of Africa and Orient Review in 1920, Ali would arrive in the United States at Michigan in 1921. In Detroit, he founded the Universal Islamic Society. He never returned back to Britain. In the U.S., Ali worked with Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) movement based in Harlem, New York. He was a contributing writer for the UNIA’s Negro World publication and is noted as the head of its Africa section. In July 1921, Ali traveled to Nigeria and was welcomed at the Shitta Mosque at Lagos but would soon return back to the United States. In 1922, wearing his characteristic fez hat, Ali made many appearances among Detroit’s Black Muslim community. It is often speculated that Ali’s presence in Detroit impacted W. D. Fard Muhammad’s development of the Nation of Islam out of Detroit, which was founded in 1930. He may have also had a relationship with Noble Drew Ali and the rise of the Moorish Science Temple of America. The Moorish Science Temple of America, is reported to have been established in the United States as early as 1913. There is undoubtedly a lot of room for scholarship in this area. By June 1928, a final single journal issue is reported to have been published By Ali in New York under the title “Africa”. 

In 1931, Ali is reported to have returned to Lagos to watch over business interests in the cocoa industry. He settled in Lagos, and was appointed editor of the Nigerian Daily Times. On October 3, 1932, Ali produced the play A Daughter of Pharaoh in the Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos. He also became the editor of the Daily Telegraph in Nigeria. By July 1933, he launched The Comet, a weekly newspaper in Lagos. On June 25, 1945, at the age of 78, Ali died in the African Hospital in Lagos after a protracted illness. He is buried at the Okesuna Muslim Cemetery in Nigeria. 

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