In the 1960s and 1970s a quasi-militant Muslim sect, the New World of Islam (NWOI), emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Its main base was in Newark, New Jersey, known as Temple 25 on South Orange Avenue. The religious group was suspected of having staged more than 100 area armed robberies to raise money to further the cause of the New World and to finance a black separatist community. During the course of this robbery spree- six murders- including that of the head of the NOI Temple, James Shabazz, were laid at the door of this group, along with those of two police officers who intervened in robberies staged by members.
Federal authorities described the NWOI as a Black Muslim splinter group that was one of the most violent criminal organizations in New Jersey. The quasi-military group advocated black superiority, a separatist movement and armed robbery to raise money. They were getting theirs and didn’t have any qualms about what they did to get it. While pursuing their militant brand of Islam, members of the group were tied to a number of bank robberies and several murders including two beheadings and the slayings of two police officers. The New World was not playing. Authorities even said that they plotted to have the judges on their cases kidnapped. These brothers were thorough, straight up Muslim gangsters. Death before dishonor and all that. But they were also righteous soldiers in their faith. Willing to get down for a cause and fight for their people.
“We didn’t set out to hurt anyone but we needed money.” Hijr Najee says. “Brothers were committed to a movement and we needed funds. The most perfect robbery was one where a shot wasn’t fired.” But shots were fired and people were killed. There were high speed chases and shootouts with police. These brothers were not joking. They were righteous but deadly. They were serious about theirs and had little tolerance for those who didn’t follow the rules. “The brothers were totally against drugs,” Hijr Najee says. “We had numerous opportunities to get into drugs. Big dealers wanted us to invest. But the brothers didn’t want to be associated with that. Weed was legal in the nation but drinking, heroin, cocaine, cigarettes, they didn’t want us to mess with that.”
The New World got theirs like Bonnie and Clyde. The ski mask way. They were on that Set it Off tip. They weren’t drug pushers or dope dealers. They knew what was killing their community. They were trying to rectify that situation and get out from under the white man’s rule by establishing their own society and way of life. Loyal soldiers like Hijr Najee worked their way up in rank, proving their resolve and heart by their deeds, not their words. In the New World it was all about action, talk was cheap. “You had to work your way up in rank,” Hijr Najee says. “I started elevating in rank when other brothers had to leave. I was Minister of the city. That fell into my lap. At one time they were keeping me away from the underground stuff.” But like all things the underground didn’t stay underground. People talked and it got exposed.
Throughout its existence the group robbed banks to sustain its members, according to testimony in the federal racketeering trial. Men wearing ski masks, storming into banks, waging high speed chases and having shootouts with police while fleeing with money was their M.O. Members would select and case the banks and other businesses and thereafter plan in detail the execution of the robbery of those targeted institutions. Police identified Dickens as the head of the group and criminal mastermind behind the armed robberies. “All the money went to finance the New World.” Hijr Najee says. “We were trying to build communities in Calhoun Falls, South Carolina and Salem, New Jersey. We wanted to get the property, we wanted to build the houses. A separate community. That’s what we intended but it got crazy. We started robbing the same banks twice.”
Despite the noble intentions, the robbing hustle didn’t last. Brothers started going to jail but for the most part they kept their mouths shut. That was the code installed by the General. “We wanted that loyalty.” Hijr Najee says. “Brothers used to put other brothers in jeopardy and brothers wouldn’t tell. That’s what happened to James Scott. We always had a link up with the prisons. I was going to visit the brothers in liaisons. I became James ‘Superman’ Scott’s liaison.” The arrests brought attention to the group. With law enforcement closing in on the sect due to the murders, the New World was attracting way too much attention. Attention that had the feds lurking around the corner.
Several New World members were convicted of the September 1973 slaying of James Shabazz, the local NOI leader, even though Al Dickens was found not guilty of planning the homicide. The murder of Montclair Police Sgt. Alfred Sellick on January 17, 1976 also attracted a lot of unwanted attention as a close connection was found between the accused gunmen and Albert Dickens. One of the defendants was Archie Murphy who police identified as a New World member. “We have information that Murphy and others recruit youngsters- some as young as twelve- and train them in firearms, hand to hand combat and other techniques. The New World is a paramilitary group. Their ultimate goal seems to be the overthrow of the Nation of Islam, an established religious group so they may use its power base to take over the city,” Assistant Essex Prosecutor Anthony Mautone said. “They said we were a crime family with different crews of brothers in Newark, Florida, and New Brunswick.” Hijr Najee says. But that was far from the truth.
“They were studying us. They said we were causing too much havoc in the street. We had a nice following. A lot of young guys were looking up to us. We had a nice close brotherhood.” Hijr Najee says. Samud Ali goes deeper, “The New World Nation of Islam is what saved us. A movement toward our way of life. Before that we were dead.” Rafi Ali agrees, “I needed to be a part of people who were teaching and working to help unite our people and establish a society owned and operated by us.” The movement was deep. The brothers and sisters involved were thorough. A strange mix of religion and bank robbers but Hijr Najee keeps it real, “Some brothers lost their lives.” Because the New World was in a war. A war of ideals and a war for their way of life. In any war casualties always play a part.
Police Director Hubert Williams was infuriated with the group and told a press conference that the religious sect, “Has been using religion as a guise to carry out criminal activities. Holdups, robbing banks and killing cops has no place in religion, and is clearly contrary to the tenets of Islam. What we see rather is a distortion of the religious value system. They have crafted a sort of hybrid and grafted onto religion, criminal activities.” Williams emphasized that the NWOI was, “A highly disciplined group with a code of secrecy, organized quasi-military. They use their religion as a guise to further their criminal designs. I have tried to make it emphatically clear as possible that what we’re talking about is a radical element within a particular religious sect called the NWOI. Their activities in no way reflect the peace loving manner in which Muslims go about their life and worshipping their faith.” Employing the age old tactic of divide and conquer the police director attempted to differentiate between Muslims and the New World.
Police Detective Captain George Courtney compared their techniques to those of famous bank robber John Dillinger, “He’d stick up a bank after he staked it out and built a mock up of the bank. He’d study it and practice jumping over the counter before hitting a bank. He was well-prepared like the Muslims are today.” Courtney said. “We’re not talking about religious law abiding Muslims. We’re talking basically about a bunch of former convicts, using the guise of religion to veil a serious criminal intent. The FBI has told us there is a new trend involving Muslims who are pulling bank holdups and are heavily armed. These Muslims are pulling bank holdups to get money to buy drugs and weapons. They’re always looking for weapons.” But the New World was looking for so much more. Hakim Ali explains, “We want to uphold the truth and be black. To do something for self as a Blackman with a God, religion and a purpose in life to save our people.” The Sister Hijrah Ali breaks it down further, “It is a movement towards establishing independence as a nation of people.” But the movement wasn’t without its pitfalls.
After all these years most of the members of the NWOI are out of prison and back in the world. They stayed together, stood firm and didn’t blink in the face of adversity. Their belief was death before dishonor and even though they spent 25 years or more in prison for their beliefs they are still fighting for their people and are involved in programs for youths and more in Newark today. Plus NWOI member Wahida Clark started publishing her Thug novels from prison and emerged in 2007 as one of the top writers in the urban fiction genre. Through it all they have never wavered in their beliefs or their goals. Now that is gangster. That is what a street legend is all about.
“Looking back on all that we have gone through I see the great wisdom taught by my teachers in the New World. Every exercise program, lesson, essay that was written helped to make the person I am today. It saved me. I have no regrets and I blame no one.” Rafi Ali says. And Albert Dickens, the General breaks it all down. “We’re about trying to save our own black people.” He says. “It’s a matter of first making our black people realize that they are an independent people. And that they have a right, just like everybody else to have a place in the sun and some of this earth to call their own. We never turned around, we kept Elijah’s teachings alive. We are proud to have kept our Nation’s flag flying high while most fell away. That is the military training given to men in Islam. FOI means Fruit of Islam.”
In its existence the group has boasted a light heavyweight world contender, a well-known street lit author and numerous soldiers in the movement who were down for the cause no matter the consequences. They took theirs on the chin and kept it moving. Never giving in or wavering in their faith or chosen path. All of these brothers and sisters set out with noble intentions, and wrong or right, their actions remain of pure intent. They fought a criminal justice system that was set up to hasten their demise. And through their defiance and refusal to bend even one inch their exploits and misadventures in crime and life have become legendary. Their organization has gone down in infamy in street lore. They are the fallen soldiers that rose again like the Phoenix. They are the real, the unafraid, the unbended. Resolute in their ideals and identity. They are the original gangsters. The ones who stayed true to the code of the streets and the tenets of the faith.
Visit www.wclarkpublishing.com to learn more about Wahida Clark and to order her books
Check out more of The New World of Islam in Street Legends vol. 2