Recent Black masking practices draw from Islamic symbols and historical figures. Islam has a long history in Louisiana, stretching back to the early French colonial period. African Muslims made up part of Louisiana’s enslaved population, as evidenced by Muslim names in plantation records. Some of them continued to follow the tenets of their faith, at great risk to their safety, as Catholicism was the only tolerated religion. Their devotions contributed to the development of Black spiritual rituals, such as the ring shout, in which worshippers move in a circle, clapping their hands and stomping their feet. The Muslim adhan, meaning the call to prayer, is thought to have influenced vocal styles that produced the blues.
In the 1960s many African Americans embraced Islam as a religion and political movement. Percussionist Idris Muhammad was one of them. Born as Leo Morris in New Orleans in 1939 and raised among the city’s iconic musicians, he infused the rhythms of the brass bands and Black masking Indians into his extensive body of work. He converted to Islam and changed his name in the late 1960s. In 2003 Muhammad masked with saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr.’s Congo Square Nation. Muhammad’s 1976 album House of the Rising Sun features the song “Hey Pock A-Way,” a Black masking Indian phrase meaning “get out of the way.”
Two Black masking Indians have recently honored Islamic tradition in their suits. In 2019 Floyd Edwards, Spy Boy of the Golden Eagles, created a breastplate and apron honoring the fourteenth-century ruler of the Islamic Mali empire, Mansa Musa. Peteh Muhammad Haroon, Trail Chief for the Golden Feather tribe, beaded an image of Elijah Muhammad, the Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, and a crescent and star, popularly considered to be Islamic symbols, which Haroon used to represent equality and justice on his 2020 suit.