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Why So Many Jazz Musicians Converted to a Heretical Form of Islam

When jazz and drug use were in danger of becoming as closely associated a team as salt and pepper, a movement began of jazz musicians converting to Islam – for Islam, according to John Coltrane biographer C. O. Simpkins, “was a force which directly opposed the deterioration of the mind and body through either spiritual or physical deterrents.”

Islam may have saved many prominent musicians from the “deterioration of mind and body” stemming from drug and alcohol abuse, but paradoxically, many of them joined the Ahmadi sect, which is persecuted by Muslims who consider it heretical.

Jazz artists who became Ahmadi Muslims include pianists Ahmad Jamal and McCoy Tyner (a.k.a. Sulieman Saud); saxophonists Yusef Lateef and Sahib Shihab; and perhaps most notably of all, drummer Art Blakey, who after his conversion styled himself Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. He didn’t use his Muslim name professionally, but it was well known among his musician colleagues, who often called him “Bu.”