When Xenu Met Yakub

What do Tom Cruise and Louis Farrakhan have in common? More than you think. Eliza Gray examines the emerging alliance between two of America's strangest religious sects – Scientology and the Nation of Islam:

According to the American Religious Identification Survey, Scientology is shrinking; between 2001 and 2008 it estimates that the number of Scientologists in the United States fell from 55,000 to as low as 25,000. … [A]s the Church loses members, it has been grateful for new recruits wherever it can find them.

Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam for more than three decades, has said that he first heard about Scientology 35 years ago from a former Nation minister who became a Scientologist. But the story of how Farrakhan came to embrace it concerns a Nation minister in Los Angeles named Tony Muhammad. In 2005, Muhammad was beaten by the LAPD at a prayer vigil he’d helped organize for a young man killed in a drive-by shooting. The incident plunged him into an agitated, depressed state. A concerned friend introduced him to Scientology, which he credits with saving his life. When Farrakhan later met with Muhammad, he was amazed by the transformation and, as Muhammad tells it in an audio clip posted on YouTube, exclaimed: "Whatever you’re on—I want some of it."

Their outward differences mask some surprising theological similarities:

[T]here are some striking theological overlaps that might help explain how Farrakhan came to adopt a religion invented by a white man. There is, of course, the attachment to science fiction: Scientologists believe in an alien dictator, Xenu; the Nation holds that the white race was created by a mad scientist named Yakub. More significantly, though, at the core of both religions is a never-ending pursuit of a better self. In the case of Scientology, that best self is "clear" of residual traumas buried in the subconscious. In the Nation, that self is free of the hang-ups of white culture that black people have internalized to their detriment. Scientology, Farrakhan seems to believe, provides a new path toward black empowerment.