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With Allah’s Name, The Merciful Benefactor, The Merciful Redeemer
Permission is given for the following material to be used on the Study Al-Islam Website by:
ZM: IMAS-Institute of Muslim American Studies www.instituteofmuslimamericanstudies.com
“Muslim African Americans are a new social group that has never existed in human history. They are the descendants of enslaved Africans who have reclaimed Al-Islam, the religion torn from their ancestors. Although numerous traces of Muslim presence were abundant in the American environment and culture during and after enslavement, there was no institutional establishment from the African Ancestors. Those ancestors were stripped of human dignity in America for 400 years in the most dehumanizing form of chattel slavery and legal oppression known to humankind. What did survive from the ancestors to their descendants was the genetic memory or spiritual inclination towards Al-Islam.”
“Reclaiming Al-Islam for Muslim African Americans has been an arduous circuitous path through self-hatred, love of their oppressors, and the mythology of racial superiority. Today, after struggling for freedom, justice, and equality, their religious life has been validated by G-d. They have the correct concept of G-d who is neither black or white, male nor female, who created the material world but is not of the material world. They respect that all Prophets are one brotherhood from one G-d, and declare Muhammad ibn Abdullah, (peace be upon him) as G-d’s final Prophet to whom The Qur’an was revealed.”
“These Muslims today uphold the Constitution of the United States, pledge allegiance to the American flag, defend the country and fight in its wars. Their patriotism has little to do with the conduct of the government or its citizens but everything to do with their religion and a determination to evolve into human excellence. Their evolution from enslavement to Muslim African Americans is a story like no other in human narration or record.”
From the upcoming book: A New People: Muslim African Americans by IMAS – Institute of Muslim American Studies.
For the first three years of its existence, the NOI flourished under the guidance of Fard Muhammad (a.k.a. W.D. Fard), who established himself in the Black community of Detroit in 1930. From 1930 to 1933, he opened the first Temple of Islam with well defined rituals of worship, an elementary school, the University of Islam, the MGT-GCC (Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization Class), the FOI (Fruit of Islam), a paramilitary arm of the organization and a hierarchy of ministers that Fard selected, trained and ran the entire organization.
One of the earliest converts to the NOI under Fard Muhammad was Elijah Poole, who had migrated with his family from Georgia in the 1920s. Elijah and several of his family members soon identified with the NOI, and Elijah in particular devoted himself wholeheartedly, becoming Fard’s most trusted lieutenant and soon thereafter the head minister of NOI. Fard Muhammad named him Elijah Karriem then Elijah Muhammad. Gradually, Fard ceased his public appearances, such that by 1934 his whereabouts were completely unknown to the public and to members of the NOI. Speculations about foul play, a journey to Europe, or return to the Middle East were never substantiated.
A Spiritual Sanctuary (historical context)
Dr. C. Eric Lincoln, foremost scholar on the NOI during the 1960s and 70s, defines the organization in its peak years (1930 – 1975) as a social protest movement “symptomatic of the anxiety and unrest which characterizes the world situation” (xix). It was a time of widespread fear and anxiety resulting from disillusionment, despair, and discontent.
Furthermore, many of these Black Americans were seeking to leave behind firsthand experiences with the violence and degradation in the South as well as the agricultural challenges of flooding, crop failures, and the boll weevil. As a result of this migration, the total Black population in the North increased from 75,000 to 300,000. From 1910 to 1920, the population of Detroit, where the first Nation of Islam Temple was established, increased 611 percent.
After WWI ended, hopes for a better life in the North eluded many Black Americans. Jobs grew scarce and thousands of Black Americans lost jobs to their White counterparts. Still, Blacks, many unskilled and uneducated, continued to arrive from the South. Conditions in the inner cities worsened; inadequate housing, hunger, and crime became pervasive. These desperate circumstances led large numbers of people to seek sanctuary with religious leaders, such as Father Divine, Daddy Grace, and Fard Muhammad, (a.k.a. W. D. Fard) the original founder of the Nation of Islam.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Leader of The Nation of Islam (NOI), called for freedom, justice and equality that spanned close to 44 years (1931-1975), from the Jim Crow era through the Civil Rights period and beyond. A powerful force, Elijah Muhammad’s message gave rise to the term Islam as he re-introduced it to Black Americans. It served as the foundation for the spiritual sanctuary that attracted thousands of followers and sympathizers in the United States and abroad as he established an unparalleled legacy of nation-building and character transformation in Black communities throughout America. He preached that only by returning to the religion of their ancestors, Islam, as Muslims, would his people regain their self-respect and dignity in a land where they were despised and exploited. He molded a black identity based upon love for self and promoted self reliance through education, economic development, and community mobilization at a time when the terms Negro and colored were used to dehumanize and disenfranchise Black people. Elijah Muhammad saved tens of thousands from drug abuse, prostitution, thievery, and self-destruction. The programs and practices of the NOI encouraged its members to demonstrate discipline to restore a strong sense of cultural identity as it challenged notions of white supremacy in America.
The organization prospered under Elijah Muhammad’s leadership. In Chicago, the NOI operated department stores, groceries, bakeries, restaurants, and numerous types of service establishments. Chicago was also home to an ultramodern, multipurpose building housing such Muslim enterprises as a department store, doctors’ offices, and a dental suite. The NOI owned farms in Michigan, Alabama, and Georgia; and in virtually every city where there was a Temple; there were restaurants, barber shops, clothing stores, and other businesses, which were owned by the NOI.
The NOI catered not only to Muslim owned businesses, but through their Good Foods, Corp, the organization also served chain stores and individually owned markets, supplying them with produce, meats, eggs, poultry, and fish. He even went as far as Morocco to strike up a relationship for canning and importing sardines. The NOI transported the foods with their own fleet of trucks and plane to markets around the country. The International Trade Division managed the importation of H&G fish, clothing, and household items. By the 1970s, the organization had become the most potent economic force in the Black community.
NOI businesses were administered from the Chicago headquarters under the central authority of Elijah Muhammad and select ministers. The businesses indirectly drew some of their strength and sustainability from charitable contributions of NOI members, who paid a portion of their income to the organization. Profits from the businesses, in turn, helped finance the NOI’s infrastructure and schools and were reinvested in the businesses. Eventually, these businesses helped contribute to employment among NOI Muslims in Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere.
The Muhammad Speaks Newspaper
Another major enterprise, Muhammad Speaks newspaper, was launched in May of 1960 in Harlem, New York. Prior to its publication, the NOI had published a column entitled “Mr. Muhammad Speaks” in African American newspapers, such as the Pittsburgh Courier and The Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch, to promote its beliefs and interests. The Muslims contributed to a major increase in circulation for both these papers because male Muslims were expected to sell a certain number of papers weekly. To fulfill their quotas, they took to the street corners and went door to door. These well-disciplined, young salesmen perceived themselves, not as paper boys, but as nation builders.
After the publication of its own paper, the NOI maintained this perception and practice. Each male member—the Fruit of Islam—was responsible for selling 300 papers per week, such that in every major city in America, from Baltimore to Boston, young Black Muslim males in suits and bowties selling papers was a common sight. This sales approach, which served to circumvent the established distribution mechanisms, led to greater independence in sales and control of the publication.
For fifteen years (1961 – 1976), Muhammad Speaks served as the NOI’s primary communication arm, claiming a peak circulation in the early 1970s of 1.2 million and becoming the nation’s largest African American weekly. Features included the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, NOI activities and events, as well as articles addressing national and international issues, women, and problems and concerns of the broader Black community. Coverage of the developing world was extensive, the photography was excellent, and the political cartoons were imaginative and powerful. The paper was published at a modern printing plant owned by Muslims. Proceeds from paper sales helped to stabilize Muslim businesses and schools.
In the early 1960’s, the popular magazine, Reader’s Digest called him “The Most Powerful Black Man in America.” In 1962, American author and social critique, James Baldwin wrote in his #1 Best Seller, Fire Next Time, “Elijah Muhammad has been able to do what generations of welfare workers and committees and resolutions and reports and housing projects and playgrounds have failed to do:
To heal and redeem drunkards and junkies, to convert people who came out of prison and to keep them out; to make men chaste and women virtuous and to invest both the male and the female with a pride and serenity that hang about them like an unfailing light. He has done all these things, which our Christian church has spectacularly failed to do.” (p. 72).
Haley says Muhammad #1, Malcolm #2
In 1976, Alex Haley, author of Roots and collaborator on The Autobiography of Malcolm X said, “If I had to pick the single person who has been the most important figure for blacks in the black thrust from post-World War ll, I would unequivocally pick Elijah Muhammad. Because it was he who….was like a lightning bolt in opening up the consciousness of black people…from this just blank psychic wall of just total fear of the structure in which we lived. And I am saying these things clinically. Underneath him I would put Malcolm X and Dr. King on equal basis. They appealed to broadly different groups. Dr. King…the church structure….Malcolm….the grass roots.” (Black Scholar, Vol. 8, No. 1, September, 1976 p. 37-38).
100 Greatest African Americans
In 2003, Molefi Kente Asante, scholar, professor and Chair of African American Studies at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA selected the Honorable Elijah Muhammad as one of the 100 Greatest African Americans. Dr. Asante said his selection criteria represented the general will of African American people and not necessarily popularity or wealth. That the broad struggle for justice and equality matters most to African Americans. His criteria was:
- Significance in the general movement of African Americans towards full equality.
- Self-sacrifice and undertaking of risk for the collective good.
- Unusual will and determination in the face of the greatest danger and against the most stubborn odds.
- A consistent posture towards the social, cultural and economic uplifting of African American people.
- Personal achievement that calls attention to the capability and genius of African American people. (p.17).
Poverty, Persecution and Promise
Born Elijah Poole, in a small town a few miles from Sandersville, Georgia in 1897, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was raised in poverty and was one of thirteen children. His father was an uneducated Baptist preacher, his mother a homemaker. The family moved to Cordele, Georgia to seek a better economic existence by working in the cotton mills and on the railroad. It was in Cordele, Georgia that he met Clara Evans. They married, had children and migrated to Detroit, Michigan in 1923. It was there in 1931 that they encountered W. D. Fard Muhammad and the Lost Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America. They accepted Islam and became the leaders and shapers of that organization later called the Nation of Islam until 1972 and 1975 respectively.
During its development in the 1930’s and 1940’s the organization and members were consistently persecuted by Christian preachers, the business establishment and law enforcement. Elijah Muhammad and his new Muslim community were demeaned in the newspapers, sanctioned, jailed and their Temples of Islam and schools, (University of Islam) were eventually shut down.
From 1931 to 1942 virtually all of the men at the Temples of Islam throughout the cities of Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. were incarcerated. The charges of sedition and failing to register for the draft during the early days of World War II were used to imprison them. Historian and biographer, Claude Andrew Clegg III, wrote in An Original Man, The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, “….the FBI used the arrest as a pretext for conducting a multistate assault on the Temple People.”(pp. 85 – 90). Elijah Muhammad and his son were imprisoned from 1942 to 1946 along with approximately three hundred Muslim men in four states.
Since his release in 1946, he lived with the scourge of being called a thug and criminal. Such words were famously used in 1959 by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in describing him and the Muslim movement. That opinion became polemical and was shared by those who sought to deter the growth of Islam in America and by Negro leaders who supported integration as a solution to the race problem. Others vehemently disagreed. In particular, a response to Thurgood Marshall by George Schuyler, a Black conservative wrote in the Pittsburg Courtier, “Mr. Muhammad may be a rogue…… but when anyone can get tens of thousands of Negroes to practice economic solidarity, respect their women, alter their atrocious diet, give up liquor, stop crime and juvenile delinquency and adultery, he is doing more for Negros’ welfare than any current leader I know.” (See Elijah Muhammad Dead: Black Muslim Leader 77, Special to The New York Times, February 26, 1975. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1007.html.
Within a span of 30 years, the leadership of Elijah Muhammad established the largest independently owned and operated school system, the University of Islam; the largest independent newspaper, Muhammad Speaks; a fish import business worth over $22 million dollars and a collection of small grocery stores, bakeries, sewing factories, clothing shops and farm land which grew food for export. No one in the history of the African American experience has acquired such accomplishments. The seminal study by Dr. C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America best delineates the social significance of the Nation of Islam, especially the school system.
He Called the White Man the Devil and the World Changed
During the early years of his mission, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad - citing the 400 year tragedy of slavery, lynchings and Jim Crow - called white people devils. He declared that attempts by Black people to co-exist with them were fruitless and they should separate. The media broadcast of “The Hate that Hate Produced” in 1959, stressed hate and throughout his leadership there was a concerted effort to paint Elijah Muhammad as a black racist and equate him with the Ku Klux Klan. The media continues to promote that distortion.
Did Elijah Muhammad teach hate? He answered the question himself. “They say I am a preacher of racial hatred. The fact is white people don’t like the truth, especially if it speaks against them. It is a terrible thing for such people to charge me with teaching race hatred when their feet are on my people’s neck and they tell us to our face that they hate black people. Remember now, they even teach you that you must not hate them for hating you.”
In an interview on C-SPAN, historian, professor and biographer of Elijah Muhammad, Dr. Claude Andrew Clegg III noted, “The extensive FBI files on the Honorable Elijah Muhammad tends to be accurate with matters of fact.” For example where he was on a particular day, what he did, etc.” “However, matters of opinion is where the FBI has its problems.” “That is they saw communism and subversion, everywhere. They thought the Nation of Islam was a radical group that was going to bring in the Armageddon and overthrow the U.S. government. So as far as analyzing the facts that they had gathered the FBI had a problem because they were looking through the lens of a very anti-communist, anti-subversive pair of glasses.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUEQSTT0zRQ
Elijah Dignified Blackness
When asked what is it about Islam that makes it attractive to African Americans? Professor Clegg responds, “I think Elijah’s biggest legacy, biggest significance is that he makes Blackness respectable among African Americans. He kind of sells black people to themselves. He rejuvenates people’s sense of pride, self-esteem and their pride in their racial and cultural heritage. Also the economic initiate of the Nation of Islam – largely lower class people – pulling their resources together to buy a major newspaper printing press, farm land, grocery stores, a jet, a bank, etc.; creating an economic model of self-help by people who had never owned or contributed to such.”
He continued, “Also there is a moral significance although there were contradictions in his life and behavior.
The moral message of the Nation of Islam: don’t beat your wife, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t eat pork, don’t do drugs, clean up your neighborhoods, hold a steady job, and don’t get on welfare. I think that moral message created boundaries for those who did not have and needed structure. Finally, I think the significance of the Nation of Islam is that it introduced African Americans to an alternative religious vision outside of Christianity. If Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam had never existed I don’t think Islam would be the kind of force it is in some American cities and urban areas it is today. So, making people aware of the Eastern faith of Islam, although Elijah Muhammad taught a very peculiar style of Islam, I think is very significant.”
“Few outside of the small circle of early Muslims knew the essential role of Clara Muhammad (1899-1972) in the building of the Nation of Islam. Her son, Imam W. Deen Mohammed (Wallace D. Mohammed) (1933-2008) said, “Fard Muhammad founded the Nation of Islam but Elijah Muhammad built it.” And so did Clara Muhammad. It was Clara Muhammad who first heard Fard Muhammad speak in Detroit and not Elijah as most believe. Her discovery of Fard Muhammad contributed to her strength and personal ownership in the Nation of Islam. She was the first to head the Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization Class (MGT& GCC). She was directly taught by Fard Muhammad the Supreme Wisdom, Muslim dietary laws, Muslim etiquette and her role as a Muslim woman. The Teachings were not difficult for Clara but consistent with her moral Southern upbringing.”
“In the early days of the Nation of Islam Clara Muhammad organized the women and personally taught the MGT&GCC. Believing education to be all–inclusive, the Nation of Islam required each member of the community to actively participate in separate classes designed for men and women. The classes were modified for adolescents as junior classes. The FOI – Fruit of Islam and the MGT&GCC reflected the NOI’s definition of the roles of men and women which were sharply defined. Men and women were viewed as equal with each assigned specific social roles. The underlying objective of each class was to restore the dignity to the man as protector and provider of his family and to the woman her place of honor and dignity as teacher and nurturer of which managing the home and caring for husbands and children was of primary concern. The members were taught “A Nation Can Rise No Higher Than Its Women.” As a result, the structure of the Nation of Islam and the focus on family life reaped great success. Divorce and juvenile delinquency were virtually non-existent.”
“Clara Muhammad was a devoted wife and mother to her eight children whom she raised to actively work and contribute to the Nation of Islam. Her husband was able to execute his mission as leader primarily due to her unwavering support and sacrifices. In the early years she endured enormous hardship and abject poverty to sustain him and the family. Elijah Muhammad called her his best supporter.”
“When Elijah Muhammad was pursued by the FBI for the unjust charge of sedition and failing to register for the draft in the 1940s, it was Clara Muhammad who carried the nascent Nation of Islam in his absence. She was given the title, Supreme Secretary and served as intermediary between the membership and Elijah Muhammad and was a source of inspiration to the followers. She protected the Nation’s records, comforted the wives and children of the incarcerated and enabled the Nation to survive during the challenging years her husband evaded adversaries, law enforcement and imprisonment.”
“The Nation of Islam placed a high premium on education consistent with its philosophy of “Know Thyself”. Although Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad founded the University of Islam in Detroit, Michigan in 1932, the school was established and evolved as a result of the efforts of Clara Muhammad. She was the first teacher of the school which began in her home and until her passing in 1972, the University of Islam and its students were her primary focus. Clara Muhammad stood in defiance refusing to be intimidated by truant officers and law enforcement who demanded she stop home schooling and put her children in public institutions. Her courage and diligent sacrifices sustained the University of Islam through numerous attempts to dismantle it by Detroit and later Chicago government and law enforcement officials. Clara Muhammad stood firm against threats of imprisonment and the loss of her children. She is credited with establishing the first Muslim home school in Detroit in 1932 and Chicago in 1934 when home schooling was illegal in both cities.”
“Clara Muhammad is lovingly remembered for her discipline, devotion and care of her husband and family. It was prophesized by the founder of the Nation of Islam, Fard Muhammad that her seventh child, Imam W. Deen Mohammed, (Wallace D. Muhammad) would “be the heir apparent and a great help to his father.” He asked Clara Muhammad to take special care of him and she did. From an early age, he was meticulously nurtured by his mother in preparation for his future role as leader.”
From the upcoming book: Clara Evans Muhammad – A Biography by Zakiyyah Muhammad
Wallace D. Muhammed (Imam Warith Deen Mohammed)
“Arguably the most important black Sunni Muslim Leader in history, Warith Deen Mohammed was brought up as a member of Elijah Muhammad’s “Royal Family”, but was constantly in trouble as he questioned the Islamic legitimacy of his father’s teachings. He emerged as leader in 1975 and in the course of a few short years he radically altered the religious doctrines of the NOI, leading more African Americans to Sunni Islam than any other person in history, before or after…” (Encyclopedia of Islam and The Modern World, McMillan, 2004)
Elijah Muhammad delivered his last public address February 26, 1974. On February 25, 1975, he died of congestive heart failure at the age of seventy-seven. His seventh child, Wallace D. Muhammad, was unanimously accepted leader of the NOI. In his inaugural address Supreme Minister Wallace Muhammad began to transition a people (the Nation of Islam membership) from the cognitive dissonance of mythology to the stability of human identity confirmed in the Revelation of The Qur’an.
The majority of the Muslim membership viewed this transition as an evolution of Elijah Muhammad’s teachings as approximately 98% supported Wallace D. Muhammad, remained with him until his passing and still support him today. When he began instituting structural and symbolic changes to reflect the organization’s ideological shift he explained that what was good and consistent with The Qur’an would remain and what was not would fall away.
By 1979 Wallace Muhammad had completely discarded the cultural myths which served as the ideological underpinnings of the organization. Thus, the belief that God came in the person of Fard Muhammad was in contradiction to the teachings of the Qur’an, which maintains that God does not assume human form. This shift constituted the most profound ideological change instituted by the Imam. Other fundamental changes included the following:
The Qur’an as the Book. The Sunnah (life, example, and teachings) of the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
He changed the name of the organization to the World Community of Islam in the West to reflect an affinity with Muslims worldwide. All Muslims, regardless of nationality or race, were now viewed as part of one Islamic community.
He maintained the schools but changed their names from the University of Islam to the Sister Clara Muhammad Schools, named for his mother who was instrumental in founding the first NOI school. He advised educators to begin a transition of the curriculum based on Qur’anic knowledge.
The newspaper underwent a series of name changes, from Muhammad Speaks to the current Muslim Journal. The scope remained broad, covering not only national stories but events of the developing world. What the Muslims Want and Believe was no longer part of the content.
Imam Mohammed decentralized the businesses and encouraged individual ownership rather than organizational ownership of varied enterprises. He strongly encouraged his supporters to contribute to the business, cultural, and religious life of America at large
The Imam preferred to use the spelling of his last name as given on his birth certificate, and until his passing he was known as Imam W. Deen Mohammed. The members were encouraged to drop the “X” and adopt Muslim names. This name change was to signify their acceptance of the precepts and practices of Al-Islam, and names that would be respected by the international community of Muslims.
He dismantled the hierarchy of ministers. Temples became Masjids with prayers led by imams. As a scholar of The Qur’an and the Arabic language Imam W. Deen Mohammed assumed the responsibility of an Imam, and having studied Arabic, a Quranic scholar and teacher he instructed the community, especially Imams in said subjects and other religious scriptures.
Essentially, Imam W. Deen Mohammed redefined the organization as an Islamic community. His work is recognized by American and world leaders. In 1992, he was the first Muslim to deliver the Invocation in the U.S. Senate. In 1993 and 1997 he gave an Islamic Prayer at President William Jefferson Clinton’s first and second Inaugural Interfaith Prayer Service. His strong interest in interfaith dialogue led him to address the Muslim-Jewish Conference on March 6, 1995, with leaders of Islam and Reform Judaism in Glencoe, IL. In October of 1996, Imam Mohammed met Pope John Paul, II, at the Vatican, at the invitation of Archbishop William Cardinal Keeler and the Focolare Movement. On October 28, 1999, on the “eve of the New Millennium” in St. Peter’s Basilica with many other world-religious leaders he spoke from the Vatican podium addressing over 100, 000,00 people, the first for an African American and Muslim religious leader.
In 1997, the Focolare Movement presented him with the “Luminosa Award”, for promoting Interfaith Dialogue, peace, and understanding in the U.S. In April, 2005, after the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI, Imam Mohammed sent a delegation of Imams to a Muslim-Christian in Dialogue First Symposium given by the Catholic based Focolare Movement. The focus was, “Who is G-d for us? “ In 1999, Imam Mohammed served on the Advisory Panel for Religious Freedom Abroad, formed by Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
There are many more accolades, achievements and accomplishments made by Imam W. Deen Mohammed that dignify African American Muslims as well as all Muslims in North America. His honorary doctorates, mayoral, and gubernatorial proclamations give testament to his recognized voice, and the benefit of his leadership to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. He was appointed to the World Supreme Council of Mosques because of the value of his work and leadership in America.
The dignity and world recognition Imam Mohammed has generated is seen in his visits with kings and presidents of vast countries, and with world religious leaders such as Pope John Paul, II, the Dali Lama, Nelson Mandela and many more.
September 9, 2008, Imam W. Deen Muhammad died at age seventy-four. In addition to leading the largest conversion of Muslims in American history he also led the largest delegation of Muslim Americans to perform Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He built bridges with other Islamic and religious organizations in America and shall among other notable acts be most remembered shining the light on the Qur’an to America.
Imam W. Deen Mohammed is best remembered as a spiritual leader and philosopher. His work is recognized and respected by the leadership of the Muslim world and by leaders of Christian and Jewish communities throughout the United States.
He called himself Muslim American Spokesman for Human Salvation and encouraged the common people and leaders of all religious traditions to return to the purity of their faith. Others called him “America’s Imam”; leader of the Muslim American Experience. He defined it, gave direction to it and devoted his life to it. Imam W. Deen Mohammed worked for the establishment of Muslim life in America and for freedom, justice and equality for Muslims, African Americans and all people. He both taught and demonstrated that Al-Islam is not only compatible with democracy but in fact gave birth to the same principles. His followers have proven that there is no contradiction between living a Muslim life and that of an American citizen. From 1975 to 2008 Imam W. Deen Mohammed traveled America and the world promoting interfaith cooperation and the common good for all - so that humanity might achieve human excellence.
Introduced The Quran to America
Imam W. Deen Mohammed introduced the Quran to America as the verifiable authority that human identity comes from G-d and human beings were created in excellence. This was the basis for his initiation of CRAID, (The Committee to Remove All Racial Images of Divine) in 1978. CRAID energized significant dialogue among Christians and Muslims around the topic of the effects of racial images in worship. This dialogue resulted in the attenuation of inferiority among African Americans and the removal of the Caucasian image of G-d from numerous church premises and publications.
Recognized as one of the most significant religious leaders of the twentieth-century, Imam W. Deen Mohammed served as leader of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1995. In March of the same year he was the keynote speaker at the Muslim-Jewish Convocation in Glencoe, IL and visited Israel and Jordan in 1999. In January, 1997 he was appointed to President Bill Clinton’s Religious Advisory Council under the auspices of the U.S. State Department and offered the opening prayer at his Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Cathedral. His relationship with the Focolare Movement of the Catholic Church and Lady Chiara Lubrich was unprecedented. He remains the only African American and Muslim to speak from the pulpit of the Vatican – addressing over one hundred thousand and millions on television – at the invitation of Pope John Paul II, in 1999.
Officially Changed America to Judeo/Christian/Muslim Country
His tributes include Signatory to the Williamsburg Charter Foundation “First Liberty” Reaffirmation Ceremony for the Freedom of Religion, June 25, 1988; the Cup of Compassion Award from Hartford Seminary; Honorary Doctorate Degrees and numerous other prestigious awards. His portrait, commissioned by Morehouse College, hangs in the MLK, Jr. International Chapel with President Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. He was awarded the Gandhi-King-Ikeda Award and inducted into the MLK, Jr. International Board of Preachers, April 6, 2002.
His emphasis on the Revival of Religion included the Muslim world which in 1975 was dormant, mired in global polemical issues and not living up to the historical excellence of the traditions of Prophet Mohammed (prayers and peace be upon him). As such, Imam Mohammed refused to align the new community of Muslims in America with any foreign government but said, “We only support the good they do”. He rejected the language of Orientalists, such as the term orthodox Islam. He avoided sectarian labels of Sunni and Shia preferring to define his followers as seeking to demonstrate the Uswaah (character) of the Holy Prophet Mohammed, (prayers and peace be upon him). As a special guest of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) in Tehran 1997, he worked to erase distinctions between those called Sunni and Shia and reminded them that those descriptions did not exist during the life of Mohammed, the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him). The distinction of being the first Muslim to offer the Invocation in the United States Senate February 6, 1992 was punctuated by the accolades offered by the three Senators who sponsored him, (Orin Hatch-R; Paul Simon-D; and Alan Dixon–D), and the 500 guest reception which followed.
Champion for Women
From the beginning of his leadership, Imam W. Deen Mohammed championed the cause of women, as did his father. He evolved the male and female classes the FOI and the MGT-GCC without bloodshed or conflict. Muslim Girls Training became Muslim Women’s Development Class which encouraged women to pursue their G-d-given talents in the home and the society. CERWIS (Committee to Enhance the Role of Women in Society) was established to address the larger social issues that hindered the elevation of women in society. He supported the equality of male and female citing the Qur’an and brought women into leadership positions while continually stressing the importance of moral behavior and family life. To Imam Mohammed education was the number one priority of the Muslim community. He renamed the University of Islam schools, Clara Muhammad Elementary and Secondary Schools in honor of the dedication and sacrifices of his mother. The schools have been lauded by government and civic leaders as models of educational excellence.
Brought Muslims into Electoral Politics
In July, 1977, he held up the American flag told his supporters to vote and established New World Patriotism Day. Parades were held throughout Chicago and other major cities. He advised his supporters to claim their share of life in America.
On August 23, 1984, for the first time in American history, Imam W. Deen Mohammed took a delegation of 10,000 Muslims to the Nation’s capital for the first ever Muslim Political Convention. Centered around the Washington Monument on the National Mall he addressed the theme “Building Political Responsibility.” He later spoke to an audience addressing “The Earth – Our Home” promoting responsibility to the earth and the environment.
“I Will Never Give Up Al-Islam and My African American Identity” Imam Mohammed was particularly sensitive to the relationship between Muslim African Americans and the larger African American community stating, “African American Muslims are not to separate from African American Christians. We cannot separate ourselves from the Christian leaders who got us as far as we have gotten before we [re]connected with The Qur’an and the life of Prophet Mohammed (prayers and peace be upon him).” “They are our brothers and sisters in humanity, in our life as people descended from African parents and as people oppressed in these United States.”
In the early 1980’s Imam W. Deen Mohammed introduced the concept of New Africa and said “There are two things I will never give up, Al-Islam and my African American identity.” He envisioned model communities that reflect the best of African, Muslim and African American identities and continued to stress economic development, do-for-self ownership and collective economics to provide economic stability.
Evolution - From Blackness to Human Identity
Imam Mohammed believed that with The Quran, skin color – Black – was no longer an organizing principle for African Americans; that the Nation of Islam’s focus on Blackness had sufficiently served its purpose.
A New People Born Out of Revelation
He said that Muslim African Americans were a new people born out of Revelation (The Quran) and he introduced the community to the Muslim African Ancestor, Bilal ibn Rabah, who provides dignity and direction. Bilal was a slave to the Arabs, was liberated by Al-Islam and became the first Treasurer and Muezzin to the first Muslim community. He was the trusted companion to the Holy Prophet Mohammed (prayers and peace be upon him). Bilal called Believers to prayer five times a day. Imam W. Deen Mohammed coined the term Bilalian in his honor to replace Black which did not have the depth of dignity required for a new people. Bilalian was used only for a short period because some in the Muslim world and in America suggested he was developing a “cult.” To avoid that designation, he stopped using the term. Imam W. Deen Mohammed said, just as Bilal stood on top of the Ka’ba and called the faithful to prayer, “It is the prophetic destiny of Muslim African Americans to call all of humanity back from idolatry (false worship) to the true worship of G-d.”
• Clegg III, Claude Andrew. An Original Man: the Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997.
• Lincoln, C. Eric. The Black Muslims in America, Beacon Press: Canada, 1961, 1973.
• Nasir, Shareef. producer/director. Lost Found: The African American’s Journey to Al-Islam. A Documentary, Los Angeles: Mizan Studios, 2010.
• Muhammad Speaks, December, 1961.
• Muhammad Speaks, September, 1963.
• Nation of Islam website: A Biography of Minister Louis Farrakhan
• Personal Interview, Halimah Mohammed, granddaughter of Clara and Elijah Muhammad, Atlanta, GA 2011.
• Personal Interview, Nadar Ali, former NOI Director of Imports, Fresno, CA, 2013.
• Personal Interview, Hafeezah Al Uqdah, Muslim pioneer, Los Angeles, CA, 2013.
• Personal Interview, Sultan Iklas, Muslim pioneer, Jamaica, NY, 2012.
• Personal Interview, Laila Muhammad, daughter of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, Calumet City, ILL, 2013.
• Personal Interview, Khalid Al Amin, former driver Muhammad Speaks delivery truck, Chicago, ILL, 2013.
• Rashad, Adib. Elijah Muhammad & the Ideological Foundation of the Nation of Islam, UB & US Communications Systems: Hampton, 1994.
• The Islamic History Project Group. A History of Muslim African Americans. WDM Publications: Illinois, 2006.