Elijah Muhammad

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Umar ibn Said 17701864
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Islam In America 20th Century 19001999
Islam In America 21st Century 2000–Present

Elijah Muhammad (c. October 7 1897February 25, 1975) led the Nation of Islam, a largely African-American spiritual and political organization, from 1934 until his death.


Early life

Muhammad was born Elijah Poole in Sandersville, Georgia as one of 13 children of tenant farmers (share croppers) . At the age of 16 he left home and traveled about America. In 1917 he married Clara Evans, later to be known as Mother Clara Muhammad. In 1923 he finally settled in Detroit, Michigan where he worked at an automobile factory. The young Elijah Poole apparently witnessed three lynchings before the age of twenty, no doubt contributing to his grim evaluation of whites.[1]

In the early 1930s, Muhammad became acquainted with a W.D. Fard also known as Wallace Fard Muhammad, whose followers consider to be Allah "in Person" (Theology of Time Series). This consideration, however, is entirely against the teachings of mainstream Islam, though followers of Elijah Muhammad are quick to support this controversial position using both Bible and Qur'an.

Fard Muhammad, then working as a peddler, had already established his Temple of Islam in Detroit. The beliefs taught by Fard, though similar to orthodox Islam in many essentials, also differed from it in several ways. Scholars who reject the idea that Fard Muhammad is "Allah in Person" have identified a wide range of possible influences on Fard's theology including Sufi Islam, the teachings of the contemporary Noble Drew Ali of the Moorish Science Temple, Egyptology, Numerology, Eastern mysticism, Black Nationalism, the earlier ideas of economic independence as espoused by Marcus Garvey, and more.

Upon Fard Muhammad's disappearance in 1934, following his arrest and departure from Detroit, Elijah Poole, renamed Elijah Muhammad, by Fard Muhammad, became the successor to the Nation of Islam and Supreme Minister. In 1942, Muhammad was arrested in Chicago on charges of sedition and violation of the Selective Service Act. He was cleared of the sedition charges, but was convicted of the others, specifically for instructing his followers to avoid the draft. Elijah Muhammad was sent to Federal prison for four years.[2]


File:The fruit of islam.jpg
"'The Fruit of Islam,' a paramilitary group of Nation of Islam, sits at the bottom of the platform while he delivers his annual Savior's Day message in Chicago. March 1974". Photograph by John H. White.

Elijah Muhammad teaches what is almost always considered a racist doctrine, following Fard Muhammad's religion. He teaches that blacks were the first people of the Earth but had been tricked out of their power and oppressed by whites, who were a race of troublemakers created by an evil scientist called Yakub. Elijah Muhammad took white supremacy and turned it on its head. If whites said blacks were inferior, he would assert instead that whites were the inferior ones. If whites said blacks were cursed, he would state instead that whites were cursed. If whites said "black" was associated with bad, he would say instead "white" was associated with bad.

Believing white supremacy to be in essence the open enemy of blacks, the Nation of Islam preaches complete separation from white society. The NOI teaches that black people must develop independence in economics, religion, and nationhood. The teachings of the NOI regularly denounce the common status quo for black men in America, especially with regards to drinking, gambling, physical abuse of black women, moral wrongs, and the inability to protect their own family (especially black women in regard to sexual abuse/exploitation) from attacks by violent white America.

Elijah Muhammad used the newly won independence of many African nations as an example for his followers in America to follow. Unlike many other black leaders in mid-twentieth centry America, Elijah Muhammad believed that it made more sense to seek aid from independent African nations rather than going overseas to Africa while their communities at home in America were non-independent. [3] Elijah Muhammad did reach out to African leaders, setting an example for his second National Representative, Louis Farrakhan, to follow. [4]

Simultaneously, Elijah Muhammad showed pride in his ability to stand equal with whites, and was willing to work with them when this would further the aims of the NOI. He apparently would brag that he lived in a mostly white neighborhood, and he allowed George Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party to address the NOI, at a time when both organizations were opposed to racial integration.

The teachings of the NOI and Elijah Muhammad would have a profound impact on black American life. In a small amount of time the organization became well known throughout the United States, buying land, opening businesses, building schools, and increasing its numbers. Its strict moral discipline, devout religious adherence, healthy lifestyle, and seemingly miraculous ability to convert even those individuals deemed "beyond hope", continues to draw many to its ranks.

Elijah with Malcolm (right) and another minister

One of those Elijah Muhammad would influence was an ex-convict whom the world would come to know as Malcolm X. Though he would later leave the NOI, the influence of Elijah Muhammad on Malcolm's life was undeniable. The young Malcolm developed his speaking and political outlook within the NOI and under Elijah Muhammad's near-direct tutelage.

In the late 1950s, rumors began to circulate that Elijah Muhammad had fathered eight children by six young women who worked for the NOI. This was strictly opposed to his own teachings. Elijah Muhammad had wives and children who also helped build the Nation of Islam (and still do today) such as Mother Tynnetta Muhammad, and their children, Ministers Rusal and Ishmeal Muhammad. This, according to Malcolm (who had taken the name of El-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz) was an important cause of his break with the Nation of Islam, though followers of Elijah Muhammad often insist that this was a propaganda device used by Malcolm.

The subsequent assassination of Malcolm X, and the suspicions of NOI involvement, would forever tarnish Elijah Muhammad and his group. Elijah Muhammad managed to hold onto recognition, as his teachings were spread through his still well-read books: Message to the Blackman in America, How To Eat To Live, and his newspaper, Muhammad Speaks.


With the death of Muhammad in 1975, the NOI went through a brief period of upheaval. Under the guidance of his son, Warith Deen Muhammad, the NOI was moved into the mainstream of Sunni Islam and even began to accept white members. Such shifts away from the original black-nationalist teachings of Muhammad soon caused a split within the organization, as some members preferred to espouse Muhammad's original teachings. The best known splinter group is probably the 5%'ers whose beliefs ventured even further from mainstream Islam than that of the NOI. The original organization under Warith Deen changed its name to the Muslim American Society. The name and ideology of the Nation of Islam was appropriated by a splinter group led by Elijah Muhammad's second National Representative, Louis Farrakhan, who re-established it in 1978. Later, Louis Farrakhan was accused by the wife of Malcolm X of taking part in his assassination.

Muhammad and the NOI's messages of self-help, self-sufficiency, self-defense, and self-love have shaped deeply the path of black politics. Later groups such as the Black Panthers party were thought to even fashion their ten-point program in part from the NOI's "What the Muslims Want" ideology.

Figures that found inspiration from Muhammad's teachings included Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, boxer Muhammad Ali, Clarence 13X and artists like the Poor Righteous Teachers and Wu-Tang Clan. And even those who broke with his teachings admit that he is a key factor in Islam among black Americans, be it orthodox or otherwise.


Message To The Black Man in America.

  1. An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad
  2. New York Times, February 26, 1975, p.1
  3. Muhammad, Elijah. Message to the Blackman in America. (p. 35) Atlanta, GA. Messenger Elijah Muhammad Propagation Society. 1997
  4. Muhammad, Elijah. Our Saviour has Arrived. (p. 48-49) Newport News, VA. United Brothers Communications Systems. 1974

External links

Preceded by
Wallace Fard Muhammad
Nation of Islam
Succeeded by
Warith Deen Muhammad or Louis Farrakhan (split)

Template:Nation of Islam

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