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Nation of Islam

NATION OF ISLAM

NATION OF ISLAM. The Nation of Islam (NOI), whose members are widely referred to as Black Muslims, was founded in Detroit in 1930 by Wallace D. Fard. An enigmatic figure with mysterious origins, Fard surfaced in the city in 1929 and attracted the attention of poor blacks as he walked the streets selling fabrics and expounding novel religious and political messages. Fard skillfully blended tenets of traditional Islam with anti-white preachments that resonated with the psychological and social needs of economically strapped blacks. This group, frustrated by the inability of traditional religions to generate change in their lives and keenly aware of the impact of racism on their opportunities, was drawn to Fard's message.

The cosmology of the NOI was exotic but carefully crafted to offer a millenarian vision to African Americans, promising a future apocalypse for the evil (whites) and salvation to the true believers (blacks or "Original People"). According to Fard's theology, an insane scientist, Yakub, who lived 6,000 years ago, grafted a new human species from the Original People. Over time, the grafted species mutated and became white. An angry God looked with disfavor on the manipulations of Yakub and decreed that the white race of people he created would rule for 6,000 years and then be vanquished. At that point, the Original People would inherit a world where true nirvana would reign.

Early Leadership

Researchers in the 1990s who examined state and federal records concluded that Fard was born Wallace Dodd Ford on 25 February 1891. Despite the uneven quality of record keeping in the period, most researchers conclude that he was white. Public records reveal that he grew up in southern California and became involved in petty crime at an early age. In 1926 he was sentenced to serve time in San Quentin prison for selling narcotics to an undercover policeman. FBI records show that after his release from San Quentin in 1929 he headed east, spent a brief period in Chicago, then settled in Detroit.

As Fard began constructing his religious and political message, one of his most ardent followers was Elijah Poole. After repeated clashes with white officials in his hometown of Sandersville, Georgia, Poole joined the thousands of blacks who fled the South to search for greater freedom and economic opportunity. Elijah was a tireless and loyal lieutenant to Fard and slowly gained authority within the mosque. He established the South-side Mosque in Chicago in 1932, and in 1933, Fard granted Elijah the surname "Muhammad."


The Muslims, with their antiwhite rhetoric, soon became prime targets for law enforcement. In 1933, Fard abruptly told his followers that God had preordained that he leave Detroit, and that he was passing on the mantle of leadership to his faithful student, Elijah. Despite Fard's claim of divine direction, evidence since disclosed suggests that the worsening relationship with Detroit police officers was the primary impetus for Fard's departure. Under Elijah Muhammad's direction, the NOI survived, but grew slowly in northern cities. Bitter contests over leadership and finances plagued the NOI's viability through the depression years.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Muhammad was drafted into the army but refused to serve, citing his Islamic religious beliefs and expressing sympathy for the nonwhite Japanese. He was convicted of draft evasion and served three years in the federal prison at Milan, Michigan. His bold antigovernment stand earned him martyr status among the faithful and helped solidify his position in the Muslim community, where competition for standing was constant. While in prison, Muhammad noted that through inmate labor and cooperation, the facility was able to produce food to meet the needs of the prison population. Elijah expanded this insight into an economic strategy for the Nation of Islam. When released in 1946, Elijah returned to Chicago, and with enhanced personal authority he began rebuilding the NOI, which had languished during his detention. Consistent with the goal of racial self-reliance, Elijah established farms, dairies, retail food outlets, and a number of small Muslim-owned businesses.

Rejuvenation

In 1948, Malcolm Little, serving time in a Michigan prison for petty larceny, became attracted to the Muslim ideology and from prison began a correspondence with Muhammad. Shortly after his release in 1952, he visited the leader in Chicago; soon afterward he converted and was designated "Malcolm X." The frail and diminutive Muhammad was not a formidable presence on public podiums; however, he recognized Malcolm's talent as a spokesperson and organizer. Malcolm X's skill and unwavering dedication to Muhammad led to a swift ascent within the Muslim organization. In succession, he revitalized and headed mosques in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Malcolm was responsible for a slow but steady upsurge in membership. However, in July 1959, the television documentary The Hate that Hate Produced propelled the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X into America's consciousness.

The CBS network and the show's producers, Mike Wallace and Louis Lomax, calculated that sensational publicity about the antiwhite ideology of the Black Muslims would prompt hostile reactions in the black communities and arrest the development of the NOI. Instead, the show sparked a sharp upsurge of black interest in the Muslims and their eloquent spokesman, Malcolm X. Soon, Malcolm was a sought-after commentator on America's racial morass. The media cast him as counterpoint to the moderation of civil rights leaders. Essentially self-taught, Malcolm became skilled in public debate and held his own against political and intellectual adversaries on campuses and in broadcast studios. He consistently expressed views ridiculing civil rights leaders and their integrationist assumptions. Malcolm was contemptuous of nonviolence and distrustful of a constitutional system that had coexisted for centuries with bigotry and black oppression.

Malcolm X's effectiveness as a national spokesperson was key in the growth of the NOI to approximately 20,000 members by the early 1960s, though estimates vary. Importantly, the NOI founded a nationally distributed newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, that offered news and opinion consistent with the Muslim program. With a circulation of 600,000 (largely through street corner sales by members) by 1966, it was the most widely read black newspaper in the United States.

The most notable Muslim convert was the heavyweight boxing champion (1964–1967) Cassius Clay. Recruited by Malcolm X, Clay converted to the NOI in 1964, and Elijah gave him the name Muhammad Ali. The charismatic and loquacious celebrity gained fame internationally when, in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War, he refused to be inducted into the army, claiming conscientious objector status. His lawyers argued unsuccessfully that as a Muslim minister he had the same rights as other religious leaders. In explaining his decision, Ali further politicized the dispute by remarking, "no Vietcong ever called me Nigger." Under pressure from congressional powers, U.S. boxing officials stripped Ali of his championship title. Thus, at the height of his pugilistic prowess he was effectively banned from the sport. The actions of officials generated broad sympathy for Ali among African Americans as well as among critics of the war. Ali's position was vindicated when in 1971 the Supreme Court overturned his 1967 conviction for draft evasion.

Tensions grew within the NOI between Malcolm X and the venerable Elijah Muhammad. In 1963, Muhammad disciplined Malcolm when he characterized the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as a case of "chickens coming home to roost." Malcolm accepted Muhammad's sanctions but bridled under what he thought were unnecessary niceties in the face of federal government inaction in the civil rights arena.

The conflicts exploded into violence when Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem's Audubon Ballroom on 21 February 1965. Three men with ties to Elijah Muhammad's faction were arrested, tried, and sentenced to long prison terms. Speculations about the motives behind Malcolm X's murder centered on his increasingly public statements about his longtime mentor's morality. Elijah had fathered at least ten out-of-wedlock children with Muslim women.

The public perception of the NOI as a radical and aggressive group finds little support in its social and cultural practices. The group was fundamentally conservative in organizational structure, economic outlook, and political matters. Muhammad functioned as an autocratic leader, issuing direction from the top of a rigid hierarchy. Women's roles in the NOI were restricted and subordinated to those of men. The NOI was thoroughly capitalistic in economic matters, holding out hope that its small business initiatives could provide jobs and subsistence needed by poor African Americans. The failure of


an all-black group to actively participate in the black liberation struggles that were taking place in the United States helped reinforce the suspicions of many that the Muslims' antiwhite rhetoric was never coupled with action. Muhammad deferred to what he believed to be God's divine scheme and discouraged his followers from voting and taking any direct action on behalf of other blacks. Malcolm X cited the NOI's political passivity as a factor in his separation from the organization.

More Transformations

When Elijah died of heart failure on 25 February 1975, the group did not undergo the disruptive factionalism that NOI had experienced in the 1930s and 1960s. Muhammad had named his son Wallace Muhammad as his successor, and the Muslim faithful coalesced around his leadership. Wallace soon announced a new direction for the Nation of Islam, one more closely aligned with orthodox Islam. The organization downplayed the antiwhite theme that for years had been an important drawing card for NOI recruiters. Voting and political participation was endorsed. In 1976, Wallace changed the name of the group to the World Community of Islam in the West (WCIW).

In 1979, the minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the New York Mosque, announced his departure from Wallace's WCIW and his plans to establish a group under his leadership, reclaiming the name "Nation of Islam." Farrakhan had become skeptical about the reforms instituted by Wallace and vowed that the new NOI would resuscitate the ideology of Wallace's father. Farrakhan's fiery public preachments reflected the style of Malcolm X and attracted the attention of many non-Muslims (especially young people) who admired his bold critiques. During the 1980s and 1990s, few African American leaders stepped forward to express the anger shared by millions of blacks suffering from racial oppression.

Farrakhan's comments about Jews led some critics to accuse him of anti-Semitism, but the charges had little impact on his core constituency. In 1995, Farrakhan spearheaded the drive for a "Million Man March" in Washington, D.C., to encourage black males to acknowledge and atone for past failings and rededicate themselves to social and family responsibilities. Contrary to the predictions of black and white officials, approximately one million black men participated in the demonstration and heard Farrakhan deliver the keynote address.

From the brief tenure of W. D. Fard though the Farrakhan period, the Nation of Islam rhetorically highlighted the drama of black racial identity in the United States. However, Black Muslims held that the tension could only be resolved by racial separatism and group self help—not civil rights and integration. Although the encompassing demands of formal membership in the NOI assured that the organization would remain small, the fusillades against white supremacy launched by figures like Malcolm X and the philosophy of group self-help earned Black Muslims the respect, if not allegiance, of millions of black Americans.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clegg, Claude Andrew. An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Evanzz, Karl. The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad. New York: Pantheon, 1999.

Gardell, Mattias. In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.

Lee, Martha F. The Nation of Islam: An American Millenarian Movement. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

William M.Banks

See alsoAfrican American Religions and Sects ; Black Nationalism ; Islam .

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"Nation of Islam." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Nation of Islam

Nation of Islam

BIBLIOGRAPHY

In his classic work The Black Muslims in America (1961), religion scholar C. Eric Lincoln (19242000) argued that originally the Nation of Islam was less a religious movement than a protest movement against centuries of racial oppression. Founded in 1930 by W. D. Fard (pronounced Far-rod ), the Nation of Islam borrowed heavily from the teachings of Marcus Garvey's (18871940) United Negro Improvement Association and Noble Drew Ali's (18861929) Moorish Science Temple. Built around Islamic symbolism and a philosophy that challenged white supremacy, the Nation of Islam encouraged members to work toward economic and social independence from the white community. Far more radical than protest organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Nation of Islam espoused racial segregation as a solution to institutional racism.

The Nation of Islam began in Detroit, Michigan. W. D. Fard, a peddler possibly of Arab descent, began teaching small gatherings of so-called Negroes about the glorious history of Afro-Asia. Fard warned his followers that ignorance of their past weakened them to the tricknology of whites, namely white supremacy. Fard argued that ignorance of history produced in the Asiatic community a sense of intellectual and moral inferiority. Education, he reasoned, preceded liberation, and therefore it is the responsibility of black men and women to seek knowledge and then to use that knowledge to inform daily practices. Fard, for example, admonished blacks to live and eat as their ancestors had in order to reclaim their birthright and to reestablish a system of equality, justice, and freedom. Fard also instituted Muslim Girls Training Classes, which taught girls and women the domestic arts, and the Fruit of Islam, which was a form of military training for men. These gender-segregated programs were designed to promote a sense of dignity, self-discipline, and social order.

Fard chose Elijah Muhammad (18971975), formerly Elijah Poole, as his lieutenant in the Nation of Islam. Born in Sandersville, Georgia, Poole was the son of William, a pastor, and Mariah, a domestic servant. With his wife Clara, Elijah Poole joined the great migration north in 1923 to flee the racial violence, poverty, and the boll weevil infestation that had destroyed crops in the South. The Pooles settled in Detroit with their two children (three more children would follow). In Detroit, Elijah Poole became a devoted follower of Fard, and eventually cast away his slave name to become Elijah Karriem and eventually Elijah Muhammad in 1933. Following Fard's disappearance from Detroit in 1934, Elijah Muhammad fought to maintain his position as the Minister of Islam. In his capacity as leader, Elijah Muhammad deified Fard as the embodiment of Allah. This decision effectively positioned Fard as the last Prophet of Allah, a heretical notion for Sunni and Shiite Muslims. After serving three years at MCI Prison for failure to register for selective service during World War II (19391945), Elijah Muhammad resumed leadership of the Nation of Islam in 1946. Following his release, Muhammad continued to reach out to black prisoners.

While serving time at Norfolk Prison Colony in Massachusetts, Malcolm Little (19251965) was introduced to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm Little identified strongly with the idea that his past behavior was the result of having been brainwashed by white supremacy. In response, Little spent his time in prison studying history, philosophy, and religion. He also maintained an ongoing correspondence with Elijah Muhammad, and eventually converted and changed his name to Malcolm X. Following his release from prison in 1952, Malcolm X began a journey that would eventually lead to his becoming the most articulate, powerful, and controversial spokesman for the Nation of Islam.

Unlike the other protest organizations at the turn of the century that fought for the full benefits of citizenship in an integrated United States, the Nation of Islam espoused a philosophy that whites were blue-eyed devils created by an evil black scientist named Yacub. Slavery, de jure segregation, the epidemic of lynchings, and institutional racism were offered as proof by followers that even if whites were not devils, they acted like devils. The militant and antiwhite rhetoric of the Nation of Islam made the organization unpopular even within the black community, and until the 1960s the philosophy appealed almost exclusively to southern migrants living in the urban Northeast and Midwest. Membership levels grew and shrank from 1930 to 1942, probably never rising above one thousand. In the 1950s, membership in the Nation was possibly as high as five thousand. With a large recruitment drive in the 1960s, Nation membership most likely reached its highest level of about twenty thousand. The number of members is not, however, indicative of the influence of Elijah Muhammad's and Malcolm X's teachings. There were thousands of African-Americans who sympathized with the Nation's philosophy of self-sufficiency and Afrocentrism, and with the Nation's declared willingness to physically defend their community.

There were two major tensions within the Nation of Islam following Malcolm X's rise as the organization's most charismatic spokesman. The first tension surrounded the relationship between Nation of Islam philosophy and orthodox Islam. With greater media attention came greater scrutiny, and a number of Sunni Muslims were more than willing to highlight the differences between Nation teachings and traditional Islam. In the press, Elijah Muhammad was characterized as a phony by Sunni Muslims who knew that the leader's beliefs were a syncretic blend of Christianity and black nationalism layered with Islamic symbolism. By the 1960s, Elijah Muhammad's son Wallace Muhammad and Malcolm X were pushing their leader to adopt traditional Islam, but Elijah Muhammad held firm to the original tenets of his organization. The second tension had to do with the question of race. The Nation of Islam was characterized in the press as a black supremacist organization that preached hate. Black leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. (19291968) and NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall (19081993) castigated the organization. The Nation's anti-integration stance and tolerance of self-defense was seen as a threat to the current gains of the civil rights movement. Beyond the political repercussions, many blacks thought that the philosophy of the nation was cynical and untenable.

Major changes occurred in the Nation of Islam in the 1960s. Scandals surrounding Elijah Muhammad, integration following civil rights legislation, and the assassination of Malcolm X (renamed El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz before his death) all contributed to the slow delegitimization of some of the beliefs and practices of the Nation of Islam. When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, he passed leadership to his son Wallace Muhammad. Wallace Muhammad subsequently dismantled the Nation of Islam and built the World Community of Islam in the West, now the American Muslim Mission. The American Muslim Mission continues to promote Sunni Islam within the African American community. In 1977 Minister Louis Farrakhan rejected the leadership of Wallace Muhammad and rebuilt the Nation of Islam in order to continue the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. While still focused on the mission of black empowerment, Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam continues to incorporate traditional Islamic practices.

SEE ALSO Black Power; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Islam, Shia and Sunni; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Malcolm X; Muhammad, Elijah; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clegg, Claude Andrew. 1997. An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. New York: St. Martin's.

Curtis, Edward E. 2002. Islam in Black America: Identity, Liberation, and Difference in African-American Islamic Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Evanzz, Karl. 1999. The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad. New York: Pantheon.

Lincoln, C. Eric. 1993. The Black Muslims in America. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Malcolm X. 1965. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ed. Alex Haley. New York: Grove.

Tate, Sonsyrea. 1997. Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam. San Francisco: Harper.

Carolyn M. Rouse

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Nation of Islam

NATION OF ISLAM

The Nation of Islam (NOI) is a religious and political organization whose origins are somewhat mysterious. Wallace D. Fard, later known as Master Wallace Fard Muhammad, established the NOI in Detroit during the 1930s. Fard Muhammad, a traveling salesman who sold African silks and advocated self-sufficiency and independence for African Americans, taught Elijah Poole the history of what Fard Muhammad called the Lost-Found Nation of Islam—descendants of the tribe of Shabazz from the Lost Nation in Asia. Fard Muhammad taught Poole in part that Mr.Yacub, a black mad scientist, created what was called the devil race—the white race—approximately six thousand years ago, and that the devil race would rule the world for the next six thousand years.

Elijah Poole was born in Sandersville, Georgia in 1897. His father, who was a Baptist preacher, had been a slave. At the age of twenty-six, Poole moved to Detroit with his family. In 1930 in Detroit, he met W. D. Fard, the founder of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam. When Fard disappeared in 1934, Poole—then known as Elijah Muhammad—moved to Chicago, where he organized his own following and established the headquarters of the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad remained the spiritual and organizational leader of the NOI from 1934 until his death in 1975. During that time, the NOI became recognized as a black nationalist religious organization that advocated racial separatism and self-sufficiency for African Americans. Often called Black Muslims, the NOI's members are required to adhere to a strict moral and disciplinary code. Men members typically wear suits and ties, and women members are required to wear modest clothing, typically white gowns or saris. The NOI's teachings forbid the eating of pork and the consumption of alcohol or tobacco.

In the early 1950s and 1960s, the NOI called for racial separatism in the United States, and at times protested against police brutality and filed suit against various police departments in response to alleged police brutality. It also frequently recruited members in large cities and prisons. In 1947, Malcolm Little—who later became Malcolm X—converted to Islam and joined the NOI while incarcerated in a Massachusetts prison. As a national minister and spokesman for the NOI, malcolm x was a fiery speaker and proponent of the organization's concerns. However, during the early 1960s, ideological differences developed between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, and in 1964, Malcolm X formally left the NOI.

Shortly after Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975, his son Warith Deen Muhammad renounced black separatism and the origins of Black Muslims and established the World Community of Al-Islam in the West, later called the American Muslim Mission. NOI minister Louis X, who later became Louis Farrakhan, initially supported Warith Muhammad but soon reestablished the NOI. Other organizations and factions also split off from the original NOI, including the more militant Lost-Found Nation of Islam, which publishes the weekly newspaper Muhammad Speaks. In the mid-1990s, Farrakhan's organization was generally known as the NOI.

Like Malcolm X, Farrakhan is a fiery orator and skilled leader. Yet, he and the NOI have been criticized for anti-Semitic and antiwhite statements as well as conspiracy theories concerning Jewish American business leaders. Khalid Muhammad, a former NOI spokesman, was especially known for the excoriating statements and speeches he gave at many U.S. colleges in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although the NOI later expelled Khalid Muhammad, his speeches contributed to a continuing debate as to whether so-called hate speech should be punished or regulated by U.S. universities.

During the early and mid-1990s, Farrakhan and the NOI appeared to be shifting their political focus away from black separatism and toward a more universalist or mainstream approach. The NOI also has begun to develop various major business ventures, including the operation of a restaurant in a poor neighbor-hood on Chicago's South Side. Its security arm—the Fruit of Islam—has been involved in providing security for housing projects in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., under contracts with public agencies such as the Chicago Housing Authority. In October 1995, the NOI and Farrakhan were instrumental in organizing the Million Man March, bringing together hundreds of thousands of African American men in Washington, D.C.

further readings

Carson, Clayborne. 1991. Malcolm X: The FBI File. New York: Carroll & Graf.

Karim, Benjamin, with Peter Skutches, and David Gallen. 1992. Remembering Malcolm: The Story of Malcolm X from Inside the Muslim Mosque. New York: Carroll & Graf.

Lee, Martha F. 1996. The Nation of Islam: An American Millenarian Movement. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse Univ. Press.

Tsoukalas, Steven. 2001. The Nation of Islam: Understanding the "Black Muslims." Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R.

cross-references

Hate Crime; Civil Rights Movement.

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Nation of Islam

Nation of Islam (African-American movement): see ELIJAH MUHAMMAD.

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"Nation of Islam." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Nation of Islam." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/nation-islam

Nation of Islam

Nation of Islam: see Black Muslims.

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"Nation of Islam." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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