Fard, W. D. (c. 1877-1934), Religious and Political Leader

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Fard, W. D.
(c. 1877-1934), religious and political leader.

Master W. D. Fard founded the Nation of Islam, or the "Black Muslim" movement, in a Detroit ghetto called Paradise Valley in July 1930. His original name was Wallace D. Fard, but he was also known by other aliases, such as Farad Muhammad, F. Muhammad Ali, Wali Farrad, and Professor Fard. Much of what is known about him is shrouded in mystery, and it is difficult to separate fact from mythological stories. Fard appeared as a peddler "from the East," selling silks and other sundries and dispensing advice about health and spiritual development to his customers. Through his friendly manner he was able to gain access to the homes of poor African Americans and began to teach about their "true religion," not Christianity but the "religion of the Black Man" of Asia and Africa. Using both the Bible and the Qur'an, he began with meetings in houses until he had enough members to rent a storefront, which he called Temple of Islam No. 1. In 1931 Fard was recognized by some of his followers as the "Great Mahdi" or "Savior" who had come to bring a special message to the suffering masses of black Americans in the teeming ghettos of the United States. The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 added to the crushing poverty and racial discrimination felt by many black people and made some of them receptive to Fard's new religious message.

Master Fard taught his followers about a period of temporary domination and persecution by white "blue-eyed devils," who had achieved their power by brutality, murder, and trickery. But as a prerequisite for black liberation, he stressed the importance of attaining "knowledge of self." He told his followers that they were not Americans and therefore owed no allegiance to the American flag and could refuse to serve in its military. He wrote two books for the movement, The Secret Ritual of the Nation of Islam, which is transmitted orally to members; and Teaching for the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in a Mathematical Way, which is written in symbolic language and requires special interpretation. Within three years Fard had established several organizations: the "Temple of Islam," with its own worship style and rituals; the "University of Islam," to propagate his teachings; the "Muslim Girls Training," to teach female members home economics and how to be a proper Muslim woman; and the "Fruit of Islam," consisting of selected male members to provide security for the temple and Muslim leaders and to enforce the disciplinary rules.

Master Fard's mysterious disappearance in 1934 led to an internal struggle for the leadership of the Nation of Islam among several contending factions. His most trusted lieutenant and chief minister of Islam, Elijah Karriem Muhammad, the former Robert Elijah Poole of Sandersville, Georgia, eventually won control and reestablished the Nation of Islam in Chicago, with Temple No. 2 as its headquarters. Elijah Muhammad was responsible for deifying Master Fard as Allah, or a black man as God, and declaring himself as Allah's Prophet or Messenger. Both of these tenets are contrary to the creed of orthodox or Sunni Islam.

There is no consensus about Master Fard's identity. Members of the Nation of Islam believe that he was a light-skinned black man or mulatto who knew both the white and the black world and who was born on February 26, 1877. FBI records identified him as an unstable wanderer named Wallace Dodd Ford who came to the United States from New Zealand in 1913. Two sons of Elijah Muhammad have variously identified him either as an Ahmadiyyah missionary from Pakistan, a position supported by Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, or as an Arab of "Turko-Persian" origins, a view offered by Akbar Muhammad. Master Fard's identity, origins, appearance, and disappearance remain mysterious and controversial.


See alsoAfrican-American Religions; Black Muslims; Islam; Malcolm X; Muhammad, Elijah Karriem; Muhammad, Warith Deen; Nation of Islam; Qur'an.

Bibliography

Essien-Udom, E. U. Black Nationalism: A Search for Identity in America. 1962.

Lincoln, C. Eric. The Black Muslims in America. 1960.

Muhammad, Akbar. "Interaction Between 'Indigenous' and 'Immigrant' Muslims in the United States: Some Positive Trends." Hijrah Magazine (March–April 1985).

Muhammad, Elijah. Message to the Black Man in America. 1963.

Turner, Richard Brent. Islam in the African AmericanExperience. 1997.

Lawrence H. Mamiya