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Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole, October 7, 1897 - February 24, 1975) led the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975.

Early life

Elijah muhammad was born in rural Sandersville, Georgiamarker, the sixth child of 13 children of Willie Poole, Sr. (1868–1942), a Baptist pastor, and Mariah Hall (1873–1958). Both were sharecroppers. By the fourth grade, Poole left school to join his family working in the fields. By 16 he had left home to work in factories and businesses in the area. In 1917, at 20, Poole married Clara Evans, later to be known as Sister Clara Muhammad.

In 1923 Poole and his extended family joined the Great Migration of African Americans leaving the rural southeast and moving to the industrial north. Poole later remembered that before the age of 20, he had witnessed three lynchings of blacks by whites in rural Georgia. He later said he had "seen enough of the white man's brutality to last me 26,000 years." The Pooles settled in Hamtramck, Michiganmarker, a suburb of Detroitmarker. Through the 1920s and 30s, Poole struggled to find and keep work as the region's economy suffered during the Great Depression. During their years in the Detroit area, the Pooles had eight children, six boys and two girls.

Conversion

In August 1931, at the urging of his wife, Poole attended a speech on Islam and black empowerment by Wallace Fard Muhammad, held in a packed basement meeting room. After the speech, Poole said he approached Fard and asked if he was the redeemer. Fard responded that he was, but that his time had not yet come. Poole soon became a disciple of Fard's and joined Fard Muhammad's movement, as did his wife and several brothers. Soon afterward, Poole changed his surname, first to Karriem, and later, at Fard's behest, to Muhammad, when he assumed leadership of the Temple.

Little is definitively known about Fard. He claimed to have come from Meccamarker. The FBI believed him to be a petty criminal from Californiamarker named Wallace Ford. He was working as a door-to-door salesman in Detroitmarker's black communities in addition to preaching.

By 1930 Fard had formed Allah's Temple of Islam (ATI) in Detroit and was attracting crowds and as many as 8,000 members with his proto-Islamic, Afro-centric teachings. Fard taught dogma that, although drawing symbols, words, and few concepts from orthodox Islam, differed from it in various essentials, and added elements geared toward the Black nationalism started by Marcus Garvey. Fard conducted a series of lessons and correspondence with Muhammad and others, which eventually would be set down as the Nation of Islam's doctrine. The Temple continued to grow and organize. Muhammad soon became 'Supreme Minister' in the new organization. Fard developed the Fruit of Islam (leadership was given to Elijah's younger brother, Kalot Muhammad), Muslim Girls Training & General Civilization Classes and the University of Islam, to provide Islamist education outside the school system.

In 1932 a mentally unbalanced member of Fard's "voodoo cult" committed a highly publicized ritualized murder. Fard was initially arrested and then released by police on the condition that he leave Detroit. Fard headed to Chicagomarker, where he started Temple No. 2. He turned over leadership of the growing Detroit group to Muhammad and the Allah Temple of Islam changed its name to Nation of Islam. Muhammad and Fard continued to communicate until 1934, when Fard vanished and Muhammad was named 'Minister of Islam'. Following the final disappearance of Fard, Muhammad deified the temple's original leader, calling him an incarnation of God and predicting his eventual return to earth.

In 1934, the Nation of Islam published its first newspaper, the Final Call to Islam, to educate and build membership. Temple children attended classes at the newly created ‘University’, but this soon led to challenges by Boards of Education both in Detroit and later, Chicago, which considered the children truants from the public school system. The controversy led to the jailing of several board members in 1934 and to violent confrontations with police. Muhammad received a sentence of probation for the altercations and the temple continued the practice.

Leading the Nation of Islam

Muhammad took control of the Temple only after bitter, internecine battles with other potential leaders, including his brother. In 1935, fearing for his life as these battles became increasingly fierce, Muhammad left Detroit and settled his family in Chicago. Soon, still facing death threats, Muhammad left his family there and traveled to Milwaukee (where he established Temple No. 3) and eventually Washington, D.C.marker Muhammad established Temple No. 4 in the District and spent much of his time studying at the Library of Congressmarker.

In 1942, Muhammad was arrested for failure to register for the draft. After he was released on bail, he fled Washington at the urging of his attorney, who feared a potential lynching, and returned to Chicago after seven years' absence. Muhammad was soon arrested again, charged with eight counts of sedition for instructing his followers not to register with Selective Service or serve in the Military. Found guilty, Muhammad served four years, from 1942 to 1946, in federal prison at Milan, Michigan. During that time his wife and trusted aides ran the organization and transmitted his messages to followers from his letters from jail.

Following his return to Chicago, Muhammad was firmly in charge of the NOI. The organization had held its membership steadily during his years of imprisonment, and began to grow once he returned. From four temples in 1946, the NOI grew to 15 by 1955 and by 1959 there were 50 temples in 22 states. One of Muhammad's top lieutenants during this period, generally credited with growing and expanding the NOI, was Malcolm X. Converted while in prison, Malcolm X became involved in the organization in 1952. He traveled across the country opening and organizing temples. During this time, NOI also began expanding economically. By the 1970s, the nation owned bakeries, barber shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, cleaners, a printing plant, retail stores, real estate (including three apartment buildings in Chicago), a fleet of tractor trailers and farmland in Michigan, Alabama and Georgia. In 1972 the Nation of Islam took controlling interest in a bank, the Guaranty Bank and Trust Co. The NOIs schools expanded until by 1974, children could attend its separatist schools in 47 cities in the U.S. In 1972, Muhammad told followers that the Nation of Islam had a net worth of $75 million.

Muhammad died at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, Illinoismarker on February 24, 1975 from congestive heart failure. It was the day after Saviours' Day, celebrated in the NOI as the birthday of founder W. Fard Muhammad.

Women and children

By most accounts Elijah Muhammad had 21 children by eight women. He had eight children with his wife, Clara Muhammad, and at least 13 other children with seven other women, mostly young secretaries for the Nation of Islam. These relationships were a source of great strain in his marriage. The perceived infidelity (some in the Nation of Islam considered the women to be additional wives) came to be a source of disenchantment for Malcolm X and others in the Nation. They were disturbed because Muhammad preached the importance of faithfulness in marriage, and also because he allegedly used NOI funds to support the other women and natural children. After Muhammad's death, 19 of his children filed lawsuits against the NOI and its accounts seeking status as heirs. Ultimately the court ruled that the NOI could keep the funds.

Split with Malcolm X

Muhammad and some of his followers began to feel that Malcolm X was grabbing too much of the public spotlight and showing too much ambition. By 1963 author Alex Haley had begun working with Malcolm X on his autobiography. There were serious tensions within the Nation and threats were made against Malcolm X's life. Following Malcolm X's controversial remarks about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Muhammad prohibited him from speaking to the press or making any speeches for 90 days. In March 1964 Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam to found a separate Muslim mosque in New York, and numerous supporters followed him. He converted to traditional Sunni Islam, and made public statements refuting numerous tenets of the NOI. Malcolm X declared his desire to work with other civil rights leaders, which he said had been prohibited by Muhammad. In 1965 he was assassinated in an attack at the Audubon Ballroommarker in New York. Three NOI members were convicted of the murder of Malcolm X.

Teachings

As envisioned by W.D. Fard and Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam departed from orthodox Islamic doctrines and practices. As leader of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad established that Fard was literally Allah, and Muhammad, his messenger on earth. Muhammad codified and expanded on Fard's teachings and writings in the doctrines of the NOI, teaching it in its schools and temples.

Like mainstream Islam, NOI members are expected to abstain from eating pork, from smoking and drinking, the use of drugs, profanity and gambling. They are expected to dress conservatively. Until recently, members did not fast during Ramadan and did not perform Salaat (Islamic prayer).

The Nation of Islam teaches a black separatist doctrine. According to its beliefs, blacks were the original people on the Earth but had been tricked out of their power, conquered and oppressed by the Caucasian people via a global system of white supremacy. According to NOI doctrine, the white race was produced through a series of genetic breeding experiments conducted by a bigheaded scientist known as "Dr. Yakub".

Officially, the Nation of Islam seeks: "a full and complete freedom, equal justice under the law applied equally to all, regardless of race or class or color and equal membership in society with the best in civilized society." The NOI as formed by Muhammad is a nationalist organization seeking "complete separation in a state or territory of our own." Researcher John L. Esposito has written: "Elijah Muhammad emphasized a "Do for Self" philosophy, appealing particularly to black youth, focusing on black pride and identity, strength and self-sufficiency, strong family values, hard work, discipline, thrift, and abstention from gambling, alcohol, drugs and pork."

Muhammad opposed the "back to Africa" movement supported by Marcus Garvey and other 20th century black leaders. Instead he believed in seeking aid and support from independent African and Muslim nations to improve conditions for blacks in the United Statesmarker. Eventually, Muhammad preached that Allah would destroy 'White America' and faithful followers of Islam in America would emerge as conquerors and settlers of a new world.

Leadership

While the organization had a board of directors and ministerial leadership, Elijah Muhammad was ultimately the unquestioned leader of the Nation of Islam. The man who led the Nation of Islam for more than 40 years was slender and stood only 5'6". He was soft-spoken and light-skinned with a thick Georgia accent. His speech in public was halting and he often struggled to find words. Some researchers have said that this made him a disarming figure for listeners, who responded to his earnestness and simplicity.

Muhammad made the nation of Islam a public organization, putting converts as exhorters in the streets of urban areas, selling newspapers, writing weekly newspaper columns (his columns in the Pittsburgh Gazette brought in more letters to the editor than any other feature,) and even parading the Fruit of Islam at times. Visitors to temples found smartly dressed members, usually wearing bow ties, and a militaristic discipline. They found a compelling vision of strong black leadership that was so often lacking in the world outside the temple.

Legacy

There are 6 to 8 million Muslims in the United States, and nearly 30 percent of them are African-American (nearly all converts from mainstream Christian denominations). During his lifetime, Muhammad saw Islam become an important presence in the black community and saw his organization grow to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of members. The Nation of Islam grew to become an enterprise with assets reportedly worth $75 million.

In addition to its particular brand of Islam, the Nation of Islam encouraged its followers to build stable families, become self-sufficient, live disciplined lives and reject drugs, alcohol and criminal activity. While temples have had mixed success in these areas, the Nation of Islam has encouraged tens of thousands of followers to avoid many of the traps of urban low-income life. In the words of historian Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar "In many ways the Nation was on a civilizing mission to rebuild, redeem and rejuvenate a downtrodden and backward people."

The Nation of Islam splintered into three factions after Elijah Mohammad's death.

Elijah Muhammad wished his son, Warith, to take leadership of the Nation of Islam after his death. Under Warith Deen Muhammad, the NOI moved toward mainstream Sunni Islam, away from Black Nationalism. It accepted white members, rejected the idea of W.D. Fard as Allah and disbanded the Fruit of Islam. Eventually his faction was renamed the American Society of Muslims and Warith Muhammad became a less polarizing figure. He delivered the first Muslim invocation in the U.S. Senate, and in 1993 gave an Islamic prayer during the first Interfaith Prayer Service of President Bill Clinton. At his death in 2008 he was eulogized as "America's Imam"

Louis Farrakhan left the Nation of Islam over disagreements with Warith Muhammad's direction. His new organization hewed more closely to Elijah Muhammad's ideology, including the tenet that W.D. Fard was Allah on earth. He reestablished the Fruit of Islam. He began publishing the Final Call newspaper and eventually called his organization the "Nation of Islam." As of 2009, he still leads the organization.

A third faction, the Lost Found Nation of Islam, was formed by Elijah Muhammad's son-in-law Silas Muhammad.

Honors

In the early 1990s the city of Detroit, Michiganmarker, added the name "Elijah Muhammad Blvd." to its Linwood Avenue neighborhood.

One of Muhammad's grandsons, Ozier Muhammad, is a photographer for The New York Times who has won a Pulitzer Prize.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Elijah Muhammad on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

Controversy

Malcolm X

Some writers have suggested that formal orders from top Nation of Islam officials, including possibly Elijah Muhammad himself, played a role in the assassination of Malcolm X, for which members of NOI were convicted. This contention is disputed by followers of the NOI. Malcolm X asserted that "Elijah Muhammad could stop the whole thing by raising his hand, but he won't."

Louis Farrakhan later stated that the group's "incendiary rhetoric" may have led to the assassination.

A daughter of Malcolm X was charged with trying to hire a hit man in the 1990s to kill Louis Farrakhan. Her family "resented Farrakhan and had good reason to because he was one of those in the Nation responsible for the climate of vilification that resulted in Malcolm X's assassination," according to Stanford historian Clayborne Carson.

Hanafi Murders

In 1973 seven killers, who were later identified as Nation of Islam members from the Philadelphia temple's Black Mafia, broke into the Washington home of Hanafi leader Khalifa Hamaas Abdul Khaalis. Weeks earlier Khaalis had written open letters criticizing and mocking Muhammad and Fard. The men brutally murdered five of Khaalis' children, his nine-day-old grandson and a follower. Khaalis, who was not at home, escaped the carnage. Five of the men responsible were captured, tried and convicted of life sentences. Muhammad was never found to have ordered the murders, though many had suspected he had some direct or indirect involvement. Khaalis swore revenge and years later his movement attacked and held hostages in the Washington D.C. offices of B'nai B'rith in the 1977 Hanafi Muslim Siege.

Racism

Nation of Islam ideology is generally considered racist and Anti-Semitic, placing the black or "Asiatic" race (which, according to the NOI, includes all people of color) above whites. Membership has included Asians and Latinos over the years. And though racially integrated to some degree, Muhammad regularly referred to whites as "devils" in his writing and preaching.

See also



Notes

  1. Claude Andrew Clegg II, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, St. Martin's Griffin 1998
  2. Richard Brent Turner, "From Elijah Poole to Elijah Muhammad", American Visions, Oct-Nov, 1997 at (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1546/is_n5_v12/ai_19909405/pg_1?tag=content;col1)
  3. Karl Evanzz, The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad Random House, 2001
  4. An Original Man
  5. From Elijah Poole to Elijah Muhammad
  6. The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad: This source claims the first encounter between Poole and Fard took place at the Pooles' dinner table.
  7. The FBI spent decades trying to get to the bottom of Fard's identity. Their files are now available through Freedom of Information requests. http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/fard.htm
  8. Arna Wendell Bontemps, Arna Bontemps, Jack Conroy, Anyplace But Here, University of Missouri Press, 1966
  9. The Messenger suggests the name was changed to convince the authorities that ATI had gone out of business.
  10. An Original Man: One NOI tenet states: “There is no God but Allah, Master W.D. Fard, Elijah, his prophet”
  11. Charles Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994
  12. Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience, University of Indiana Press 1997
  13. "A Historical Look at the Honorable Elijah Muhammad", Nation of Islam web site
  14. An Original Man
  15. A Historical Look at the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, NOI
  16. E. U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism, University of Chicago Press 1962
  17. Black Nationalism
  18. In the Name of Elijah Muhammad
  19. The Messenger
  20. The Messenger has a list of children and "wives".
  21. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  22. "19 Children of Muslim Leader Battle a Bank for $5.7 Million", N.Y. Times, November 3, 1987
  23. "Court Gives Leader's Money to Black Muslims", N.Y. Times, January 2, 1988
  24. http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/2002/10/Chart-Nation-of-Islam-and-Traditional-Islam.aspx Beliefnet discussion
  25. Malcolm X spoke of his embarrassment in his visit to Mecca when he was unaware of the Salaat prayer ritual.
  26. Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Blackman 1965
  27. Dorothy Blake Fardan, Yakub and the Origins of White Supremacy, Lushena Books, 2001
  28. Message to the Blackman
  29. Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Random House Publishing Group, 1964
  30. http://www.noi.org/muslim_program.htm The Muslim Program
  31. John L. Esposito, What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, Oxford University Press 2002 pages 52-56
  32. Message to the Blackman in America
  33. An Original Man
  34. Much of this is from The Black Muslims in America
  35. Edward E. Curtis, Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960-1975 University of North Carolina Press, 2006
  36. Jeffrey Ogbonna Green Ogbar, Black Power, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004
  37. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week106/profile.html
  38. The New York Times: How Race is Lived in America: Photographer's Journals
  39. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  40. Malcolm X speech http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRC5jN5I-wU&NR=1
  41. Stanford University News Service http://news.stanford.edu/pr/95/950117Arc5411.html
  42. "What is the Nation of Islam?", Anti Defamation League
  43. The Hate that Hate Produced, 1959, News Beat, WNTA-TV, New York available at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/mxp/archival.html
  44. Milton Klegg, Hate Prejudice and Racism SUNY Press, 1993 page 225-227
  45. Elijah Muhammad, The Supreme Wisdom, Secretarius MEMPS Ministries, Phoenix, AZ, 1973 page 23 "...the whole Caucasian rade is a race of devils. They proved to be devils in the Garden of Paradise and 4,000 years later they were condemned by Jesus. Likewise they are condemned today by the Great Madhi Muhammad as being nothing but devils in the plainest language."
  46. Elijah Muhammad, Making of Devil a 1965 column, "we have seen the white race (devils) in heaven, among the righteous, causing trouble (making mischief and causing bloodshed)"
  47. Elijah Muhammad, How to Eat to Live, Conquering Books Llc, 1992 "They, the white devils, are not here to teach us, the Lost Found members of the Aboriginal nation, to live a long life"


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