Muhammad, Elijah

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Muhammad, Elijah,

1897–1975, American black-nationalist and religious leader, b. near Sandersville, Ga. Originally named Elijah Poole, he left home at 16 and worked at various jobs. In 1923 he settled in Detroit and became an automobile assembly-line worker. In 1931 he became a follower of Wali Farad, or W. D. Fard, who had established a Temple of Islam in Detroit. When Farad disappeared in 1934, Poole (now renamed Muhammad) assumed leadership of the movement that was to become known as the Black MuslimsBlack Muslims,
African-American religious movement in the United States, split since the late 1970s into the American Society of Muslims and the Nation of Islam. The original group was founded (1930) in Detroit by Wali Farad (or W. D.
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, officially the Nation of Islam. He was imprisoned during World War II for encouraging resistance to the draft. Muhammad called himself the "Messenger of Allah" and preached that the only salvation for black people in the United States lay in withdrawal into an autonomous state. He retained almost autocratic control over his movement. He greatly influenced Malcolm XMalcolm X,
1925–65, militant black leader in the United States, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, b. Malcolm Little in Omaha, Neb. A petty criminal in Boston and Harlem, he was convicted of burglary (1946) and sent to prison, where he read widely and was introduced
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, although Malcolm later left the Black Muslims. W. Deen MohammedMohammed, W. Deen
(Warith Deen Mohammed), 1933–2008, American Muslim leader, b. Detroit as Wallace Dean Muhammad. The son of Nation of Islam (Black Muslim) leader Elijah Muhammad, he attended religious schools and junior colleges in Chicago.
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, his son, succeeded him as leader of the Nation of Islam.

Bibliography

See biographies by C. A. Clegg 3d (1997) and K. Evanzz (1999).

Muhammad, Elijah (b. Elijah Poole)

(1897–1975) religious movement leader; born near Sandersville, Ga. Son of former slaves and sharecroppers, he left home at age 16 and went to Detroit, where he worked in a Chevrolet auto plant. Having had his own spiritual revelation about 1930, he fell in with the Nation of Islam, a movement founded by W. D. Fard (or Farad), a somewhat mysterious African-American who was working as a salesman in Detroit, but whose followers believed he had come from Mecca to save blacks from the "white devils." When Fard disappeared from Detroit in 1934, Poole took over, changed his name to Elijah Muhammad, proclaimed himself the "Messenger of Allah," and made a national movement out of the Black Muslims (a name that Muhammad and his followers neither used nor liked). Muhammad stressed the need for separation of the races and scorned attempts of the civil rights movement to bring about integration; he even called for an all-black state or territory within the United States. He stressed the need for African-Americans to establish their own economic power-base, and he required strict obedience to certain tenets of Islam; although never implicated in any improprieties, he definitely imposed one-man rule. Most Americans were totally unaware of Muhammad and his movement until the 1960s, when its most noted convert, Malcolm X, drew attention to Black Muslims; it was at this time that they gained an undeserved reputation for threatening white people. When Elijah Muhammad died, his son Wallace Poole took over; he soon led the movement closer to traditional Islam and changed its name to the World Community of Islam in the West. But certain of Elijah Muhammad's teachings—the goals of hard work, discipline, self-support, and self-esteem for African-Americans—came to be accepted by increasing numbers outside his movement.