black Muslims

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Black 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. Fard), whom his followers believed to be "Allah in person." When Farad disappeared mysteriously in 1934, Elijah MuhammadMuhammad, 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.
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 assumed leadership of the group, first in Detroit and then in Chicago. Under his leadership, the black nationalist and separatist sect (then called the Nation of Islam) expanded, mainly among poor blacks and prison populations. Although the group numbered only about 8,000 when Muhammad took over, it grew rapidly in the 1950s and 60s, particularly as a result of the preaching of one of its ministers, 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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. Tension between Muhammad and Malcolm developed, however, and Malcolm's subsequent suspension (1963) and assassination (1965), possibly by Muhammad's followers, caused great dissension in the movement. When Muhammad died in 1975, his son, Wallace D. Muhammad (later Warith 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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) took over, preaching a far less inflammatory version of Islam. He aligned the organization with the international Islamic community, moving toward SunniSunni
[Arab. Sunna,=tradition], from ahl al-sunnah wa-l-jamaa [Arab.,=the people of the custom of the Prophet and community], the largest division of Islam. Sunni Islam is the heir to the early central Islamic state, in its ackowledgement of the legitimacy of the order of
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 Islamic practice, and opened the group (renamed the World Community of al-Islam in the West, then the American Muslim Mission, and later the American Society of Muslims) to individuals of all races. In 1977 a group of Black Muslims, led by Louis FarrakhanFarrakhan, Louis
, 1933–, African-American religious leader, b. New York City, as Louis Eugene Walcott. A former calypso singer known as "The Charmer," he joined the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) in 1955, eventually becoming minister of the Harlem Temple after Malcolm X
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, split off from the organization, disillusioned by the son's integrationist ideals and lack of allegiance to his father's brand of Islam. They named themselves the Nation of Islam and sought to follow in the footsteps of Elijah Muhammad. In the late 1990s the Nation of Islam began to embrace some traditional Islamic practices, and Farrakhan and Mohammed publicly declared an end to the rivalry between their groups in 2000. W. Deen Mohammed resigned as head of the American Society of Muslims in 2003.


See L. E. Lomax, When the Word Is Given (1964, repr. 1979); C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America (1973, repr. 1982); C. E. Marsh, From Black Muslims to Muslims (1984).

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black Muslims

a number of BLACK American-I slamic religious, social and cultural movements and their adherents. During the 20th century a number of SECTS and SOCIAL MOVEMENTS grew up within the American black community based loosely on Islamic principles and drawing on the Koran. The most influential of these sects was the Nation of Islam, led, from the early 1950s through to 1975, by Elijah Muhammad.

The Nation of Islam held the belief that ‘white’ society was the cause of evil and that American blacks should strive to create a separate and self-sufficient state exclusively for blacks. Black Muslims believed that no accommodation could be reached with the white power structure. The Nation of Islam encouraged the creation of separate shops, schools, hospitals, industries and financial institutions in an attempt to free blacks from the economic and cultural power of white society in the US.

Many black Muslims were at the centre of the American BLACK POWER MOVEMENT in the 1960s and early 1970s. The widespread influence of the Nation of Islam was enhanced by the adherence of well-known figures such as Malcolm X, the black radical, and Muhammad Ali, the boxing champion first known as Cassius Clay. After Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975, the Nation of Islam, and indeed the black Muslim movements in general, became more fragmented and less influential.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000

Black Muslims

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) was one of the most influential Muslim leaders among Americans of African descent. During the tumultuous 1960s, the black community throughout the United States became a scene of missionary activity and was mobilized as never before. Although the Nation of Islam, developed by Elijah Muhammad, was often accused of preaching unorthodox doctrine compared to Islamic tradition, its teachings concerning the separation of black and white America and the dignity of African descent touched a chord that resonated throughout the black community. Since then the movement has moved closer to traditional Islam, and its best-known adherent, Malcolm X (1925-1965), supported this trend, especially toward the end of his life. Today the mainstream of African-American Islam strives to be associated with Islam, rather than to be known as a protest to white America. But splinter Black Muslim groups carry on. Perhaps the best-known spokesman of the Nation of Islam is the controversial minister Louis Farrakhan (b. 1933), whose Million Man March on Washington mobilized much of the black community around the issue of the father's role in the family. Minister Farrakhan is noted for his call for unity and the need for African Americans to separate themselves from what he sees as continued white oppression in the wake of so many centuries of slavery. He is also, however, widely criticized for what are seen as racist, sexist, bigoted, and anti-Semitic views.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.