Nation of Islam
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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).
Nation of Islam
The Nation of Islam awaits the return of Wali Farad Muhammad, a human embodiment of God, who disappeared in 1933 but will return with a new and final holy book.
The Nation of Islam (NOI) is also known as the World Community of Al-Islam in the West, the American Muslim Mission, the Nation of Peace, and the Black Muslim Movement. The NOI was founded in 1930 by Wali Farad Muhammad (b. Wallace Dodd Fard) in Detroit. In the beginnings of the movement, the emphasis was largely social, a group of people working together to improve the political and economic structure of their own community first, and then to spread their doctrine of a better society across the United States.
Most of the religious doctrines and beliefs that became an essential part of the NOI were derived from the teachings of Noble Drew Ali and his Moorish Holy Temple of Science. Ali taught that most of the African tribes from which the slaves were captured were of Islamic heritage and should therefore be referred to as Moors. He further emphasized that a sure step to salvation was made when an African American refused to be called “Negro,” “black,” or “colored” and insisted upon being called a “Moor” or “Moorish American.” When Noble Drew Ali died in 1929, John Given El claimed to be the reincarnation of the teacher—but so did Wallace D. Fard. Those who followed Given El became the Moorish Americans of the Moorish Temple of Science in Chicago, while those who followed Fard became the Nation of Islam.
Fard, now Wali Farad Muhammad, de-emphasized the Bible and introduced his followers to the Qur’an. Among his basic teachings were the following:
- Allah is God, the white race is the devil.
- The Asiatic black people are the cream of planet Earth.
- Blacks cannot achieve freedom, equality, and justice until they speak their true language (Arabic), practice their true religion (Islam), and gain their own separate state.
- Christianity is the white man’s religion, the slave religion that enabled the white man to keep the black man subjugated.
By 1934 Wali Farad Muhammad had gathered about eight thousand members into his flock, and then, in June of that year, he mysteriously disappeared. His most dedicated minister, Elijah Muhammad, took over the NOI. Elijah was so dedicated to his predecessor that he believed Wali Muhammad was God incarnate. Elijah was extremely strict and ran the NOI with an iron hand, even while in prison during World War II for draft evasion. His commands were relayed to the faithful by his wife, Clara, and his head ministers.
Elijah Muhammad remained head of the NOI until his death in 1975, when leadership passed to his son, Wallace Muhammad. Elijah had excommunicated Wallace at least four times during disputes over the ideology of Islamic Nationalism and black separatism, but had always reinstated him. Wallace Muhammad and his close friend Malcolm X had denied that Wallace Fard was actually Allah in the flesh, and they railed against Elijah Muhammad for being unfaithful to his wife and thereby committing adultery, a violation of the tenets of Islam. When Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, he was separated from the NOI and held in disregard. Wallace Muhammad restored the legacy of Malcolm X as a respected and prominent teacher. Among other changes implemented by Wallace Muhammad were the following:
- The removal of the doctrine of racial superiority taught by Wali Farad Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad. Orthodox Muslims believe in the equality of all. There is no one group superior over another.
- The recognition of Wali Farad Muhammad as a wise man and a teacher, but not the incarnation of Allah. Orthodox Muslims believe the Qur’an given to the prophet Muhammad between the years of 610 and 632 was Allah’s final revelation to humankind.
- Business and religious practices would be conducted as separate entities.
- The Nation of Islam did not wish to establish a state separate unto themselves.
- The U.S. Constitution would henceforth be honored by all NOI members.
- NOI members would now be aligned with Orthodox Islam.
Wallace Muhammad changed the name of the Nation of Islam to the Bilalian Community, then to the World Community of Al-Islam in the West, then to the American Muslim Mission, and finally to the Muslim Mission. Today the Muslim Mission is considered orthodox and is accepted as a member of the traditional Islamic community in the United States.
While Wallace Muhammad was restructuring the group founded by Wallace Fard and carried forth by Elijah Muhammad into a very different kind of organization, a number of NOI followers strongly objected to the dismissal of the doctrines of black racial superiority and racial separation as taught by the Founding Fathers. In 1978 Louis Farrakhan assumed the leadership of the NOI as the “spiritual son” of Elijah Muhammad, and in 1981 he publicly announced the restoration of the Nation of Islam.
Farrakhan remains the leader of the Nation of Islam and lives in Chicago. The headquarters of the NOI, the National Center, houses Mosque No. 2, also known as Mosque Maryam, dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. (Jesus, known as Isa in Arabic, is revered in the Islamic faith as a prophet and holy man.) Mosque Maryam is the National Center for the Re-training and Re-education of the Black Man and Woman of America and the World.
Among the controversial teachings of the Nation of Islam are the following:
- The black man is the original man on Earth. By using a special method of birth control created by Yakub, a black scientist, the ancient black man was able to produce the white race. Farrakhan has remarked that the white people are “potential humans” but they haven’t yet evolved.
- The universe was created 78 trillion years ago, and also at this time God was self-created on Earth. He was the only one in the entire dark universe, but he was a black man.
- The original, physical manifestation of God died, but his essence is infinite. Since the physical God died, the universe has been ruled by a council of twenty-four black scientists, the head scientist being known as Allah. No God lives forever. Their wisdom and work may live for 25,000 years, but the actual being may have died after a hundred or so years. There have been a succession of Gods, each a black man. In our current time, the supreme God was W. D. Fard, who disappeared in 1933, but who will return with a final holy book.
- There is a giant Mother Spaceship that is made like the universe, spheres within spheres, and can appear as a cloud by day but a pillar of fire by night. What white people call “UFOs” are smaller craft from the Mother Ship.
As in orthodox Islam, the NOI member believes in prayer five times daily, facing in the direction of the holy city of Mecca; charity to the poor; fasting during the month of Ramadan; and the duty of everyone who is physically and financially able to make Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in a lifetime.