History of the Nation of Islam

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This article outlines the history of the Nation of Islam.

NOI: 1930–1975[edit]

The original Nation of Islam was founded in Detroit in the United States of America in 1930s by Wallace Fard Muhammad. Wallace Fard Muhammad (1877, 1891 or 1893- 1934?), is believed by the NOI to be “the long-awaited Messiah of the Christians and the Mahdi of the Muslims”. [1]

One of Fard's first disciples was Elijah Poole, whose name Fard later changed to Elijah Muhammad (1897–1975). Elijah Muhammad deified Fard by preaching that he was literally God in person.

Elijah Muhammad was born in Georgia, but later moved to Detroit, where he came into contact with Fard Muhammad through his wife Clara Muhammad and accepted his teachings. He eventually traveled the country, setting up mosques, and named them according to his sequence of arrival. In New York to this day, the mosque there is still referred to as Mosque No. 7, because it was the seventh mosque Elijah Muhammad visited. Over time, Elijah Muhammad's followers spread his teachings, from streets and meeting halls to correctional institutions.

One of the Nation of Islam's core beliefs is that the so-called American Negro has been miseducated by public schools with the express intent of preserving a system of white domination. Highly critical of the facilities and quality of education available in the nation's public schools, which were segregated at the time, the NOI established an independent, parochial school in various cities, calling each one the University of Islam. This move led to confrontations with the authorities. In Detroit in 1934, a squad of police officers raided the NOI school and arrested 12 teachers for “contributing to the delinquency of minors.” Because students were not enrolled in a state-accredited school, legally, they were considered truants. According to reports, Nation of Islam members demonstrated for the teachers' release, asserting their support of the NOI private school in front of Detroit Police headquarters. (Desiree Cooper, Helping turn a sect into a nation, Detroit Free Press, March 31, 2005)

Commenting on the confrontation and the Nation of Islam's decision to set up independent schools, Elijah Muhammad said,

In Detroit, Michigan, where we were first attacked outright by the Police Department in April 1934, we were also unarmed. There were no deaths on the part of the Believers, however. They fought back against the policemen who attacked them for no just cause whatsoever but that they wanted our Muslim children to go to their schools. We refused to let children take their first courses in the public schools, although the high-school children in their upper teens could do so. But let us shape our children first. (Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Blackman in America, Muhammad's Temple No. 2, 1965)

One follower who was to become one of his most well-known adherents was Malcolm Little, later to become known as Malcolm X. While serving a prison sentence for burglary, Malcolm was introduced to the Nation of Islam by his brother Philbert. Upon his release from prison in 1952, Little joined the Nation of Islam and, in the custom of the Nation, became known as Malcolm X. NOI doctrine explains that because in mathematics the X represents an unknown variable; followers use it to represent their lost, unknown African surnames. The followers accept this “X” as a symbol of the rejection of their slave names and the absence of a “proper” Muslim name. Eventually, the “X” is replaced with an Arabic name more descriptive of a person’s personality and character. Eventually, Malcolm X took the name El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz after rejecting the Nation’s beliefs and accepting traditional Islam.

1955 brought the arrival of future NOI leader Louis Eugene Walcott, later to be known as Louis Farrakhan. A calypso singer and violinist, Walcott first became acquainted with the teachings of Elijah Muhammad after attending the NOI's annual Savior's Day convention in Chicago. Walcott accepted Elijah Muhammad's teachings that day and became Louis X before being renamed Louis Farrakhan by Muhammad years later. After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Farrakhan became imam of Mosque No. 7 and the official spokesman for the Nation. In the wake of a doctrinal schism in the organization after Elijah Muhammad's death ten years later, Farrakhan would become the leading voice of a “purist” faction, which sought to adhere to Muhammad's teachings and the black nationalist dogma.

One day after Elijah Muhammad's death in February 1975, the succession of his son Wallace was approved unanimously during the annual Savior's Day celebrations February 26. Wallace Muhammad was suspended from the NOI for “dissident views” and ideological rifts with his father over religious doctrine, but had been restored to the organization by 1974.[1]

By the time Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, there were 75 Temples across America.[2]

American Society of Muslims: 1975[edit]

When W.D. (Wallace) Muhammad was installed as Supreme Minister of the Nation of Islam in 1975, he immediately began to reformulate his father's beliefs and practices to bring NOI closer to mainstream Sunni Islam. He renamed his organization a number of times, settling on the American Society of Muslims, and many of his followers assimilated into traditional Islam. Wallace Muhammad publicly shunned his father's theology and black separatist views, changed the spelling of his last name from the Nation’s preferred “Muhammad” to the older form “Mohammed,” accepted whites as fellow worshipers and attempted to forge closer ties with mainstream Muslim communities in the United States. Wallace later changed his own name to Warith Deen Mohammed.

A new NOI: 1978[edit]

At the outset of Wallace Muhammad's leadership of the Nation, many members were disturbed at the movement's new, moderate direction; and a minority of them years later formed more doctrinaire splinter groups. The most important of these was Louis Farrakhan, who, in a 1990 interview with Emerge magazine, expressed his disillusionment with the changes and decided to "quietly walk away" from the organization in 1976, rather than cause a schism among the membership. In 1978, after wrestling with the changes and consequent dismantling of the NOI, Farrakhan and his supporters decided to rebuild the original Nation of Islam upon the foundation established by W. Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad.

In 1979, the Nation of Islam's newspaper, Muhammad Speaks was reestablished by Farrakhan under the name The Final Call.

In 1981, Farrakhan publicly announced the restoration of the Nation of Islam and went forward with Elijah Muhammad's teachings.

In 1988 the resurgent Nation of Islam repurchased its former flagship mosque and headquarters in Chicago and dedicated it as Mosque Maryam, the National Center for the Re-training and Re-education of the Blackman and Woman of America and the World.

In October 1990, a 2,000-member delegation from the United States traveled to Accra, Ghana, for the Nation of Islam's first International Savior’s Day convention on the African continent. Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings officially opened and closed the five-day convention.

In December 1997, the Nation of Islam sponsored a world tour referred to as the World Friendship Tour III. [2] A delegation of Muslim and Christian clergy from America, led by Minister Louis Farrakhan, visited the Caribbean and almost 40 countries as well, including Canada, Mali, South Africa, South Korea, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Russia, Arabia, Libya, Cuba, Egypt, and the Philippines. Using the themes of the Million Man March held two years earlier, Farrakhan declared the mission of the tour to “spread the message of atonement, reconciliation, and responsibility.”

The Million Man March: 1995[edit]

In 1995 Farrakhan convened what organizers say was the largest march in U.S. history, the Million Man March.

Reconciliation: 2000[edit]

Marking 70 years since the Nation of Islam was founded in America, in 2000 Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and Minister Louis Farrakhan publicly embraced and declared unity and reconciliation at the annual Saviours' Day convention.

In comments to the audience, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed said,

"Dear Muslim brothers and sisters, it is not difficult for Minister Farrakhan and Wallace D. Mohammed to embrace each other. That’s easy for us. When I first met him in the early ’50s, I liked him on first sight, and I became his friend and his brother. And I have not stopped being his friend and his brother. Maybe he has not understood, but I have always been his friend and his brother. For me, this is too big a cause for our personal problems and differences. Allah-u Akbar (God is great). FCN, February 25, 2000

Farrakhan and Mohammed have continued to promote unity between their communities with prayer services and joint projects. FCN, February 26, 2002

The Million Family March: 2000[edit]

The Million Family March was a rally in Washington D.C to celebrate family unity and racial and religious harmony; as well as to address other issues, including abortion, capital punishment, health care, education, welfare and Social Security reform, substance abuse prevention, and overhaul of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.[3] The march’s organizers also planned a voter registration drive and hoped that participants would be encouraged to vote in the upcoming presidential and congressional elections.[4] Louis Farrakhan was the main speaker and the event was sponsored by his organization, The Nation of Islam, and by Sun Myung Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (usually known as the Unification Church). It was held on October 16, 2000; the fifth anniversary of the Million Man March, which was also organized by Minister Farrakhan.[5]

Minister Farrakhan told Nation of Islam members: "I don't want us to get bent out of shape because folk of another race desire to help. I say to the Muslims that are present that I am grateful for the help of the Family Federation for World Peace under Rev. and Mrs. Moon ... The Honorable Elijah Muhammad told us that people would come from the East, that they would teach us everything we need to know in order to be the people that God meant for us to be."[6]

Millions More Movement: 2005[edit]

Ten years after the historic Million Man March, Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan and diverse coalition of Black leaders announced plans to launch The Millions More Movement in commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of the Million Man March. Plans called for a mass march on Washington, D.C., on October 15, 2005, to galvanize public support for the movement's goals. MillionsMoreMovement.com, May 02, 2005

Embracement of Dianetics: 2010 onwards[edit]

On May 8 2010, Farrakhan publicly announced his embracment of Dianetics and has actively encouraged Nation of Islam members to undergo auditing from the Church of Scientology.[7] Although he has stressed that he is not a Scientologist, but only a believer in Dianetics and the theories related to it, the Church honored Farrakhan previously during its 2006 Ebony Awakening awards ceremony (which he did not attend).[7][8]

Since the announcement in 2010, the Nation Of Islam has been hosting its own dianetics courses and its own graduation ceremonies. At the third such ceremony, which was held on Saviours Day 2013, it was announced that nearly 8500 members of the organisation had undergone dianetics auditing. The Organisation announced it had graduated 1055 auditors and had delivered 82424 hours of auditing. The graduation ceremony was certified by the Church of Scientology, and the Nation of Islam members received official certification. The ceremony was attended by Shane Woodruff, vice-president of the Church of Scientology’s Celebrity Centre International. He stated that "The unfolding story of the Nation of Islam and Dianetics is bold, It is determined and it is absolutely committed to restoring freedom and wiping hell from the face of this planet.” [9]


  1. ^ This Far by Faith - Warith Deen Mohammed
  2. ^ Muhammad's Temple of Islam, Information taken from the October 4, 1974 edition of Muhammad Speaks Newspaper
  3. ^ Million Family March reaches out to all
  4. ^ Basham, David (October 9, 2000). "Mary J. Blige, Macy Gray To Perform At Million Family March". MTV. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  5. ^ Families Arrive in Washington For March Called by Farrakhan, New York Times, October 16, 2000
  6. ^ Clarkson, Frederick (October 9, 2000). "Million Moon March". Salon (Salon.com, Inc.). Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  7. ^ a b Gray, Eliza (October 5, 2012). "The Mothership of All Alliances". The New Republic. Retrieved November 19, 2012. 
  8. ^ Rossetter, Shelley; Tobin, Thomas C. (October 18, 2012). "Louis Farrakhan renews call for self-determination among Nation of Islam followers". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved November 19, 2012. 
  9. ^ Mohammed, Asahed (February 28, 2013). "Nation of Islam Auditors graduation held for third Saviours’ Day in a row". Final Call. Retrieved April 22, 2012. 

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