Muslims in America

Why was Wallace Fard important among Muslims?

In 1930 W. D. Fard (1891–?) organized the group that became Temple No. 1 of the Nation of Islam in Detroit. Accounts of his life vary widely. He used several names, including Fred Dodd and Wallace Ford; by the time he arrived in Detroit, however, he had become W. D. Fard. He was known to his followers as Fard Muhammad. He was born to a white mother and a black father, or may have had Polynesian ancestry. Whatever his ethnic heritage, he was known to have passed for white when he was jailed later on. His birthplace was either New Zealand or Portland, Oregon. In the 1920s Fard operated a café in Los Angeles. After various encounters with the law he was jailed and spent three years in San Quentin Prison for selling narcotics. He was released from prison on May 27, 1929, and then settled in Detroit where he worked as a retail salesman in the black community. He began to organize the Nation of Islam in 1930. By some accounts, Fard thought of himself as the deity. “My name is Mahdi; I am God, I came to guide you into the right path that you may be successful and see the hereafter,” he told Elijah Muhammad (Elijah Poole, Elijah Karriem; 1879–1975) when asked who he was and what was his real name. The Nation of Islam was considered radical and therefore a target for police harassment. In November 1932 Fard was arrested only because the police tied a murderer to the Nation of Islam. When it became known that Fard’s persecution made him a martyr, he was ordered to leave Detroit. Fard instead went into hiding and prepared Elijah Karriem to head the organization, giving him the surname of Muhammad and making him chief minister of Islam. The fragile unity of the Nation of Islam was shattered, and fierce fighting followed. The police also accelerated their harassment. Meanwhile, Elijah Muhammad avoided the struggles and finally relocated the headquarters to Chicago. He met with Fard in June 1934—and after that Fard disappeared.


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