Membership, Community, Diversity

Who are the Black Muslims and the Nation of Islam?

In 1930s Detroit, W. D. Fard began teaching that the ancestors of black Americans had been Muslims. Young Elijah Poole became a devoted follower, and Fard declared Poole his successor and prophet. Elijah took the last name Muhammad and continued to develop a community called the Nation of Islam, or the Black Muslims. Two prominent young followers of Elijah Muhammad were Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan. Malcolm X tells in his autobiography how he discovered during his pilgrimage to Mecca that Elijah Muhammad’s teachings of a kind of reverse racism were a lie. All human beings were brothers and sisters under God, and Malcolm returned to try to counter-teach Muhammad’s misinterpretations of Islam. Malcolm was assassinated in 1965, but ten years later, when Muhammad died, Elijah’s son Wallace took over and continued to pursue the reform movement Malcolm X had begun. Wallace sought to bring the Nation of Islam, newly named the World Community of Islam in the West, in line with mainstream Muslim teachings. Louis Farrakhan, on the other hand, chose to continue the separatist doctrines of Elijah Muhammad and, with his approximately fifty thousand followers, retained the name Nation of Islam.

Many African Americans in the United States have joined the ranks of the Muslim faithful. The movement toward Islam was sparked in the 1930s by W. D. Fard, who taught that the ancestors of African Americans had originally been Muslims.


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