Elijah Muhammad, Nation of Islam   Leave a comment

Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Robert Poole; October 7, 1897 — February 25, 1975) was an African American religious leader, and led the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975. Muhammad was a mentor to Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali; and his son Warith Deen Mohammed.

  Early life

Elijah Muhammad was born Elijah Robert Poole in Sandersville, Georgia, the sixth of thirteen children to William Poole, Sr. (1868–1942), a Baptist lay preacher and sharecropper, and Mariah Hall (1873–1958), a homemaker and sharecropper.

Poole’s education ended at the fourth grade. To support the family, he worked with his parents as a sharecropper. When he was sixteen years old, he left home and began working in factories and at other businesses.

 Marriage and family

Poole married Clara Evans (1899–1972) on March 7, 1917. In 1923, the Pooles, like hundreds of thousands of other African Americans in those years, migrated from the Jim Crow South to the northern states for safety and employment opportunities in the industrial cities. Poole later recounted that before the age of 20, he had witnessed the lynchings of three black men by white people. He said, “I seen enough of the white man’s brutality to last me 26,000 years”.[1]

The Pooles settled in Hamtramck, Michigan. Through the 1920s and 1930s, Poole struggled to find and keep work as the economy suffered during the Great Depression. During their years in Detroit, the Pooles had eight children, six boys and two girls.[2][3]

 Conversion and rise to leadership

Main article: Nation of Islam (religious movement)

In August 1931, at the urging of his wife, Elijah Poole attended a speech on Islam and black empowerment by Wallace D. Fard. Afterward, Poole said he approached Fard and asked if he was the redeemer. Fard responded that he was, but that his time had not yet come.[4][5] Poole soon became an ardent follower of Fard and joined his movement, as did his wife and several brothers. Soon afterward, Poole was given the Muslim surname, first to Karriem, and later at Fard’s behest, to Muhammad. He assumed leadership of the Nation’s Temple No. 2 in Chicago.[6] His younger brother Kalot Muhammad became the leader of the movement’s self-defense arm, the Fruit of Islam.

Fard was arrested during a police investigation of a ritual murder and later released on the condition that he leave Detroit. He relocated to Chicago and continued to oversee the movement from Temple No. 2. He turned over leadership of the growing Detroit group to Elijah Muhammad, and the Allah Temple of Islam changed its name to the Nation of Islam.[7] Elijah Muhammad and Wallace Fard continued to communicate until 1934, when Wallace Muhammad disappeared. Elijah Muhammad succeeded him in Detroit and was named “Minister of Islam”. After the disappearance, Elijah Muhammad told followers that Wallace Muhammad had literally been Allah on earth.[8][9][10]

In 1934, the Nation of Islam published its first newspaper, Final Call to Islam, to educate and build membership. Children of its members attended classes at the newly created Muhammad University of Islam, but this soon led to challenges by boards of education in Detroit and Chicago, which considered the children truants from the public school system. The controversy led to the jailing of several University of Islam board members and Elijah Muhammad in 1934 and to violent confrontations with police. Muhammad was put on probation, but the university remained open.

  Leadership of the Nation of Islam

Elijah Muhammad took control of Temple No. 1, but only after battles with other potential leaders, including his brother. In 1935, as these battles became increasingly fierce, Muhammad left Detroit and settled his family in Chicago. Still facing death threats, Muhammad left his family there and traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he founded Temple No. 3, and eventually to Washington, D.C., where he founded Temple No. 4. He spent much of his time reading 104 books suggested by Master Fard Muhammad at the Library of Congress.[4][11][12]

On May 8, 1942, Elijah Muhammad was arrested for failure to register for the draft during World War II. After he was released on bail, Muhammad fled Washington D.C. on the advice of his attorney, who feared a lynching, and returned to Chicago after seven years’ absence.[citation needed] Muhammad was arrested there, charged with eight counts of sedition for instructing his followers not to register for the draft or serve in the armed forces. Found guilty, Elijah Muhammad served four years, from 1942 to 1946, at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan. During that time, his wife, Clara, and trusted aides ran the organization; Muhammad transmitted his messages and directives to followers in letters.[13][14][15]

Following his return to Chicago, Elijah Muhammad was firmly in charge of the Nation of Islam. The organization had retained its membership level during his imprisonment, and its membership increased after his return. From four temples in 1946, the Nation of Islam grew to 15 by 1955. By 1959, there were 50 temples in 22 states.[16]

By the 1970s, the Nation of Islam owned bakeries, barber shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, laundromats, a printing plant, retail stores, numerous real estate holdings, and a fleet of tractor trailers, plus farmland in Michigan, Alabama, and Georgia. In 1972 the Nation of Islam took controlling interest in a bank, the Guaranty Bank and Trust Co. Nation of Islam-owned schools expanded until, by 1974, the group had established schools in 47 cities throughout the United States.[17] In 1972, Muhammad told followers that the Nation of Islam had a net worth of $75 million.[18]


Elijah Muhammad died from congestive heart failure at age 77 on February 25, 1975, the day before Saviours’ Day, at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.[19]

 Malcolm X

Main article: Malcolm X

One of Elijah Muhammad’s top ministers from 1952 to 1963 was the former Malcolm Little. Malcolm had become a small-time criminal in Detroit, Boston, and Harlem, known as “Detroit Red” (an allusion to the reddish tinge of his hair). Also the son of a preacher, Little had converted to Islam while imprisoned in Massachusetts at the urging of two of his brothers, Philbert and Reginald, who were both NOI members.

Upon his release in 1952, Little joined the Nation of Islam and, in keeping with its naming convention, he changed his surname to the letter “X“, symbolizing the rejection of slave names. The charismatic Malcolm X quickly became one of the NOI’s most famed and productive ministers; he traveled across the country speaking and founding new temples, and the organization’s membership grew greatly during his tenure. The notable boxer Cassius Clay, who quietly began attending Nation of Islam events c. 1961, was one such member. Although Clay had converted to Islam long before his memorable first match with Sonny Liston in 1964, it wasn’t until the day after he’d defeated Liston for his first heavyweight championship that he publicly identified himself as a Muslim and demanded to be called “Muhammad Ali”.

Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Elijah Muhammad forbade his ministers from commenting on the incident. In a press interview, Malcolm X violated the directive and said President Kennedy’s murder was “chickens coming home to roost“. As punishment, Elijah Muhammad barred him from speaking to the press or at any Nation of Islam temple for ninety days. Malcolm complied. Another source of tension was Malcolm X’s discovery that a Chicago Tribune article claiming that Elijah Muhammad had fathered eight children by six teenaged girls was true.[20] In a meeting with Malcolm X, Muhammad justified his several children and young “wives” as his need to plant his seed in fertile soil.[citation needed]

Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965 shortly after beginning a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, New York City. Alex Haley completed and published The Autobiography of Malcolm X later that year.


  • As leader of The Nation of Islam he produced several Muslim icons, such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan and Warith Deen Mohammed. The Nation of Islam has grown into one of the wealthiest and best-known organizations in black America, offering numerous programs and events designed to uplift African Americans.[21]
  • His son Warith Deen Mohammed succeeded him. Warith disbanded the Nation of Islam in 1976 and started an orthodox mainstream Islamic organization, that came to be known as the American Society of Muslims, in 1976. The organization would disband, change names and reorganize many times. It finally dissolved in August 31, 2003, after he resigned from the leadership.
  • In 1977, Louis Farrakhan resigned from Warith Deen’s reformed organization and decided to rebuild the original Nation of Islam upon the foundation established by Wallace Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad. In 1981 he publicly displayed the revived Nation of Islam at Saviours’ Day. Louis Farrakhan traveled the nation speaking in city after city gaining followers, many were young black college students. Over time Minister Farrakhan regained many of the Nation of Islam’s original National properties including the National Headquarters Mosque #2 (Mosque Maryam) and Muhammad University of Islam in Chicago, IL. Currently there is over 130 NOI mosques in America and the world.
  • In 1995 the Nation sponsored the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., to promote African American unity and family values. Estimates of the number of marchers, most of whom were men, ranged from 400,000 to nearly 1.1 million, making it the largest gathering of its kind in American history. Under Farrakhan’s leadership, the Nation of Islam established a clinic for AIDS patients in Washington, D.C., and helped to force drug dealers out of public housing projects and private apartment buildings in the city. It also worked with gang members in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Nation continued to promote social reform in African American communities in accordance with its traditional goals of self-reliance and economic independence.
  • In the early 21st century, the core membership of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam was estimated at between 10,000 and 50,000—though in the same period Farrakhan was delivering speeches in large cities across the United States that regularly attracted crowds of more than 30,000. Under Farrakhan’s leadership, the Nation was one of the fastest growing of the various Muslim movements in the country. Foreign branches of the Nation were formed in Ghana, London, Paris, and the Caribbean islands. In order to strengthen the international influence of the Nation, Farrakhan established relations with Muslim countries, and in the late 1980s he cultivated a relationship with the Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. After a near-death experience in 2000 resulting from complications from prostate cancer (he was diagnosed with cancer in 1991), Farrakhan toned down his racial rhetoric and attempted to strengthen relations with other minority communities, including Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. Farrakhan also moved his group closer to orthodox Sunni Islam in 2000, when he and Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, the leading American orthodox Muslim, recognized each other as fellow Muslims.[22]


 George Lincoln Rockwell

Muhammad’s pro-segregation views were compatible with some white supremacist organizations in the 1960s.[23] He allegedly met with leaders of the Ku Klux Klan in 1961 to work toward purchase of farmland in the deep south.[24] He eventually established Temple Farms, now Muhammad Farms, on a 5,000 acres (20 km2) tract in Terrell County, Georgia.[25] George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party once called Muhammad “the Hitler of the black man.”[26] At the 1962 Saviour’s Day celebration in Chicago, Rockwell addressed Nation of Islam members. Many in the audience booed and heckled him and his men, for which Muhammad rebuked them in the April 1962 issue of Muhammad Speaks.[27]

  Children out of wedlock

Elijah Muhammad was the father of eight children with Clara and is rumored to have also fathered several children from other relationships.[28]

Malcolm X as well as other former believers in Nation of Islam theology were also upset that Muhammad allegedly used the organization’s funds to support the mothers, their children, as well as his own family,.[17][29] After Elijah Muhammad’s death, nineteen of his children filed lawsuits against the Nation of Islam seeking status as heirs. Ultimately the court ruled against them.[30][31]


In the early 1990s the city of Detroit co-named Linwood Avenue “Elijah Muhammad Blvd.”[citation needed]

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Elijah Muhammad on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[32]

  Portrayals in film

Elijah Muhammad was notably portrayed by Al Freeman, Jr. in Spike Lee’s 1992 motion picture, Malcolm X. Co-star Albert Hall, who played the composite character “Baines” in the film, later played Muhammad in Michael Mann’s 2001 film, Ali.[33]

Muhammad was also thanked in the 1996 documentary, When We Were Kings; the film is also dedicated to him.[citation


Posted February 29, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

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