Table of contents for issue 111 Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam: Part One

Eric Pement

Cornerstone, vol. 26, issue 111 (1997), p. 10-16, 20
ISSN 0275-2743

Part One of a Two-Part Article

In Part One, we will examine the history of the Nation of Islam, the lives of its leaders, and some of the things which make it attractive to African-Americans. In the next issue, we will investigate its belief system, comparing it with traditional Islam and with Christianity.

The growth of the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the increasing influence of Louis Farrakhan demand our special attention to this movement. Louis Farrakhan, now sixty-three, has been promoting the teachings of the late Elijah Muhammad (founder of the Nation of Islam in the 1930s) for over forty years. "Minister Farrakhan," the preferred term to designate the leader of the revived Nation of Islam, has twice been on the cover of Time magazine and been the featured subject for hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles worldwide.

Chief organizer of the Million Man March on Washington, D.C. (October 16, 1995), Farrakhan found begrudging recognition and admiration even among his longtime critics. While many thousands said they attended the March for black people, not for Farrakhan, still Minister Farrakhan's ability to organize the March, gathering close to one million peaceful black men, gave him a unique position in the eyes of black America.

Long before the March, Louis Farrakhan had become established as a role model for tens of thousands of blacks. His dynamic preaching and his stance for a drug-free society, moral fidelity, black potential, and for blacks to share their material and moral gains with their fellow blacks—all positive and commendable individually—served to give him credibility and moral leverage.

Yet the growth of the Nation of Islam is cause for concern because its doctrines challenge the Christian truth claim on every major front: on the nature of God, the validity of the Bible, the person and work of Christ, and the idea of life after death. Many people believe Farrakhan's teaching is basically theistic or Islamic. As we shall see in the next installment, this is not the case.

Another development stands to make the Nation of Islam an impending challenge to the Christian church: money. On February 25, 1996, at the annual "Savior's Day" conference in Chicago, Louis Farrakhan described his recent visit to Libya and various nations of Africa. Farrakhan told thousands of listeners that Libyian leader Mu'ammar Gadhafi promised to give the Nation of Islam a grant of one billion dollars to build schools, industries, mosques, and other facilities to advance the cause of Islam under Louis Farrakhan.[1] Given the size of this gift, plus the fact that Libya is considered a "terrorist nation" by the United States State Department, in March 1996 the federal government suggested that Farrakhan register as an agent of a foreign government.[2] This never materialized. However, if the offer is legitimate, that amount of money would have a serious effect on the political and religious landscape of America by anyone's reckoning.

(Sidebar) NOTE:

The fundamental philosophies of Western civilization are rooted in white supremacy. You can't bring a black child into that kind of educational environment and produce a child who loves and respects itself. You produce a child who bows down to white people and looks at white people as being God. . . . This is why Malcolm X left school and went into criminal life.
—Louis Farrakhan,
A Torchlight for America

Origins of the Nation of Islam

The Nation of Islam began in 1930 with the arrival of Wallace Dodd Fard to the black ghetto of Detroit. To the black underclass, Fard presented himself as a merchant allegedly from "the holy city of Mecca." He sold silks, hats, and other artifacts allegedly imported from his homeland, though Elijah Muhammad once stated that Fard was not a silk peddler but a tailor of custom-made clothes.[3] Poor black families would invite Fard to their homes, where he who assumed the role of a Muslim teacher, reading to them directly from an Arabic edition of the Qur'an.[4] At the dinner table Fard warned his hosts against pork, polished rice, and other foods: "Now don't eat this food, it is poison for you. The people in your own country do not eat it. Since they eat the right kind of food they have the best health all the time."[5]

In various ways Fard undermined his hearers' faith in Christianity and the Bible, which for generations had sustained downtrodden black families. He encouraged his followers to listen to radio broadcasts of Jehovah's Witness president Joseph Rutherford, whose rallying cry at that time was "Religion is a snare and a racket." Fard also used Jehovah's Witness literature to teach his followers that the time of "Gentile" (i.e., Caucasian) domination had come to an end in 1914; that the resurrection of the "so-called Negro" had already occurred as a mental and invisible fact, and that the coming New World was just around the corner. In just a few years, he claimed, the oppressed black man would receive the kingdom and the New World would arrive by 1936 at the very latest.[6]

When Fard arrived, Elijah Poole was an unemployed migrant laborer from rural Georgia, suffering, together with his wife and eight children, the consequences of the Great Depression. Though interested in Negro improvement, Elijah testified that before meeting "Master Fard," he often took refuge in drunkenness. Within a year of Fard's arrival, Elijah Poole and two of his brothers joined the new movement. Very quickly, Poole became Fard's most trusted and ardent follower; Fard renamed him Elijah Muhammed, now the "chief minister" of Islam.[7]

Fard told his eager listeners that black America had been craftily deceived by the dominant Caucasian society, a perverse race of "blue-eyed devils" who used the Bible to enslave black people. The white man's heaven, he often said, was the black man's hell.[8] Elijah Poole had witnessed a vicious lynching when he was a small child, and this saying rang true. For many years, a painting of a Negro hung at a lynching adorned the front podium at NOI temples and meeting places.

The true religion of black people, Fard said, was Islam; their God was Allah, and their book the Holy Qur'an. His audience was keenly aware that the white culture which professed Christianity was the same culture that (in spite of its positive accomplishments) sired the Ku Klux Klan, the Jim Crow laws, racism, murder, castration, and unrestricted exploitation of Negro workers. His logic was simple. If Christianity was the religion of the white society, then its god must be Satan. The alternative offered by "Master Fard" was a complete rejection of Christianity and conversion to Islam.

In fact, Fard's religion was not Islam, but a contradictory blend of Islam, Jehovah's Witness doctrine, gnosticism and heretical Christian teachings. Fard's doctrines were transmitted orally in The Secret Ritual of the Nation of Islam, which had to be memorized verbatim, and also in book form in The Teaching for the Lost Found Nation of Islam in a Mathematical Way, distributed only to registered, loyal followers. His followers were required to give up their surname, or slave name, and he would give them a new name—not an African name, but an Arabic name, such as Sharrieff, Muhammad, or Karriem.

Fard taught that the black man was not African, not even Arabic, but "Asiatic" in origin (on Malcolm X's draft card, under the category of race, he wrote "Asiatic").[9] According to Elijah Muhammad, Fard taught that black people, both individually and as a race, were God. Furthermore, there were a series of special Gods who would live for hundreds of years at a time. Besides Fard's claims about the origins of the white race, one of his more exotic stories was about the "Mother Plane" or "Mother Ship," an aircraft built by black scientists in Japan many thousands of years ago. This aircraft, undectable by radar, still circled the earth and carried powerful weapons which would be used on white America if she dared to harm the members of the Nation of Islam.[10]

Both Fard's origins and disappearance are topics of debate. Ethnically, Fard was probably biracial; surviving photos show a man with very straight hair and dark, Caucasian features. Elijah Muhammad said Fard "taught me that His Father was a real Black Man. His Father went up into the mountains (governments of the Caucasians) picking out a white woman to marry so that she would give birth to a son looking white but yet the Father is Black."[11] Though some NOI critics have confidently asserted that Fard was white, he "passed" as black and was probably of mixed parentage.

There is also no unanimity regarding Fard's real name or true identity. Certain authors spell his name as if he were an Arab, Wali Farad. Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X spelled his name Wallace D. Fard, born in Mecca in 1877.[12] FBI files from the 1950s say that Fard's fingerprints identify him as Wallie D. Ford, a white ex-convict from San Quentin, born in Portland, Oregon, in 1891. Ford's former common-law wife claimed his real name was either Fred or Wallace Dodd, born in New Zealand in 1891 of Polynesian and English parents. Not to be outdone by alleged FBI disinformation, a recent author maintains that he was really Arnold Josiah Ford, a black rabbi from a kabbalistic Black Hebrew group in New York.[13]

After a bizarre human sacrifice in November 1932 involving two NOI members in Detroit (one of them a willing victim), three NOI members were arrested: Robert Karriem (the confessed sacrificer), Wallace D. Fard, and Ugan Ali, an NOI teacher. The following day over five hundred NOI members marched on the police headquarters in protest. Karriem (whose real name was Robert Harris) thought he was carrying out NOI teachings, and the police were suspicious of a black voodoo cult. Fard told them, "I am the Supreme Ruler of the Universe," though his followers were dismayed that he told the police so much more than he told NOI adherents.[14] Fard and Ali were finally released, and Harris was committed to an insane asylum.

Further investigation by police led to the discovery that "Lesson 1" of The Secret Ritual included statements such as, "All Moslem [sic] will murder the devil because they know he is a snake and also if he be allowed to live, he would sting someone else."[15] Fard was ordered out of Michigan in May 1933. He moved to the newly-built Chicago Temple no. 2, and was arrested again in Chicago. However, in June 1934 W. D. Fard mysteriously disappeared, leaving no explanation for his followers. At the time, people speculated that Fard fell victim to foul play, but nobody had hard information until 1963, when a sensational article appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner claiming that Fard was really Wallace Ford/Dodd, the ex-convict from San Quentin. The reporter asserted that after leaving Chicago, Ford returned to Portland, visited an ex-wife and child briefly, and then moved back to New Zealand.[16]

Elijah Muhammad countered by publicly offering the newspapers $100,000 if they could conclusively prove their claim; this challenge was not accepted by the media. After all the interest devoted to Fard's origins over the past sixty years, it is unlikely that any single explanation will prove unassailable.

Shortly after Fard's disappearance, Elijah Muhammad expanded the movement, strengthening its radical emphasis on race and openly professing that Master Fard (whom he pronounced "Far-ad") was Allah in human form. After 1935, Elijah Muhammad and his family moved to Washington, D.C., then traveled from city to city spreading the message which he had been taught by "Allah" (i.e., Master Fard). In September 1942, Elijah Muhammad and his son, Emmanuel Karriem, were arrested along with many other leaders of black nationalist groups. Elijah was charged with sedition and failing to register for the draft. It is true that Elijah had urged his followers to avoid the white man's war; World War II was seen as the first stage of the Battle of Armageddon, and the ("Asiatic") Japanese were seen as the heroes of the battle against whites.

When the FBI interrogated Elijah Muhammad in 1942, he replied, "Allah has taught that blueprints of a plane which carries bombs was given to the Japanese from the Holy City of Mecca, and that these blueprints had been there for thousands of years. These bombs would go into the earth for at least a mile and would throw up the earth to a distance of one mile, so that it would make a mountain. I have reminded registered Moslems of this [sic] teachings."[17]

Elijah Muhammad and his son were released from prison in 1946. The following year Malcolm X would join the Nation of Islam, and his efforts would catapult it into a national phenomenon.

Malcolm X

Malcolm was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925. Malcolm was the son of Earl Little, an occasional Baptist minister who was killed by a streetcar (or, Malcolm believed, was murdered) when Malcolm was six. Malcolm's mother, Louise, was a light-skinned woman from the West Indies; she never saw or met her father, a white man.

Malcolm's Autobiography tells the story of his upbringing in poverty, the breakup of his family after his mother was institutionalized in Michigan, his move to Boston and his descent into crime, and his conversion to NOI-style Islam in 1948 while in prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts.[18] Malcolm was introduced to their teachings by two of his brothers, then members of the Detroit Temple. Like other Black Muslims, when Malcolm joined the movement he gave up his slave surname, Little, and took on the name X, signifying the unknown tribal name of his ancestors. Malcolm's formal education never went beyond the eighth grade, but his studies while in prison more than compensated for this lack. He went on to achieve an influence with both the man on the streets and the media that few men have possessed.

Very quickly, Malcolm became the leading spokesman for (by now) "the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Messenger of Allah." In 1959 a documentary, "The Hate That Hate Produced," was aired on national television, presented by Mike Wallace and Louis Lomax, an in-depth look at the racist movement led by Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. This documentary created a firestorm of controversy, exposing how white racism had created a black reaction of resentment. A portrayal of the ugly side of Malcolm X appears in the chapter on Black Muslims in the first edition of The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin (1965). However, in the mid-1960s Malcolm X experienced another conversion.

Malcolm, the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, who told newspaper interviewers to use a stock photo of "Mr. Elijah Muhammad" instead of an on-site photo of Malcolm, found himself slowly becoming disillusioned with Elijah Muhammad. Certain contradictions gnawed at Malcolm: the incredible teachings about the Mother Plane and "Mr. Yakub" (founder of the white race), the doctrine that white people are irredeemably evil and there is nothing they can do to change. These didn't square well with what Malcolm learned of human history and human nature.[19]

Malcolm discovered that Elijah Muhammad had fathered several children through his secretaries, who were then expelled from the mosque when they became pregnant. Malcolm interviewed three of these women and later questioned Elijah Muhammad privately about these changes. Elijah Muhammad replied, "I'm David. . . . When you read about how David took another man's wife, I'm that David. You read about Noah, who got drunk—that's me. You read about Lot, who went and laid up with his own daughters. I have to fulfill all of those things."[20]

Malcolm had thought that Elijah Muhammad would explain or face up to his moral failures, which were already whispered scandals in Chicago where Elijah lived, as the sins of a prophet like David. Instead, Elijah privately tried to discredit Malcolm as a false accuser. "What began to break my faith was that, try as I might, I couldn't hide, I couldn't evade, that Mr. Muhammad, instead of facing what he had done before his followers, as a human weakness or as fulfillment of prophecy—which I sincerely believe that Muslims would have understood, or at least they would have accepted—Mr. Muhammad had, instead, been willing to hide, to cover up what he had done."[21]

Malcolm did not openly disavow Elijah Muhammad. A few months later, in November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. Interviewed by the press for his reaction to the assassination, Malcolm made a careless remark about the assassination being as a case of "the chickens coming home to roost," implying that Kennedy had brought his death upon his own head. Then Malcolm added, "Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming to roost never did make me sad, they've always made me glad."[22]

The next day Elijah Muhammad, who was no fool about the negative impact this statement would have, suspended Malcolm for ninety days from all speaking and official duties. He could not even teach in his own mosque. Elijah Muhammad suggested that Malcolm would not be reinstated, and one of Malcolm's personal assistants told Malcolm he had been ordered to kill him.[23] But Malcolm was too well known and respected to be disposed of easily. In 1964, Malcolm founded two new organizations, the Muslim Mosque, Inc. (religious), and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (secular). He also extensively toured Africa and the Middle East. While overseas he took the classic Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, which changed his life.

From Mecca, Malcolm (now El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) wrote a letter to his loyal assistants in Harlem.

Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this Ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad, and all the other prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me. . . .

America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered "white"—but the "white" attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.

You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. . . .

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds.

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz [24]

In January 1964, Elijah Muhammad expelled his own son Wallace Muhammad, who had also been one of Malcolm's closest friends. Wallace and Malcolm had both concluded that W.D. Fard could not have been Allah and that Elijah Muhammad had misrepresented Islam and Fard's own doctrines. Wallace had also been the one of the people to confirm his father's sexual infidelity to Malcolm. Malcolm eventually helped one of Elijah's former secretaries, a woman whom he had recommended to work for Elijah, to file a paternity suit against him. Elijah Muhammad told his followers Malcolm's days were numbered. The NOI newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, even carried a cartoon of Malcolm's severed head bouncing down a street.

Both threats and attacks were made against Malcolm and his followers. He had bodyguards accompany him everywhere and spoke often of his impending death. On Sunday, February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated by at least three members of the Nation of Islam while he was at the podium of the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York.[25] That night Malcolm's followers bombed Temple no. 7, Malcolm's former temple, in retaliation.

The Coming of Louis Farrakhan and
the Breakup of the Former Nation of Islam

The modern "Louis Farrakhan" was born in the Bronx, New York, on May 11, 1933, as Louis Eugene Walcott. His real father was a light-skinned Jamaican cab driver, Percival Clark, whose infidelity split up the marriage before Louis was born.[26] His mother would move herself and her two sons to Boston by the time Louis was four, and there Louis was raised. Four years later, Malcolm Little would also move to Boston, and there he would begin the road which led to his transformation from nominal Christian to Muslim.

In 1955, Malcolm X introduced Louis Walcott to the Nation of Islam. Louis was then twenty-two years old, eight years younger than Malcolm. Louis Walcott changed his name to Louis X, as Malcolm had done, and he (Louis X) is the talented, articulate, and angry playwright seen in the opening pages of C. Eric Lincoln's The Black Muslims in America.

Louis X went on to become one of the leaders of the Boston Temple, a playwright for the Nation of Islam, and a contributor to the NOI's national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks. After Malcolm X left the movement and made public the infidelities of Elijah Muhammad, Louis X wrote in the December 1964 issue of Muhammad Speaks that "only those who wish to be led to hell, or to their doom, will follow Malcolm. . . . Such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death . . ."[27] When Elijah Muhammad expelled Malcolm X as leader of Temple no. 7 in Harlem, Louis X was chosen as his replacement.

The next decade would see the current Nation of Islam draw to a close, focusing largely on Elijah Muhammad's seventh child, Wallace Muhammad. Wallace ping-ponged between acceptance and rejection in the Nation of Islam. Expelled in 1964, a fully repentant Wallace appeared on the platform at the annual Savior's Day convention in 1965, just five days after Malcolm X's assassination.[28] Later that year, Wallace would be expelled again, this time for four years. According to C. Eric Lincoln, "he was exiled from all contact with friends and family inside the Nation of Islam" until his readmittance in 1969.[29] However, even after his readmittance, he cold not resume his full clerical privileges until 1974. Despite these problems, Elijah Muhammad, relying partly on the numerological mystique of the "seventh child," designated Wallace Muhammad to be the supreme minister of the Nation of Islam and his authorized successor after his death.[30]

On February 25, 1975 (ten years and four days after Malcolm X's death), Elijah Muhammad died of congestive heart failure. After his death, Wallace Muhammad immediately began making changes in the focus and beliefs of the Nation of Islam, moving it closer to those of traditional Islam.

First, he changed the organization's name from the Nation of Islam to the Bilalian Community (1975), then to the World Community of Al-Islam in the West (1977), then to the American Muslim Mission. Wallace changed his own name to Warith. The newspaper was changed from Muhammad Speaks to the Bilalian News, as Warith Muhammad rejected the terms colored, Negro, black, or Afro-American in favor of "Bilalian," and appealed to blacks to use this new term instead. Bilal was the name of an Ethiopian Muslim martyr, allegedly killed by Trinitarian Christians. In the early 1980s, the Bilalian News changed its name four times and is currently called Muslim Journal. In 1985 the movement became fully incorporated into traditional Islam.

Louis Farrakhan remained with the Bilalian Community for two years under Wallace's leadership, but left in 1977 when it became apparent that Wallace was no longer following the footsteps of his father, Elijah Muhammad. Since Wallace/Warith had discarded "the Nation of Islam" as it had been, Louis Farrakhan took up the abandoned identity. Since Minister Farrakhan had been a long-term and popular leader, many members who preferred to keep the teachings of Elijah Muhammad left with him.

Over the past twenty years, Louis Farrakhan has generally remained true to older teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Farrakhan's newspaper, The Final Call, still reprints "What the Muslims Want" and "What the Muslims Believe" on the back pages of each issue, textually identical to what Elijah Muhammad printed in the 1960s. Reading these statements evokes memories of newspapers printed by the Black Panther Party or by other "Black Power" groups.

According to these statements, the Muslims (i.e., members of the Nation of Islam) want freedom, justice, and equal opportunity for people of all color ("Want," items 1-3). They want reparations, preferably a large tract of land set apart from the United States and given to black people, plus "our former slave masters are obligated to maintain and supply our needs in this separate territory for the next 20 to 25 years" ("Want," item 4). They want the release of all black Muslims convicted of any federal crimes, and the release of all black people convicted of any capital crime requiring the death sentence ("Want," item 5). The Muslims are against racial integration ("Believe," item 9) and against interracial marriage or race mixing ("Want," item 10).

We want freedom for all Believers of Islam now held in federal prisons. We want freedom for all Black men and women now under death sentence in innumerable prisons in the North as well as the South.
We want every Black man and woman to have the freedom to accept or reject being separated from the slave master's children and establish a land of their own.
—Elijah Muhammad
"What the Muslims Want," item 5

The Final Call newspaper carries an ever-present emphasis on black supremacy, on white conspiracies, on white people as devils, and on the Jews as a special enemy. In this context, there is a certain irony to learn that in September 1985 Louis Farrakhan invited the infamous Tom Metzger, leader of the White Aryan Resistance (a neo-Nazi white power group), to attend an NOI gathering. The Washington Times reports Metzger's words of praise: "They speak out against the Jews and the oppressors in Washington. . . . They are the black counterpart to us."[31] Yet when one realizes that both groups would like to see black people leave the United States and move to another country, it becomes clearer how well their beliefs mesh together. Metzger, agreeing with this general principle, donated one hundred dollars to the Nation of Islam.

What Attracts Blacks to the Nation of Islam?

According to Dr. Jerry Buckner, a black Christian pastor and an authority on the Nation of Islam, several factors attract young black men to this movement. To begin with, the Nation offers positive social programs to the community. Its members are active in jails and prisons, recruiting men behind bars and dissuading them from a life of crime.

They have a strong emphasis against drugs, against prostitution and pimping, and against violence and gang involvement. They urge blacks to set up black-owned and black-operated businesses, thus working to raise the standard of living in poor neighborhoods. They also look with disfavor on black reliance on the government welfare system, which they perceive as often perpetuating the cycle of poverty.[32]

The Nation of Islam look to restaurants and food service industry as one focus for economic growth. The Nation of Islam owns thousands of acres of Georgia farmland, and has operated countless restaurants, bakeries, clothing stores, bookstores, hair care shops, and other enterprises. In 1995, the NOI opened the Salaam Restaurant and Bakery on the south side of Chicago, at a cost of five million dollars. Their fundamental ideology is to avoid reliance on government subsidies or white business partnerships and to "Do For Self."

Perhaps their most successful venture has been in providing building security at apartments and housing projects across the nation. Since 1991, the federal government has paid over twenty million dollars to NOI security teams in cities such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The U.S. News & World Report acknowledges that in some places, such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C., hiring of the NOI Security Agency by the Department of Housing and Urban Development was an unqualified success for the tenants. However, there were drawbacks: when paychecks were late one week, some NOI leaders blamed "the Jews" for putting a virus into the computer. NOI security guards will also hawk newspapers or proselytize for Farrakhan while on duty. Still, NOI security teams, which do not carry guns, are looked on with favor and have been generally effective at reducing crime and increasing tenant safety. In order to maintain a sharp appearance, a fine of ten dollars is levied against NOI security guards whose hair is too long.

Dr. Buckner notes that the Nation of Islam also emphasizes mentoring, taking a younger person under one's wing to model moral principles. Its members do not (or are not supposed to) use drugs, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or eat pork. Their use of profanity is supposed to be limited, but this guideline is bent fairly often. They emphasize fidelity to one's spouse, and have built self-esteem and self-confidence among people badly in need both.

Furthermore, as C. Eric Lincoln observed in 1961, black men are attracted to the Nation of Islam over against the black church because of the preponderance of black men in the movement. In the average black church, over 60 percent of the congregation is female. Those percentages are fine if one is looking for a wife or a girlfriend, but for young black men looking for strong male leadership, the Nation of Islam is more attractive, with about 80 percent of its constituency being male.

Two other things make the Nation of Islam attractive: the discipline, and the power they have to externally "clean up" a neighborhood. In an NOI mosque, members are told very strongly that they have to abide by the rules of the mosque. Infractions could be dealt with by public tongue-lashing before the Muslim congregation, or even by physical violence or beating of the offenders. A Muslim who has sex out of wedlock may find himself and his girlfriend hauled before the congregation and publicly rebuked for disgracing Islam before the world. In a white, Christian setting, much lighter "church discipline" has been instant grounds for a lawsuit against the church and its pastor; whereas in a black Muslim setting, severe public corrections are looked on with favor as positive discipline.

Along similar lines, a Detroit pastor told this reporter how the NOI "cleaned up" a neighborhood: they physically beat up the pimps and drug pushers in a two-block region, forcing gang activity and prostitution to entirely leave. Area residents were thrilled with the results, which the Christian churches had not able to accomplish in years of prayer and low-key "witness." The Nation of Islam had a much more aggressive approach, and was under no obligation to turn the other cheek if attacked for their deeds. They got credit for the results.

This illustrates the vast difference between Christian and Muslim ethics. From the New Testament framework, Christians are morally forbidden from using violence or force to accomplish such goals. We are told to "turn the other cheek" when smitten (Matt. 5:39). Externally, our society expects that Christians ought to behave in such a manner. If the elders of a Christian church forcibly beat up drug sellers from a street gang, they could expect a stack of lawsuits from the victims of the beating, not to mention public castigation by the print and broadcast media. Yet a Muslim group can commit the same action with relative impunity, since a pacifistic response is not part of their internal system of ethics and thus the surrounding society does not expect it of them.

Finally, many blacks can relate to the Nation of Islam for some of the reasons mentioned by Malcolm X (see sidebar). Many blacks feel targeted by white society or by law enforcement. Current U.S. statistics say that by the age of twenty-nine, 30 percent of American black men will either have been under court supervision or been sentenced in a criminal case: drugs, theft, rape, violent crime.[33] This percentage is far higher than that of white men under twenty-nine, so many blacks are more receptive to Farrakhan's rhetoric of a white conspiracy against them.

(Sidebar) Why the Nation of Islam Grows So Quickly in Prisons

According to Malcolm X, writing in 1963,

The Muslim teachings, circulated among all Negroes in the country, are converting new Muslims among black men in prison, and black men are in prison in far greater numbers than their proportion in the population.

The reason is that among all Negroes the black convict is the most perfectly preconditioned to hear the words, "the white man is the devil." . . .

. . . You let this caged-up black man start realizing, as I did, how from the first landing of the first slave ship, the millions of black men in America have been like sheep in a den of wolves. That's why black prisoners become Muslims so fast when Elijah Muhammad's teachings filter into their cages by way of other Muslim convicts. "The white man is the devil" is a perfect echo of that black convict's lifelong experience.
—Malcolm X, Autobiography, page 183

Today as well as thirty years ago, blacks in prison are more likely to convert to the Nation of Islam, and fully one-third of all federal prisoners today are Muslim of one variety or another. Thus, the Nation of Islam seems geared to reach the underclass, and its message emphasizes and capitalizes on the racial inequities and disparities between black and white people in America.

The Language of Anger

While the NOI undoubtedly draws a higher percentage of people on the margins of society, an underclass who has felt anger toward the legal system, it is also true that its rhetoric tends to inflame that anger. Farrakhan's speeches often paint American society in terms of oppressed and oppressor, of slaves and slavemasters. While it is understandable that blacks can relate to a movement which "addresses" racial problems, sometimes leaders of that same movement call for bloodshed.

For example, Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, who is head of the NOI mosque in Washington, D.C., and also the NOI Minister of Health and Human Services, told a black audience in 1992 that they could find "healing" in killing white people: "When you let [your anger and anxiety] out, there's healing in that. And if in the process, some of your oppressors and slavemasters die, so what? Everybody has to die some time, don't they? So why shouldn't your slavemaster die now? They got to die anyhow!"

At this point, the congregation responded with their agreement. "If you're white today, it ain't worth living anyhow," Alim said. "Would you shoot a dog and put it out of its misery? Or a horse? Well, certainly white people is equal to dogs and horses."[34]

On November 29, 1993, Khallid Abdul Muhammad, then the second-in-command in the Nation of Islam, gave a lecture to one hundred forty students at Kean College in Union, New Jersey. Entitled "The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews," his talk suggested that the Jews had brought the Holocaust upon themselves. Turning to South Africa, he said that when blacks gain political power there, they should give the whites exactly twenty-four hours to leave the country. And if they can't leave fast enough? "We kill the women, we kill the children. We kill the babies. We kill the blind, we kill the cripples, we kill 'em all. We kill the faggot, we kill the lesbian, we'll kill them all. . . . And when you get through killing 'em all, go to the [expletive] graveyard and dig up the grave and kill them a-[expletive]-gain. 'Cause they didn't die hard enough."[35]

Khallid was not initially ashamed of that talk. The Muslims duplicated the tape and sold copies for ten dollars apiece when Khallid spoke at other colleges. Complaints came from many quarters to condemn Khallid's speech; when Farrakhan finally responded, he said his minister had spoken "truth" but in a "repugnant" fashion. Farrakhan eventually did relieve Khallid of his post, and Farrakhan himself never uses language which calls for bloodshed (except in self-defense). However, his ministers do not always follow this same path, and sometimes take his rhetoric about resisting the "oppressors" and "slavemasters" to their next logical conclusion, in summoning oppressed blacks to "kill 'em all."

While national NOI leaders do properly raise the problems of racism to many blacks who have been outraged by the system, they will also use the language of blame and revenge. For those of us who are Christians, revenge, even for unjust crimes brought upon innocent people, is not an option for Jesus' disciples. This teaching is emphasized in Romans 12:17-21 ("Recompense no man evil for evil") and throughout the first epistle of Peter. "For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing than for evildoing" (1 Pet. 3:17, KJV).

What separates Minister Farrakhan from black Christian pastors is not primarily his plain manner of speaking or addressing a problem. Rather, it is that the Islamic sense of how problems should be "addressed" is very different from the Christian principle. Minister Farrakhan and other NOI speakers frequently miscast the New Testament teaching as a trick of the "slavemasters" to lull the black community into blind submission and further bondage.

To be continued next issue.


1. Louis Farrakhan's Savior's Day Speech, Cable News Network (CNN) broadcast, 25 Feb. 1996. [return]

2. Basil Talbott, "Farrakhan Unfazed," Chicago Sun-Times, 15 Mar. 1996, p. 1. [return]

3. Elijah Muhammad, Master Fard Not a Peddler, audiotape of a radio broadcast (n.p., n.d., distributed by Secretarius MEPS, Atlanta), quoted in Magida, 217 n.49. [return]

4. Benyon, 900, quoted in Lincoln, 119 n. 31. [return]

5. Benyon, 895, quoted in Lincoln, 11. [return]

6. Wallace Deen Muhammad, 19. [return]

7. Technically, at first Fard named him Elijah Karriem, but soon changed his name again to Elijah Muhammad. See Lincoln, 15, 181. [return]

8. "White Man's Heaven is Black Man's Hell!" is also the title of a song recorded by Louis Farrakhan in the 1950s. See Lincoln, 108; Malcolm X, 250. [return]

9. Goldman, 42. [return]

10. Elijah Muhammad, Fall of America, 236-42; Gardell, 158-160; Magida, 54, 221 n. 28. [return]

11. Elijah Muhammad, Our Saviour, 183. [return]

12. Authors who sometimes spell the name "Farad" include Lincoln and Gardell; Goldman spells it "Farrad." The spelling "Wallace D. Fard" and his birth year of 1877 comes from Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Blackman, 16-17 and 237, respectively. [return]

13. Additional details about Fard as W. D. Ford, Wallace Dodd, or Arnold Ford can be found in Gardell, 50-58, and Magida, chap. 3. [return]

14. E. D. Beynon, Master Fard Muhammad: "Detroit History" (Newport News, Va.: United Brothers and Sisters Communications Systems, 1990), 6, 9, 15, quoted in Magida, 46, 49. [return]

15. Gardell, 56. [return]

16. "Black Muslims' Founder a Fake; Posed as Negro," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 28 July 1963, p. 4, quoted in Magida, 51, 220 n. 20. [return]

17. Gardell, 71. [return]

18. Malcolm X, 157-60. Lincoln, 190, cites a different date for the conversion. [return]

19. "Yakub" in Elijah Muhammad's books is spelled "Yacub" by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. In Malcolm's Autobiography, 164-168, he describes Elijah Muhammad's teachings and alludes to him as a "faker"; on the impossibility of white change, see the story of the blonde co-ed on p. 286. [return]

20. Malcolm X, 299. [return]

21. Ibid., 306. [return]

22. New York Times, 2 Dec. 1963, quoted in Lincoln, 191. [return]

23. Malcolm X, 308. [return]

24. Ibid., 339-42. [return]

25. For the best summary of the men behind Malcolm's assassination, see Gardell, 76-85; for a full-length treatment, see Goldman's The Death and Life of Malcolm X. [return]

26. Magida, 9-10. [return]

27. Louis X, "Boston Minister Tells of Malcolm—Muhammad's Biggest Hypocrite," Muhammad Speaks, Dec. 4, 1964, pp. 11-15, quoted in Magida, 83, and Goldman, 269-70. [return]

28. Magida, 89. [return]

29. Lincoln, 264. [return]

30. Gardell, 101-2. [return]

31. Washington Times, quoted in Free Inquiry, Feb. 1995, 11. [return]

32. Dr. Jerry Buckner, interview by author, 13 Dec. 1995. [return]

33. Ted Gest, "A Shocking Look at Blacks and Crime," U.S. News & World Report, 16 Oct. 1995, 53-54. [return]

34. William Gaines and David Jackson, "AIDS Hope or Hoax in a Bottle?" Chicago Tribune, 14 Mar. 1995. [return]

35. Magida, 176. See also Fred Bruning, "Nothing Produces Hate Like Hatred," Maclean's, 28 Feb. 1994, 13. [return]


Benyon, Erdmann D. "The Voodoo Cult among Negro Migrants in Detroit," American Journal of Sociology 43 (July 1937-May 1938): 894-907.

Brackman, Harold. Ministry of Lies: The Truth Behind the Nation of Islam's "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews." New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1994.

Farrakhan, Louis. A Torchlight for America. Chicago: FCN Publishing Co., 1993.

Gardell, Mattias. In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.

Goldman, Peter. The Death and Life of Malcolm X. New York: Harper & Row, Perennial Library, 1974.

Lincoln, C. Eric. The Black Muslims in America. 3d ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994.

Magida, Arthur J. Prophet of Rage: A Life of Louis Farrakhan and his Nation. New York: Basic Books, 1996.

Muhammad, Elijah. Message to the Blackman in America. Chicago: Muhammad's Temple no. 2, 1965.

------. Our Saviour Has Arrived. Newport News, Va.: United Brothers Communications Systems, [1969?].

------. The Fall of America. Newport News, Va.: The National Newport News and Commentator, 1973.

Muhammad, Wallace Deen. As the Light Shineth From the East. Chicago: WDM Publishing Co, 1980.

X, Malcolm, with Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press, 1966.

original filename: CSM1111A.TXT
"Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam: Part One of a Two-Part Article"
Release A, 25 Apr. 1998

Contains minor changes and corrections from printed version.

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