Muslims in America

Excerpt from the Lecture Muslim African Americans and Islamic Education

By Zakiyyah Muhammad

Director, IMAS – Institute of Muslim American Studies 

Presented at Zaytuna College, Berkeley California

February 28, 2017 in recognition of Black History Month

Full lecture here:–p4Q



Following is an excerpt from the lecture on the historical development and pedagogical issues of Islamic education that transformed the African American experience. Covering approximately 400 years from African ancestors to the present, we explore five important questions. Who are Muslim African Americans? What is Islamic education? When did Islamic education begin in America? How is it different from conventional western education? And How did it transform the African American experience? The excerpt concludes with a list of references. The full lecture will be published in an academic journal soon to be announced.

This lecture is underpinned with the Muslim worldview that there is one God, indivisible with no equal, spouse or children; one Creator, one creation and one human family. In Qur’anic language that reality is Tauhid which means unity, oneness; that all things are interrelated and interdependent except Allah, The Creator. And willingly or unwillingly the entire creation including humanity are evolving upward and outward into one global humanity (community). This is the plan of God, Allah and is outside the realm of human power to assist or resist.

Who Are Muslim African Americans?

Muslim African Americans are the people whose lineage can be traced to Muslim ancestors kidnapped from Africa and enslaved in the Americas.   The term was used as early as 1975 by Imam W. Deen Mohammed, leader of the largest and most influential community of Muslims in the United States of America. Black Muslims was not what these people called themselves. That name was coined by Dr. C. Eric Lincoln in his seminal study, The Black Muslims in America, 1961. In an effort to evolve from that color conscious designation to human identity designation, while honoring ones ethnic heritage, Imam W. Deen Mohammed put forth Muslim African Americans. It was embraced by a majority of indigenous Muslims who regard their first identity as Muslim, their ethnic identity as African heritage and their national identity as American.   Recalling a treasured ancestor, Dr. Ali Mazrui, it represents a triple heritage.

Definition of Western Education

Education in western intellectual thought is defined as: The acquisition of knowledge, skills, values and habits that permit an individual to function and make decisions perceived as self-enhancing.[1] This definition although in English originates from the Latin, educare – to train or mold and educere – to lead out, or bring out.   It is consistent with the Greek and Roman origins of western intellectual thought. In American institutions, anchored in western intellectual thought, education is an applied science that draws from the disciplines of anthropology, psychology and sociology. Over decades scholars have uncovered significant flaws in the philosophical underpinnings of these disciplines resulting in misinformation and misapplication of educational theory and human development. Also, influenced by humanism – the separation from the spiritual and rational makes it rift with dualism.   From the perspective of Al-Islam, these definitions are incomplete and do not definitively acknowledge the source, process or the goal of Islamic education.

Islamic Education

By contrast, Islamic education is an exact science specific to the human being. The author defines it as, “The perfected process of human development that evolves the consciousness of the human being into the excellence of one’s human potential.”[2] “This consciousness begins with a spiritual component recognizing that human beings first have a role and responsibility to the Creator who created them and to the physical creation that sustains them of which they are the guardians / trustees.”[3]   In Qur’anic language the word is Khalifatulard. Islamic education is constructed on the excellence of human nature clarified in the revelation of Qur’an and exemplified in the life example of the last prophet, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, prayers and peace be upon him. It represents an alignment between Revelation, the natural creation and the human being.

Previously defined as tarbiyah, from the Arabic root rbw, raba and rabba, at the First World Conference on Muslim Education, King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Mecca, March 31 to April 8, 1977, Dr. Syed Muhammad Naquib Al Attas made the correction.   In his seminal articulation on the philosophy of Islamic education he said tarbiyah is inappropriate because it is not exclusive to human beings and is not an original term in Qur’anic semantic fields but extends to other species; flora and fauna, minerals, etc. It had been impacted by western educational thought as a result of colonialism and the bifurcation of its educational system into religious and secular. The correct term is ta’dib which reflects adab or behavior. The conclusion of that Conference was a global effort labeled, the Islamization of Knowledge.

Muslim African Ancestors

Islamic education was first observed in the Western hemisphere in the early 14th century among kidnapped enslaved Africans who brought the Qur’an to America. Research confirms that during the almost 400 year slave trade approximately 40% of those kidnapped and shipped to America were African Muslims.   They were literate, could read and write Arabic. The fact that they were literate was one of the most distinguishing marks of the Muslims.”   “…. [it] clearly set them apart from the rest of the slaves and became as distinctive as a physical trait, says Sylviane Diouf in her seminal book, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas.”[4]

We know some of their names and stories. Unprecedented scholarship from Austin, [5] Diouf [6] and others have documented that these African Muslims were literate; could read and write Arabic comparable to elite Europeans who read and wrote Latin, and many had memorized the Qur’an. Some of their patterns of living and learning are now known and their portraits and artifacts, which include biographies and diaries, are in the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, Historical Societies and private collections. These Muslims were also leaders of the most aggressive and successful slave rebellions in America, Haiti, Cuba and the Caribbean.

They include Yarrow Mamout, 1738 -1823 who was given a Ceremonial Janaza at the historic Nations Mosque in Washington, D.C. by Muslim African Americans in 2016. His former residence in Georgetown was partially excavated in conjunction with the Historic Preservation Office of Washington, D.C.

Without institutional establishment of their faith – Al-Islam – and forced conversion to Christianity, the Qur’an and Islamic education was lost during 400 years of enslavement and racial and religious oppression. However, the chain was unbroken.[7]

Over the centuries, slave holders were dedicated to erasing the memory of all African religions, culture, language and history brought by the enslaved. Thus, a people were transformed from rulers of principalities[8], scholars, jurists and artisans to slaves. And given a host of derogatory names like coon, jungle bunny, shine, boot and nigger. They were also given the Bible which said they were cursed and relegated to servitude to white people.[9]

Search for Self-Identity

The conundrum they and succeeding generations experienced for the next 400 years was a search for themselves – their human identity – their place in the world. That sojourn began with the seeking of knowledge through education. Slave holders also knew knowledge and education was the path to freedom, justice and equality, therefore learning to read and write was a crime punishable by losing a foot, a hand, eyesight or death. The enslaved were legally forbidden to learn to read and write. Some slave masters allowed a selected few to read to keep records of production; others felt that teaching the Bible would not only save their souls but make them more docile and amenable to their slave condition. Laws were imposed in Virginia in 1680; in 1695 in Maryland and in 1740 in South Carolina to prohibit gatherings of the enslaved for any reason and to ensure that no slave could read or write. The laws made it a crime for anyone “who shall hereafter teach, or cause any slaves or slaves to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe in any manner of writing whatsoever.”[10]

The politics of literacy was also evident during enslavement. Diouf writes, “The hostility toward the literate Africans that many slaveholders expressed did not arise from the fear that their property would somehow trick them by forging passes or getting access to useful news. … was dangerous because it represented a threat to the whites’ intellectual domination and a refutation of the widely held belief that Africans were inherently inferior and incapable of intellectual pursuits. The Africans’ skills constituted a proof of humanity and civilization that did not owe anything to the Christians’ supposed civilizing influence. If these men and women could read and write, if they were not the blank slates or the primitive savages they had been portrayed to be in order to justify their enslavement, then the very foundation of the system had to be questioned. This issue was so potent………. [slave holders]……. felt compelled to deny the Africanness of the ‘outstanding’ Muslims and to portray them as Arabs.”[11]

After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865, newly freed slaves were portrayed as roaming the country not knowing what to do; suggesting that slavery was better for them. The fact is they were travailing the South seeking to find family members torn from them during enslavement. Secondly, they sought education as a path to freedom and human dignity. They made enormous accomplishments, particularly during the brief period of Reconstruction. Succeeding generations still believed education was the answer. And it was. But an education that would bring clarity and freedom to the body and mind. One that would answer the pressing scriptural questions about God and their pitiful condition. However, answers to those pressing questions was not forth coming. The Caucasians’ interpretation of Christianity and the Bible exerted hegemony over the spiritual and rational thought of colored people. With little exception, colored people were overwhelmed with the notion that God was white and white supremacy was the rule, the law, and the way.

For most Muslim African Americans education has been the #1 priority and cannot be separated from the historical realities of the African American experience. Perceived as the path to freedom, justice and equality education in reality has been the bane of existence for centuries. The conundrum was seeking an education from institutions structured by people who believed you were inferior; seeking to extricate oneself from the religious idea that you were cursed by God (See Genesis 9:18-27) and unworthy of the equality of life approximating Caucasians; and that you were outside of the family of God, because God is white and you were black.

The Freedom Movement (Evolution of a Super Ego or Group Personality)

From 1865 to approximately 1930 a series of monumental African American leaders emerged addressing these concerns. Referred to as the evolution of a Super Ego by Imam W. Deen Mohammed, they each advanced the movement towards education for human freedom. Among those referencing the conundrum with the Bible was Nat Turner and David Walker outlined in his historic David Walker’s Appeal.[12]

Then, the articulations of Frederick Douglass emerged. Born enslaved on a Maryland plantation, Frederick Douglass taught himself to read and write. He ran away from the plantation and became an abolitionist. His great oratory pricked the consciousness of humanity in America and abroad and he became an ambassador to Haiti, president of a bank and one of the greatest spokesmen on the intimate details of slavery in America. He said: “I had through some medium, I know not what, got some idea of God, the Creator of all mankind – the black and the white – and that he had made the blacks serve the whites as slaves. How he could do that and be good I could not tell. I was not satisfied with this theory, which made God responsible for slavery, for it pained me greatly, and I have wept over it long and often.”[13]

Booker T. Washington and W. E.B. DuBois had different perspectives of how to educate African Americans. History has shown that both were necessary. Booker T. Washington, in an effort to appease Caucasians, stressed vocational education rather than equal opportunity. He established the historic Tuskegee Institute which still stands. W. E.B. DuBois, a giant intellectual and first African American to graduate from Harvard University, stressed the intellectual development and called for a “Talented Tenth” to provide intellectual leadership to African Americans. Each effort provided a degree of success but did not address the fundamental issue of identity and scriptural misrepresentation that plagued the soul of a people.

William Edgar Burghart DuBois in his 1901 study (the Negro Common School, 1901)[14] reported that in 1865 after Emancipation fewer than 100,000 black students were in schools in the South.   However, the demand for literacy was so great that by 1900 more than 1.5 million former enslaved people were enrolled in independent black church based schools or those operated by the American Missionary Society (AMA), a Caucasian Christian group and the foundation for most of the HBCU’s – Historically Black Colleges. As these institutions represented the only hope for advancement for the former enslaved, the underlying epistemology of the education they received was not questioned. And to a great degree the recipients did not know how to rationally analyze the teachings they were receiving.   The Bible was the basis of instruction and perceived as the authority irrespective of the disturbance it brought to the souls as it reinforced white supremacy and black inferiority. (See Genesis 9:18-27).

Plessy v Ferguson Supreme Court decision of 1896 gave legal sanction to separate schools for blacks and whites. They were supposed to be equal accommodations, but were not. State sponsored education for African Americans did not commence in the South – Georgia in particular – until 1924. (Georgia is referenced because more black people lived in Georgia than any other state in the country). The single classroom children attended was described as “not fit for cattle.” The former governor of Georgia, Allen D. Chandler wrote in 1901, “I do not believe in higher education for the darky. He should be taught trades, when he is taught fine arts he gets educated above his caste and it makes him unhappy.” Others asserted, “We need more Negro schools devoted to “turning out well-equipped household servants, coachmen, gardeners, farm laborers and the like.”[15]

After a century of being educated in schools with curricular developed by Christian missionaries that supported their superiority, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Week then Black History Month, also a graduate of Harvard University, emerged in 1933 with his seminal – The MisEducation of the Negro. His analysis of the education received by then-called Negroes was as follows:

  • “The chief difficulty with the education of the Negro is that it has been largely imitation [of Caucasians] resulting in the enslavement of his mind.”[16]

  • “The ‘educated Negros’ have the attitude of contempt toward their own people because in their own as well as in their mixed schools Negroes are taught to admire the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin and Teuton and to despise the African.”[17]

  • “The so-called modern education with all of its defects, however, does others so much more good than it does the Negro because it has been worked out in conformity to the needs of those who have enslaved and oppressed weaker peoples. For example, the philosophy and ethics resulting from our educational system have justified slavery, peonage, segregation and lynching. The oppressor has the right to exploit, to handicap and to kill the oppressed. Negroes daily educated in the tenets of such a religion of the strong have accepted the status of the weak as divinely ordained and during the last three generations of their nominal freedom they have done practically nothing to change it.”[18]

This point cannot be lost on education in predominately Muslim countries. Since the end of WWI and particularly WWII, American education has influenced education throughout the Muslim world to the point of imitation. Consequently, not only the practice but the language of Islamic education has morphed from its original Qur’anic and Islamic roots to a philosophy and practice that is at its core bifurcated into a religious and secular system. This dual system of education and lack of knowledge of Qur’anic foundations have confused and devastated the Muslim world.   Further complicated by tyrannical leaders, wars, oppression and poverty the intellectual development of the collective Ummah towards a model community defined by Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah, (prayers and peace be upon him) remains obscure. Although individual Muslims have and continue to excel, the collective Ummah has struggled to produce significant educational institutions consistent with Qur’anic foundations.

Dr. Woodson continues,

  • “No systematic effort toward change has been possible, for, taught the same economics, history, philosophy, literature and religion which have established the present code of morals, the Negro’s mind has been brought under the control of his oppressor. The problem of holding the Negro down, therefore, is easily solved. When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his social benefit. His education makes it necessary.”[19]

  • “How we have arrived at the present state of affairs can be understood only by studying the forces effective in the development of Negro education since it was systematically undertaken immediately after Emancipation. To point out merely the defects as they appear today will be of little benefit to the present and future generations. These things must be viewed in their historic setting.”[20]

  • “In our schools, especially in our schools of religion, attention should be given to the study of the Negro as he developed during the antebellum (eighteenth and nineteenth century) period by showing to what extent that remote culture was determined by ideas which he brought with him from Africa. To take it for granted that the antebellum Negro was an ignoramus or that the native brought from Africa had not a valuable culture merely because some prejudiced writers have said so does not show the attitude of scholarship, and Negro students who direct their courses accordingly will never be able to grapple with the social problems presented today by the Negro church.”[21]

Dr. Woodson then wrote something else extraordinary in 1933: “Men of scholarship and consequently of prophetic insight must show us the right way and lead us into the light which shines brighter and brighter.”[22]

The Nation of Islam

Before that statement was published, that light had begun to shine and in 1975 it shone even brighter. The most consequential socio-religious movement in America emerged in 1930 – the Nation of Islam.   More powerful and sustained than the Marcus Garvey movement, it was the early expression of Islam in America. Founded by W. D. Fard Muhammad and built by Clara and Elijah Muhammad it lasted for 40 years and ushered in Islamic education and the preeminent leader of Muslims in America, Imam W. Deen Mohammed. Other Muslims existed, defined as Sunni or Ahmadiyah but they had little influence on African Americans and were interestingly detached from the historical African American experience.

Islamic Education Resumed with Elijah and Clara Muhammad

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam turned a page not only in the religious expression of African Americans but in the pedagogical approach to their quest for education.

He declared, “The so-called American Negro is the only creature that turns the education of his children over to his open enemy.” “First, my people must be taught the knowledge of self. Anyone who does not have a knowledge of self is considered a victim of either amnesia or unconsciousness and is not very competent.”[23] He said, “I want an education for my people that will let them exercise the right of freedom.” “………that will elevate them.” [24] “We need ……… an education which removes us from the shackles of slavery and servitude. …..not an education which leaves us in an inferior position and without a future. ….that leaves us looking to the slave-master for a job.”[25]   “We must be obsessed with getting the kind of education we may use toward the elevation and benefit of our people.”[26]   “We must have a knowledge of self and we must do for ourselves.”[27]

“One of the attributes of Allah, The All-Wise God, Who is the Supreme Being is knowledge. Knowledge is the result of learning. Knowledge is a force or energy that makes its bearer accomplish or overcome obstacles, barriers and resistance. We have tried other means and ways and we have failed. Why not try Islam? It is our only salvation. It is the religion of Allah, His prophets and our forefathers.”[28]

So, the question is why have other scholars and academics refused to even mention Elijah Muhammad? Essentially attempting to erase 40 years of his exemplary work towards establishing quality education and Islam in America? If the response is, it was not real Islam, he did not have the right aqidah;[29] he taught hate. The author’s response is in the words of Malcolm X, Al Hajj Malik Shabazz……You have been bamboozled! And there are millions who share the same opinion.

It is important to now mention that those who supposedly had the right aqidah for 400 years did not come to the aid of the kidnapped, enslaved Africans in America or the newly freed Africans in America. Not a Muslim sheikh, amir, mufti, country, government, leader, philanthropist, individual, no one came to the aid of the enslaved, oppressed African American. No one! This is why the community of Muslims who value the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed and respect their Islamic lineage from The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam will not ever be subservient to any Muslim country or leader. They will only support the good they do. Their position is, Allah is the owner of the universe and all of its treasures. Allah brought this unique community to the Qur’an, therefore, this community belongs only to Allah, The Most High.

Clara Muhammad

Clara Muhammad started the University of Islam with her children in her home around her kitchen table.   She developed the first curriculum and is credited with establishing the first Muslim home school in 1936 when homeschooling was illegal. At its peak the University of Islam had 52 schools throughout the United Statas and its accomplishments remain unprecedented. It started children at 3 years old, decades before Head Start began in 1965 which is believed to be modeled after it. Arabic was taught on the elementary level and students were separated by sex. African and Black history, world civilization and all sciences were taught on all grade levels. Dr. C. Eric Lincoln wrote,

Muslims schools are emphasizing Negro history, Negro achievements and the contributions of Negroes to the world’s great cultures and to the development of the American nation. These facts are rarely taught in public schools, and the Muslims may be alone in trying to bring the Negro community to an awareness of racial heritage.[30]

The flagship Clara Muhammad School and W. Deen Mohammed High School are in Atlanta, Georgia These institutions have been in operation for forty-one (41) years. Their predecessor the University of Islam for forty-three years and is still in operation under another leadership totaling 80 plus years.

Dr. Molefi Asante of Temple University in 2003 named Elijah Muhammad one of the 100 Greatest African Americans. His wife, Clara Muhammad, devoted her life to building the University of Islam. It produced the first Muslim African American graduate from Al Azhar University, Cairo, Dr. Akbar Muhammad, who spoke fluent Arabic; the first Muslim African American Hafiz Qur’an and Qari, Imam Darnell Kariem and the preeminent leader of Muslims in America, Imam W. Deen Mohammed among other doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.

When the Honorable Elijah Muhammad passed in 1975, his son and heir apparent, Imam W. Deen Mohammed became leader of the Nation of Islam. He built upon the best of his father’s 40 year contributions and eliminated what was not consistent with the Qur’an. Using the Qur’an as the foundation for the Community, he addressed the root causes of black inferiority and white superiority correcting scriptural misrepresentation. The University of Islam schools were evolved and renamed after his mother, Clara Muhammad Schools. These corrections freed the mind and the soul from scriptural oppression and mythology and ushered in true human freedom.


  • [1] Encyclopedia of American Education, 2007. Harlow G. Unger. Facts on File, New York.
  • [2] Muhammad, Zakiyyah. (1998, Winter). Islamic Education in America. Religion and Education, 25 (1/2). 87-96.
  • [3] Muhammad, Zakiyyah. 2005. “Faith and Courage to Educate Our Own: Reflections on Islamic Schools in the African American Community” in Black Education, Editor, Joyce E. King, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey, London. 262-3.
  • [4] Diouf, Sylviane A. 1998. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. New York University Press, NY. 107.
  • [5]Austin, Allen D. 1984. African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Source Book. Garland Publications, University of Michigan.
  • [6] Diouf, Sylviane A. 1998. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. New York University Press, NY.
  • [7] See the Unbroken Chain of Qur’anic Freedom: From Africa to New Africa. An unprecedented panel presented at ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History) October 2-6, 2013. Video available at
  • [8] Abdul Rahman Ibrahim was a prince in his native country Timbuktu cited in a documentary, Prince of Slaves.
  • [9] See Bible Genesis 9:18-27.
  • [10] Irons, Peter. 2002. Jim Crow’s Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision, Chapter 1. New York: Penguin, Putnam, Inc.
  • [11] Diouf, Sylviane A. 1998. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. New York University Press, NY. 108.
  • [12] Walker, David. David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, 1830. Called by Dr. James Turner in the Introduction, “The most seminal expression of African American political thought to come forth in the early nineteenth century.”
  • [13] Douglass, Frederick. 1855. “Letter to His Old Master”, My Bondage and My Freedom. New York and Auburn: Miller, Orton & Mulligan. 423.
  • [14] Dubois, W. E. B. 1901. The Negro Common School, Atlanta University Publications No. 6 (Atlanta,
  • 1901).
  • [15] Dittmer, John. 1977. Black Georgia in the Progressive Era 1900-1920, University of Illinois Press,
  • Urbana and Chicago. 142.
  • [16] Woodson, Carter G. 1933. The MisEducation of the Negro. Washington, D.C. p. 134.
  • [17] Ibid, p. 1.
  • [18] Ibid, p. xii.
  • [19] Ibid, p. xiii.
  • [20] Ibid, p. 9.
  • [21] Ibid. p. 147.
  • [22] Ibid, p. 145.
  • [23] Muhammad, Elijah. 1965. Message To The Blackman in America. Temple No. 2 Publications,
  • Chicago, IL p. 39.
  • [24] Ibid, p. 40.
  • [25] Ibid, p. 41.
  • [26] Ibid, p. 34.
  • [27] Ibid, p. 41.
  • [28] Ibid, p. 41.
  • [29] Aqidah means Islamic creed that grounds or binds or ties one to Al-Islam.
  • [30] Lincoln, C. Eric. 1961. The Black Muslims in America. Beacon Press, New York, p. 250.

Recommended Required Readings


Recommended Required Readings from Lecture,

Muslim African Americans and Islamic Education

By Zakiyyah Muhammad

Director, IMAS – Institute of Muslim American Studies 

Presented at Zaytuna College, Berkeley California 

February 28, 2017 in recognition of Black History Month 

Full Lecture here:–p4Q


The Concept of Education in Islam. Syed Muhammad Naquib Al Attas. Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, 1980 and the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, 1991.

African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Source Book. Allen D. Austin. Garland Publications, University of Michigan, 1984.

African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles. Allen D. Austin. Routledge, New York, London, 1997.

Black Georgia in the Progressive Era 1900-1920. John Dittmer. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1980.

Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. Sylviane A. Diouf. New York University Press, NY, 1998.

My Bondage and My Freedom. Frederick Douglass. “Letter to His Old Master.” New York and Auburn: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855.

Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen. Phillip Drey. Mariner Books, New York, 2010.

The Negro Common School. W. E. B. DuBois. Atlanta University Publications No. 6 (Atlanta, 1901).

The Souls of Black Folk. W. E. B. DuBois. Original publication A. C. McClurg and Company, 1903.

Jim Crow’s Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision, Chapter 1. Peter Irons. New York: Penguin, Putnam, Inc., 2002.

The Black Muslims in America. C. Eric Lincoln. Beacon Press, Boston, 1961.

Message to the Blackman in America. Elijah Muhammad. Temple No 2 Publications, Chicago, 1965.

“Faith and Courage to Educate Our Own: Reflections on Islamic Schools in the African American Community” Zakiyyah Muhammad. In Black Education. Editor, Joyce E. King, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey, London, 2005.

The Mis-Education of the Negro. Carter G. Woodson. The ASALH Press, Washington, DC, 2005. Originally published 1933.

An African American Genesis. W. Deen Muhammad. Calumet City, IL: M.A.C.A. Publication Fund, 1986.


Sign Petition for Presidential Pardon for Unjust Incarceration of Muslim Leaders + 300 Men


Elijah Muhammad

                         The Son                                                       The Father

          Imam W. Deen Mohammed                   Honorable Elijah Muhammad

(See Biographies Below)

Imam W. Deen Mohammed (1933-2008)

 America’s Imam

Warith_Deen_Mohammed-duaHe called himself Muslim American Spokesman for Human Salvation and encouraged the common people and leaders of all religious traditions to return to the purity of their faith.  Others called him “America’s Imam”; leader of the Muslim American Experience.  He defined it gave direction to it and devoted his life to it.  Imam W. Deen Mohammed worked for the establishment of Muslim life in America and for freedom, justice and equality for Muslims, African Americans and all people.  He both taught and demonstrated that Al-Islam is not only compatible with democracy but in fact gave birth to the same principles.  His followers have proven that there is no contradiction between living a Muslim life and that of an American citizen.  From 1975 to 2008 Imam W. Deen Mohammed traveled America and the world promoting interfaith cooperation and the common good for all so that humanity might achieve human excellence.

Reviver of Religion

Born Wallace D. Mohammed (1933-2008) he was the seventh child of Elijah and Clara Muhammad builders of the Nation of Islam (1931-1975).  Upon the passing of his father in 1975, as the heir apparent, he became leader of the Nation of Islam and immediately began to bring members of that community to the proper worship of G-d.  He praised his father, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, for the good he did for forty years in raising the consciousness of the Black man and woman in America; equipping them with love for themselves and courage to do for themselves.  He said “That which is consistent with the Qur’an we will keep, and that which is not, we will let go.”  At the same time he addressed the psychological and social damage the Caucasian image of G-d imposed on African Americans as well as Caucasians for millennia. Within a span of ten years he had transformed the former followers of his father from the worship of G-d as a man to the universal religion of Al-Islam revealed in the Qur’an and the life of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (prayers and peace be upon him).   This made him singularly responsible for what many observers consider a “modern day miracle” – the largest conversion to Al-Islam in the world in the twentieth-century.  In 1977, he was responsible for leading the largest delegation of Muslim Americans in history to Hajj, the Pilgrimage to Mecca.

Introduced The Qur’an to Americas’ Conscious

Imam W. Deen Mohammed introduced the Qur’an as the verifiable authority that human identity comes from G-d and human beings were created in excellence.  This was the basis for his initiation of CRAID, (The Committee to Remove All Racial Images of Divine) in 1978.  CRAID energized significant dialogue among Christians and Muslims around the topic of the effects of racial images in worship.  This dialogue resulted in the attenuation of inferiority among African Americans and the removal of the Caucasian image of G-d from numerous church premises.

Recognized as one of the most significant religious leaders of the twentieth-century, Imam W. Deen Mohammed served as leader of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1995.  In March of the same year he was the keynote speaker at the Muslim-Jewish Convocation in Glencoe, IL and visited Israel and Jordan in 1999.  In January, 1997 he was appointed to President Bill Clinton’s Religious Advisory Council under the auspices of the U.S. State Department and offered the opening prayer at his Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Cathedral.  His relationship with the Focolare Movement of the Catholic Church and Lady ChiaraLubrich was unprecedented.  He remains the only African American and Muslim to speak from the pulpit of the Vatican – addressing over one hundred thousand – at the invitation of Pope John Paul II, in 1999.

Officially Changed America to Judeo/Christian/Muslim Country

His tributes include Signatory to the Williamsburg Charter Foundation “First Liberty” Reaffirmation Ceremony for the Freedom of Religion, June 25, 1988; the Cup of Compassion Award from Hartford Seminary; Honorary Doctorate Degrees and numerous other prestigious awards.  His portrait, commissioned by Morehouse College, hangs in the MLK, Jr. International Chapel with President Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. He was awarded the Gandhi-King-Ikeda Award and inducted into the MLK, Jr. International Board of Preachers, April 6, 2002.

His emphasis on the Revival of Religion included the Muslim world which in 1975 was dormant, mired in global polemical issues and not living up to the historical excellence of the traditions of Prophet Mohammed (prayers and peace be upon him).  As such, Imam Mohammed refused to align the new community of Muslims in America with any foreign government but said, “We only support the good they do”.  He rejected the language of Orientalists, such as the term orthodox Islam.  He avoided sectarian labels of Sunni and Shia preferring to define his followers as seeking to demonstrate the Uswaah (character) of the Holy Prophet Mohammed, (prayers and peace be upon him).    As a special guest of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) in Tehran 1997, he worked to erase distinctions between those called Sunni and Shia and reminded them that those descriptions did not exist during the life of Mohammed, the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him).  The distinction of being the first Muslim to offer the Invocation in the United States Senate February 6,  1992 was punctuated by the accolades offered by the three Senators who sponsored him, (Orin Hatch-R; Paul Simon-D; and Alan Dixon–D), and the 500 guest reception which followed.

Imam Mohammed was particularly sensitive to the relationship between Muslim African Americans and the larger African American community stating, “African American Muslims are not to separate from African American Christians.  We cannot separate ourselves from the Christian leaders who got us as far as we have gotten before we [re]connected with The Qur’an and the life of Prophet Muhammed (prayers and peace be upon him).”  “They are our brothers and sisters in humanity, in our life as people descended from African parents and as people oppressed in these United States.”

Champion for Women

From the beginning of his leadership, Imam W. Deen Mohammed championed the cause of women, as did his father.  He dismantled the male and female classes the FOI and the MGT-GCC without bloodshed or conflict.  Muslim Girls Training became Muslim Women’s Development Class which encouraged women to pursue their G-d-given talents in the home and the society.  CERWIS (Committee to Enhance the Role of Women in Society) was established to address the larger social issues that hindered the elevation of women in society.  He supported the equality of male and female citing the Qur’an and brought women into leadership positions while continually stressing the importance of moral behavior and family life.  To Imam Mohammed education was the number one priority of the Muslim community. He renamed the University of Islam schools, Clara Muhammad Elementary and Secondary Schools in honor of the dedication and sacrifices of his mother.  The schools have been lauded by government and civic leaders as models of educational excellence.

Brought Muslims into Electoral Politics 

In July, 1977, he held up the American flag told his supporters to vote and established New World Patriotism Day.  Parades were held throughout Chicago and other major cities.  He advised his supporters to claim their share of life in America.

On August 23, 1984, for the first time in American history, Imam W. Deen Mohammed took a delegation of 10,000 Muslims to the Nation’s capital for the first ever Muslim Political Convention.  Centered around the Washington Monument on the National Mall he addressed the theme “Building Political Responsibility”.   He later spoke to an audience addressing “The Earth – Our Home” promoting responsibility to the earth and the environment.

“I Will Never Give Up Al-Islam and My African American Identity”

In the early 1980’s Imam W. Deen Mohammed introduced the concept of New Africa and said “There are two things I will never give up, Al-Islam and my African American identity”.  He envisioned model communities that reflect the best of African, Muslim and African American identities and continued to stress economic development, do-for-self ownership and collective economics to provide economic stability

From Blackness to Human Identity

Imam Mohammed believed that with The Qur’an, skin color – Black – was no longer an organizing principle for African Americans; that the Nation of Islam’s focus on Blackness had sufficiently served its purpose.

A New People Born Out of Revelation

He said that Muslim African Americans were a new people born out of Revelation (The Qur’an) and he introduced the community to the Muslim African Ancestor, Bilal ibn Rabah, who provides dignity and direction.  Bilal was a slave to the Arabs, was liberated by Al-Islam and became the first Treasurer and Muezzin to the first Muslim community.  He was the trusted companion to the Holy Prophet Mohammed (prayers and peace be upon him).  Bilal called Believers to prayer five times a day.  Imam W. Deen Mohammed coined the term Bilalian in his honor to replace Black which did not have the depth of dignity required for a new people.  Bilalian was used only for a short period because some in the Muslim world and in America suggested he was developing a “cult”; to avoid that designation, he stopped using the term.  Imam W. Deen Mohammed said, just as Bilal stood on top of the Ka’ba and called the faithful to prayer, “It is the prophetic destiny of Muslim African Americans to call all of humanity back from idolatry (false worship)   to the true worship of G-d”.

For additional information, see: Project Gutenberg


The Honorable Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975)

THEM In the early 1960’s, the popular magazine, Reader’s Digest called him “The Most Powerful Black Man in America.”  In 1962, American author and social critique, James Baldwin wrote in his #1 Best Seller, Fire Next Time, “Elijah Muhammad has been able to do what generations of welfare workers and committees and resolutions and reports and housing projects and playgrounds have failed to do:

To heal and redeem drunkards and junkies, to convert people who came out of prison and to keep them out; to make men chaste and women virtuous and to invest both the male and the female with a pride and serenity that hang about them like an unfailing light.  He has done all these things, which our Christian church has spectacularly failed to do.” (p. 72).

Haley says Muhammad #1, Malcolm #2

In 1976, Alex Haley, author of Roots and collaborator on The Autobiography of Malcolm X said, “If I had to pick the single person who has been the most important figure for blacks in the black thrust from post-World War ll, I would unequivocally pick Elijah Muhammad.  Because it was he who….was like a lightning bolt in opening up the consciousness of black people…from this just blank psychic wall of just total fear of the structure in which we lived.  And I am saying these things clinically.  Underneath him I would put Malcolm X and Dr. King on equal basis.  They appealed to broadly different groups.  Dr. King…the church structure….Malcolm….the grass roots.” (Black Scholar, Vol. 8, No. 1, September, 1976 p. 37-38).

Selected 100 Greatest African Americans

In 2003, Molefi Kente Asante, scholar, professor and Chair of African American Studies at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA selected the Honorable Elijah Muhammad as one of the 100 Greatest African Americans.   Dr. Asante said his selection criteria represented the general will of African American people and not necessarily popularity or wealth.  That the broad struggle for justice and equality matters most to African Americans.  His criteria was:

  1. Significance in the general movement of African Americans towards full equality.
  2. Self-sacrifice and undertaking of risk for the collective good.
  3. Unusual will and determination in the face of the greatest danger and against the most stubborn odds.
  4. A consistent posture towards the social, cultural and economic uplifting of African American people.
  5. Personal achievement that calls attention to the capability and genius of African American people. (p.17).

Poverty, Persecution and Promise

Born Elijah Poole, in a small town a few miles from Sandersville, Georgia in 1897, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was raised in poverty and was one of thirteen children.  His father was an uneducated Baptist preacher, his mother a homemaker.  The family moved to Cordele, Georgia to seek a better economic existence by working in the cotton mills and on the railroad.  In was in Cordele, Georgia that he met Clara Evans.  They married, had children and migrated to Detroit, Michigan in 1923.  It was there in 1931 that they encountered W. D. Fard Muhammad and the Lost Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America.  They accepted Islam and became the leaders and shapers of that organization later called the Nation of Islam until 1972 and 1975 respectively.

During its development in the 1930’s and 1940’s the organization and members were consistently persecuted by Christian preachers, the business establishment and law enforcement.  Elijah Muhammad and his new Muslim community were demeaned in the newspapers, sanctioned, jailed and their Temples of Islam and schools, (University of Islam) were eventually shut down

Muslims Imprisoned for Refusing to Go to War

From 1931 to 1942 virtually all of the men at the Temples of Islam throughout the cities of Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. were incarcerated. The charges of sedition and failing to register for the draft during the early days of World War II were used to imprison them.   Historian and biographer, Claude Andrew Clegg III, wrote in  An Original Man, The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, “…the FBI used the arrest as a pretext for conducting a multistate assault on the Temple People.”(pp. 85 – 90).   Elijah Muhammad and his son were imprisoned from 1942 to 1946 along with approximately one hundred Muslim men.

Since his release in 1946, he lived with the scourge of being called a thug and criminal.  Such words were famously used in 1959 by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in describing him and the Muslim movement.  That opinion became polemical and was shared by those who sought to deter the growth of Islam in America and by Negro leaders who supported integration as a solution to the race problem.  Others vehemently disagreed. In particular, a response to Thurgood Marshall by George Schuyler, a Black conservative wrote in the Pittsburg Courtier, “Mr. Muhammad may be a rogue … but when anyone can get tens of thousands of Negroes to practice economic solidarity, respect their women, alter their atrocious diet, give up liquor, stop crime and juvenile delinquency and adultery, he is doing more for Negros’ welfare than any current leader I know.” (See Elijah Muhammad Dead: Black Muslim Leader 77, Special to The New York Times, February 26, 1975).

Within a span of 30 years, the leadership of Elijah Muhammad established the largest independently owned and operated school system, the University of Islam; the largest independent newspaper, Muhammad Speaks; a fish import business worth over $22 million dollars and a collection of small grocery stores, bakeries, sewing factories,  clothing shops and farm land which grew food for export.   No one in the history of the African American experience has acquired such accomplishments. The seminal study by Dr. C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America best delineates the social significance of the Nation of Islam, especially the school system.

He Called the White man the Devil and the World Changed

During the early years of his mission, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad – citing the 400 year tragedy of slavery, lynchings and Jim Crow – called white people devils.   He declared that attempts by Black people to co-exist with them were fruitless and they should separate. The media broadcast of “The Hate that Hate Produced” in 1959, stressed hate and throughout his leadership there was a concerted effort to paint Elijah Muhammad as a black racist and equate him with the Ku Klux Klan.  The media continues to promote that distortion.

Did Elijah Muhammad teach hate?  He answered the question himself.   “They say I am a preacher of racial hatred.   The fact is white people don’t like the truth, especially if it speaks against them.  It is a terrible thing for such people to charge me with teaching race hatred when their feet are on my people’s neck and they tell us to our face that they hate black people.  Remember now, they even teach you that you must not hate them for hating you.”

In an interview on C-SPAN, historian, professor and biographer of Elijah Muhammad, Dr. Claude Andrew Clegg III noted, “The extensive FBI files on the Honorable Elijah Muhammad tends to be accurate with matters of fact.” For example where he was on a particular day, what he did, etc.”   “However, matters of opinion is where the FBI has its problems.”   “That is they saw communism and subversion, everywhere.  They thought the Nation of Islam was a radical group that was going to bring in the Armageddon and overthrow the U.S. government.  So as far as analyzing the facts that they had gathered the FBI had a problem because they were looking through the lens of a very anti-communist, anti-subversive pair of glasses.”

Elijah Dignified Blackness

When asked what is it about Islam that makes it attractive to African Americans?  Professor Clegg responds, “I think Elijah’s biggest legacy, biggest significance is that he makes Blackness respectable among African Americans.  He kind of sells black people to themselves. He rejuvenates people’s sense of pride, self-esteem and their pride in their racial and cultural heritage.  Also the economic initiate of the Nation of Islam – largely lower class people – pulling their resources together to buy a major newspaper printing press, farm land, grocery stores, a jet, a bank, etc.; creating an economic model of self-help by people who had never owned or contributed to such.”

He continued, “Also there is a moral significance although there were contradictions in his life and behavior.

The moral message of the Nation of Islam:  don’t beat your wife, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t eat pork, don’t do drugs, clean up your neighborhoods, hold a steady job, and don’t get on welfare.  I think that moral message created boundaries for those who did not have and needed structure.  Finally, I think the significance of the Nation of Islam is that it introduced African Americans to an alternative religious vision outside of Christianity.  If Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam had never existed I don’t think Islam would be the kind of force it is in some American cities and urban areas it is today.  So, making people aware of the Eastern faith of Islam, although Elijah Muhammad taught a very peculiar style of Islam, I think is very significant.”

For additional biographical information see: Project Guttenberg