The Honorable Elijah Muhammad (pictured left), the co-founder and leader of the Nation of Islam, stands as both an inspirational and controversial figure within the annals of Black American history. Mr. Muhammad was on born on this day in 1897.
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Born Elijah Poole in Sandersville, Ga., on October 7th, Muhammad was born in to poverty as one of 13 children in the rural area. His father was a sharecropper and his mother was a domestic worker. Dropping out of school in the fourth grade to help earn money for his family, Muhammad worked odd jobs to make ends meet.
In 1917, he met and married Clara Evans and the couple went on to have eight children themselves.
Because of the rampant racism and violence they had to contend with in the Deep South, Muhammad moved his entire family to Detroit, Mich., in search of a better life.
In 1931, Muhammad crossed paths with Wallace D. Fard, a salesman who taught about a form of Islam that spoke to empowering Black Americans. Muhammad converted to Islam and studied under Fard, who gave him his last name.
Fard taught Muhammad that Black people were the original people and culture of the Planet Earth and that Whites were an abomination created by a scientist named Yakub. Fard also taught Muhammad the value of a healthy diet and fortifying one’s mind with rich history and facts of the past.
Fard left Detroit, thus splitting the Nation of Islam into several clashing groups. Muhammad took a portion of the group to Chicago, and opened the Temple of Islam No. 2. This would become the de facto headquarters of the Nation. From this location, Muhammad began teaching and spreading Islam among the city’s poor Black citizens.
Muhammad’s growth of the Nation was halted temporarily, after he was imprisoned between 1942 and 1946 for evading the draft during World War II. Returning to his post, he began teaching that Fard was a living incarnation of Allah (God) and named himself Allah’s messenger.
For three decades, the Nation grew exponentially, and with its strong membership, Muhammad was able to expand on his empire by way of the popular “Muhammad Speaks” newspaper, vast real estate holdings, and several business ventures.
The Nation of Islam arrived as a social and economic force.
Muhammad also wrote two books called “Message to the Black Man” in 1965 and “How To Eat To Live” in 1972.
A pair of Muhammad’s students would become forever linked to the legacy of the Nation. Malcolm X (pictured top), a fiery orator who served as the Nation’s national spokesperson, was a favorite of Muhammad’s. However, Malcolm X broke away from the group due to internal strife and personal differences.
Another student of Muhammad’s was Louis X, now known as Minister Louis Farrakhan (pictured) and the current leader of the Nation. It has been alleged that Farrakhan ordered the assassination of Malcolm X, a claim he has staunchly denied.
It is no secret, however, that Malcolm X’s defection from the group was a period of contention for all involved.
Muhammad took on what was called “Islamic wives,” women who were part of the nation, and fathered children with them. Of the known women that he is said to have children with, Tynetta Muhammad claims to be the leader’s widow despite he being married to Clara Muhammad.
Malcolm X and other leaders in the group were allegedly taken aback that Muhammad used the Nation’s funds to support his reported 21 children and their mothers in addition to his own. Even further, there were rumors that Muhammad carried on relationships with underage girls, which also angered many in the Nation.
When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, his son Warith Deen Mohammed (born Wallace Delaney Muhammad) took over the the Nation under his World Community of Islam umbrella, and a reported 19 of Muhammad’s children sued the Nation, which was eventually struck down.
In 1977, Farrakhan broke away from the World Community of Islam and reformed the Nation of Islam, following the model set by Muhammad and Fard. Farrakhan, now 81, still leads the Nation with determined grit but has softened some of his more controversial stances in recent years.