Definition: The Nation of Islam was created by W. D. Fard in Detroit in the early 1930s. Little is known about Fard - the date of his birth is a mystery and no one knows if his disappearance in 1934 was linked to his death or if something else happened to him and he died later. It is known, however, that he preached that blacks were the original humans created by Allah, but they had been stolen from their homes by the "white devils." When blacks return to the true religion (his interpretation of Islam), then Allah would vent his fury on these white devils and restore blacks to their proper place as his chosen people. This message was very attractive to the many poor blacks who had moved from rural southern areas to northern cities.
After Fard's disappearance there was a power struggle over who would take control. Because of the violence, one group under Elijah Poole (who later changed his name to Elijah Muhammad) fled to Chicago. Eventually Muhammad taught that Fard had actually been Allah incarnated, trying to spread his message to humanity, and that Muhammad himself had received Fard's teachings. During this time the Nation of Islam was not only successful in attracting members in the inner-cities, but especially in prisons (aided in part by Elijah Muhammad's imprisonment in 1942 for subversion). A symbol of this success was the conversion of Malcolm Little from criminal to minister - he later become known as Malcolm X.
Leadership of the original Nation of Islam passed to Elijah Muhammad's son, Dean Muhammad. Dean had declared that whites should no longer be consdered "devils" and has worked to move the Nation of Islam (renamed as the American Muslim Mission) closer to orthodox Sunni Islam. Louis Abdul Farrakhan rejected these changes and re-established the older, separatist ideology in a new organization in 1978.
Today, the most visible leader of the Nation of Islam remains Louis Abdul Farrakhan (1933- ), a controversial figure who often achieves notoriety for saying just the wrong thing. He has, for example, described Judaism as a "gutter religion" and regularly complains about the media being controlled by a "Jewish conspiracy." However, he has emphasized a strong moral code for members and, under his leadership, membership keeps growing.
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