Warith Deen Muhammad: The signature name of American Black’s “Islamic Revolution”

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Warith Deen Muhammad: The signature name of American Black's

Imam W. Deen Mohammed was an African American Muslim who dedicated his life for the establishment of Muslim life in America and for freedom, justice and equality for Muslims, African Americans and all all people

Deniz Baran

Warith Deen Muhammed, was not only regarded in black-islamic movements, but also one of the foremost figures in history when ‘ U S A and İslam ‘ comes to mind.  Taking part in leading the most largest islamic organisation, converting the masses in an ‘ İslam Revolution ‘ by his own efforts,  also playing a major role in national and international initiatives. Written by Deniz Baran.

İn recent months, in the aftermath of the famous Muhammed Ali’s death, much public attention has been aroused to american muslims, especially black muslims.  For years when the thought of american muslims came to mind, Muhammed Ali was one of two prominent names coming to our mind.  For this reason many articles were written about him in different forms of media.  The president attended the funeral.  The people were shocked at the massive crowds and waiting in anticipation for the speach of Zeyd Sakir.

İn Dunya Bizim, we have for approximately one year been writing about muslim opinion leaders in america, in particular black opinion leaders. İn this perspective we published articles about Dhoruba bin Wahad, Cemil el-Emin, Siraj Wahhaj and names of the like.  when the series started i saved Wareeth Deen Muhammed for last, who is probably the name after Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali in context of american muslim leaders and in fact black leaders.  Hence now its his turn.


Wallace Deen Muhammed opened his eyes to the world in 1933, at a time when american blacks were most deprived of human rights.  However he was no ordinary black child suffering theese pains, for he was one of eight sons of the leader of Nation of İslam, Elijah Muhammed. As the son of such a father his footsteps in life were not to be ordinary and at the later stages of his life his relation to his father was to be very significant.

Wallace D. Muhammed received his earliest islamic education from an islamic school named Clara Muhammed Schools.  After he developed himself to a certain level, in 1958 at age 25, he began to take major rolls in the movement which his father was a leader of.  He continued to serve as Minister , in fact a Nation of İslam official, in Philedelphia. Continuing untill the early 60’s when he was jailed… He followed in the footsteps of his father and rejected conscription into the army. For this reason he could not avoid being forced to the other side of the iron bars.

Well you know as we say ‘school of Yusuf’ in theese parts of the world, thats how Wallace D. Muhammed evaluated prison.  Spending most his time reading the Quran. However his mind was open to ideas in this state of meditation, which would be life changing at the very least. Maybe for his endeavours, he would be rewarded by realising the falsehoods in his faith in regards to the commands of Allah. The Nation of İslam which he served, was in a wronghood in terms of creed , and the leader whom was his father, Elijah Muhammed, was the main person responsible.  The fact that his father was not showing the path of truth was slowly embedding in Wallace’s conscience, which is the feeling he developed as he read the holy book of the religion which he chose.  İn fact , it would have been suuficient just by a brief read of the Quran, to realise his father’s claim of prophethood was definitely against the creed.


İn 1963 as he left prison , his mind was set on a diiferent path, turning back indefinitely from the direction of his father.  İt was also at a time when Malcolm X was  parting roads due to differences of thinking, but it was to be much harder for Wallace Muhammed as he had family ties. He did not break ties with the family alltogether but he made his objections openly , which led him to be expelled 5 times from the movement, according to records. However his comings and goings continued untill 1975, when his father passed away.  Managing somehow to remain in the movement, possibly even keeping his own real thoughts discreet at least according to some people.

W. D. Muhammed’s rise to leadership of THE NATİON OF İSLAM and radical reforms

Maybe it was not a weakness that Wallace didnt totally detach himself from Nation of İslam, even though he knew of his father’s wrongdoings. İn fact had he been completely detached, he would not have the opportunity to direct the masses to a more truthfull and beneficial path.  Possibly, not been able to lead in the transformations resulting in a somewhat ‘İslam Revolution’. You know sometimes,  that which seems evil is actually for good…  Allah knows.  Eventually after the death of Elijah Muhammed in 1975, his son Wallace became the new leader of the Nation of İslam.  İmmeditely after becoming leader, he decided to mend and reform both theoretically and practically, the notions of creed that he for a long time thought was not adhering to authentic articles of faith.  The name ‘ supreme minister ‘ was altered to ‘ Head İmam ‘ as the former name was similtaneous with hierocracy.

he changed the flag of Nation of İslam.  Removing obligations of dress code in the organisation, repealing the armed wing, and converting to a mosque, hundreds ofplaces of worship which really had no concept incorporated.  İn theory , he was determined to alter the idea , which was installed as a matter of faith, that the founder of the movement W. D. Fard was a holy man , and his father Elijah was a prophet, so he gave many  lectures and published articles to heed to the five pillars of faith of islam and to reject the former falsehoods.  Explaining to his masses the concept of Satan.  Theese struggles of his was to continue for the rest of his life, as we all know , how difficult it can be to alter the convictions of believers even in the slightest forms of brainwashing….

The Nation of İslam was very politically motivated and for years reacted rigidly to racism with its line of seperatism, as a defence.  Wallace D. Muhammed’s rooted reforms tackled theese issues as well.

His own independant readings of justice in İslam, history and theology was contradicting to his father’s interpretations that had led to a path of seperatism.  Thanks to W. D. Muhammed, the Nation of İslam moved away from its ideas that were seperatist and in fact racist against whites.

İn order to permanently keep the changes he made, Muhammed realised that there needed to be a change in the corporate structure and also to focus on mainstream islamic movements that were known to be on authentic paths, or even having dialogue with other groups in order to break the barriers of isolation that they were bounded in. Consequently, it was due to his behaviour that the Nation of İslam was to be accepted and able to come together with other islamic organisations both in america and internationally, and also with the States of Muslim geography.  First strenghtening its ties in america with other  islamic organisations, and also with other ethnic based groups like the Latinos, who were newly coming together as muslim groups. As soon he was in leader’s role starting in 1975, he conducted meetings with Enver Sedat the leader of Egypt, one of the U A E emirs Sultan bin Muhammed el Kasimi, leaders of Guan Forbes Burnham, Arthur Chung and USA president Jimmy Carter. Being so outward that he was able to receive the keys to the city of Detroit by the mayor of Detroit. Being a representative in many international forums that would have been impossible for any movement outside the mainstream İslamic movements considered to be authentic. There was great effort made to make a positive impact in both muslim society and political arena. Muhammed directed his changes in two feats , considering both internal and external factors. His intensive activities was to be continued in the 80’s as well.  However before we move onto that, we need to discuss two important steps that he took :

Muhammed, at the end of 1978, when he felt it was the right time, made a move that was to change the roots of The Nation of İslam movement.  Abolishing with his Head İmam title and also the centralised structure of the movement.  İncorporating and instating a 6 member consulting councill  into the governing structure. Anyway, he had already taken steps to rename the organisation ( the movement finally was named American Society of İslam after several changes, possibly at first being World community of Al İslam ) , therefore being another important step in saving the movement from its radical identity and transforming it to an İslamic community.  Hence the vision of saving the movement from its centralism was crucial in achieving the transformation to a social  movement.  After taking theese steps, towards the end of 1978 in New Orleans, he openly displayed his new vision in a speech he made in a conference titled ‘ Evolution of the Nation of İslam ‘.

The second important development was in 1980, when he changed his name from Wallace to ‘Warith’ as we know, meaning ‘heir’.  ‘ Muhammed’s deens heir ‘ was what he wanted as his name, and if we consider what he did in his own land, it would not be an exaggeration to say he deserves it.

Those who claimed the heritage of Elijah Muhammed

Warith Deen Muhammed, certainly came across serious resistance as tried to change The Nation of İslam, which is important to note briefly. Hence in this case another black movement leader in america, Louis Farrakhan’s name come into the limelight as we are also aware of this name in connection to the murder of Malcolm X.

The changes Muhammed made in order to fix the deep rooted falsehoods installed into the creed, at the same time changed the character of the movement. İt was a move that annialated radicalism and seperatism, abolishing the military arm and shaking all the dynamics and leadership in the movement.

Hence, inside the organisation was a substancial group that did not accept theese changes.  The leader was Louis Farrakhan and in the beginning claimed to follow in the guidelines of Elijah Muhammed ( later on this group mellowed and changed as well ).  As in the beginning of his leadership, Muhammed changed the name of Nation of İslam, it was this latter group of rebels who claimed ownership of the old name and are know today as the founders of that group.

Farrakhan’s group may not be a majority, but still had enough masses to be influential. hence the hostility between theese sects lasted for years untill 2000, when Muhammed and Farrakhan made peace.  However, even after that time of coming together, it cannot be said that the two groups have close ties.

After the 80’s and Warith Deen Muhammed’s increasing İnfluence

Even coming into the 80’s , Muhammed was a leader who took big leaps, allways keping his respect and increasing his influence , untill he passed away in 2008.  He did islamic works; wrote books, lead a movement as he made trasformations, kept close contact with naional and international political movements, played a role in dialogue with different groups of faith, showed influence in academic platforms and also in media.  Even outlining all his activities can be a seperate article. However keeping aside his dialogue with other different faiths for a seperate article, we can outline some of his other major activities.

İn his contacts with international Islamic movements, his meetings in 1985 with Libya Propogation Society secretary general Dr. Muhammed Ahmed el Serif and also the representative of Afghan Mujahids Dr. Abdul Hakim Tabibi, in Switzerland is of interest.  İn addition Muhammed’s election as a member of World Supreme Council of Masajid ( known today as World Muslim Leauge ), being invited by the King of Morocco Muhammed the 2nd. , receivin a medal of honour from Egypt in 1992 for his services to İslam, being invited by Husnu Mubarek to Egypt in 1996, hosting in 1994 the head mufti, Abdullah Muhtar of the Bilal Mesjid in the U S A , being elected president in 1995 of the religious conference for peace ( W C R P ) and giving a speach in Copenhagan for this issue, attending in 1997 to Tehran’s İslamic Confence Organisation Forum… Theese are a few important  mentions of a list that can be extended to cover many other international initiatives. Of course we need to include Muhammed’s stance politically for Palestine and matters like the Gulf war concerning matters of occupation. İn fact, when the apartheid rejime collapsed in South Africa, the donation he made to Nelson Mandela on behalf of his movement is pf importance to highlight his involvement with world politics.

Wareeth Deen Muhammed’s influence and activities in the international arena was equally so inside the U S A , and of interest. İn 1999, he was elected to the governing committee of the largest İslamic society known as İslamic Society of America ( İSNA ), in 2005 he was awarded for his high character by another İslamic group known as Council on American-İslamic Relations ( CAİR ) , in 2002 published in Ebony magazine Muhammed was included in the list of  ‘ worlds most influential  100 american blacks ‘, was the first muslim to conduct prayers in the american senate ( 1992 ).

Relations with different groups of faith

The movement which Warith Deen Muhammed inherited from his father, was an isolated group that would have nothing in common with this topic. The son Muhammed who transformed the movement to a totally different path, extended his reach outwards to other groups of faith as well. Even from W. D. Muhammed’s early years in leadership, there was inclusion in activities with christian and jewish groups.  Theese activities were conducted sometimes to tackle problems that aroused with the times, sometimes finding mutual gaols and values in order to avoid conflict, sometimes looking for solutions for global issues. As theese are issues that we are subjected to often in U S A , we are not foreign to theese types of activities. However the extraordinary high level meetings organised by Muhammed , made his activities more in the forefront. İn this respect , two meetings to be highlighted, certainly is his meeting in 1996 with Pope John Paul the 2nd in Rome, and also in the consequitive year his meeting in an international conference with the Dalai Lama and the Pope in the Vatican.

Warith Deen Muhammed , not only in black – islam movements , but also when you consider ‘ USA and İslam’ , has recorded his name as one of the most prominent figures. Maybe even also being a leader to the largest İslamic organisation in the nation, also in his own rights conducting an ‘ islamic revolution’ and transforming those masses,  also taking a role in major initiatives both nationally and internationally.  May Allah accept his good deeds , have mercy on him ; continue the heritage which he claimed to be a ‘heir’ of.

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