A Concise History of The Nation of Islam and its Evolution

Elijah Muhammad and Fard MuhammadThe Lost-Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America (NOI) was established in 1933 by two men who would make a tremendous impact upon the course of African American history. In doing so, they would in fact, change the course of both race relations and religion in America. One was an immigrant from (what is today known as) Pakistan , India , named Wallace D. Fard (pronounced “Fa-ROD”). He was also called, Wali Fard Mohammed, Professor W.D. Fard and Master Fard Muhammad, among other aliases. The other was his student, Elijah Poole. 

In 1925, Mr. Poole moved his family from Deep Step, Georgia to Detroit , Michigan in hopes of better employment opportunities. However the infamous Wall Street Crash, which began in New York City in 1929 and lasted throughout most of the 1930’s, had made already bad economic conditions much worse.  This event was also called “The Great Depression” because of the monetarily depleting domino effect it caused throughout the industrialized world (particularly the United States and Europe). Wealthy European Americans were found jumping out of windows and off of bridges after losing their money behind this financially catastrophic event.

Elijah Poole was now in worse shape in the North than he was in the South. This situation led to his developing a dependency on cigarettes and alcohol. Because of his unemployment, Elijah’s family had to subsist on welfare and other handouts. Oft-times he was embarrassed to even come home and face his family and would get drunk until he passed out on the street. On more than one occasion, his wife Clara would have to find him and carry him home on her shoulders.


Right smack in the middle of this economic melee appears Mr. W.D. Fard also known as “Master Fard Muhammad”. In 1930, he worked as a door to door seller of silks and African artifacts. Mr. Fard must have had tremendous faith in the viability of his products to attempt selling them to the poorest people in the most deprived neighborhoods during a major economic depression. W. D. Fard also had another agenda. As he would go from poor home to poorer home, he would also tell the people stories relating to what he called the black man’s “true” history and culture. 

W. D. FardMr. Fard was a member of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman community of Muslims that were popular throughout the African American communities of cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Newark at that time. Although there were “Sunni” Muslims in these cities also, many of them feared deportation or even death at the hands of the U.S. government for espousing the religion of Islam in public.

Although most traditional Muslims consider Ahmadiyya Muslims to be outside the fold of “true” Islam, it was Ahmadiyya Muslims, on the most part, who were bold enough to set up shop and teach throughout the ghettos of America back then. In any case, Mr. Fard’s goals for the African American community were obviously bigger than even his interest in Ahmadiyya ideology because, except for the English language translation of the Qur’an by the popular Ahmadiyya translator Maulana Muhammad Ali, he chose not to leave any noticeable vestiges of Ahmadiyyah thought in the teachings passed on to the man who would later become Elijah Muhammad.  

Although Elijah’s father, William Poole, was a popular Baptist preacher, Elijah had serious problems with the way Christianity was being presented and accepted in the black community.  There were so many unanswered questions in Elijah’s mind, when it came to Christianity’s explanations of events in history among other things. Although he was a very poor reader, Elijah struggled through the pages of the Bible for himself (with help from his older sister, Annie) and was at odds with many of the interpretations that were given of people and concepts in his Holy Book. Oft-times he would verbally disagree with and challenge his father’s Biblical analysis, but never in a disrespectful or insulting way. 
Clara Poole was the first to hear the enigmatic teachings of Mr. Fard when she was invited by a girlfriend of hers to hear him at a local residence. Clara enthusiastically brought the message back to her husband. The things that she shared with Elijah from Mr. Fard’s presentation actually gelled with some of the conclusions Elijah had drawn from his study of the Bible. He immediately decided to attend the very next meeting. After attending, Elijah became a devout student of Mr. Fard’s and was under his direct tutelage for the next 3 ½ years. Mr. Fard changed Elijah’s surname to “Kareem” and Elijah himself changed it finally to “Mohammed” (later to be spelt “Muhammad”). The rest would become history.
Mr. Fard taught from information that he had compiled into a series of booklets called “English Lessons”. However, he told Elijah Muhammad and his wife Clara Muhammad, that they were to produce children who would be taught from the Muslim Holy Book called the Qur’an and that those children would be taught that Book in its original language of Arabic (Arabiyya). He asked specifically that they name the child whom Clara was pregnant with at the time (in 1933), after his first name and initial which was “Wallace D.” This child grew to be our leader, Imam Wallace (Warith) D. Mohammed.  He was the first child born in his family with the name “Mohammed” on his birth certificate.  Only Elijah and Clara’s next and youngest child, Akbar, shares that same distinction.


Mr. W. D. Fard taught Elijah on subjects that were mostly a mixture of Islamic, meta-physical and black-nationalist concepts. By ‘meta-physical’, we mean that he used physical objects and events to signify mental, moral and spiritual ideas. It is also important to note that most of his narratives were interspersed with Islamic phrases and terminology although they were not the teachings of Al-Islam per se. In fact, much of it was diametrically opposed to what Al-Islam espouses.

During this time, African Americans were called ‘Colored” and “Negro” by European American racist society. According to Mr. Fard, his teachings were designed to awaken the so-called Negro to the “truth” of himself and others. If it did nothing else, it got Elijah “Poole” off of alcohol dependency and got his family off of the soup and welfare lines. Next, we will examine the process by which this occurred.

Mr. Fard considered blacks to be “Original People” who, as in past history according to his eschatology, would again rule the world with justice–after the “destruction of the white man’s civilization”. Whites of America and Europe, according to Mr. Fard, were considered to be “grafted devils” that were genetically cloned by a “black scientist named Yakub approximately 6,000 years ago on the Greek island of Patmos”.  Mr. Fard developed a slew of such myths and presented them as literal facts. These myths would later be interpreted by Imam W. D. Mohammed as “picture language” which spoke great wisdom through its symbolism.

fard, elijah, warith, louisAfter establishing “temples” (later known as “mosques”) with Mr. Muhammad in Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee, Mr. Fard chose Elijah Muhammad to be his “Supreme Minister” and leader by proxy to the 25,000 followers Mr. Fard had garnered in 3 ½ years of his hands-on leadership. The threat of deportation loomed heavily over Mr. Fard’s head after having been arrested and imprisoned on several occasions. Then in April 1934 he left the United States for Mexico, as far as could be determined. Clara would receive several postcards from that country in his name; especially after Wallace D. was born.

Wallace D. Mohammed was born on October 30th, 1933, in Hamtramck, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Wallace D. was the seventh child born to Elijah and Clara Muhammad. As mentioned earlier, W. D. Fard and the younger Mohammed shared the same first name and middle initial. This is because Mr. Fard predicted that the child Clara was carrying at the time would be a boy and should be named after him. Mr. Fard instructed the family to write the name “Wallace D” on the wall behind a door in one of the bedrooms–in chalk. They were told to never let the name fade from the wall.  As the chalk began to fade, they would remind each other to re-trace the name over and over again. Furthermore, Mr. Fard predicted that “When Wallace D. turns 40 he will help his father in his work.” 

Elijah Muhammad was astute enough to read into the innuendos left within the Lessons and, after Mr. Fard’s sudden disappearance in 1934, Mr. Muhammad deemed himself to be the “messenger” of that one who taught him and took him off of the soup and welfare lines. W. D. Fard (aka Master Fard Muhammad) became known as “Allah in person” and Elijah Muhammad was his “messenger”. This idea would permeate the minds and hearts of the followers within the Nation of Islam and would become the most predominant feature of their propagation efforts until February of 1975.

Mr. Fard had saw fit to prepare others for leadership also, however, his personal choice was Elijah. Following Mr. Fard’s departure, serious rivalry developed, forcing Elijah to flee the Midwest region for his life. His journeying would land him in the area of Washington, D.C. where he would establish Temple # 4 – an institution which was actually built from the ground up under Mr. Muhammad’s directives. Unfortunately, the racist and anti-Muslim climate which prevailed during that time kept Elijah Muhammad and his fledgling organization (which had dwindled down to less than 300 people) smack-dab within the radar of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) headed by the late and infamous J. Edgar Hoover. 


Mr. Hoover, who became well-known for employing numerous counter-intelligence operations against people of color, sent agents to arrest Mr. Muhammad in 1942 for “draft evasion” (although he was technically one year over the age of draft) and for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” (for not allowing the children in the NOI to attend public schools). Elijah Muhammad would be convicted and spend five years in prison at Sandstone Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota, but by the time he was released in 1948 for “good behavior,” he had also established temple services in prison. It is not widely known that, Clara would run the affairs of the NOI in his absence through correspondence with him. During this stint in prison, he would unfortunately develop or have exacerbated certain health problems such as asthma and bronchitis that would plaque him for the rest of his career. Once out of prison, Elijah firmly established himself in Chicago and in the next few years would be introduced to one who would become the single most effective representative of the Nation of Islam at that time: Minister Malcolm X Shabazz.

Another little known fact is that, Clara Muhammad is the mother of home schooling in the United Sates. What would later become the “University of Islam” (although a grade school, it was called a university) began in her living room during this period. Wallace D. himself was home-schooled until the age of 10, after which he was then allowed to attend the University of Islam which by that time had become officially and independently established. During one particular occasion, a local policeman and truant officer had come by Clara Muhammad’s home in an effort to force her to return the children to public school. They threatened her with everything they could think of, but she would not open the front door past the crack which she used to speak to them from behind. 10 year old Wallace D. stood by his mother’s side as her defender during this exchange. The officers could see Wallace D. peeking at them from behind the crack also and this enraged them to the point where they then threatened to bust in and take the children by force. Mrs. Muhammad calmly opened the door until it was wide enough for them both to come through; but she admonished them first by stating, “There’s one of them right there (pointing to Wallace). But, I’ll tell ya, I’m ready to die as dead as this door wood if you put your hands on any of my children!” The officers turned beet red, mumbled a few more words and then walked away infuriated.

Wallace and his younger brother Akbar were the main ones in the family to learn how to read the Qur’an in its native language of Arabic. Their father was wise enough to hire an Arabic instructor, Dr. Jamil Diab, a native of Palestine, to teach at the University of Islam in Chicago, Illinois. Akbar’s forte was grammar while Wallace’s was translation into English and interpretation of meanings. Despite the prediction by Mr. Fard, as a young adult, Wallace D. Mohammed would be ex-communicated from the NOI on at least three different occasions for disagreeing with the concept of G-d as espoused in the Lessons. These Lessons clearly suggested that Mr. Fard was G-d incarnate (in the flesh), although he himself never made such a direct statement. He was, however, spoken of as a “prophet” in several of their early periodicals. Both ideas are spoken against in strong terms in our Holy Book, the Qur’an.

A young Wallace D. MohammedWhen Wallace D. turned 25, he was appointed by his father to be the minister at Philadelphia’s Mosque # 12. Wallace was arrested not soon afterward for failing to register for selective services. As a member of the NOI, it was unthinkable that a male member would join the armed services to fight on the side of the “devil” against any nation of dark-skinned people. However, during his 3 ½ years of imprisonment, he was able to thoroughly examine the Qur’an and contrast it with the Lessons of “Master Fard Muhammad”. This finally convinced him that there was a definite difference in the concept of Allah in the Qur’an when compared with what was being said concerning Mr. W. D. Fard being “Allah in person”.

Beginning in 1962, once released and back in his position as minister, Wallace D. Muhammad began to speak to these contrasts, not in a condescending and disparaging way, but in a way to bring gradual understanding of the true message of the Qur’an to the local body of his father’s followers. The NOI was going through a severe financial crisis at this time and in order not to lose the people, much of the focus was on keeping the followers enchanted with the core message and teachings of the NOI one of which was “Do For Self”. But a contradiction was developing. It seemed as though the bigger the organization grew the more financially depleted it was becoming. 


It was obvious to many by now that, some people in situations of authority were taking undue advantage of their positions. Much of the wealth being garnered by the NOI was due to the diligent work of the young and fiery minister, Malcolm X Shabazz, who entered the NOI doors literally straight from prison about a decade earlier, and whose voice had reached many young, zealous, nationalistic and idealistic men and women who themselves began to come into the NOI in droves. There was a tremendous increase in, not only temples/mosques, but also NOI owned businesses, homes and farmland throughout the United States. Malcolm had a way of presenting the “teachings” so that the average person would be “fired up” to do all he or she could in support of Mr. Muhammad’s programs. Even a young boxer named Cassius Clay would be affected and infected by Malcolm’s veracity so much so that the world would come to know him as the great boxing champion, Muhammad Ali.

Eiljah & MalcolmAs Minister Malcolm X crisscrossed the country representing Elijah Muhammad’s leadership, his popularity grew, and so did the jealousies. Some eventually accused Malcolm of trying to take Mr. Muhammad’s place. Others felt that, with Mr. Muhammad being sporadically ill, Malcolm was in the most advantageous position to replace him in the event of an untimely death. In addition, Malcolm was thought to be a puritan by some, especially when it came to the handling and/or spending of money. He would personally drive the collections every month from the New York Mosque #7 where he was minister, directly to Elijah Muhammad in Chicago. It was speculated that, if Malcolm X were to become the leader of the Nation of Islam, he would surely tighten up the reins on the loose flow of cash circulating throughout the businesses under the NOI’s auspices. This was a period of tremendous strain. Especially for the sincere followers who joined the NOI seeking better understanding of both the religion of “Islam” and ethnic identity as “blacks” in America.

When President John F. Kennedy was felled by snipers’ bullets in November of 1962, all NOI ministers were instructed by Elijah Muhammad to make no comments to the press. Malcolm disobeyed the edict and was ex-communicated as was the protocol. Malcolm had excommunicated many at Mosque # 7 for much smaller infractions. However, he found it extremely difficult to stay out of the public eye and away from the media’s cameras and microphones as per his instructions from his leader.

Hoover’s FBI found it useful to intensify existing tensions between the leader and his ace student. Malcolm, after realizing the futility of his efforts in reconciling with his mentor, would go on to form two organizations: The Muslim Mosque, Inc. as well as the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Tremendous tension continued to mount until on February 21st, 1965, Malcolm X Shabazz was assassinated in cold blood at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom by renegade members of the NOI itself. Two innocent men were convicted of the crime, along with one who was caught at the scene. All of them served over 20 years in prison and all three have accepted Islam proper as it has been taught by Wallace D. Mohammed in the post Elijah Muhammad era. The famed Minister Louis Farrakhan would succeed Malcolm X Shabazz as the National Representative of the NOI.

It should be noted that, during the time of Wallace’s excommunication in both the 60s and early 70s, there were assassination attempts on him also. Wallace D. actually started his own organization back in 1964, but disbanded it soon thereafter. Malcolm tried to coax Wallace into joining him as the head of the Muslim Mosque, Inc., but Wallace refused. His interest was in preserving the good work that had been established by the sincere people within the Nation of Islam. These were people he had known all of his life, some of whom had cared for him as a baby, child, and young adult.

In 1972, a meeting was held at the home of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and on the agenda was statements that Wallace was reported to have made during a recent local radio interview. Much of the interview was spent explaining Al-Islam as it is found in the Qur’an and the life example of Muhammed the Prophet. He barely spoke on the version of “Islam” that Mr. Fard had imparted upon his father. Mr. Muhammad heard excerpts from that taped interview at the meeting. At first, his already light-complexioned face completely lost its color; he then clapped his hands together and, although sickly, he jumped up from his chair and declared, “My son’s got it! Boy, you can go anywhere on this earth and teach that gospel.” It seemed that, after Malcolm’s death, and after some serious soul-searching, Elijah Muhammad began to realize that Wallace Muhammad did indeed represent the “help” that Mr. Fard had instructed him to look for close to 40 years ago. Wallace Mohammed turned 40 on October 30th, 1973.

A young Louis FarrakhanThe Honorable Elijah Muhammad would pass from this life on February 25th, 1975. The very next day, on February 26th, 1975, “Supreme Minister” Wallace D. Muhammad (later to be spelt “Mohammed”) succeeded his father as leader of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America. The younger Muhammad’s succession was the result of majority consent from rank and file followers of the NOI as well as the leadership of the majority of ministers and officials. Among those who consented was Minister Louis Farrakhan, who was now the International Representative of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

On January 15th, 1975 in Harlem, New York, one month prior to Elijah’s passing, Minister Farrakhan told a group of NOI followers that, “Wallace D. Muhammad has more wisdom in his pinky than I have in my whole being.” The minister then related to his audience that, in 1965, he commented to Elijah Muhammad how insightful he believed Wallace to be—especially in terms of his knowledge of the Qur’an. Farrakhan said that Mr. Muhammad then replied, “If you think he’s something now, wait until you see him ten years from now.”

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.