Warith Deen Mohammed

Warith Deen Mohammed


Warith Deen Mohammed, also known as “W.
Deen Mohammed” or “Imam W. Deen Muhammad”, was a progressive African
American Muslim leader, theologian, philosopher, Muslim revivalist and
Islamic thinker who disbanded the original Nation of Islam in 1976 and
transformed it into an orthodox mainstream Islamic movement, the World
Community of Al-Islam in the West which later became the American Society of
Muslims. He was a son of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of
Islam from 1933 to 1975. He became the national leader of the
Nation of Islam in 1975 after his father’s death. As a result of his
personal studies and thinking, he had led the vast majority of the members of
the original NOI to mainstream, traditional Sunni Islam by 1978. With
this merger, he oversaw the largest mass conversion to Islam in the history of
the United States. He rejected the previous deification of Wallace Fard
Muhammad, accepted whites as fellow-worshippers, forged closer ties
with mainstream Muslim communities, and introduced the Five Pillars of Islam
into his group’s theology. Splinter groups resisting these changes
formed after Elijah Muhammad’s death, particularly under Louis Farrakhan, who
revived the name Nation of Islam for his organization.
Biography=Early life and education=
Mohammed was born Wallace Delaney Muhammad on Yeman Street in Hamtramck,
Michigan in 1933. In 1980 he would change his name to Warithuddin Muhammad,
Warith Deen Muhammad, which translates to ‘Inheritor of the Religion of
Muhammad’. His parents were Clara and Elijah Muhammad, both highly active in
the Nation of Islam, the organization that preached a form of Black
nationalism and its own version of Islam. From 1934 until his death in
1975, Elijah Muhammad led the Nation. Named to honor Wallace Fard Muhammad,
the founder of the Nation of Islam, Mohammed grew up in Chicago, one of
seven siblings. His early education came from the Muhammad University of Islam
school system now known as the Clara Muhammad Schools, or Muhammad Schools.
He studied Arabic as a youth under Professor Jamal Diab, a Palestinian who
had been hired by his father to teach at the M.U.I. in Chicago.
Mohammed became a minister under his father in late 1958 and served in
Philadelphia during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In 1961, on his 28th birthday, Mohammed began a term in federal prison for
having refused induction into the United States military. He could have performed
community service, but his father pressed him to accept the jail time. He
spent most of that time studying the Quran, the main Islamic holy book. He
became convinced that the Nation of Islam had to change. In 1963 he was
released from prison. Close to Malcolm X, who was also questioning the NOI, he
found that by this time his viewpoints deviated significantly from those of his
father, whom he no longer believed was a prophet. Because of this conclusion, he
was excommunicated five times, but by 1974, he was returned permanently to
NOI. Religious leadership and ministry
=Reforming the Nation of Islam=Upon the death of his father on February
25, 1975, Mohammed was unanimously chosen as the leader of the Nation of
Islam and introduced to the NOI membership as such at the annual
Saviours’ Day convention on February 26, 1975. Among the first changes Mohammed
instituted, he dropped the title Supreme Minister and took the title Chief Imam,
or simply Imam, in 1976. The same year, he unveiled a new flag for the NOI
community. These were just two of the many reforms
Mohammed introduced. Among others, he eliminated the NOI dress code, disbanded
the military branch of the NOI, clarified the concept of the devil, and,
through his Muhammad Speaks newspaper and public speeches, introduced and
explained Islam’s Five Pillars. He stated that Fard was not divine and that
his father was not a prophet. All of the over 400 temples were converted into
traditional Islamic mosques. He also renamed the community several times
before finally settling on the American Society of Muslims to reflect the new
thinking. Mohammed was frank about his intentions to evolve the movement. On
November 19, 1978 he spoke on the “Evolution of the Nation of Islam” at
the American Academy of Religion in New Orleans.
Mohammed’s changes reached deep into the philosophy of the movement his father
had led for so long. He rejected literal interpretations of his father’s theology
and Black-separatist views and on the basis of his intensive independent study
of Islamic law, history, and theology, he accepted whites as fellow worshipers.
However, he also encouraged African Americans to separate themselves from
their pasts, in 1976 calling upon them to change their surnames which were
often given to their ancestors by slave masters. He forged closer ties with
mainstream Muslim communities, including Latinos. He also decentralized power. On
September 10, 1978 in an address in Atlanta he resigned as Chief Imam and
appointed a six-member council to lead the Community.
Mohammed felt quite keenly his role in reform. In an interview published in the
Muhammad Speaks newspaper and conducted by his brother Jabir Herbert Muhammad,
Mohammed described his role as successor to their father as that of a Mujeddid,
one who would watch over the new Islam or community. In 1979 he used the title
Mujeddid on his byline in his weekly articles for the Bilalian News.
Warith Deen Mohammed gained widespread support among the international Muslim
community, but his changes to the Nation of Islam were not universally accepted.
A number of dissident groups resisted, most notably those who followed Louis
Farrakhan in breaking ranks with Mohammed. This group revived the name
‘Nation of Islam’ in 1977. In 1995 Mohammed released a statement expressing
concern about Farrakhan’s motivations and the racial divisiveness of his
ministry. The pair embraced publicly and declared reconciliation at the annual
Saviours’ Day convention on February 25, 2000, but in August 10, 2007, Mohammed
repeated his frustration with the separatist stance of the current Nation
of Islam, stating that its leaders had, “for the last 10 years or more,…just
been selling wolf tickets to the white race and having fun while they collect
money and have fancy lifestyles.” He predicted a quiet evolution in the NOI
towards unity with the mainstream American Muslim community.
=Building ties within the Muslim community=
Mohammed was intent on strengthening bonds between his movement and the wider
American Muslim faith as well as with followers of Islam abroad. It was his
goal to align American Muslims with Sunni Islam. In 1976, he took a
delegation to Guyana on an official state visit to meet with Prime Minister
L. Forbes Burnham, and the then President of Guyana Arthur Chung, during
which he forged ties with the Muslim communities in the region. In 1985, he
met in Geneva, Switzerland with Dr. Muhammad Ahmad Al-Sharif, Secretary
General of the World Islamic Call Society of Libya and Dr. Abdul Hakim
Tabibi, an Afghan mujahid, to discuss areas of future cooperation with the
World Islamic Call Society and the Muslim Community of America. He hosted
Grand Mufti Abdullah Mukhtar, the leader of an estimated 60 million Muslims at
Masjid Bilal, during his first visit to the U.S. in 1994. In 1999, he was
elected to the Islamic Society of North America’s shura board. That same year,
during Ramadan, he pledged to work with then Grand Mufti of Syria, Shaikh Ahmed
Kuftaro an-Naqshbandi for the advancement of Al-Islam during a meeting
with Kuftaro and Shaikh Nazim al-Haqqanian-Naqshbandi. He was the
special invited guest and keynote speaker at the “Inaugural Conference on
the Growth and Development of Islam in America”, held at Harvard University on
March 3–4, 2000.=Interfaith cooperation=
Just as Mohammed sought to be racially inclusive, he also focused on
cooperation between multiple faiths. On May 23, 1976, he conducted a massive
interfaith Spiritual Life Jubilee in Los Angeles, California and spoke on the
subject “A New Heaven and a New Earth”. In 1977 he participated in a
Muslim-Christian dialogue in Fort Worth, Texas with Dr. Jack Evans, then
President of Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas. In February
1978, he gave a historic address before more than 1,000 Jews and Muslims at the
Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C., then under the
leadership of Rabbi Joshua O. Haberman. This was a focus that would persist
throughout his career. In 1993 he spoke at the Interfaith Roundtable National
Conference of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Detroit, Michigan. In March
1995 he gave the keynote address at the Muslim-Jewish Convocation in Glencoe,
Illinois. From October 1–6, 1996 he met with Pope John Paul II and Cardinal
Francis Arinze at the Holy See in Rome. On August 17, 1997 he was presented the
Luminosa Award for Unity from the Focolare Movement. On September 9, 1997
he addressed the Baltimore Jewish Council speaking on themes of world-wide
justice and fairness. On May 18–20, 1998, he attended the Conference on
Religion and Peace sponsored by the Center for Christian, Jewish
Understanding of Sacred Heart University in Auschwitz, Poland. In June 1998 he
addressed the Muslim Friends of the Focolare conference in Rome, Italy, in
October of the following year, along with a 92-member delegation, he spoke
before a gathering of 100,000 people in the Vatican. Pope John Paul II and the
Dalai Lama were both in attendance. On October 29, 2001, Mohammed participated
in an “Evening of Religious Solidarity” joined by Minister Louis Farrakhan,
Pastor Robert H. Schuller, and members of the Parliament of the World’s
Religions at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park, Illinois.
Political and social activities Throughout his ministry, Mohammed
remained politically active, domestically and internationally. Early
meetings with prominent political figures included[Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat in 1975, Sharjah ruler Sheik Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi in 1976,
and U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1977. But Mohammed would attend many events
around the world focused on the advancement of Islam, racial unity and
world peace. He was the only American invited and the
only American to attend the 10th Annual Islamic Conference of Ministers in May,
1979, in Fes, Morocco. In April, 1988, he participated as the representative of
Muslim Americans in the “Political and Religious Leaders Campaign for Planetary
Survivor” in Oxford Town Hall. Later that year he was among 100 leaders in
religion, government, business, law and philanthropy who gathered in
Williamsburg, Virginia during the Williamsburg Charter Foundations “First
Liberty Summit”. In 1995, he participated in the Forbes Forum on
Management in Naples, Florida. The following year, he participated in the
“National Discussion on Race & Reconciliation” sponsored by the
National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In late 1997, he attended the
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Teheran, Iran, and he participated in
The Religious Community and Moral Challenge of Poverty Round Table
Discussion convened by former U. S. Senator Paul Simon in 1998 in
Carbondale, Illinois. During the month of November 1999 he attended consecutive
World Peace Conferences. The first conference, Jubilenium Interfaith
Conference for World Peace, was an invitation-only event held in Tiberias,
Israel. The second was the 7th World Assembly of the World Conference on
Religion and Peace, held in Amman, Jordan.
He was a prominent political speaker. Mohammed gave the first invocation in
the United States Senate ever by a Muslim in 1992 That same year, he became
the first Muslim to deliver an address on the floor of the Georgia State
Legislature. In 1993, he gave an Islamic prayer during the first Inaugural
Interfaith Prayer Service of President Bill Clinton, and again in 1997 at the
second Interfaith Prayer Service. In 1996 he was invited to Egypt by Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak to address the Supreme Council of Affairs in Cairo on
the theme “Islam and the Future of Dialogue between Civilizations”.
He sat on a number of councils and committees, domestically and abroad. In
1986, he was selected to serve on the World Supreme Council of Masajid as one
of only three representatives of the United States. Also in 1995 he was
selected as a President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and
addressed its governing board in Copenhagen, Denmark. In January 1997, he
was appointed to then President Bill Clinton’s Religious Advisory Council. In
2000, he was named to the Executive Committee of the Religious Alliance
Against Pornography. He made his opinions on political
matters known. On July 4, 1976 he started the New World Patriotism Day
celebrations which were conducted on Independence Day in major cities across
America. In 1984, Mohammed went against the mainstream African American
political establishment and opposed Reverend Jesse Jackson’s run for the
Democratic nomination for President. In 1985, to protest the Chicago probate
court handling of an American Muslim Mission case, he organized a “Walk for
Justice” that drew 500,000 participants. On December 23, 1989 he spoke at the
Annual Conference of the Islamic Committee for Palestine on the plight of
the Palestinians. In 1990, Mohammed supported and endorsed Neil Hartigan for
Governor of Illinois. He gave his support to the peacemaking and
humanitarian efforts of Bishop Samuel Ruiz. On September 10, 1990 he
participated in the international conference on the “Current Situation in
the Gulf”, where he made his opposition to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait a matter of
public record. On behalf of the Muslim American Community, he donated $85,000
to Nelson Mandela to aid his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa during a
personal meeting in Oakland, California on June 30, 1990. On September 11, 2001,
he denounced the terrorist attacks as un-Islamic.
Islamic beliefs and ideology=Fiqh=
While emphasizing unity within the Muslim community, Warith Deen Mohammed
called upon the American Muslim community to establish a new school of
fiqh, a code of conduct for the observance of rituals, morals and social
legislation in Islam. He told ISLAMICA magazine in 2008 that he felt that the
madhhab—the schools of thought within fiqh—were geographically influenced and
should be regionally developed, suggesting that “I think we are
gradually getting a sense of madhabs in America, especially those like me. We
are getting a sense of madhabs. And with the coming generation I think that we
will be getting a much stronger sense of it. It is coming more and more.
=Imagery and color symbolism=Mohammed was sensitive to the potential
impact caused by the use of images and symbols in religion. In a 1975 article,
he explored this topic and in 1976 published the first article on the
subject in the Bilalian News. Titled “A Message of Concern”, this article has
run in every copy of the publication since. He spoke about the subject, as
well. For instance, in a June 17, 1977 Friday service, he taught on “The
meaning of colors in Scripture and the Natural Powers of Black and White”,
describing ancient scriptural symbolism and its effect on modern-day scriptural
and religious interpretation. He also elaborated on how colors in scripture
have triggered racist influences in religious societies. In 1977 he formed
the Committee for the Removal of All Images that Attempt to Portray the
Divine. Personal life
Warith Deen Mohammed’s first wife was Shirley Mohammed, with whom he had four
children. By 1994, according to The Los Angeles Times, Mohammed had been married
four times and had fathered eight children. Mohammed married Khadija
Siddeeq in 2004. Mohammed’s eldest child Laila Mohammed stated that Warith Deen
practiced polygamy. However this polygamy assertion is disputed within
the community. Beyond his public role in religion and
politics, Mohammed was involved in real estate, import clothing and skin care.
During his excommunications from the Nation Of Islam in his 30s, he served as
a laborer. Death
Mohammed died in Chicago in early September 2008 of a likely heart attack.
His body was found on Tuesday September 9, at which point—according to the
medical examiner’s report—he had been dead for several days. In addition to
cardiovascular disease, Mohammed suffered from diabetes.
According to the Final Call newspaper, “The Janazah prayer service was delayed
for close to an hour so the huge crowd that had assembled could be organized
and situated.” The Chicago Tribune wrote that 8,000 Muslims attended his funeral.
His funeral was held at the Islamic Foundation Masjid in Villa Park,
Illinois Honors
On his 44th Birthday October 30, 1977, Mohammed received the Key to the City of
Detroit, Michigan from the then Mayor of Detroit Coleman Young, along with a
Proclamation declaring October 30, 1977 Wallace D. Muhammad Day in Detroit.
Then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton proclaimed March 26, 1983 “Economic
Dignity Day” in the state of Arkansas. In doing so he stated the following:
Whereas, through the leadership and efforts of Warith Deen Muhammad, the
American Muslim Mission is on the path of economic progress and achieving
growth through unity…(I) urge all citizens to engage in activities which
promote economic progress. On July 4, 1983 Muhammad shared the Reviewing Stand
for the 1984 New World Patriotism Day Parade in Chicago with then State
Senator, Emarald Jones, State Representative, Howard Brooks, parade
Grand Marshal, Harold Washington the then Mayor of Chicago, Illinois, and
many other dignitaries. Mayor Harold Washington issued a proclamation
declaring July 4, 1984 as New world Patriotism Day Coalition Parade Day in
Chicago. In 1988, King Hassan II of Morocco,
invited Mohammed to participate in the traditional devotions during Ramadan,
stating: Through you Imam W. Deen Mohammed all the people in America are
represented. In 1992, President Hosni Mubarak of
Egypt honored Warith Deen Mohammed with “The Gold Medal of Recognition” for his
religious work in the United States. He received the Focolare Movement “Luminosa
Award for Unity” in 1997. On May 17, 1999, he received a Certificate of
Appreciation from the United States Department of State. In 2002, Ebony
Magazine selected him as one of its “100 Most Influential Black Americans”.
On December 9, 1994 he received the Cup of Compassion from the Hartford Seminary
in Hartford, Connecticut. On April 6, 2002, Mohammed was made a
member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Board of Preachers at
Morehouse College in Atlanta, and his portrait was hung in the International
Chapel there. On Saturday, September 3, 2005, the
Council on American–Islamic Relations presented an award to W. Deen Mohammed
in recognition of his outstanding leadership role in the American Muslim
community at The Mosque Cares sponsored Annual Islamic Convention.
In eulogizing Mohammed on CNN blogs, the Executive Director of CAIR-Chicago,
Ahmed Rehab, called him “America’s Imam.”
Publications=Books authored=
The Teachings of W. D. Muhammad, Muhammad’s Mosque #2, Chicago, Illinois,
1975 The Lectures of Emam W. D. Muhammad,
Muhammad’s Mosque #2, Chicago, Illinois, 1976
Book of Muslim Names, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad Mosque #2, Chicago,
Illinois, February 1976 The Man and the Woman in Islam, The
Honorable Elijah Muhammad Mosque #2, Chicago, Illinois, February 1976
As the Light Shineth from the East, W.D.M. Publications, Chicago, Illinois,
1980 Prayer and Al-Islam, Muhammad Islamic
Foundation, Chicago, Illinois, 1982, Library of Congress Card Number:
82-61077 Religion on the Line, W.D.M.
Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 1983 Imam W. Deen Muhammad speaks from
Harlem, N.Y. Book 1, W. D. M. Publications, 1984
Imam W. Deen Muhammad speaks from Harlem, N.Y.: Challenges That Face Man
Today Book 2, 1985 Meeting The Challenge: Halal Foods for
Our Everyday Needs, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad Masjid, Chicago, Illinois, 1986
An African American Genesis, M.A.C.A. Publication Fund, Chicago, Illinois,
1986, Library of Congress Card Number: 86-63266
Focus on Al-Islam: Interviews with Imam W. Deen Mohammed, Zakat Publications,
Chicago, Illinois, Dec. 1988, Library of Congress Card Number: 89-090728
Al-Islam: Unity, and Leadership, The Sense Maker, Chicago, Illinois, 1991,
Library of Congress Card Number: 91-061449, ISBN 1-879698-00-5
Worst Oppression Is False Worship “The Key Is Tauheed-Oneness of Allah,” W.D.M.
Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 1991 Growth for a Model Community in America,
W.D.M. Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 1995
Islam’s Climate for Business Success, The Sense Maker, Chicago, Illinois,
1995, Library of Congress Card Number: 95-071105, ISBN 1-879698-01-3
Mohammed Speaks, W.D.M. Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 1999
Blessed Ramadan – The Fast of Ramadan Plans for a Better Future: Peace,
Inclusion and International Brotherhood The Schemes Of Satan the Enemy of Man
The Champion We Have In Common: The Dynamic African American Soul Books 1,
2, 3, & 4, The Mosque Cares Publications, August 2005
A Time for Greater Communities Volumes 1-4
Securing our Share of Freedom Prayer in al-Islam, A Learner’s Guide
w/Instructional CD, WDM Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 2007
Return to Innocence: Transitioning of the Nation of Islam, The Sense Maker,
Chicago, Illinois, 2007 Life The Final Battlefield, W.D.M.
Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 2008=Pamphlets=
A Look At W. Deen Mohammed: Muslim American Spokesman for Human Salvation,
A Ministry of W. Deen Mohammed Publication, Chicago, Illinois, 1993
=Video and audio presentations=Imam W. Deen Mohammed: “Systems of
Knowledge”, Muslim News Magazine, recorded as a television special by MNM
during the 1994 Islamic Convention in Washington, D.C. This classroom lecture
was delivered in front of more than 200 Imams and scholars at the Renaissance
Hotel. “Systems of Knowledge” is a classroom presentation on the essence of
Quranic Arabic and its meaning to all mankind. This presentation marked the
only time that Mohammed allowed cameras into one of his private Imam classes.
RT: 60 minutes. 1994. References
External links Chicago Tribune Bio
WDM Ministry WDM Publications
Life and ministry of Imam W. Deen Mohammed remembered
Brother Malcolm Speaks Wood, Daniel B. “America’s Black Muslims
close a rift,”. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2007-12-10.

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