Elijah Muhammad

note <

Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) was leader and minister of the Black nationalist Muslim organization, the Nation of Islam, from 1934 until his death in 1975. Born Elija Poole, the seventh of thirteen children, to a family of sharecroppers and former slaves in Sandersville, Georgia, Poole spent his childhood listening to the sermons of his Baptist preacher father and studying the Bible. His formal education ended at age ten when he dropped out of school to assist his family full-time on the farm, but he continued to learn about the terror and violence of southern racism when he witnessed a lynching. In 1919 he married Clara Evans, and in 1923, he, Clara, and their two young children moved to Detroit. They joined a mass of African Americans who migrated North seeking jobs and fleeing the oppressive economic and social conditions in the South after World War I. Like many recent migrants to the North, Elija had difficulty finding gainful employment and began to despair. When Clara introduced him in 1931 to W. D. Fard, a mystic teacher who had begun building a Muslim community organized around the principles of Islam and Black nationalism, Poole joined Fard. After three years Fard departed from the community, leaving Elijah-whom Fard had renamed Elijah Karriem and then Elijah Muhammad-as the Supreme Minister of the Nation of Islam. The conversion experience, the quest for redemption, and the art of the performed sermon or spoken word became important elements in attempting to promote Black cultural hegemony and were key factors in the development of the NOI. Although Mr. Muhammad was never considered a great speaker in the style and cadence of other Black nationalists, he recognized that "knowledge of self" was an important element that could be used as an organizing tool. Under Mr. Muhammad's forty-year leadership, the Nation of Islam grew to become one of the most organized Black religious groups in America, with religious centers throughout the country, a network of private schools, farmland, restaurants, international commerce, and the most widely circulated Black newspaper in the country. His ministerial focus on the downtrodden is credited with helping to reform the lives of the many Black men and women who joined his movement. His students have included such prominent African Americans as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, W. D. Mohammed (also known as Wallace Muhammad), and Louis Farrakhan (formerly Louis X). In addition, although his interpretation of Islamic theology differed from that of classical, or orthodox, Islam, he is still widely regarded as the most successful pioneer in establishing Islam in the Black community.