Elijah Muhammad

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As the son and grandson of Baptist preachers, Elijah Muhammad (born Elija Poole) was raised in an environment that engendered a strong sense of religious duty and belief. Andrew Clegg explains that "Elijah's early interest in Christian doctrine and church affairs stemmed from a sincere curiosity about God, salvation, and the place of man in both the panorama of history and the larger divine plan." (Clegg 8). Early on, however, he realized that the ideas of the black church and its ministry were ill-suited to his life and needs and, he felt, the needs of the larger black community. As a young boy, he was given special treatment and deference, instilling within him a prescient sense of religious mission. His mother reportedly had a prophetic dream that her yet-to-be-born son would be associated with a divine presence and eventually would change the course of human history (Clegg 6). In recognition of this vision, and the family's religious calling, Poole's grandfather called young Elijah "the prophet" (Ibid.). In August 1931, this sense of mission was heightened upon his first encounter with W. D. Fard, a peddler with a revolutionary religious message for African Americans, at a meeting in Detroit. Announcing that he was a "prophet of Allah (God) from the holy city of Mecca," Fard told his captive audience that they were members of the lost-found tribe of Shabazz and that they had been taken from Mecca and brought to America where they lost the true sense of themselves and their history (Turner 150). After hearing the speech, Poole presented himself to Fard, and this began a close student-teacher relationship. Having been exposed to a pervasive lynch culture in Georgia and urban police brutality in Detroit, which drove his loss of faith in the Christian ethic, Poole became "spiritually an open book with almost blank pages for the teacher to write on" (Clegg 24). Renamed by Fard as Elijah Karriem and later Elijah Muhammad, Muhammad became a devoted student of Fard, whom he believed to be not simply a prophet of God but God himself. In the ensuing years, Fard would position Muhammad as the leader of the burgeoning Nation of Islam, and his followers would recognize him as a "modern-day Moses," reflecting the messianic tradition in black religion. To support this claim, the reference to Elijah in the Bible would be cited: "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse." -Malachi 4:5-6