بسم الله الحمد لله و صلاة و سلام على سيجدنا محمد و على آله و سلم
In 2008, the American Muslim community wept as Wallace Deen Muhammad returned to Allah. I’ve met many famous people in my life, but amongst the most memorable was meeting W. Deen Muhammad. It was Fall 2003, and I was a beardless 19 year old sophomore in college. I took a trip to North Carolina with some older African-American Muslim gentlemen to meet and schedule him to deliver a talk for our Muslim Students Association (MSA). He had striking blue eyes and a glow of wisdom that only comes with experience written on his face. He was glad to meet a member of the MSA, even a skinny 19 year old, happy we were continuing the tradition, and briefly mentioned how they helped him when his community had expelled him.
…But who was W. Deen Muhammad and why am I writing this on a blog about Ahmadiyya?
To understand who he was, you have to understand the history of the African-American community. By the early 1900s, in the throes of racial injustice and paradoxical increased freedom, the African-American community was searching for its identity. Knowing one’s lineage and ancestral customs is important to a person’s identity but the sharp lash of racial slavery eliminated all but a few remnants. To fill the void, many subcultures, movements and religions arose. Examples include the Moorish Science Temple and the Black Panthers. But the largest and one with the most profound impact on American culture was the Nation of Islam.
The Nation of Islam (NOI) was founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad (herein referred to as Fard). Fard was not an African-American. Even to this day his exact roots are clouded in mystery. But, what we do know is that he was the genesis of the “Nation of Islam”. The faith he created was a mixture of traditional Islam, Moorish Science Temple teachings and his own unique ideas. As I was personally told by a elderly African-American Muslim who used to follow his faith, the emphasis was not on specific beliefs. Instead, people were attracted to it because it was “not the religion of our slave masters” (Christianity) and gave them something to uplifting themselves through. The NOI preached morality, hard work and community. It helped members stop the cycles of alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution, gang violence, and other dysfunctional behavior.
One of the prominent early members was Elijah Muhammad (herein referred to as Elijah). Elijah joined the NOI in 1931 and rose to become the “Minster of Islam” for Detroit.
In 1934, while on a trip to Chicago, Fard completely disappeared. Though many theories exist, to this day no one knows what became of him. Following his disappearance, the movement found a new leader in Elijah. In the absence of Fard, Elijah became the de-facto leader of the Nation of Islam and led the movement forward from 1934 until his death in 1975.
Under Elijah, the movement grew many folds, including many new Temples, the newspaper Muhammad Speaks, a womens’ auxiliary organization, growing financial power and The Fruit of Islam, their security force. Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz رحمه الله) joined the movement during this early period and was instrumental in attracting new members. (Malcolm X would later departed from the NOI and converted to Islam, but was assassinated in 1965.) With a large membership base and increased national recognition, by the ’50s and ’60s the movement was a force to be reckoned with in African-American community.
They did great community work, but what were the beliefs of the NOI? This sums it up:
We believe there is no God but Allah (God) and Muhammad is the Messenger of God. We believe that Allah appeared in the Person of Master W. Fard Muhammad on July 4, 1930, the long awaited Messiah of the Christians and the Mahdi of the Muslims.
The faith shared many common terms with Islam, such as Allah, Qur’an, Islam, Muslim, Muhammad, etc, but the beliefs were radically different. Tenants included Black Supremacy, that white people were a creation of Yakub, an evil scientist 6,600 years ago and other such quackery. Congregational prayers were held on Sunday, and services resembled American Protestant churches. It had little to do with Islam, other than name.
As the movement grew and members increased, little by little, members became aware of Islam – not Nation of “Islam” – but Islam. This was likely due to early Arab immigration to the US, mostly from Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. To investigate the origins of the faith, Elijah sent his son, Wallace Deen Muhammad, to Egypt to study Islam. He returned to become a Minister but was twice kicked out (ex-communicated) of the NOI for his “Unorthodox beliefs” – or in reality – his orthodox beliefs, specifically, that he did not accept that Fard Muhammad was Allah, and that Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم was the last prophet. He was later strategically readmitted.
In 1975, Elijah Muhammad died. So taken back were the NOI members that some of them were literally waiting for the world to end. At the national NOI conference to decide on the future of the movement, Wallace son of the “prophet”, came on stage, dressed in the Fruit of Islam uniform, and assumed leadership. What the Ministers did not know was that Wallace was now firmly a mainstream Sunni Muslim. One by one, the national minsters pledged allegiance (bay’at) to Wallace, including Louis Farrakhan, the current leader of the NOI. For two years, from 1975 to 1977, Wallace taught Orthodox Islam as the official belief system of the Nation of Islam. He introduced the five pillars, promoted mainstream Islamic belief through the Muhammad Speaks newspaper, introduced ‘Eid al-Fitr as a religious holiday instead of Saviors Day, and even led a delegation on Hajj. None of this was part of the previous NOI. He was taking the NOI from the religion of his father to the religion of Saydinaa Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم.
But with any movement towards Truth there are those who oppose it, which manifested in the person of Louis Farrakhan. In 1981, he revived the roots of the NOI, abandoned Orthodox Sunni Islam, and led the movement back into its original beliefs. This created a split between the communities of Wallace and Louis, as Louis went on to re-found the modern Nation of Islam.
What about Wallace? Allah put Wallace in the right place at the right time for a specific purpose. Wallace founded The World Community of Islam in the West. It was through Wallace that large numbers of NOI members left the beliefs of the NOI and embraced mainstream Islam. He reached out to the immigrant Muslim communities to build bridges and ties, which was unthinkable in the NOI. Wallace took a community deeply entrenched in absolute disbelief, claiming a man was Allah and in a new prophet, and led them to real Islam. This could not have been done by anyone but the son of the “prophet”.
To this day, 10th of Muharram 1433, the largest racial contention of Muslims in the US are not Arab of Desi, but African-American. This is through the work of Wallace Deen Muhammad. Though there are still hard-line believers of original NOI teachings, they are slowly but surely being pulled in the direction of mainstream orthodox Sunni Islam. Louis Farrakhan publicly declared his Shahada, they introduced Salah (Namaz) as Muslims perform it, changed the Nation of Islam’s day of worship from Sunday to Friday, and many other advances. Alhumdu lillah, they are slowly coming our way.
So we thank Allah for his providence. He was very merciful when he guided Wallace to Islam, and through him, guided many others.
What does any of this have to do with the Ahmadiyya…?
In order to know where you are going, you have to know where you came from. When we look at the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم, though he accepted their Islam of the common person, he focused his energy on the leadership. When he went to Ta’if, he spoke to the leaders (which later led to Du’a al-Ta’if). It was the leaders of Aws and Khazraj who accepted Islam and through them the common folk followed suit. It was a leader, Wallace Deen Muhammad, who accepted Islam and through them other NOI members shifted towards the Sunnah.
This is in no way to belittle the commoners who embrace Islam. In the past few years, we have witnessed an increasing number of Ahmadis leaving Ahmadiyya to embrace mainstream Islam. The vast majority silently depart and tell me not to disclose who they are. We are also happy for the likes of Shahid Kamal Ahmad, who started this site, or Sr. “Findings” who manages Cult Girl Confessions. But what we need are more national leaders, more spokesmen, more murabbis, and more missionaries to revert to traditional Islam. They can use their authority and influence to guide their community, if not all at once, then slowly through small hints and suggestions. And this is not without precedent, notable reverts include:
- Hassan bin Mahmood Odeh, Former Director General of the Arabic Section in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community;
- Miklos Molnar, General Secretary of the Ahmadi Jama’at in Hungary;
- Ismail Babatunde Jose, Former President of the Ahmadiyya movement in Nigeria;
- I personally know Jamia Ahmadiyya students and Waqf-e-Nau leaders who accepted mainstream Islam and are slowly and secretly working in their communities;
- And many others
Perhaps one day, even their “khalifah” will have departed from Ahmadiyya to lead his followers towards mainstream Islam, after the example of Wallace Deen Muhammad. Before ‘Umar bin al-Khattab رضى الله عنه accepted Islam, the Muslims were weak and scattered. His conversion gave them strength and courage. May Allah give us an ‘Umar from the Ahmadiyya community.
This takes patience, courage and conviction. Dealing with the stubborn “Desi uncle mentality” can be a challenge. It will start off slow, and be difficulty convincing others. But a breakthrough in a few will result in others joining the fold. And we ask Allah for success.
و صلى الله على سيدنا محمد و على آله و صحبه و سلم
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