Home / News / Community Affairs / Imam Warith Deen Mohammed: 1933-2008

Imam Warith Deen Mohammed: 1933-2008

Warith Deen MohammedWarith Deen Mohammed was considered more of a quiet religious scholar than an outspoken charismatic leader such as Farrakhan. He urged reconciliation and unity amongst Black American Muslims and with the larger Ummah. He was also known for helping immigrant Muslim communities to benefit from a century of experience in organization and vision-making by the Black American Muslims.

Warith Deen MohammedOn Wednesday, September 9, noted American Muslim leader Imam Warith (born Wallace) Deen Mohammed died at age 74 of heart disease and complications of diabetes. Deen was the son of Elijah Mohammed (born Elijah Poole in 1897 Georgia, USA). In 1930’s Detroit, Elijah met Wallace Fard Muhammad, the founder of an organization called the Temple of Islam. Fard taught beliefs largely influenced by Sunni Islam, but also showing influences from Sufism, the Moorish Science Temple, Egyptology, Numerology, and Black Nationalism – particularly the ideas of Marcus Garvey, the famous Jamaican nationalist.

In 1934, Elijah Mohammed took over the group that would evolve into the Nation of Islam, widely considered a black separatist sect, and it grew in numbers and influence under his leadership. His role as leader was surrounded by controversy for extreme views, breaking US laws, and being accused of corruption by Malcolm X and others for his illicit relations with young women in the Nation.

After Elijah Mohammed’s death in 1975, his son Warith Deen Mohammed took on its leadership. He stood with his father on some issues, such as being a conscientious objector to the U.S. military draft. He served prison time for his objection, and while in prison he studied the Qur’an and began to change his views toward mainstream Islam. Quietly but consistently, he enacted many reforms, bringing the followers toward Sunni Islam. He lead them away from separatist and racist ideology and rejected many of his father’s doctrines and claims, including the divinity of Wallace Fard Muhammad, divinity of black people, and characterization of all white people as devils.

Displeased with his reforms, many Nation of Islam followers separated themselves, choosing to follow Louis Farrakhan in 1981, or to join a few other more extremist groups such as the Five Percenters. Aside from the smaller splinter groups, the end result was Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam adhering to what most consider as black nationalist ideals evolved from the teachings of Elijah Mohammed, while Warith Deen Mohammed and his followers, including Malcolm X, became considered mainstream Sunni Muslims. In 1977, he led what was up to that point the largest ever group of American Muslims, most of them converts from the Nation of Islam, on pilgrimage to Mecca.

Warith Deen Mohammed was considered more of a quiet religious scholar than an outspoken charismatic leader such as Farrakhan. He urged reconciliation and unity amongst Black American Muslims and with the larger Ummah. He was also known for helping immigrant Muslim communities to benefit from a century of experience in organization and vision-making by the Black American Muslims.

In his last Friday prayer sermon, given August 29, 2008 before a packed crowd at a recently renewed Black American Muslim convention in Detroit, he advised listeners to lead a moral life, be more “Christ-like”, to learn from both the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) and Christ, and to pursue bridges of understanding between Christians and Muslims and the various ethnic communities – a major goal of his organization called “The Mosque Cares”. He continually promoted the integration of American Muslims of all backgrounds into American life, and he led by example, becoming the first Muslim to lead a prayer in the US Senate in the early 1990’s and striving to get Muslim Americans registered to vote. He also served in many delegations all over the world to represent and serve American Muslim interests in the world and to promote good relations between West and East, particularly amongst Muslims. He received numerous awards and invitations for pursuing intercultural and interreligious understanding.

About the role he envisioned for Muslim Americans in society, he once said to a group of Muslim teenagers, “I don’t have a PhD, I don’t have a master’s degree, I don’t even have a BA, but I’m connected to something mighty great [Islam]. It makes me respectable, honorable in the company of kings, queens and presidents.”

About Masooma Beatty

Check Also

The Importance of Appreciating the Work of Mothers, Part III

This entry is the third and final in a three-part series on the campaign to honor …

Awakening and Benefiting from the Divine Zephyr

Intro and Foreword: Ayatollah Tahriri (may God bless him and extend his life) is one …