In an unusual public display of frustration, W. Deen Mohammed, leader of the nation's largest African-American Muslim organization, has lashed out at onetime colleague Louis Farrakhan, who he said is leading blacks "further and further into darkness."
Mohammed, son of the late Nation of Islam leader Elijab Muhammad, called Farrakhan's Million Man March "more emotionalism than reason." Farrakhan, he said, "wants people to believe that God talks to him. If God is talking to him, I don't like what he is saying." Mohammed voiced concern that Farrakhan's focus on past injustices suffered by blacks could prevent the African-American community from progressing. He also attacked what he characterized as Farrakhan's racial divisiveness and said Farrakhan's "number two" reason for organizing the march was to make money.
Mohammed's comments were contained in an October 26 news release, itself a rare event. Mohammed is a low-key, orthodox religious leader who, while highly respected by Muslims worldwide, has largely avoided the media limelight. His ministry, based in Calumet City, Illinois, near Chicago, claims some 1.5 million followers. Farrakhan's Nation of Islam has an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 followers.
Prior to the Million Man March--which drew hundreds of thousands of black men to Washington October 16--Mohammed's criticism of the event was restricted to the Muslim journal, the weekly newspaper of his organization, the Ministry of W. Deen Mohammed. However, the event's success and the attention focused on Farrakhan have prompted Mohammed to speak out more forcefully, according to an aide.
Lawrence H. Mamiya, a professor of religion and African studies at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, said Mohammed's outspokenness reflects his growing frustration over Farrakhan's heightened popularity among African-Americans. Mamiya, who has written extensively about black Muslims, said Mohammed's strong response also stems from his concern that the Nation of Islam's unorthodox theology is being wrongly equated with mainstream Islamic beliefs.
"The media tend to broad-brush everyone," said Mamiya. "Mohammed fears that if Farrakhan is seen as divisive, all African-American Muslims will be seen as divisive, just as all Muslims tend to be called terrorists." An aide to Mohammed, Abdulmalik Mohammed, underscored Mohammed's desire to counter media "misidentification" of Farrakhan as the black community's top Muslim leader. "We don't appreciate being characterized as followers of Louis Farrakhan," said the aide. "The fact that Louis Farrakhan and his people have public relations ability doesn't make him a real leader. …