Black Muslims

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Black Muslims

Black Muslims, African-American religious movement in the United States, split since the late 1970s into the American Society of Muslims and the Nation of Islam. The original group was founded (1930) in Detroit by Wali Farad (or W. D. Fard), whom his followers believed to be "Allah in person." When Farad disappeared mysteriously in 1934, Elijah Muhammad assumed leadership of the group, first in Detroit and then in Chicago. Under his leadership, the black nationalist and separatist sect (then called the Nation of Islam) expanded, mainly among poor blacks and prison populations. Although the group numbered only about 8,000 when Muhammad took over, it grew rapidly in the 1950s and 60s, particularly as a result of the preaching of one of its ministers, Malcolm X. Tension between Muhammad and Malcolm developed, however, and Malcolm's subsequent suspension (1963) and assassination (1965), possibly by Muhammad's followers, caused great dissension in the movement. When Muhammad died in 1975, his son, Wallace D. Muhammad (later Warith Deen Mohammed) took over, preaching a far less inflammatory version of Islam. He aligned the organization with the international Islamic community, moving toward Sunni Islamic practice, and opened the group (renamed the World Community of al-Islam in the West, then the American Muslim Mission, and later the American Society of Muslims) to individuals of all races. In 1977 a group of Black Muslims, led by Louis Farrakhan, split off from the organization, disillusioned by the son's integrationist ideals and lack of allegiance to his father's brand of Islam. They named themselves the Nation of Islam and sought to follow in the footsteps of Elijah Muhammad. In the late 1990s the Nation of Islam began to embrace some traditional Islamic practices, and Farrakhan and Mohammed publicly declared an end to the rivalry between their groups in 2000. W. Deen Mohammed resigned as head of the American Society of Muslims in 2003.

See L. E. Lomax, When the Word Is Given (1964, repr. 1979); C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America (1973, repr. 1982); C. E. Marsh, From Black Muslims to Muslims (1984).

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