Nation of Islam

Flag of the Nation of IslamWallace D. Fard was an immigrant who founded the Nation of Islam in the mid-1930s in America. The Nation of Islam teaches that the black race was descended from the original tribe of Shabazz. Sixty-six hundred years ago, this tribe ruled the world, until an evil scientist named Yacub cooked up an experiment. Yacub, who was exiled to the island of Patmos with 59,999 followers because he preached dissension, interbred the lightest-skinned segment of the black race for hundreds of years. This resulted in a new race of blond, blue-eyed “white devils” – a people without morals or compassion. The new race set blacks against another and created so much strife that they were exiled to the caves of Europe. Two thousand years after their exile, God sent Moses to civilize the devil race. Before long, the whites took over the world, enslaving the entirety of “the darker world.”

But it was prophesied that black people would give birth to someone whose power and wisdom would be infinite. W. D. Fard was the chosen one, and he taught that the white devil’s civilization was destined to be destroyed. He set forth that the reign of the white oppressors would come to an end when a one and a half mile wide spaceship – the Mother of Planes – appeared in the sky eight days before Allah’s chosen day of retribution, which was alternately known as the Judgment, Armageddon, the fall of America, and the second Hell. The ship would drop pamphlets written in Arabic telling righteous people where to go to survive. Then, 1,500 planes would emerge from the spaceship and drop deadly explosives, destroying the white race and restoring power to the original descendants of Shabazz.

Fard created three separate entities: the Temple of Islam the spiritual center and place of worship; the University of Islam serving as the temple’s school; and the Fruit of Islam consisting of a corps of male guards. Followers adopted a dress code, with women wearing traditionally conservative Muslim garments and men wearing suits and red bowties while staying clean shaven at all times, as well as a code of conduct that included abstaining from alcohol, drugs and sex outside of marriage. Upon this foundation the Nation of Islam pushed for racial separatism and self-sufficiency for all African-Americans, that African-Americans should prepare for an inevitable race war, and that Christianity was the religion of slaveowners. Upon conversion to the Nation of Islam, a member would change their name, replacing their Christian name, or "slave" name, with an Arabic name. 

Press conference with Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, 1964.

Press conference with Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, 1964.

One of Fard's first followers was a man named Elijah Poole, the son of sharecroppers and former slaves. He began following Fard, becoming an assistant minister at the temple Fard founded. He changed his name to Elijah Muhammad and preached that God was directly intervening in the world through Fard. When Fard mysteriously disappeared in 1934, Elijah Muhammad took over leadership of the Nation of Islam. He was jailed in the mid 1940s for encouraging followers to avoid the draft during World War II. Under Muhammad’s guidance the Nation of Islam undertook an expansive recruitment policy that saw many new members join while advocating racial separatism and self-sufficiency for African Americans. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Nation of Islam became active in civil rights and fought multiple court with police departments over accusations of police brutality.

Malcolm Little was in prison for robbery from 1946-52, and converted to the Nation of Islam, changing his name to Malcolm X. He studied ferociously and upon his release became a popular leader of the Nation of Islam. His leadership within the Nation of Islam led to the founding of temples in multiple cities and the creation of a Nation of Islam newspaper, Muhammad Speaks. Elijah Muhammad carried a special fondness for Malcolm and gave him the role of National Representative of the Nation of Islam, second in command only to Elijah himself.

Malcolm X preachingDuring his tenure the Nation of Islam membership grew to a claimed 500,000. Malcolm X’s public persona and mastery of public speaking helped convey the anger and frustration felt by many African Americans during the civil rights movement. Tension arose in 1963 between Elijah and Malcolm and their differing views of the political direction of the Nation of Islam with Malcolm desiring to enter the civil rights fray instead of comment “from the sidelines.” In 1964, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam and began to publicly renounce the Nation of Islam and argue that the solution to racial problems lay elsewhere. The hostility towards Malcolm X from the Nation of Islam grew, and on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated while giving a speech. Three Nation of Islam members were convicted of his murder.

Above, Malcolm X, preaching in 1963.