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Template:Infobox officeholder Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Robert Poole; October 7, 1897 — February 25, 1975) was an African American religious leader, and led the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975. Muhammad was a mentor to Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali; and his son Warith Deen Mohammed.

Early life

Elijah Muhammad was born Elijah Robert Poole in (Sandersville, Georgia|Sandersville,) Georgia, the sixth of thirteen children to William Poole, Sr. (1868–1942), a Baptist lay preacher and sharecropper, and Mariah Hall (1873–1958), a homemaker and sharecropper.

Poole's formal education ended at the fourth grade. To support the family, he worked with his parents as a sharecropper. When he was sixteen years old, he left home and began working in factories and at other businesses.

Marriage and family

Poole married Clara Evans (1899–1972) on March 7, 1917. In 1923, the Pooles, like hundreds of thousands of other African-Americans in those years, migrated from the Jim Crow South to the northern states for safety and employment opportunities in the industrial cities. Poole later recounted that before the age of 20, he had witnessed the lynchings of three black men by white people. He later said, "I seen enough of the white man's brutality to last me 26,000 years".[1]

The Pooles settled in Hamtramck, Michigan. Through the 1920s and 1930s, Poole struggled to find and keep work as the economy suffered during the Great Depression. During their years in Detroit, the Pooles had eight children, six boys and two girls.[2][3]


In August 1931, at the urging of his wife, Elijah Poole attended a speech on Islam and black empowerment by Wallace Fard Muhammad. Afterward, Poole said he approached Muhammad and asked if he was the redeemer. Muhammad responded that he was, but that his time had not yet come.[4][5] Poole soon became an ardent follower of Wallace Muhammad and joined his movement, as did his wife and several brothers. Soon afterward, Poole changed his surname, first to Karriem, and later, at Wallace Muhammad's behest, to Muhammad. He assumed leadership of a local temple.[6]

Influence of Wallace Fard Muhammad

The man known to Elijah Muhammad as Wallace Fard Muhammad was an enigmatic figure. Little is known about his past. Disputes over his date and place of birth (attributed to both Hawai'i and New Zealand) and his birth name have made many biographies suspect.

By 1930, Wallace Muhammad had come to Detroit and formed Allah's Temple of Islam. He attracted as many as 25,000 members with his proto-Islamic, Afro-centric teachings.[7] But, Muhammad taught dogma that differed greatly from orthodox Islam and added elements from Marcus Garvey's black nationalist movement. Muhammad conducted a series of lessons and correspondence with Elijah Muhammad and others, which eventually were codified as the doctrine of the Nation of Islam. As the temple grew and became better organized, Wallace Muhammad was named its "supreme minister". Muhammad developed the Fruit of Islam, a militaristic and exclusively male defense arm within the Nation of Islam; he appointed Kalot Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad's younger brother, as its leader. He also developed the Muslim Girls Training program and founded the University of Islam outside the public school system to provide Islamic education.

In 1932, a mentally unbalanced member of the Nation of Islam, Robert Karriem Harris, committed a highly publicized ritual murder of a fellow Nation of Islam member, James J. Smith. Wallace Muhammad was arrested, but was released on the condition that he leave Detroit. He relocated to Chicago, where he founded Temple No. 2. He turned over leadership of the growing Detroit group to Elijah Muhammad, and the Allah Temple of Islam changed its name to the Nation of Islam.[8] Elijah Muhammad and Wallace Muhammad continued to communicate until 1934, when Wallace Muhammad disappeared. Elijah Muhammad succeeded him in Detroit and was named "Minister of Islam".

According to Elijah Mohammad's son Warith Deen Mohammed and his followers; Elijah Mohammad had lied about W. F. Muhammad being "Allah in the person", but Elijah Muhammad never recanted this teaching. [9][10][11]

In 1934, the Nation of Islam published its first newspaper, Final Call to Islam, to educate and build membership. Children of its members attended classes at the newly created Muhammad University of Islam, but this soon led to challenges by boards of education in Detroit and Chicago, which considered the children truants from the public school system. The controversy led to the jailing of several University of Islam board members and Elijah Muhammad in 1934 and to violent confrontations with police. Muhammad was put on probation, but the university remained open.

Leadership of the Nation of Islam

Elijah Muhammad took control of Temple No. 1, but only after battles with other potential leaders, including his brother. In 1935, as these battles became increasingly fierce, Muhammad left Detroit and settled his family in Chicago. Still facing death threats, Muhammad left his family there and traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he founded Temple No. 3, and eventually to Washington, D.C., where he founded Temple No. 4. He spent much of his time studying at the Library of Congress.[4][12][13]

On May 8, 1942, Elijah Muhammad was arrested for failure to register for the draft during World War II. After he was released on bail, Muhammad fled Washington D.C. on the advice of his attorney, who feared a lynching, and returned to Chicago after seven years' absence.[citation needed] Muhammad was arrested there, charged with eight counts of sedition for instructing his followers not to register for the draft or serve in the armed forces. Found guilty, Elijah Muhammad served four years, from 1942 to 1946, at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan. During that time, his wife, Clara, and trusted aides ran the organization; Muhammad transmitted his messages and directives to followers in letters.[14][15][16]

Following his return to Chicago, Elijah Muhammad was firmly in charge of the Nation of Islam. The organization had retained it membership level during his imprisonment, and its membership increased after his return. From four temples in 1946, the Nation of Islam grew to 15 by 1955. By 1959, there were 50 temples in 22 states.[17]

By the 1970s, the Nation of Islam owned bakeries, barber shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, laundromats, a printing plant, retail stores, numerous real estate holdings, and a fleet of tractor trailers, plus farmland in Michigan, Alabama, and Georgia. In 1972 the Nation of Islam took controlling interest in a bank, the Guaranty Bank and Trust Co. Nation of Islam-owned schools expanded until, by 1974, the group had established schools in 47 cities throughout the United States.[18] In 1972, Muhammad told followers that the Nation of Islam had a net worth of $75 million.[19]

Malcolm X

One of Elijah Muhammad's top ministers from 1952 to 1963 was the former Malcolm Little. The native Nebraskan had become a small-time criminal in Detroit, Boston, and Harlem, known as "Detroit Red" (an allusion to the reddish tinge of his hair). Also the son of a preacher, Little had converted to Islam while imprisoned in Massachusetts at the urging of two of his brothers, Philbert and Reginald, who were both NOI members.

Upon his release in 1952, Little joined the Nation of Islam and, in keeping with its naming convention, he changed his surname to the letter "X", symbolizing the rejection of slave names. The charismatic Malcolm X quickly became one of the NOI's most famed and productive ministers; he traveled across the country speaking and founding new temples, and the organization's membership grew greatly during his tenure. The notable boxer Cassius Clay, who quietly began attending Nation of Islam events circa 1961, was one such member. Although Clay had converted to Islam long before his memorable first match with Sonny Liston in 1964, it wasn't until the day after he'd defeated Liston for his first heavyweight championship that he publicly identified himself as a Muslim and demanded to be called "Muhammad Ali".

By the early 1960s, certain elements within the NOI believed that Malcolm X was monopolizing the mainstream press for his benefit, and possibly had ambitions to succeed or even force out Elijah Muhammad as its leader. Tensions increased in 1963, when author Alex Haley began working with X on his autobiography, The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Elijah Muhammad forbade his ministers from commenting on the incident. In a press interview, Malcolm X violated the directive and said President Kennedy's murder was "chickens coming home to roost". As punishment, Elijah Muhammad barred him from speaking to the press or at any Nation of Islam temple for ninety days. Malcolm complied. Another source of tension was Malcom X's discovery that a Chicago Tribune article claiming that Elijah Muhammad had fathered eight children by six teenaged girls was true.[20] In a meeting with Malcolm X, Muhammad justified his several children and young "wives" as his need to plant his seed in fertile soil.[citation needed]

In March 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and founded the independent Muslim Mosque, Inc. and later founded the secular Organization of Afro-American Unity. After a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he saw and worshipped with fellow Muslims of all races (including whites), he altered his views radically. He converted to traditional Sunni Islam. Upon his return to the United States, when he took the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Malcolm X expressed far more moderate views and a willingness to work with other black leaders. He condemned racism and the conduct of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.

Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965 shortly after beginning a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, New York City. Alex Haley completed and published The Autobiography of Malcolm X later that year.


  • His son Warith Deen Mohammed succeeded him and led the majority of members to closer alignment with traditional Sunni Islam.
  • Louis Farrakhan, a prominent minister of the Harlem Mosque, withdrew to revive the original teachings and practice of the NOI. He led the minority members until 2007, when he stepped down because of his health.


George Lincoln Rockwell

George Lincoln Rockwell was an ex-Navy pilot and veteran of both World War II and the Korean War who adopted National Socialist philosophies and founded the American Nazi Party in 1959. Rockwell became an admirer of Elijah Muhammad. Despite their racial differences and opposing racial views, Rockwell wanted to form an alliance with the Nation of Islam. He believed they had a common enemy: the Jews.

At the 1962 Saviour's Day celebration in Chicago, Rockwell spoke to Nation of Islam members, including Elijah Muhammad. Many in the audience booed and heckled Rockwell and his men, but Elijah Muhammad, in contrast, was enthusiastic and later rebuked those who jeered in the April 1962 issue of Muhammad Speaks.[21]

On August 25, 1967, George Lincoln Rockwell was assassinated by a former follower named John Patsalos, who used the alias "John Patler" as a member of the American Nazi Party. Ironically, Patsalos, who was of full Greek ancestry, had had a falling out with Rockwell over the issue of whether or not he could be considered sufficiently "Aryan" due to his dark hair, dark eyes, and olive complexion.

Malcolm X home firebombing

In the early morning hours of February 14, 1965, a Nation of Islam-owned home in East Elmhurst, Queens where Malcolm X and his wife and three children resided was firebombed. No one was injured. Malcolm X publicly accused Elijah Muhammad of ordering it. The NOI had ordered the family to vacate the premises; the incident occurred the day before a scheduled legal hearing to postpone the eviction.[22] James X, another Nation minister, called it a publicity stunt by Malcolm X.[23]

Malcolm X assassination

Three members of the Nation of Islam's Temple No. 25 in Newark, New Jersey: Norman Butler, Talmadge Hayer, and Thomas Johnson, were convicted for their roles in the murder of Malcolm X. His widow, Dr. Betty Shabazz (1934–1997), believed for the remainder of her life that the assassination was ordered from the highest levels of Nation of Islam leadership. Louis Farrakhan, who had joined the Nation of Islam in 1955 and was then a prominent leader of a mosque in Harlem, steadfastly denied that the Nation or he were involved. In a 1993 speech, Farrakhan said, "Was Malcolm your traitor or ours? And if we dealt with him like a nation deals with a traitor, what the hell business is it of yours? A nation has to be able to deal with traitors and cutthroats and turncoats!"[24]

In 1994, Qubilah Shabazz, the second of three children of Malcolm and Betty Shabazz, was charged in a plot to assassinate Farrakhan.[25] The charges were dropped by federal prosecutors in 1995. In a 2000 interview with Mike Wallace of CBS News, at which the Shabazz's eldest daughter Atallah was present, Louis Farrakhan said, "I may have been complicit in words that I spoke leading up to February 21, [1965]", and told them that he regretted, "... any word that I have said caused the loss of life of a human being".[26]

Hanafi Murders

In 1973, seven men, who were later identified as Nation of Islam members from a Philadelphia temple calling themselves the Black Mafia, broke into the Washington D.C. home of Hanafi leader Khalifa Hamaas Abdul Khaalis. Weeks earlier, Khaalis had written open letters criticizing and mocking Elijah Muhammad and Wallace Fard Muhammad. The men brutally murdered five of Khaalis' children, his nine-day-old grandson, and a guest. Khaalis himself was not at home. Five of the men responsible were ultimately convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Elijah Muhammad was not charged in the crime, though it was suspected he had some level of involvement.[19] Khaalis swore revenge and years later his movement attacked and held hostages in the Washington, D.C., offices of B'nai B'rith in the 1977 Hanafi Muslim Siege.

Children out of wedlock

Elijah Muhammad was the father of eight children with Clara and is rumored to have also fathered several children from other relationships.[27]

Malcolm X as well as other former believers in Nation of Islam theology were also upset that Muhammad allegedly used the organization's funds to support the mothers, their children, as well as his own family, [18][28]. After Elijah Muhammad's death, nineteen of his children filed lawsuits against the Nation of Islam seeking status as heirs. Ultimately the court ruled against them.[29][30]

The Nation of Islam after Elijah Muhammad's death

After Elijah Muhammad's death, the Nation of Islam splintered into three distinct factions. He had not named a successor, but his son, Warith Deen Muhammad, was named the new leader of the organization at the following day's Saviours' Day celebration.[31]

Under Warith Muhammad, the Nation of Islam became a more moderate organization. It accepted white members and the Fruit of Islam was disbanded. Eventually Warith Muhammad's faction was renamed the American Society of Muslims. He delivered the first Muslim invocation in the United States Senate, and, in 1993, with President Bill Clinton in attendance, said an Islamic prayer in an interfaith service.[32][33]

Louis Farrakhan left the Nation of Islam and founded his own organization, which retained the Nation of Islam name and hewed more closely to Elijah Muhammad's ideology, including the tenet that Wallace Fard Muhammad was Allah on Earth. He re-established the Fruit of Islam and began publishing the Final Call newspaper.[citation needed]


In the early 1990s the city of Detroit co-named Linwood Avenue "Elijah Muhammad Blvd."[citation needed]

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Elijah Muhammad on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[34]

Portrayals in film

Elijah Muhammad was notably portrayed by Al Freeman, Jr. in Spike Lee's 1992 motion picture, Malcolm X. Co-star Albert Hall, who played the composite character "Baines" in the film, later played Muhammad in Michael Mann's 2001 film, Ali.[35]

Muhammad was also thanked in the 1996 documentary, When We Were Kings; the film is also dedicated to him.[citation needed]

Wives of Elijah Muhammad

Children with Clara Muhammad

They had six children, including:

Messenger had two daughters: Ethel Muhammad and Lottie Muhammad

Children with Tynetta Muhammad

They had four children, including Ishmael Muhammad. This was never proven to be true. Tynetta had an intimate relationship with Rev. Clegg of the Shrinen of the Black Madonna, who resembles her son Rasool.

See also


  1. Claude Andrew Clegg II, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, St. Martin's Griffin 1998
  2. Richard Brent Turner, "From Elijah Poole to Elijah Muhammad", American Visions, Oct-Nov, 1997 at (;col1)
  3. Karl Evanzz, The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad Random House, 2001
  4. 4.0 4.1 An Original Man
  5. From Elijah Poole to Elijah Muhammad
  6. The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad: This source claims the first encounter between Poole and Muhammad took place at the Pooles' dinner table.
  7. Arna Wendell Bontemps, Arna Bontemps, Jack Conroy, Anyplace But Here, University of Missouri Press, 1966
  8. The Messenger suggests the name was changed to convince the authorities that Allah's Temple of Islam had disbanded.
  9. An Original Man: One NOI tenet states: “There is no God but Allah, Master W.D. Fard, Elijah, his prophet”
  10. Charles Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994
  11. Chronology of the Nation of Islam, Toure Muhammad
  12. Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience, University of Indiana Press 1997
  13. "A Historical Look at the Honorable Elijah Muhammad", Nation of Islam web site
  14. An Original Man
  15. A Historical Look at the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, NOI
  16. E. U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism, University of Chicago Press 1962
  17. Black Nationalism
  18. 18.0 18.1 In the Name of Elijah Muhammad
  19. 19.0 19.1 The Messenger
  20. [d MALCOLM X: I Have No Fear Whatsoever of Anybody or Anything
  21. George Lincoln Rockwell Meets Elijah Muhammad
  22. Malcolm X's house is firebombed -
  23. "Malcom X Shot to Death at Rally Here", New York Times, 22 Feb 1965
  24. "The Assassination of Malcolm X", Harford
  25. "Malcolm X's daughter indicted in alleged plot to kill Louis Farrakhan", Jet, provided by Find Articles at BNET]
  26. "Farrakhan Admission On Malcolm X", 60 Minutes, CBS News, 10 May 2000
  27. The Messenger has a list of children and "wives".
  28. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  29. "19 Children of Muslim Leader Battle a Bank for $5.7 Million", N.Y. Times, November 3, 1987
  30. "Court Gives Leader's Money to Black Muslims", N.Y. Times, January 2, 1988
  31. Herbert Berg, Elijah Muhammad and Islam, NYU Press, 2009, page 131
  32. Don Terry (October 20, 2002). "W. DEEN MOHAMMED: A leap of faith". Chicago Tribune.,0,7411660.story.
  34. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  35. Ali (2001)

External links

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