10 Facts About the Nation of Islam
1. The Nation of Islam was originally known as the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America. It was started by a man named W.D. Fard who popped up in 1930 in the inner-city of Detroit. Traditional Nation of Islam beliefs hold that Fard is God in human form. He mysteriously disappeared in 1934, never to be seen again.
2. From its start, the Nation of Islam appealed to African-Americans. It taught black pride and self-reliance as well as separatism from whites.
3. A major reason for the Nation’s appeal was the idea that “the white man is the devil.” The story of Yakub said that a rebel demi-god named Yakub took the original man, an African, and removed his purity through a series of experiments. Over time and successive experiments, other shades of men were created until the most debased form, the white man, appeared.
4. While the Nation of Islam uses the Quran and claims many external similarities with Islam, it differs signiﬁcantly from orthodox, historic Islam in its theology.
5. Fard’s protege, Elijah Poole (a.k.a. Elijah Muhammad) took over as the leader of the Nation of Islam and grew its assets and standing. At one point, he was called, “the most powerful Black man in America.”
6. Malcolm Little (a.k.a. Malcolm X) came across the Nation of Islam while he was serving a prison term. Malcolm X’s intelligence and oratorical excellence eventually made him the mouthpiece for the Nation of Islam movement.
7. Malcolm X became disillusioned with the Nation when he learned that his mentor, Elijah Muhammad, had fathered children out of wedlock in affairs with two of his secretaries. He abandoned the Nation of Islam in 1964. Soon thereafter, Malcolm X traveled to Mecca on the hajj where he underwent a spiritual awakening and became a Sunni Muslim.
8. Malcolm X was shot and killed at a speaking engagement on February 21, 1965. Someone in the audience yelled, “Get your hand out of my pocket” and in the distraction that ensued, three gunmen shot Malcolm 21 times. It is widely believed that members of the Nation of Islam carried out the assassination.
9. Wallace Deen Muhammad took over after Elijah Muhammad, his father, died. Throughout the 1970s, Wallace Deen began a comprehensive set of reforms designed to bring the Nation more in line with historic Muslim teaching. This effort resulted in many factions and the splintered of the Nation.
10. Today, Louis Farrakhan is the voice of the Nation of Islam, which in spite of its relatively small numbers (70,000-100,000), exerts an enormous inﬂuence. For instance, the Million Man March of 1995 was called for and led by Farrakhan.
22 thoughts on “10 Facts About the Nation of Islam”
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Religions exist to fill a need. When the Christian church (broadly) is not meeting the needs of people for significance, for meaning, for purpose, for pride, for achievement, for solidarity, for goals, but instead tells the people to sit down and listen, listen, listen, rather than giving them meaningful roles to serve and to achieve, rather than showing them that they are equals in dignity and purpose–we’re going to have eruptive religions that do this. People want to know that they have value, that someone hears them.
Outside of theological differences I might have with NOI, I see (as others point out here) that they meet a deep need for purpose and for understanding. If there doesn’t seem to be any one lever that can be pushed to eradicate the injustice of racism, then saying that race and race hatred is an invention of the devil can be a satisfying answer as to why our achievements never seem to make a difference. If we see intelligent men and women sidelined because they literally just look wrong, then we’re going to want to reject a religion that approves this or turns a blind eye (“the gospel changes hearts, not societies”). We’ll reject that religion because we know of the value of our brothers and sisters, and we’re going to turn to a religion that tells us we are valued and good and desirable just as we are. We might scoff at the bow ties and bean pies, but ask those men how they feel about themselves, and you are going to find pride and hope and self-love. You’re not going to be able to shake them, because they know their value and their purpose.
We might not be able to go toe to toe with NOI or any other theological belief and “win,” because most people don’t chose their religion based upon a calculus of facts. If we think that there are significant reasons why the NOI is desirable and admired, we’re going to have to dig into our own religion and our own practices to figure out how it is we’re not providing these things already, and we’re going to have to do the very hard, painful work of repenting and building up a church that presents itself as a place where people can be loved, find significance, and have meaningful roles.
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I was seduced by the NOI back in the 90’s, before, during and after the Million Man March. I was a student at Dillard University, a HBCU, after graduating from a predominantly white, all girl Catholic high school.
Although, I was a born-again Christian, Farrakhan’s message resonated with me for a season. I never officially joined, but I was enticed. The day of reckoning came in my prayer time with the Lord. It seemed that the anti-Christian view points that I seemed to slowly embrace, were at odds with who I was called to be in Christ. Long story short, God’s truth prevailed and the bonds of Islam were broken. Thanks be to God!
Now my husband and I are Reformed and attend a fantastic New Testament church here in Georgia. It is hard to imagine, I struggled with the God-ship of Christ during those days. Satan is crafty but Christ is eternal and obviously my salvation is sure in the Lord!
Thanks for sharing a great article.
This is a very, very good piece. It brought an event to mind. I was in a pub, walked past a white guy sitting next to a black guy (I would much rather say “two guys” – but that doesn’t make the point). All I heard from their conversation as I walked by was when the black guy leaned over the table and said, “Can we not talk about race? Let’s just get to know each other, OK?” That right there was a “gospel” moment if ever I saw one.
As a young college student I read the autobiography of Malcolm X and became very very fascinated with the NOI. I was attracted to Islam by Malcolm’s’s true conversion. Back then I was a Roman Catholic and I was very tired of their dogma that was meaningless. Although I claimed Christianity I thought Jesus was a weak white man not even god really. I am a white man and I want to understand more of the black cause. So I was into reggae and began to read Marcus Garvey’s race first. Years later however through trial and tribulation I never really converted to Islam or even care to. I hold onto the fake traditions I believed in and not wanting to change. Thankfully the Lord dramatically save me later through failed new marriage and it was then I began to discover who Jesus Christ really was. He was God in the flesh. Since then I still care very much about the black causing have supported many churches along these lines I doubt of my heart will never fade away from this mission but I understand completely that the NOII is not an organization that is completely clean and righteous. I too along with Dr. Ellis truly believe that the gospel and be shared by the churches but we really need people that care. Especially with all those black lives matters movement which essentially becomes a racist doctrine sadly. Presently I am a prison chaplain and I feel that God has me in the right place to reach those that are from the inner-city God is good all the time.
Although relatively few people actually profess to be part in the NOI, the teachings stretch far and wide. After leaving orthodox Islam I, a white man, lost faith in the “Mystery God” and religion and eventually concluded that the black man was god and the white man was the devil simply based upon genetics. It was plain to see historically how the white man could be called the devil. After Islam, I was well aware of how I personally was fallen from the glory of God and was a sinner. What’s interesting is that in the lessons it teaches that god created the devil basically to show that he could and that he could also destroy him after the allotted time of 6,000 years (for his Glory?).
Now, the bean pies are amazing!
You’re absolutely right, Justin. The Nation had many positive social effects and, in the language of Dr. Carl F. Ellis, Jr., leaders of the movement were able to identify and, at least partially, address the social and cultural core concerns of some African Americans. Evangelical and Reformed Christianity have struggled to address the core concerns of many minority groups, although I think we’re starting to put some good thought into this nowadays. Thanks for reading and commenting!
I had a family member who joined NOI for a short period of time. While I completely disagree with their theology and supremacist teachings (among other things), NOI was able to discipline lost, young black men like few other movements if any. It gave some in the black community a sense of purpose and solidarity, while providing a clear and concise code of conduct. I can’t and won’t try to defend the negatives, but there may be a lesson in NOI’s effect on young black men like Malcolm.
Thanks for posting this article!
John Coakley, Jr.
Jemar – Great article. I think you hit some solid points of their doctrine, namely “the blackman is God” (black supremacy) and “the whiteman is the devil” (separatism from whites). For the most part, their doctrine and teaching rest on these two beliefs.
I tell you what – reading this post brought back some memories! I wasn’t in the Nation of Islam, but I was a “5%er” (Five Percenter) a.k.a “The Nation of Gods and Earths” (NGE) for quite a few years. As a 5%er, not only did we study the 120 lessons that Clarence 13X (the founder of NGE) brought with him from out of the NOI, but we (at least I and some friends) also read many of the books that Elijah Muhammad wrote – “The Message to the Blackman in America”, “The Theology of Time”, “The Supreme Wisdom 1 & 2” and a few others. I also read “The Final Call” and a few other publications. I’ve even purchased and eaten a bean pie or two from the “bow-tied” Muslim on the corner. I’ve since gotten rid of my books and publications, but I still have the 120 lessons. I will pull them out once in a while and read them to see how I would biblically address the inaccuracies contained therein. Reading them also reminds me how easy it is to fall victim to false religion.
Again, great article, brother. I think this is one of the few times I’ve seen the NOI spoken about on a theology page/blog…especially on a reformed theology blog! I truly enjoy reading what you all are posting here. Praise Christ for all that you and the brothers and sisters at RAAN are doing for the kingdom. Grace and peace!
Really good and informative.