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Elijah Muhammad: Leader of the Nation of Islam


Human rights activist and Muslim minister was introduced to Islam through the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam.

For more than forty years, Muhammad stood at the helm of the Nation of Islam, a religious organization that combined the teachings of Islam with a strong emphasis on morality and self-sufficiency for African-Americans.

Muhammad, a devout believer in black nationalism once even said, “The Negro wants to be everything but himself...

He wants to integrate with the white man, but he cannot integrate with himself or with his own kind. The Negro wants to lose his identity because he does not know his own identity.”

Early Life

Muhammad was born Elijah Robert Poole on October 7, 1897 in Sandersville, Ga. His father, William was a sharecropper and his mother, Mariah , was a domestic worker. Muhammad was raised in Cordele, Ga. with his 13 siblings. By the fourth grade, he had stopped attending school and began working a variety of jobs in sawmills and brickyards.

In 1917, Muhammad married Clara Evans. Together, the couple would have eight children. By 1923, Muhammad had grown tired of the Jim Crow South saying “I seen enough of the white man’s brutality to last me 26,000 years.”

Muhammad moved his wife and children to Detroit as part of the great migration and found work in an automobile factory.

While living in Detroit, Muhammad was drawn to the teachings of Marcus Garvey and became a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

The Nation of Islam

In 1931, Muhammad met Wallace D. Fard, a salesman who had begun teaching African-Americans in the Detroit area about Islam. Fard’s teachings connected the principles of Islam with black nationalism--ideas that were attractive to Muhammad.

Soon after their meeting, Muhammad converted to Islam and changed his name from Robert Elijah Poole to Elijah Muhammad.

In 1934, Fard disappeared and Muhammad assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad established Final Call to Islam, a news publication that helped build

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