Muhammad, Elijah, 1897–1975, American black-nationalist and religious leader, b. near Sandersville, Ga. Originally named Elijah Poole, he left home at 16 and worked at various jobs. In 1923 he settled in Detroit and became an automobile assembly-line worker. In 1931 he became a follower of Wali Farad, or W. D. Fard, who had established a Temple of Islam in Detroit. When Farad disappeared in 1934, Poole (now renamed Muhammad) assumed leadership of the movement that was to become known as the Black Muslims , officially the Nation of Islam. He was imprisoned during World War II for encouraging resistance to the draft. Muhammad called himself the Messenger of Allah and preached that the only salvation for black people in the United States lay in withdrawal into an autonomous state. He retained almost autocratic control over his movement. He greatly influenced Malcolm X , although Malcolm later left the Black Muslims. W. Deen Mohammed , his son, succeeded him as leader of the Nation of Islam.
See biographies by C. A. Clegg 3d (1997) and K. Evanzz (1999).