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Elijah Muhammad is one of the history makers that America has come to appreciate especially in the 20th century. This is manly based on the fact that he mentored several senior people like Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan.
His association with the Nation of Islam equally put him to the limelight, as he headed the movement from the year 1934 to 1975 when he died, leaving his legacy and philosophy enshrined in the history of America (Wright 47). This paper explores the life of Elijah Muhammad and his association with the Nation of Islam. To achieve this, the research paper will source relevant information from authentic academic sources.
Elijah Muhammad was born in 1897 in Sandersville, Georgia, to poor parents, who were sharecroppers. His father, William Poole was a preacher and had thirteen children with Mariah Hall, who was a homemaker (Halasa 23). Due to poverty, Elijah failed to complete his studies, and dropped out of school when he was in his fourth grade.
He opted to help his parents as a sharecropper because of his tender age. At the age of sixteen, Elijah decided to look for employment in various factories and businesses, moving from city to city. During his early years, Elijah Muhammad witnessed a host of social injustices, which mainly targeted black people in America (Massaquoi 78). At the age of twenty-two years, Elijah married Clara Evans, with whom they had a total of eight children.
With an aim of finding a better life for his parents and family, Elijah relocated to Detroit in 1923, where he secured a chance to work with an auto factory. It is believed that his relocation to Michigan was quite significant; that is where he met his mentor, Wallace Fard, who was the pioneer of the Nation of Islam, a separatist association. Elijah succeeded Fard in 1934 as the head of the movement and led it until the time of his death in 1975 (Halasa 82).
Throughout his life as the president of the Nation of Islam, Elijah was well-known for his contentious preaching, criticizing social prejudices, and the bad economic state of the nation. His fame grew significantly, and gained supporters and followers like Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan. He was arrested and imprisoned in early 1940s, even though this did not deter him from advancing the ideologies of the Nation of Islam and reclaimed the leadership of the movement immediately after his release in 1946.
Nation of Islam
As mentioned before, Elijah met Wallace Fard in Chicago, and joined efforts in fighting for the rights of the Black Americans. Before taking the religious path, Fard had worked as a salesman and was now addressing numerous problems facing Americans through his radical sermons. For Elijah Poole to be effective, he changed his religion to become a Muslim and was named, Elijah Muhammad (Halasa 81).
This step marked the beginning of a new life for Elijah as he got assimilated into the culture and ideology of the Nation of Islam. In fact, some of the principles proclaimed by Fard, like cosmology were never interpreted as they recognized black people as the original human race while whites were viewed as “devils” (Muhammad 11). Several teachings by the Nation attracted various blacks, including self-reliance, elimination of different forms of oppression, and clean living.
Wallace Fard was imprisoned in 1934 and mysteriously vanished, leaving a leadership vacuum in the movement. As a result, Elijah Muhammad took the leadership mantle even though there was opposition from another group of Muslims within the movement (Halasa 81).
This led to the fragmentation of the group, forcing Elijah to relocate to Chicago, where the Temple of Islam No. 2 was constructed. This temple served as the religion’s new head office as Elijah continued to propagate the philosophy of the Nation of Islam, attracting new members who had not heard about the movement.
Elijah Muhammad served four years of imprisonment between 1942 and 1946, for defying the registration of the draft, during WWII. This draft required men between the age of twenty one and thirty five to register with local boards. These men later served in the military during the Second World War (Halasa 112).
During his life in prison, the Nation of Islam was led by the movement’s trusted aides and Elijah’s wife who secretly transmitted messages from Elijah to the members. Upon his release in 1946, Elijah resumed the full leadership of the movement, propagating its ideas and reaching out to new members (Pipes 31).
Elijah argued that the founder of the movement had lived in the form of Allah and that he was serving as his messenger, relaying relevant information to his people. For more than three decades, Elijah worked towards strengthening the Nation of Islam, making it to grow from a small group of Muslims to a large and complex organization (Halasa 176).
The group’s prominence grew beyond doubt and drew controversy from its ideology. Throughout his sermons, Elijah emphasized the need for financial stability among Black-Americans. Besides this, Muhammad also focused on racial separation as opposed to integration. In other words, he believed that blacks and whites were not supposed to mingle because of their racial differences and originality.
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Furthermore, the Nation of Islam encouraged a tight code of ethical behavior, which was necessary in instilling morality among its members, and differentiating them from the rest of the world. This was equally inclined towards detaching blacks from whites by eliminating possible avenues of assimilation and integration (Muhammad 11).
Even though Elijah is known to have mentored Malcolm X, their differences grew beyond reconciliation. The controversial enrolment of Cassius Clay into the Nation of Islam marked the climax of their incompatibility, forcing Malcolm to break-up from the movement to establish his group (Halasa 173).
However, he was denounced by several loyalties of the Nation, who believed that Elijah Muhammad was Allah’s messenger. Among these was Philbert, Malcolm’s brother. Malcolm was shot by gunmen, who were believed to have executed the orders of the Nation. Despite the allegations, Elijah distanced himself from the murder of his rival. At the time of his death in 1975, the Nation of Islam had more than 250,000 followers with several financial enterprises. Elijah was succeeded by his son, Deen Mohammed (Halasa 194).
In summary, the history of the Nation of Islam clearly tells the life of Elijah Muhammad, who led the movement between 1934 and 1975. Importantly, Elijah was largely influenced by the social injustices, which he witnessed when he was young. His relocation to Detroit played a major role in connecting him with Fard, the founder of the Nation of Islam.
Halasa, Malu. Elijah Muhammad. Los Angeles: Holloway House Publishing, 1993. Print.
Massaquoi, Hans. “Elijah Muhammad: Prophet and Architect of the Separate Nation of Islam.” Ebony 25.10 (1970): 78. Print.
Muhammad, Elijah. The Genesis Years: Unpublished & Rare Writings of Wlijah Muhammad (Messenger of Allah) 1959-1962. New York: Elijah Muhammad Books, 2008. Print.
Pipes, Daniel. “How Elijah Muhammad Won.” Commentary 109.6 (2000): 31. Print.
Wright, Louis. “Elijah Muhammad’s Political Thought On God And Authority: A Quest For Authenticity And Freedom.” Journal of Religious Thought 51.2 (1994): 47. Print.