The Nation Of Islam As A Controlled Environment For Treating The Social Ills Of African-Americans: Part 1
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
(Editor's note: The following lecture was delivered at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky on Feb. 19, 1987.)
In the name of God, we pray for His blessings on this occasion.
In the short time that we have, I won't be able to thoroughly present some of the ideas or information that we have about the Nation of Islam and its transformation. But I hope that maybe in the question and answer period we can clear up whatever we left unclear.
First, I would like to express my appreciation and the appreciation of the Muslims for the opportunity to be at Berea College. We extend our respect and warm regards to Dr. John Stevenson, the president of the College; to Professor Andrew Baskin, who has received us and has been our host since we arrived; to all persons in the administration, and to the students, we honor this opportunity.
In keeping with the college's commemoration of Carter G. Woodson — I believe its a two week commemoration — this presentation addresses the black Muslim Nation of Islam as a controlled learning environment for treating the social ills of America's discarded Negro population.
At this particular time, I will attempt to give some background, because it is important to know and understand what transpired in the early 30's. It is also important to know something about the little-known professor, W. Fard — in the encyclopedia it's spelled F-a-r-d — who conceived this correctional environment and skillfully named it — though erroneously — the Lost Found Nation of Islam.
It is important to know him for his boldness, which is seen in his formation of a language, that would serve to create his new black man. He used what some call a reverse psychology. His aim was to reverse the psychology of white supremacy with his own psychology of black supremacy.
The Greatest Need
Like Carter G. Woodson, Fard considered the reeducation of the African-American to be the greatest need. To accomplish that, he conceived what is called the "University of Islam."
At that time — I am now speaking of 1934 — the University of Islam was a black — I hate to use the language that has been made popular, but I have to, it's easier and clearer — he formed a black Muslim school that served the need for teaching writing, arithmetic or the basics to not only the children, but also to adults.
The school at that time included all members of the Nation of Islam who wanted to take advantage of that school. Men and women, some of them past 65, I'm sure some of them were 80 or more, attended the school, and they were eager to learn how to read, write and do simple arithmetic.
Fard's boldness is seen also in his naming that school the University of Islam. However, the work of this man is shrouded in mystery, which he created to shroud himself in. It was complicated by his own necessary role in it. Fard was by America's description, a white man.
He tactfully identified with the black man in his teachings and secret lessons to the members of the Lost Found Nation of Islam that he created. Soon, he had to trust his learning or laboratory environment to the late Elijah Muhammad, the builder of the Nation of Islam, and a man who is well-known.
Once I was in a meeting with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and some of his staff members, in his home in Chicago, when he mentioned some of the difficulties that this teacher had. He said that in one of their temple meetings — the houses of worship were called "temples" — while he was teaching on the superiority of the black man and the black man being god, and descending from God, and should come back into the godship, one of the members stood up and said, "Well, if that's the case, why don't you leave and let us take it from here, because you are a white man, you are a devil."
I'm sure that after that member stood up and challenged him, by identifying him with the whites, that he had condemned as a race of devils, Fard saw a need to quickly disappear. And it wasn't long before he did just that. The history says that as mysteriously as he appeared, he disappeared, leaving the leadership with my father, Elijah Muhammad, our late and honorable benefactor in many ways.
It appears that in the language of black supremacy and the defiance of the black man, a provision for the transformation of that created Nation of Islam was skillfully worked in.
I won't take the time to mention all the elements or the language and terminology that was used to aid or help us work out a transformation for ourselves, but I will mention a few things.
Fard's obvious contradictions served to arouse our curiosity. In fact, he worked hard to get the members to question everything. Although in the meetings, orientation and teaching classes, no one was allowed to challenge the ideas that were being given.
Still, that invitation to question everything was in the lessons. You might have been afraid to question the minister, captain, lieutenant or an officer, or your teacher, but when you were alone, you accepted that invitation to question everything. Please understand that Fard, in spite of his myths and racist or fictional language, was a social reformer. He was trying to reform the social habits and thinking of the discarded Negro or black man, if we prefer to use that term.
And in understanding Fard as a reformer, it appears that he intentionally did some things to complicate his masterpiece so that it would be seen as having flaws. There were obvious mathematical and grammatical errors. There was also the obvious neglect of important information about black people that should have been included if he was really bringing knowledge of black people to black people.
Also the terminology itself was full of holes; if anyone had tried to make it stand a test of reason, he or she would have had to give up. So it is believed that he intended it for people desperately enough to grab hold to something that would give them a sense of belonging, separate identity, independence and an origin, even if it was a myth. Most of those people were uneducated and worldly naive. Many of them were brilliant, but never had the opportunity to receive formal education.
One such person was Elijah Muhammad, who as a child, received no more than three years elementary school education. He came to the North from Georgia with no more education than that. But he was able, with that little education, to contain his volatile followers, and lead them to better moral behavior and a more respectable life. This tells us that the man must have had a good mind. He just didn't get the opportunity to be educated.
And many of his followers, I believe, were of his same situation or circumstances. And if they also had good intentions, then these ingredients for transformation worked on them. But those who only had a desire to satisfy some identity need, or whatever, missed it. But those who also had a moral urge, truly benefitted, from these elements that intentionally Fard and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad — I believe — put into the language to bring about a transformation in time.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad also provided for a transformation by suggesting that nothing is certain or definite. He often said that everything was created for a time, and that the white man's world — and even the world of Fard — is on time. He also said that Fard, his teacher, told him that in time, someone would come with another genius for creating a situation for making a great man or people.
He was told that when that one arrived, he would use some of what Fard created, or he would not use any of it.
The Top Staff
So many of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's top staff people: ministers, captains and lieutenants were aware of his teachings. Most of his long-time members — we call them pioneers — who knew also of the early teachings of Fard himself, were expecting a great change. They didn't think it would last forever. They thought that what Fard had created, was created for the circumstances of slavery, segregation, discrimination, and the mistreatment of blacks in this country.
Language Of Superiority
They also thought it was created to destroy in us the language of inferiority. It was thought that he gave us the language of superiority to kill the language of inferiority, that we have as victims of a society that rejects and oppresses blacks.
So, the transformation that we now get a lot of credit for, is really a transformation that I believe was provided for.
The blessings of God were necessary to make the transformation possible. Nevertheless, both Fard and Elijah Muhammad skillfully provided for a change for the undoing of their work.
Undoing The Black Theology
The part of the work that they wanted to undo was the black theology, the idea that whites are inherently evil, and must be destroyed, and the idea that the black man is divine and destined to rule, dominate and wipe out all white people. So I'm sure that the brilliant man, Fard, and also Elijah Muhammad, knew that most informed African-Americans would never buy it anyway.
Almost 100 percent of the membership of the Nation of Islam during the 30's, 40's, and up to the middle 50's, had little or no, education. You could hardly find a degreed person. I know of two persons who had degrees in the early 50's. They were Dr. Lonnie Shabazz and Dr. Leo (McCallum), who is now Dr. Abdul Salaam. Dr. Salaam is a dentist, so maybe he had some interest in setting up dentistry in the Nation of Islam. Dr. Shabazz was an agitator, by nature. That was his spirit.
I'm not saying that there were no other persons with degrees in the Nation of Islam, but I can't recall any others in the membership that went from the West Coast or East Coast, from North to South.
We hardly had any educated people prior to the 50's, when the Honorable Elijah Muhammad changed the image of the community under his leadership, from that of a secret religious order, to an economic awareness society or organization working to improve business and material conditions for poor blacks.