The Nation Of Islam As A Controlled Environment For Treating The Social Ills Of African-Americans: Part 2
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
(Editor's note: The following lecture is the second part of a lecture delivered at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, Feb. 19, 1987.)
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad didn't abandon the moral or religious teachings. He just changed the emphasis from black theology and separatism to business, jobs, getting money and improving one's material state. He kept the moral emphasis, but the material emphasis was put out front.
The consequence of that, too, was the undoing of what they had originally established, because what kept the members of the Nation of Islam morally and religiously disciplined was that firm belief that Fard was God in the flesh, and that Elijah Muhammad was the prophet or the Messenger — he rejected the term 'prophet' but insisted upon saying he was a messenger — that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was indeed the Messenger of God or Allah, and that the Qur'an, the Holy Book of the Muslims was misunderstood by Muslims in Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and other parts of the world. They believed that these Muslims had a misunderstanding and didn't know the Book, and that the only ones who knew the Book was Fard, Elijah Muhammad and his followers.
So those people, believing so firmly in the religion that this man created, and called Islam, could not accept the material concerns being put ahead of the religious and moral concerns.
The New Breed
So what happened?
A new breed came in, and the others took a back seat. They were youngsters from the Civil Rights movement, who were too militant for the movement's passive exercises. So they joined the Nation of Islam. Even Black Panthers joined the Nation of Islam. And many dissatisfied blacks — who probably didn't belong to any organization — joined the Nation of Islam.
The original membership of the Nation of Islam — even though the language was so extreme, fiery and racist — didn't attract many dangerous elements from the black community, because the real immoral and criminal types couldn't go through the orientation and discipline.
They couldn't stay in the Nation of Islam, because if you were found guilty of lying, stealing, cheating, deceiving, committing fornication, adultery, eating pork, drinking liquor, smoking cigarettes, or anything like that, you were brought up before the congregation and publicly disgraced and dismissed or excommunicated.
Sometimes that sentence was for five years. I have witnessed members being sentenced to five years out of the Temple of Islam. So the criminal or immoral type could not hang around anyway.
You won't believe it, but the membership was made up from good Christian people who believed in Jesus Christ, but couldn't find any comfort in Christianity, because of the way they were treated as people in this country. They joined Elijah Muhammad because he had a new identity, a new god, a new Jesus Christ, a new prophet and a new religion. And if we can ignore the racist language, and all of the hate that has been popularized and given to us, we will see that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his movement was much better than many of the white supremacist and lily-white church movements.
Many white church movements preach the love of Jesus Christ, God, man, and all that, but the language that they use when talking about blacks is so terrible. And what they are doing outside of that or along with that, does not put them in a good light at all.
But the Honorable Elijah Muhammad did much to improve the social or the mental state of poor, discarded African-American people. The Chicago, Detroit and New York Police Departments and the FBI all recognized this. Later, governors and mayors recognized and paid tribute to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad for being able to bring about an appreciable reform in people that society and the world had given up on. I think all of that should be understood.
Elijah Muhammad's Work
Lastly, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad came out openly and said, "If the white man can respect you, you respect the white man." He said this at his annual convention. Thousands of people heard him say this. And he turned to his white guests on the platform and said, "This is a Muslim, and he is a saint in Islam."
He was undoing his own work. He was preparing for a new order, a new time, a new day.
And often, while calling the white man a skunk of the planet earth, he would say, "See how the skunk is white, he is black with a white streak, he wears the colors of white and black, in contrast; see how pretty and nice he looks, but oh, he lets out such a foul odor, and no one can stand his odor."
He would talk about the white man something terrible. He'd say the white man was a snake of the grafted type, he's worse than a rattlesnake, but in spite of all that talk about the white man, being inherently wicked, inferior and everything, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad would tell his followers the merits of the white man. He would tell them to imitate the strength of the white man and don't copy him in his bad habits.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, intentionally or unintentionally, was a psychologist. He was a doctor of the African-American spirit, and mind, and obviously, he was successful because I'm here. I was nursed on his teachings, I heard someone say that since I've been on campus here, someone said of my daughter: "Well, we're going to meet you later and you tell us your name.''
I'm sure they didn't believe that her name is Bakeerah; she must have another name. Well, my daughter is only 20 some years old; I'm 53; my name is Wallace D. Muhammad, and I've never been called anything else. When I was born, my father and mother were already converted to that belief. They wanted to identify with Muslims, so when I was born, the name on my birth certificate is Wallace D. Muhammad, son of Elijah and Clara Muhammad. They insisted upon it being that way.
And I'm just one of many — whose time goes back that far — born with these so-called — you call them Arab names — we call them Muslim names. I tell Muslims they should never say their names are Arab names; their names are Muslim names.
I'm sure Christians don't want anybody saying their names are Jewish names; they are Biblical names. Samuel, the Christian, doesn't want to be told his name is a Jewish name. And our names are Muslim names; there are Christian and Biblical names, but our names are Qur'anic and Muslim names, not Arab names.
We Are Americans
I am going to conclude this by saying that you know the transformation and who we are. We are identified as Americans and we don't make a big to-do about it. We don't sing — we don't need a song — but we are very serious as identifying as Americans. We are here. We've been here longer than many of these ethnic groups that think we are not Americans.
And we have made our contribution to the greatness of this country. And given the situation that this country put us in, I think our contribution has been greater than the contribution of any other group, because we weren't free.
Many of us died overseas, in wars, and were not even recognized at home. And in a conversation with some brothers recently, I told them, it looks like that's going to be our history from now on.
We Have Been Transformed
We have been transformed from a black supremacist separatist group, to an acceptable group, and still people look at us and doubt our sincerity. They still want to keep us on the outside, but I guess that's going to be our history. We just have to do good, and make our contribution, without getting recognition or being accepted. That's the history of the African-American people in this country.
We stand by the white man, but he still holds up at a distance, and that's no good; that's America's shortcoming.
In fact, the treatment that we are getting in Probate Court in Chicago made me decide that although I love this country very much, I'm thinking of giving up my citizenship and going to Canada or somewhere. If they carry this thing too much farther, that's what I'm going to do. I swear I have to do that.
I have to do it to demonstrate my rage at what is being done to a people that should be appreciated, welcomed, and even admired greatly for the turn that they have been able to make.
I would like to see the Ku Klux Klan make the turn that we have made. They haven't made it. Many compared the followers of Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his movement with the Klan. They said they were the "Black KKK." Well, let's see the "White KKK" transform themselves and take out their fangs.
We are a people that should be admired. I'm not speaking of myself, because I'm just a person who is involved in those circumstances, and I understand that the circumstances that were created made possible my own transformation and progress on development. I don't give myself any credit for that. If you create the right circumstances, then good things can happen.
We believe as Muslims that everybody is inherently good; that God has made us Muslim by nature. Muslim simply means that nature, we are inclined, by nature, to accept the will of God and to live peacefully with the scheme of God.
That's one definition; in fact, that's the first definition of Muslim. But the general idea or definition of a Muslim is one who has been converted or who was born a Muslim, believing in Allah and Prophet Muhammad, and the Holy Book, the Qur'an.
But Muslims also understand from their Qur'anic teachings, the teachings of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the scholars in the religion, that Muslim also means one being inclined by nature to accept the will and scheme of God, and that we all are inherently Muslims.