Imam Muhammad Explains Drama Of Nation Of Islam
(Editor's note: The following are excerpts from a transcript of Imam W. Deen Muhammad's appearance on the radio program ' 'Religion on the Line,'' March 1982 on KABC Radio, Los Angeles, Calif. The program is moderated by Carol Hemmingway.)
HEMMINGWAY: And we have an extra panelist with us tonight who is down here to visit the mosque here in Los Angeles. He is Imam W. Deen Muhammad, the leader of the American Muslim Mission, formerly the nation of Islam. Many people will think of it in the vernacular as the "black Muslims." Imam Muhammad is the son of the late Honorable Elijah Muhammad and has been the leader since 1975.
Welcome to the program—it's nice to have you here. It is a delight to have you. What I would like to do to open the program is to ask you, Imam Muhammad, in simple terms: what is the theology of the American Muslim Mission?
IMAM: To be simple is pretty difficult, because actually we don't have a theology. We simply believe there is one God for everybody, that God holds man accountable for himself, and Muhammad of Arabia, 1400 years ago or better, is the last Prophet and the completion of the prophetic line of Prophets, and the universal Prophet. He is the Prophet for all people and all times.
HEMMINGWAY: Then this is not an exclusive "black Muslim" movement, this religion is open to all people of all ethnic and racial groups?
IMAM: Certainly. It hasn't been that way for us always though, we were quite different some years ago. Our membership is mostly from the old nation of Islam—the "Lost-Found Nation of Islam in America" —better known as "Black Muslims."
HEMMINGWAY: So then, you have changed?
HEMMINGWAY: This is quite a departure, because as I recall, the founding of the "Black Muslim" movement emphasized black pride, black culture.
IMAM: That's true.
HEMMINGWAY: How did you veer off from that?
IMAM: I think what did it was the Holy Book. We have the same Holy Book that all Muslims have.
HEMMINGWAY: The Quran?
IMAM: Yes, the Quran. As a child, I was encouraged to study the language of that Book which is Arabic. In fact, all of us were.
When I became a teen-ager, my father had secured a teacher, a Palestinian, who taught Arabic at our school. I learned how to read Arabic well enough to start studying in the language of the Quran for myself, along with my youngest brother Akbar, who left the community and hasn't come back.
IMAM: Right. He went to Egypt and studied there for about eight years. Now he is teaching in upper-state New York — at Binghamton University, in the black studies department. He is hoping to teach Islamic studies.
HEMMINGWAY: But he has no interest in the religion?
IMAM: No. He is not devoted to religion at all. He is devoted to academics.
HEMMINGWAY: You said that the changes were from your study of the Quran?
IMAM: I got real interested in studying the differences between our concept of the religion and the world concept of our religion.
HEMMINGWAY: Which means what?
IMAM: Well, at that time, our religion was just a social reform movement with an outer appearance of Islam. Actually those Islamic terms we used were not properly placed.
We believed in a God but it wasn't the concept of God in the Quran.
We believed in a prophet but, that prophet was my father, not the Prophet of the Quran.
We believed in a Judgment, but it was a Judgment that only required us to believe in the physical. It didn't require us to believe in the Divine, the supernatural; it just required us to believe in the physical.
We believed that Judgment would come to you only physically, in this life.
It was quite different. It was a very physical religion, but at the same time, we were encouraged to be morally upright. We were told that we would have to answer to God, so we were a religious people.
It was definitely a religious movement and some of the people who were members or followers of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad were, I believe, as sincere as any Muslims you will find anywhere on Earth —or any Christians for that matter. They were very sincere. But the idea, the concept, the way we conceived religion and life was drastically different.
HEMMINGWAY: There were claims made at one time that your father was the last Prophet, a further Prophet than the Muhammad in the Quran. You are saying now that that is seen basically as heresy and that you are in line with the Muslim religion throughout the world?
IMAM: No, not exactly heresy. We believe that the one who introduced this religion to my father, his name was "Farad" but in the encyclopedia it's "Fard."
This man—a mystic and maybe an experimenter who was experimenting on the minds of the African-American people with the hope of challenging their minds, and he did—he put a lot of burden on us, a lot of mysticism, a lot of symbolism; and maybe it is possible that I am the good product of his experiment.
He did challenge our minds with his mythologies and symbolism. He created a big theater called the "Nation of Islam" where people were acting out satirically a dislike and rejection of the situation they were in.
The rejection of Blacks was changed, reversed, and we rejected whites. Blacks have always seen the concept of heaven, angels and everything in white theater, so it was put into a Black theater. We became the cast and everything was reversed.
I think it was done just to provoke the imagination of the Blacks in our organization —the Nation of Islam—to challenge the mind, to challenge the imagination and force us to think independently. (To be continued)