In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nation of Islam

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Formative Years
  • The Leadership of Elijah Muhammad
  • Other Interpretations

Islamic Studies Nation of Islam
Herbert Berg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0130


The Nation of Islam began in 1930 in Detroit with the appearance of a mysterious man known variously as Master W. F. Muhammad (also Mohammed), Wali Fard (pronounced “Farrad”) Muhammad, and Allah. His origins are much disputed, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asserted that he was the petty criminal Wallace D. Ford—though Elijah Muhammad, his successor, would vehemently deny the FBI’s claim. Fard Muhammad taught his followers a racialist formulation of Islam, which was elaborated by Elijah Muhammad: Islam was the only natural religion and Arabic the natural language of all people of color, especially blacks. White humanity was grafted out of the original black humanity using a wicked eugenics program 6,000 years ago. They were considered devils, whose greatest evil was the enslavement of Africans and who became the Lost-Found Nation of Islam (in the wilderness of America). The only hope for peace and justice for the descendants of these slaves lied in the separation from whites and their wicked Christian religion in preparation for their imminent destruction at the hands of Allah in the person of Fard Muhammad. After Fard Muhammad’s mysterious disappearance in 1934, the movement of several thousand fractured, but eventually Elijah Muhammad came to be seen as the sole leader. After itinerant preaching in the cities of the northeast United States and a prison sentence for draft dodging during World War II, Elijah Muhammad saw his efforts rewarded with a rapid expansion of his movement, especially with the efforts of his protégé, Malcolm X. After their split in 1964, Elijah Muhammad led the movement during the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s. After his death, he was succeeded by his son Warith Deen Mohammed (then known as Wallace D. Muhammad) who had been expelled several times for his Sunni Islam inclinations. Soon after assuming leadership, he moved the Nation of Islam toward Sunni orthodoxy. By 1977 some conservatives led by Louis Farrakhan resurrected the Nation of Islam with its original doctrines and institutions.

General Overviews

Essien-Udom 1962 and Lincoln 1994 are the earliest examinations of the Nation of Islam, the latter of which has been updated since its first publication in 1961. The former sees the movement as an expression of black nationalism and the latter as a socioreligious protest movement. Numerous works chronicle the Nation of Islam and its social context. Most of these surveys also have particular interests. Barboza 1994 is unusual in that it presents portraits of numerous African American Muslims, many of which have connections to the Nation of Islam. Curtis 2002 also presents such portraits but only of the most prominent figures in the Nation of Islam. Clegg 1997 (cited under the Leadership of Elijah Muhammad) focuses primarily on Elijah Muhammad, but as the leader for four decades, it is also a history of his movement. McCloud 1995 and Lee 1996 both have a sociological interest. Banks 1997 focuses only on the positive aspect of the Nation of Islam, whereas Tsoukalas 2001 takes a hostile Christian theological perspective.

  • Banks, William, Jr. The Black Muslims. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997.

    A largely hagiographic history of the Nation of Islam that ends with Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March, depicting him in the tradition of Garvey, Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm X while glossing over Warith Deen Mohammed’s African American Muslims.

  • Barboza, Steven. American Jihad: Islam after Malcolm X. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

    A collection of autobiographical portraits of various black Muslims, including Louis Farrakhan, Warith Deen Mohammed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Attallah Shabazz, and many others who are not famous. Highlights the diversity within the Black Muslim movement in the United States.

  • Curtis, Edward E. Islam in Black America: Identity, Liberation, and Difference in African-American Islamic Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

    Examines the prominent figures of African American Islam, including Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Warith Deen Mohammed, with particular emphasis on how each dealt with the black particularism.

  • Essien-Udom, E. U. Black Nationalism: A Search for an Identity in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.

    An early analysis of the history, beliefs, organization, and religious life of the Nation of Islam. Includes interviews with Elijah Muhammad and members of the Nation of Islam and observation of their day-to-day activities. Emphasizes the political activities of Black Nationalism at the expense of its religious activities.

  • Lee, Martha F. The Nation of Islam: An American Millenarian Movement. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

    Analyzes the Nation of Islam from a sociological perspective as a millenarian movement that then transformed itself under the leadership of Warith Deen Mohammed, Elijah Muhammad’s son, when the father’s apocalyptic prophecies of the fall of the United States and the white race failed to materialize.

  • Lincoln, C. Eric. The Black Muslims in America. 3d ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994.

    Originally published in 1961, this was the first in-depth analysis on the Nation of Islam. Uses a sociological approach, seeing the Nation of Islam as a social and religious protest movement against a racist society. The third edition also discusses the reformulation of the movement under Warith Deen Mohammed and the reformation of the Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan.

  • McCloud, Aminah Beverly. African American Islam. New York: Routledge, 1995.

    A focus on the diversity in African American Islam including that of Warith Deen Mohammed and Louis Farrakhan. Particular attention is paid to family life, social issues, and women.

  • Tsoukalas, Steven. The Nation of Islam: Understanding the “Black Muslims.” Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001.

    A historical survey of the development of the Nation of Islam from Fard Muhammad to Louis Farrakhan. Provides a sociological and religious context of the movement, as well as a theological analysis of its teachings from a Christian perspective.

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