Elijah Muhammad

Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Robert Poole; October 7, 1897 – February 25, 1975) was a religious leader who led the Nation of Islam (NOI) from 1934 until his death in 1975. He was a mentor to Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan and Muhammad Ali, as well as his own son, Warith Deen Mohammed.

Elijah Muhammad
Muhammad speaking in 1964.
Leader of the Nation of Islam
In office
Preceded byWallace Fard Muhammad
Succeeded byWarith Deen Mohammed
Personal details
Born(1897-10-07)October 7, 1897
Sandersville, Georgia, U.S.
DiedFebruary 25, 1975(1975-02-25) (aged 77)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Clara Evans
(m. 1917; died 1972)
Childrenat least 22, (15 illegitimate, 7 legitimate) including Jabir, Warith, and Akbar
OccupationLeader of the Nation of Islam

Early years and life before Nation of Islam

Elijah Muhammad was born Elijah Robert Poole in Sandersville, Georgia, the seventh of thirteen children of William Poole Sr. (1868–1942), a Baptist lay preacher and sharecropper, and Mariah Hall (1873–1958), a homemaker and sharecropper.

Elijah's education ended at the third grade, after which he went to work in sawmills and brickyards.[1] To support the family, he worked with his parents as a sharecropper. When he was sixteen years old, he left home and began working in factories and at other businesses.

Poole married Clara Evans (1899–1972) on March 7, 1917. The Poole family was among the hundreds of thousands of black families forming the First Great Migration leaving the oppressive and economically troubled South in search of safety and employment.[2] Poole later recounted that before the age of 20, he had witnessed the lynchings of three black men by white people. He said, "I seen enough of the white man's brutality to last me 26,000 years".[3]

Moving his own family, parents and siblings, Elijah and the Pooles settled in the industrial North of Hamtramck, Michigan. Through the 1920s and 1930s, Poole struggled to find and keep work as the economy suffered during the post World War I and Great Depression eras. During their years in Detroit, Elijah and Clara had eight children, six boys and two girls.[4][5]

Conversion and rise to leadership

While he was in Detroit, Poole began taking part in various Black Nationalist movements within the city. In August 1931, at the urging of his wife, Elijah Poole attended a speech on Islam and black empowerment by Wallace Fard Muhammad (Wallace D. Fard). Afterward, Poole said he approached Fard and asked if he was the "Mahdi" (redeemer). Fard responded that he was, but that his time had not yet come.[3][4] Fard taught that Blacks, as original Asiatics, had a rich cultural history which was stolen from them in their enslavement. Fard stated that African Americans could regain their freedoms through self-independence and cultivation of their own culture and civilization.[6] Poole, having strong consciousness of both race and class issues as a result of his struggles in the South, quickly fell in step with Fard's ideology. Poole soon became an ardent follower of Fard and joined his movement, as did his wife and several brothers. Soon afterward, Poole was given a Muslim surname, first "Karriem", and later, at Fard's behest, "Muhammad". He assumed leadership of the Nation's Temple No. 2 in Chicago.[7] His younger brother Kalot Muhammad became the leader of the movement's self-defense arm, the Fruit of Islam.

Fard turned over leadership of the growing Detroit group to Elijah Muhammad, and the Allah Temple of Islam changed its name to the Nation of Islam.[8] Elijah Muhammad and Wallace Fard continued to communicate until 1934, when Wallace Fard disappeared. Elijah Muhammad succeeded him in Detroit and was named "Minister of Islam". After the disappearance, Elijah Muhammad told followers that Allah had come as Wallace Fard, in the flesh, to share his teachings that are a salvation for his followers.[9][10][11]

In 1934, the Nation of Islam published its first newspaper, Final Call to Islam, to educate and build membership. Children of its members attended classes at the newly created Muhammad University of Islam, but this soon led to challenges by boards of education in Detroit and Chicago, which considered the children truants from the public school system. The controversy led to the jailing of several University of Islam board members and Elijah Muhammad in 1934 and to violent confrontations with police. Muhammad was put on probation, but the university remained open.

Leadership of the Nation of Islam

Elijah Muhammad took control of Temple No. 1, but only after battles with other potential leaders, including his brother. In 1935, as these battles became increasingly fierce, Muhammad left Detroit and settled his family in Chicago. Still facing death threats, Muhammad left his family there and traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he founded Temple No. 3, and eventually to Washington, D.C., where he founded Temple No. 4. He spent much of his time reading 104 books suggested by Wallace Fard at the Library of Congress.[3][12][13]

On May 8, 1942, Elijah Muhammad was arrested for failure to register for the draft during World War II. After he was released on bail, Muhammad fled Washington D.C. on the advice of his attorney, who feared a lynching, and returned to Chicago after a seven year long absence. Muhammad was arrested there, charged with eight counts of sedition for instructing his followers not to register for the draft or serve in the armed forces. Found guilty, Elijah Muhammad served four years, from 1942 to 1946, at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan. During that time, his wife, Clara, and trusted aides ran the organization; Muhammad transmitted his messages and directives to followers in letters.[3][13][14]

Following his return to Chicago, Elijah Muhammad was firmly in charge of the Nation of Islam. While Muhammad was in prison, the growth of the Nation of Islam had stagnated, with fewer than 400 members remaining by the time of his release in 1946. However, through the conversion of his fellow inmates as well as renewed efforts outside prison, he was able to redouble his efforts and continue growing the Nation.[15] From four temples in 1946, the Nation of Islam grew to 15 by 1955. By 1959, there were 50 temples in 22 states.[14]

Muhammad preached his own version of Islam to his followers in the Nation. According to him, blacks were known as the 'original' human being, with 'evil' whites being an offshoot race that would go on to oppress black people for 6,000 years. He preached that the Nation of Islam's goal was to return the stolen hegemony of the inferior whites back to blacks across America.[2] Much of Elijah Muhammad's teachings appealed to young, economically disadvantaged, African-American males from Christian backgrounds.[16] Traditionally, Black males wouldn't go to church because the church did not address their needs. Elijah Muhammad's program for economic development played a large part in the growth in the Nation of Islam. He purchased land and businesses to provide housing and employment for young black males.[16]

By the 1970s, the Nation of Islam owned bakeries, barber shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, laundromats, night-clubs, a printing plant, retail stores, numerous real estate holdings, and a fleet of tractor trailers, plus farmland in Michigan, Alabama, and Georgia. In 1972 the Nation of Islam took controlling interest in a bank, the Guaranty Bank and Trust Co. Nation of Islam-owned schools expanded until, by 1974, the group had established schools in 47 cities throughout the United States.[17] In 1972, Muhammad told followers that the Nation of Islam had a net worth of $75 million.[5]


On January 30, 1975, Muhammad entered Mercy Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, suffering from a combination of heart disease, diabetes, bronchitis, and asthma. He died there of congestive heart failure nearly one month later at age 77 on February 25, 1975, the day before Saviours' Day. He was survived by many children, including his two daughters and six sons by his wife, most notably future leader Warith Deen Muhammad.[18]


During his time as leader of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad had developed the Nation of Islam from a small movement in Detroit to an empire consisting of banks, schools, restaurants, and stores across 46 cities in America. The Nation also owned over 15,000 acres of farmland, their own truck- and air- transport systems, as well as a publishing company that printed the country's largest Black newspaper.[18] As a leader, Muhammad served as a mentor to many notable members, such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan and his son Warith Deen Mohammed. The Nation of Islam is estimated to have between 20,000 and 50,000 members,[19] and 130 mosques offering numerous social programs.[20] Upon his death, his son Warith Deen Mohammed succeeded him. Warith disbanded the Nation of Islam in 1976 and founded an orthodox mainstream Islamic organization, that came to be known as the American Society of Muslims. The organization would dissolve, change names and reorganize many times. In 1977, Louis Farrakhan resigned from Warith Deen's reformed organization and reinstituted the original Nation of Islam upon the foundation established by Wallace Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad. Farrakhan regained many of the Nation of Islam's original properties including the National Headquarters Mosque #2 (Mosque Maryam) and Muhammad University of Islam in Chicago.


Rift with Ernest 2X McGee

Ernest 2X McGee was the first national secretary of the NOI and had been ousted in the late 1950s.[21] McGee went on to form a Sunni Muslim sect and changed his name to Hamaas Abdul Khaalis. Khaalis attracted Lew Alcindor, whom Khaalis renamed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jabbar donated a house for use as the Hanafi Madh-Hab Center. Khaalis sent letters that were critical of Muhammad and Fard to Muhammad, his ministers, and the media. The letters stated blacks had been better off "from a psychological point of view" before Fard and the Messenger came along because it weaned them from Christianity to a fabricated form of Islam, both, in his opinion were bad.[21] His letters also revealed what he knew of Fard, alleging he was John Walker of Gary who had come to America at 27 from Greece, had served prison time for stealing junk and raping a 17 year old girl, and had died in Chicago, Illinois at 78.[21] After the letters were sent, 7 of Khaalis' family members were murdered at the Hanafi Madh-Hab Center. Four men from NOI Mosque No. 12 were accused of the crime.[22]

Rift with Malcolm X

Rumors were circulating among Nation of Islam members that Muhammad was conducting extramarital affairs with young Nation secretarieswhich would constitute a serious violation of Nation teachings. After first discounting the rumors, Malcolm X came to believe them after he spoke with Muhammad's son Wallace and with the women making the accusations. Muhammad confirmed the rumors in 1963, attempting to justify his behavior by referring to precedents set by Biblical prophets.[23]

On December 1, 1963, when asked for a comment about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X said that it was a case of "chickens coming home to roost". He added that "chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they've always made me glad."[24] The New York Times wrote, "in further criticism of Mr. Kennedy, the Muslim leader cited the murders of Patrice Lumumba, Congo leader, of Medgar Evers, civil rights leader, and of the Negro girls bombed earlier this year in a Birmingham church. These, he said, were instances of other 'chickens coming home to roost'."[24] The remarks prompted a widespread public outcry. The Nation of Islam, which had sent a message of condolence to the Kennedy family and ordered its ministers not to comment on the assassination, publicly censured their former shining star.[25] Malcolm X retained his post and rank as minister, but was prohibited from public speaking for 90 days.[26]

The extramarital affairs, the suspension, and other factors caused a rift between the two men, with Malcolm X leaving the Nation of Islam in March 1964 to form his own religious organization, Muslim Mosque Inc.[27] After dealing with death threats and attempts on his life for a year,[28] Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965.[29] Many people suspected that the Nation of Islam was responsible for the killing of Malcolm X. Five days after Malcolm X was murdered, in a public speech at the Nation of Islam's annual Saviours' Day on February 26, Muhammad justified the assassination by quoting that "Malcolm got just what he preached", but at the same time denied any involvement with the murder by asserting in the same speech: "We didn't want to kill Malcolm and didn't try to kill him. We know such ignorant, foolish teaching would bring him to his own end."[30][31]

Cooperation with white supremacists

Muhammad's pro-separation views were compatible with those of some white supremacist organizations in the 1960s.[32] He allegedly met with leaders of the Ku Klux Klan in 1961 to work toward the purchase of farmland in the deep south.[33] He eventually established Temple Farms, now Muhammad Farms, on a 5,000-acre (20 km2) tract in Terrell County, Georgia.[34] George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party once called Muhammad "the Hitler of the black man."[35] At the 1962 Saviours' Day celebration in Chicago, Rockwell addressed Nation of Islam members. Many in the audience booed and heckled him and his men, for which Muhammad rebuked them in the April 1962 issue of Muhammad Speaks.[36]

Wives and children

Elijah married Clara Muhammad in Georgia in 1917, with whom he had eight children. Elijah also had three children with Lucille Rosary Muhammad, one child with Evelyn Muhammad, and four children with Tynnetta Muhammad; he also fathered several children from other relationships. In total, it is estimated that he had 21 children.[37]

After Elijah Muhammad's death, nineteen of his children filed lawsuits against the Nation of Islam's successor, the World Community of Islam, seeking status as heirs. Ultimately the court ruled against them.[38][39]

Children with Clara Muhammad

They had eight children, including two daughters and six sons:


In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Elijah Muhammad on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[40]

Portrayals in film

Elijah Muhammad was portrayed by Al Freeman Jr. in Spike Lee's 1992 motion picture Malcolm X. Albert Hall, who played the composite character "Baines" in Malcolm X, later played Muhammad in Michael Mann's 2001 film, Ali.[41]

See also


  1. http://www.biography.com/people/elijah-muhammad-9417458#awesm=~oBHIKFiTWK9maw
  2. Mamiya, Lawrence H. (February 2000). "Muhammad, Elijah". American National Biography Online.
  3. Claude Andrew Clegg II, An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, St. Martin's Griffin, 1998.
  4. Richard Brent Turner, "From Elijah Poole to Elijah Muhammad", American Visions, October–November 1997.
  5. Karl Evanzz, The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad Random House, 2001.
  6. Muhammad, Tynetta (28 March 1996). "Nation of Islam in America: A Nation of Beauty & Peace". Nation of Islam. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  7. The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad (2001). This source claims the first encounter between Poole and Fard took place at the Poole's dinner table.
  8. The Messenger (2001) suggests the name was changed to convince the authorities that Allah's Temple of Islam had disbanded.
  9. An Original Man: One NOI tenet states: "There is no God but Allah, Master W. D. Fard, Elijah, his prophet"
  10. Charles Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.
  11. Chronology of the Nation of Islam, Toure Muhammad.
  12. Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African-American Experience, University of Indiana Press 1997
  13. "A Historical Look at the Honorable Elijah Muhammad", Nation of Islam web site.
  14. E. U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism, University of Chicago Press, 1962.
  15. Bowman, Jeffrey. "Elijah Muhammad." Elijah Muhammad (2006): 1. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 16 December 2013.
  16. Edgerly, Adam. "Emergence of Islam in the African-American Community". ReachOut Magazine. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  17. In the Name of Elijah Muhammad.
  18. Fraser, C. Gerald. "Elijah Muhammad Dead; Black Muslim Leader, 77." The New York Times 26 February 1975
  19. Neil MacFarquhar, "Nation of Islam at a Crossroad as Leader Exits", New York Times, February 26, 2007.
  20. "Nation of Islam". Southern Poverty Law Center.
  21. Evanzz, Karl (January 9, 2001). The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 380–383. ISBN 978-0679774068.
  22. Smothers, David (July 21, 1974). "Black Muslims The Faces Belie the Aura of Menace". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  23. Perry, Bruce (1991). Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill. pp. 230–234. ISBN 978-0-88268-103-0.
  24. "Malcolm X Scores U.S. and Kennedy". The New York Times. December 2, 1963. p. 21. Retrieved October 2, 2014.
  25. Natambu, Kofi (2002). The Life and Work of Malcolm X. Indianapolis: Alpha Books. pp. 288–290. ISBN 978-0-02-864218-5.
  26. Perry, p. 242.
  27. Perry, pp. 251–252.
    • Carson, Clayborne (1991). Malcolm X: The FBI File. New York: Carroll & Graf. p. 473. ISBN 978-0-88184-758-1.
    • Evanzz, Karl (1992). The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 248, 264. ISBN 978-1-56025-049-4.
    • Karim, Benjamin (1992). Remembering Malcolm. with Peter Skutches and David Gallen. New York: Carroll & Graf. pp. 159–160. ISBN 978-0-88184-881-6.
    • Kondo, Zak A. (1993). Conspiracys: Unravelling the Assassination of Malcolm X. Washington, D.C.: Nubia Press. p. 170. OCLC 28837295.
  28. Evanzz, p. 301. "Malcolm X got just what he preached," Elijah Muhammad said self-assuredly.
  29. Clegg III, Claude Andrew (1997). An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-312-18153-6. We didn't want to kill Malcolm and didn't try to kill him," he asserted. "We know such ignorant, foolish teachings would bring him to his own end.
  30. Herbert Berg, Elijah Muhammad and Islam, NYU Press, 2009, p. 41.
  31. Marable, Manning, Along the Color Line Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, reprinted in the Columbus Free Press, January 17, 1997.
  32. Rolinson, Mary, Grassroots Garveyism, p. 193, UNC Press Books, 2007.
  33. "The Messenger Passes", Time Magazine, March 10, 1975.
  34. "George Lincoln Rockwell Meets Elijah Muhammad". anthonyflood.com.
  35. MacFarquhar, Neil (February 26, 2007). "Nation of Islam at a Crossroad as Leader Exits". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2013.
  36. "19 Children of Muslim Leader Battle a Bank for $5.7 Million". The New York Times. November 3, 1987.
  37. "Court Gives Leader's Money to Black Muslims", The New York Times. January 2, 1988.
  38. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002), 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  39. bluetunehead (25 December 2001). "Ali (2001)". IMDb.

Further reading

External video
Booknotes interview with Claude Andrew Clegg III on An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, March 30, 1997, C-SPAN
  • Berg, Herbert. Elijah Muhammad and Islam (NYU Press, 2009)
  • Clegg, Claude Andrew. An original man: The life and times of Elijah Muhammad (Macmillan, 1998)
  • Walker, Dennis. Islam and the Search for African American Nationhood: Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, and the Nation of Islam (1995) online
Preceded by
Wallace D. Fard
Nation of Islam
Succeeded by
Warith Deen Muhammad (1975),

Silis Muhammad (1977),

Louis Farrakhan (1978) (split)

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