Born in Chicago in 1933, Wallace Deen Muhammad (WDM) is the son of Elijah Muhammad, who was the leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI) for forty years (until his death in 1975). Wallace Deen Muhammad (also known as Warith Deen Muhammad, Wallace Delaney Muhammad, and Warithuddin Muhammad) began working for NOI after his graduation from high school.
In 1961 WDM, like his father, was convicted of dodging the draft and was sentenced to three years in prison. While incarcerated, he became a student of orthodox Islam. His general acceptance of Muslim tenets and his support of Malcolm X (after Malcolm’s acceptance of mainstream Islam and his renunciation of NOI’s racism) led to a break with his father. WDM returned to NOI after Malcolm X’s murder in 1965, but was again suspended in 1969 and 1971 for holding “unorthodox” beliefs.
In 1975 WDM had a private meeting in Chicago with Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat. The following year, he received a $16 million donation from Sheikh Sultan Ben Mohammad al-Qasmini, head of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, to finance the purchase of a mosque and the construction of a school.
After Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, WDM received support as Elijah’s successor from a broad spectrum of NOI’s followers. Supposedly, NOI founder Wallace Fard Muhammad had told Elijah that his seventh son (i.e., WDM) should take over NOI upon Elijah’s death. In 1977, however, WDM’s efforts to bring NOI in step with Sunni Islam met with sharp resistance when he retreated from the racist, black supremacist, positions of his father.
A group under Louis Farrakhan, who claimed to be the rightful successor to Elijah Muhammad, eventually reestablished NOI in 1981. WDM, in turn, founded the World Community of al-Islam (later called the American Muslim Mission) and accepted believers of all races. He explained away the racial myths of NOI as mere by-products of a “transitional stage” that had been needed in order to help blacks overcome their centuries of “slave training,” and he abandoned his father’s esoteric cosmogony. Instead he encouraged close reading of the Koran and practice of the other Pillars of Islam (i.e., acceptance of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed; the observance of Ramadan; charity to the poor; making the hajj; anddaily prayer). He himself made the _hajj _to Mecca several times.
The move to mainstream Islam brought WDM’s organization considerable material benefit, including millions of dollars in donations from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In 1985 WDM dismantled the the American Muslim Mission’s leadership council, allowing for each of the organization’s mosques to incorporate independently. Most, however, remained affiliated with a successor organization, the Muslim American Society (of Calumet City, Illinois, not to be confused with the Muslim American Society of Falls Church, Virginia). In 2002 WDM’s group changed its name to the American Society of Muslims.
In 1992 WDM became the first Muslim imam to offer morning prayers in a session of the United States Senate, and soon thereafter he participated in two Interfaith Breakfasts hosted by President Bill Clinton.
WDM’s efforts to integrate his teachings with mainstream Islam drew the ire of both NOI and radical Islamic groups. NOI portrayed him as a betrayer of the black supremacist movement, while radical Islamists saw him as too tame, citing public statements in which he had spoken approvingly of the Pope, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Frederick Douglass.
WDM responded to these criticisms by restoring his alliances with Farrakhan and NOI, and by radicalizing his Islamic message to please the fundamentalists, particularly the burgeoning immigrant population. His mosques and his movements today are backed by a massive amount of Saudi Arabian cash. He also has been more critical of U.S. support for Israel in recent years.
According to WDM, America’s allegedly inequitable foreign policies have given rise to the wrath of Muslim nations around the world, and thus are ultimately responsible for Islamic terrorism aimed at U.S. interests. He said in an interview:
“The developments in the world, presently, not to mention the Crusades that are still in the minds of the Muslim world and not to mention 1947 when they were establishing Israel as a state in what was the home of the Jews and the Palestinians, the things happening now — like the problem for the Palestinians and Israelis and Kashmir and India — all of these struggles on the minds of Muslims and especially for Muslim leaders, we can’t just look at what happened on the 11th of September  and isolate it from all these other things. What we have is a damaged psyche of the Muslim world and of most of the Islamic leaders…. I mean that these troubles in the world that have been used by them in their thinking to say: ‘This is why we don’t have peace in the world. It is because Christianity fought against us in the Crusades. It is because in colonial days, they imposed their life on us in our countries under a colonial state. And because of what they did in the Middle East to establish Israel over there on us and take Jerusalem as its capital.’ All of those things are on their minds. With these things on their minds, naturally they are becoming more bitter and more bitter …”
In 2003 WDM stepped down as head of the American Society of Muslims.