* Son of the late Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad
* Founder of the World Community of al-Islam
* Was critical of U.S. support for Israel
* Died on September 9, 2008
Born in the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck, Michigan on October 30, 1933, Wallace Deen Muhammad (WDM) — also known variously as Warith Deen Muhammad, Wallace Delaney Muhammad, and Warithuddin Muhammad — was the seventh child of Elijah Muhammad, the latter of whom headed the Nation of Islam (NOI) from 1934 until his death in 1975. WDM grew up on the South Side of Chicago and began working for NOI shortly after graduating from high school.
In late 1958, Elijah Muhammad appointed WDM as the minister of NOI Temple #11 in Philadelphia.
In 1961, WDM, like Elijah Muhammad before him, was convicted of having dodged the U.S. military draft and was sentenced to prison. At the insistence of his father, WDM chose to serve his full three-year prison term rather than accept the option of performing community service as an alternative form of punishment. That decision prompted the presiding judge at WDM’s sentencing hearing to remark: “[T]he young man is dominated by his father.”
While incarcerated, WDM became a student of orthodox Islam, which did not comport with the teachings of his father and NOI. His general acceptance of traditional Muslim tenets and his support for Malcolm X — after Malcolm’s embrace of mainstream Islam and his renunciation of NOI’s racism — led to a break between WDM and his father. Moreover, WDM could find no justification for his father’s numerous extramarital affairs, and he encouraged NOI ministers to stop calling Elijah Muhammad the messenger of God. WDM left NOI in 1963 to form his own group — the Afro-Descendant Upliftment Society — in Philadelphia. He subsequently returned to NOI, however, after Malcolm X’s murder in 1965.
Between 1969 and 1971, WDM was suspended/excommunicated from NOI five separate times as a penalty for holding “unorthodox” beliefs and “dissident views” – i.e., for refusing to accept Elijah Muhammad’s divinity and failing to endorse his father’s racist doctrines about “white devils” — before being fully reinstated in 1974. During WDM’s periods of excommunication, NOI forbade him from contacting any of his family members. The organization also made threatening and harassing phone calls to his wife, child, and other relatives.
After Elijah Muhammad’s death in February 1975, a broad spectrum of NOI’s followers supported WDM as the person best suited to serve as Elijah’s successor. Some claimed that NOI founder Wallace Fard [Farad] Muhammad (WFM) had actually told Elijah that the latter’s seventh son — i.e., WDM — should be the man to take control of NOI upon Elijah’s death. And that, ultimately, was what happened. As The Guardian reports, WDM “was unanimously acclaimed [NOI’s] leader on his father’s death in February 1975 by 20,000 believers who had gathered in Chicago to commemorate the birth of Master Farad.” In an effort to lend additional gravitas to his status as NOI’s new kingpin, WDM publicly referred to himself as the “Manifestation of God”:
“Yes, I myself am an Immaculate Conception. You say, ‘This man is crazy.’ No, I’m not crazy… After we explain it to you, you’ll know that I’m not crazy. The world has just been in darkness. I can truthfully say that My physical father was not My father. I have never had a physical father…You say, ‘Who is your father?’ Speaking in the language of the New Testament, My Father is God…I am the Manifestation of God.… All praise is due to Allah.”
Upon taking the reins of NOI, WDM quickly altered the organization’s direction. In June 1975, for instance, he opened membership to all believers, regardless of their race. And to lessen the possibility that an organized opposition might attempt to carry out a coup against him, he dissolved NOI’s paramilitary Fruit of Islam.
Though WFM had not been seen in public since 1934, WDM claimed in 1975 that the NOI founder was still very much alive. “Master Farad Muhammad is not dead, brothers and sisters, he is physically alive and I talk to him whenever I get ready,” said WDM. “I don’t talk to him in any spooky way, I go to the telephone and dial his number.”
In 1975 as well, WDM had a private meeting in Chicago with Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat.
In 1976, WDM claimed that he had received divine revelations from God: “The Book [Bible] says that there is another kind of water [sweet water] which is not salty, that comes from above that is divine revelation. The water that God gives is divine revelation and He reveals it to His prophets. I am baptizing you with the water that God has given me. It is the water of revelation, of divine knowledge.”
That same year, WDM: (a) changed his own title from “Supreme Minister” to the more traditionally Islamic term, “Imam”; (b) adopted the name Warith Deen Mohammed for himself; (c) abolished his organization’s dress codes for men and women; and (d) renamed the organization’s temples as “mosques.” Moreover, WDM 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. In place of that cosmogony, he encouraged a close reading of the Koran as well as the practice of the Five Pillars of Islam — the acceptance of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed; the observance of Ramadan; charity to the poor; daily prayer; and the making of the hajj to Mecca (which WDM himself made on several occasions).
In contrast to Elijah Muhammad before him, WDM encouraged WCIW members to participate in America’s political traditions and institutions, such as voting for elected officials and enlisting with the U.S. military.
WDN’s shift toward mainstream Islam brought him considerable material benefit, including millions of dollars in donations from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In 1976, for instance, Sheikh Sultan Ben Mohammad al-Qasmini, the sovereign ruler of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, gave WDM $16 million to finance the purchase of a mosque and the construction of a school.
In 1977, Louis Farrakhan, a leading NOI official who strongly disagreed with WDM’s policies and his affinity for Sunni Islam, led a minority faction of several thousand WCIW members in forming a separatist group that became known as the “restored” Nation of Islam (NOI). But most WCIW members remained with WDM as he eschewed the race-based, separatist beliefs of Farrakhan in favor of the orthodox practice of Sunni Islam.
Meanwhile, Louis Farrakhan’s breakaway NOI faction was rapidly gaining popularity and influence.
Also in 1978, WDM denied the miracles attributed to Moses in the Old Testament: “Moses, being pursued by Pharaoh’s army, struck the water and the Red Sea parted, so the Book says, and Moses and his people walked across on dry land. … Brother and sister, you will never convert intelligent people to religion today with unrealistic symbolical stories like that.”
In 1979, WDM denied the notion that Jesus Christ would someday return to Earth, and he proclaimed himself to be “Masih-Mahdi”:
“Jesus did his work… he’s not coming back here — never! That’s not the way of God. But his type has to return, another birth like his has to happen, has to happen, to produce his type again. So that his type will be able to see, the lies that have been told concerning his birth. It’s not him but its the same as though he’s the original. I know how Jesus is born because I’ve been born that way! So you can’t tell me how Jesus was born, I’ve been born that way! […] Well, then you’re a Prophet; no I’m not. Well, you’re a Messenger of God. No (laughing) I’m not. Well, what are you? I am Masih-Mahdi, I am the Christ-Mahdi, believe it or not! … You know, for a long time people have been hoping to fulfill the prophecy. The prophecy of the return of Christ or the return of the son of Mary and the presence of a Mahdi who would bring the religion to its original purity… they’ve been looking for that, it’s here now, what they’ve been looking for is here now. But can they appreciate it?”
In 1983, WDM likened those who did not follow him, to dogs: “The word has come down from heaven follow Imam W. Deen Muhammad. Either do that or wear the dog collar and eat dog biscuits.”
In 1984, WDM supported the U.S. presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. But he impugned Jackson for the friendly relationship he had established with Louis Farrakhan during that campaign, and for being insufficiently critical of Farrakhan’s ant-Semitism. “What he [Farrakhan] teaches is not at all what we believe in,” said Muhammad. “We believe that Jews, Christians and Muslims share an affinity, we believe in one and the same God, we represent one humanity.” By WDM’s telling as well, a “very wicked matchmaker” had brought Jackson into an alliance with Farrakhan, the latter of whom “represents the same kind of thing that Hitler taught.”
In 1985, WDM dismantled the American Muslim Mission’s leadership council which himself had originally established, and allowed 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 1991, WDM said that Muslims should not attempt to convert non-Muslims to Islam: “We [Muslims] are obligated to seek peaceful co-existence with Christians and people of Faith… the similarities are so much more important that we need not focus on the differences. We see Christians and Jews as people of the Book. We should not ask them to take their shahadah [Muslim profession of faith].”
In 1992, WDM became the first Muslim imam to offer morning prayers during a session of the United States Senate, and soon thereafter he participated in two Interfaith Breakfasts hosted by President Bill Clinton.
In 1992 as well, WDM delivered a speech at the headquarters of the Islamic Society of North America, where he called for racial separatism in the United States: “African-Americans have suffered greatly at the hands of white America, and they need time by themselves as a race for the psychological scars of racism to heal.”
Also by the early 1990s, WDM had shed the animosity that he formerly had held toward Louis Farrakhan. As WDM stated in 1992: “I will never denounce him [Farrakhan] as long as he says he wants to be a Muslim.” In a similar vein, he said in 1993 that “Farrakhan respects Islam and he does a lot of good; he is friendly with us and we should be friendly with him.”
WDM led prayers at both of President Bill Clinton’s inaugurals, in January 1993 and January 1997.
By 1994, WDM had married his fourth wife after having fathered eight children and five stepchildren in his prior relationships.
In 1994 as well, WDM spoke out against interracial marriage, advising Muslims to “marry your own race and people you are acquainted with.”
In 1995, WDM addressed a conference of Muslims and Reform Jews. Also in the mid-’90s, he participated in a number of major interfaith dialogues with Roman Catholic cardinals.
In 1999, WDM attended and celebrated an NOI “Saviour’s Day” conference. “I couldn’t resist coming here knowing that [The Nation of Islam] was observing this day,” he said, “I haven’t lost my friendship with Minister Farrakhan.”
At NOI’s subsequent Saviour’s Day conference – held on February 26, 2000 — WDM and Farrakhan appeared together to formally acknowledge their ever-improving relationship and celebrate the symbolic reunification of their rival black Muslim factions. Referring to Farrakhan as a “great leader,” WDM told those in attendance: “Dear Muslim brothers and sisters, it’s not difficult for Minister Farrakhan and Wallace Deen Mohammed to embrace each other … for this is too big a cause for personal differences.” “Whatever has troubled us in the past,” he added, “I think we can bury it now and never look back.” Also present at the event was Sayyid Syeed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America.
In his later years, WDM claimed that the historical transgressions of the Christian world — transgressions that included America’s allegedly inequitable foreign policies — had given rise to the wrath of Muslim nations across the globe and thus were ultimately responsible for retaliatory Islamic terrorism aimed at U.S. interests on 9/11/2001 and other occasions. He said in a 2002 interview with journalist Tony Brown:
“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 …”
WDM stepped down from his post as head of the Muslim American Society (of Calumet City, Illinois) in 2003.
In 2003 as well, WDM founded a Muslim nonprofit called The Mosque Cares and went on to serve as its director until 2008. “Our Mission,” the group’s website states, “is to serve People, Community, and Humanity and inculcate the high principles and values of the Qur’an and the excellent model of human life, Muhammed The Prophet, (prayers and peace be upon him).”
In September 2005, WDM was recognized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for his “outstanding leadership role in the American Muslim community.” According to a press release pertaining to the event, WDM, for his part, “praised” CAIR’s efforts in advancing civil rights.
WDM, who suffered from both cardiovascular disease and diabetes, died on September 9, 2008 in Chicago – most likely of a heart attack. His body was found in his home that day by his assistant Rafa Muhammad.