* Founder of the first Nation of Islam mosque in the U.S.
* Was believed by the NOI to be Allah incarnate
* Preached that the white race is both a curse and a test for the “black master race”
* Disappeared permanently from public sight in 1934
The origins of Wallace Fard Muhammad (WFM), founder of the first Nation of Islam (NOI) mosque in the United States, are somewhat unclear. He was also known by at least five additional names: Wali Farad, Farrad Mohammed, F. Mohammed Ali, Wallace Dodd Fard, and Wallace Dodd Ford. The year of his birth is disputed (1877, 1891), as is his birthplace (Oregon, New Zealand, New York, Mecca, California, West Indies) and his ethnicity (British, Polynesian, Arab, African-American). The FBI, which maintained that both of WFM’s parents were white, identified him by his fingerprints as Wallie D. Ford, an ex-convict from Portland, Oregon. His common-law wife claimed that he was born to Polynesian and English parents in New Zealand. And NOI contends that WFM was Allah himself, incarnated as the Savior of the Black Race. Thus, the organization celebrates February 26th, WFM’s putative birthday, as “Saviour’s Day” each year.
WFM claimed that he was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia to wealthy parents in the tribe of Koreish, which was also the tribe of Islam’s seventh-century founder, the Prophet Mohammad. According to the Detroit Metro Times: “Fard had an East Indian appearance, and was a dapper dresser with perfect white teeth and dark eyes. He told followers he was born in the holy city of Mecca, and his light-skinned appearance, courtesy of his Russian Jewish mother, was ‘pre-ordained’ so that he could more easily mix with white people. He claimed to have attended Oxford and the University of California, and then to have begun training as a diplomat for the kingdom of Hejaz (now a part of Saudi Arabia).”
FBI records list WFM’s time and place of birth as 1891 in New Zealand, and show that he first arrived in the United States in 1913 when he briefly settled in Portland, Oregon. He then proceeded to make money variously as a restaurateur, gambler, bootlegger, and traveling salesman.
According to FBI records as well, WFM in 1918 was arrested in Los Angeles – where he had lived since 1913 — for assault with a deadly weapon, but he was released soon thereafter. He was again arrested in January 1926 for bootlegging, which was a violation of California state law at that time. The following month, WFM was sent to San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco for violating the State Poison Act, which outlawed the use and sale of narcotics like cocaine. He was released in May 1929.
After attaining a high rank in the Moorish Science Temple of America, WFM first appeared in Detroit, Michigan on July 4, 1930 under the alias David Ford. There, he worked as a door-to-door salesman peddling umbrellas and what he claimed were African silks to the large black population of Detroit’s “Paradise Valley” section. He also strove to promote certain religious beliefs and dietary principles in an effort to bolster both the spiritual and physical well-being of his black clients, whom he described as people “lost … in the wilderness of North America.” “He gained a reputation as a healer when his customers, after having adhered to the pork-free diet that Fard espoused, began noticing improvements in their health,” said the Detroit Metro-Times.
Moreover, WFM in Detroit founded an organization called the Allah Temple of Islam, which he would later rename as the Nation of Islam (NOI). He exhorted blacks to “return” to the Islamic faith, which he and NOI characterized as “the religion of their ancestors.”
In his early teachings, WFM attracted followers by using the Bible since most blacks were familiar with it at the time. Elijah Muhammad, his eventual successor, once recalled that WFM “knew the Bible better than any of the Christian-bred Negroes.” Later, WFM introduced local blacks to the Qurʾan in both Arabic and English. He also produced two texts of his own, Teaching for the Lost Found Nation of Islam in a Mathematical Way, and the Secret Ritual of the Nation of Islam.
WFM’s religious views were said to have come from various sects and schools of thought, including the Moorish Science Temple of America, Gnosticism, the Black Hebrews, and Freemasonry. Eventually, he would come to openly denounce the Bible as well as white people in his teachings.
WFM’s “theology” had little in common with traditional Islam, virtually ignoring the Five Pillars of the faith (acceptance of Allah, the Prophet Mohammed, and the Koran; the observance of Ramadan; charity to the poor; daily prayer; and making the hajj to Mecca). Focusing instead on the moral and cultural superiority of blacks as compared to whites, WFM developed an elaborate myth claiming that: (a) God was black, as was the first man created in His image some 66 trillion years earlier; (b) the world was controlled by 24 black scientists, one of whom was named Yakub, who went rogue and conducted gene-manipulation experiments that resulted in the creation of white people; (c) whites were inferior satanic creatures whose tainted blood was responsible for their unparalleled immorality; and (d) whites had been given dominion over the earth for a 6,000-year epoch that was slated to end during the 20th century. In light of the foregoing premises, WFM exhorted blacks to create a separate Nation of Islam within the geographical confines of white-dominated America.
That WFM was able to find listeners, let alone converts, speaks volumes about his target audience and the tenor of his times. Black separatist movements had become embedded in the intellectual landscape of the 1920s. For example:
The FBI noted that when WFM met Elijah Muhammad in 1931, “he [WFM] was passing himself off as a savior” — “Allah in human form” — and claiming that he “spoke 16 languages” and had “extracted the language of the people on Mars.”
In addition, WFM taught Elijah Muhammad that Judaism was “a dirty religion” because immediately after the Jews had “received the Divine Scriptures”—written in Arabic, he claimed—“they started tampering with its truth” and transformed those scriptures into “the graveyard of my poor people (the so-called Negroes)” of America, who were the real “Chosen People of God,” the true “Lost Sheep of the Bible.”
“The teachings of the University of Islam … instruct that the black race, which is saved and which affiliates itself with the Moslem Religion, is known as ‘The Asiatic Blacks’ or the ‘Lost Found Nation of Islam.’ The teachings indicate that these Asiatic Blacks are the chosen and that they and their religion are superior to any other person or any other religion. According to the beliefs of the Islam Group, the black man had his first contact with the devil when he was brought to this country as a slave. The slave name which was given to him at that time is not his true name and his true name can only be found on the [roll] of Allah at Mecca. The only way the individual can find his true name is to become affiliated with the Islam Group and be a sincere believer therein and make written application for knowledge as to his true name to W.D. Fard, who is Allah. At the present time, inasmuch as the present whereabouts of Allah is unknown, the written applications are being received at the Temple and reserved for action by Allah upon his return to Detroit.”
WFM’s days as an influential religious leader in the Detroit area came to an end in late 1932, when his writings seemingly inspired the murderous actions of a local psychopath who confessed to having murdered a man in a voodoo-type ritual allegedly sponsored by NOI. As the Detroit Metro Times reported:
“Fard’s demise as the leader of the temple was brought upon him when, on Thanksgiving Day in 1932, one of his followers, Robert Harris, renamed Robert Karriem, committed a human sacrifice in order to bring himself closer to Allah. Karriem cited a quotation from a book entitled Secret Rituals of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, authored by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad, which read, ‘The believer must be stabbed through the heart.’ This quote, as well as another stating, ‘Every son of Islam must gain a victory from a devil. Four victories and the son will attain his reward,’ convinced the Detroit Police Department — motivated in part by the anti-Muslim hysteria fueled by media coverage of the event — to seek out Fard in conjunction with the murder.
“Karriem was found to be legally insane and was committed. Fard, facing possible charges, confessed that his teachings were dangerous and that he would use his influence to disband the ATI [Allah Temple of Islam]. He agreed to leave Detroit forever in order to receive immunity, and boarded a train bound for Chicago on Dec. 7.
“The ATI was disbanded as ordered, though in name only; as the Nation of Islam, it continued to grow.”
The Detroit Free Press, meanwhile, referred to NOI as a “vicious cult which preyed upon many Detroit Negroes.”
In violation of the promise he had made to political and law-enforcement authorities in 1932, Fard snuck back into Detroit in January 1933. But police identified and arrested him in May 1933 “under the name Fard with 8 other listed aliases,” and they again ordered him to leave the city. The record of his arrest stated that “Dodd [WFM] admitted that his teachings were ‘strictly a racket’ and he was ‘getting all the money out of it he could.’”
During that same general time period, WFM also officially renamed the Allah Temple of Islam, now calling it the Nation of Islam.
WFM then returned to Chicago, where he was arrested soon thereafter on charges of disturbing the peace through his preaching. After subsequently sneaking back into Detroit one final time, he had another brush with the law in April 1934 before leaving the Motor City for good the following month.
WFM was never again seen in public. Prior to his disappearance, he was said to have given new names to more than 25,000 blacks in Detroit. He encouraged the use of “X” to replace last names, which he associated with white people and slavery.
By the time WFM left Detroit for the last time, his temple in that city consisted of approximately 8,000 members. Among his most important converts was Elijah Poole, an alcoholic grade-school dropout who, under the name Elijah Muhammad, would eventually succeed WFM as NOI’s leader from 1934-1975. WFM sent Elijah Muhammad to Chicago to establish a second NOI temple, after having spent three years and four months instructing him.
In spite of his large following, WFM was extremely successful at maintaining a low public profile, even among his most devoted followers. Sociologist E.D. Beynon, who interviewed more than 200 families and individuals about the NOI founder, wrote of WFM:
“Although the prophet lived in Detroit from July 4, 1930 until June 30, 1934, virtually nothing is known about him, save that he ‘came from the East’ and that he ‘called’ the Negroes of North America to enter the Nation of Islam. His very name is uncertain. He was known usually as Mr. Wali Farrad or Mr. W. D. Fard, though he used also the following names: Professor Ford, Mr. Farrad Mohammed, Mr. F. Mohammed Ali. One of the few survivors who heard his first addresses states that he himself said: ‘My name is W.D. Fard and I came from the Holy City of Mecca. More about myself I will not tell you yet, for the time has not yet come. I am your brother. You have not yet seen me in my royal robes.’ Legends soon sprang up about this mysterious personality.”
FBI records cite two articles — one from 1963 and another from 1965 — by Ed Montgomery of the San Francisco Examiner, which speculate that WFM fled either to New Zealand or Australia after leaving Detroit in 1934. The 1965 piece, for instance, suggested: “Farad, reverting to his true name of Dodd, sailed for [Australia].”
According to NOI authority Karl Evanzz, WFM died in Chicago in 1971 at the age of 78.
By Kelli B. Kavanaugh – The Detroit Metro Times
March 5, 2003