Muslim Leader Elijah Muhammad Is Sued for Paternity

Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, the major Black Muslim organization in the United States, was sued by two of his young secretaries for paternity, beginning a national scandal. Muhammad and second-in-command Malcolm X severed their personal and professional relationship over major disagreements about how to handle the lawsuit and other related issues. Some believe that this rift led to the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965.

Summary of Event

During the early 1930’s, Elijah Muhammad was overcome by the teachings of Wallace Dodd Fard, preacher of the Allah Temple of Islam in Detroit, Michigan. Fard’s message was that it was time for blacks to return to the religion of Islam and work for the social, economic, and spiritual betterment of African Americans. Muhammad, formerly known as Elijah Poole and later named Elijah Muhammad by Fard, embraced the faith and convinced his family, which included eight children, to do so as well. Fard, who founded the Nation of Islam in 1930, taught that blacks were on Earth before whites but had been tricked and subjugated by whites. Fard’s words continued to influence the teachings of the Nation of Islam, which Muhammad would lead when his mentor disappeared in 1934. [kw]Muhammad Is Sued for Paternity, Muslim Leader Elijah (July 2, 1963)
[kw]Paternity, Muslim Leader Elijah Is Sued for (July 2, 1963)
Paternity suits;Elijah Muhammad[Muhammad]
Muhammad, Elijah
Nation of Islam;and Elijah Muhammad[Muhammad]
Paternity suits;Elijah Muhammad[Muhammad]
Muhammad, Elijah
Nation of Islam;and Elijah Muhammad[Muhammad]
[g]United States;July 2, 1963: Muslim Leader Elijah Muhammad Is Sued for Paternity[01180]
[c]Law and the courts;July 2, 1963: Muslim Leader Elijah Muhammad Is Sued for Paternity[01180]
[c]Social issues and reform;July 2, 1963: Muslim Leader Elijah Muhammad Is Sued for Paternity[01180]
[c]Women’s issues;July 2, 1963: Muslim Leader Elijah Muhammad Is Sued for Paternity[01180]
[c]Murder and suicide;July 2, 1963: Muslim Leader Elijah Muhammad Is Sued for Paternity[01180]
[c]Religion;July 2, 1963: Muslim Leader Elijah Muhammad Is Sued for Paternity[01180]
Malcolm X
Fard, Wallace Dodd

Future Black Muslim leader Malcolm X, formerly Malcolm Little, first encountered Elijah Muhammad’s teachings while in prison during the early 1940’s. He became a convert to the church, changed his name to signify his new allegiance, and was befriended by Muhammad, who also became his mentor. Eventually, Malcolm X became second in command in the Nation of Islam leadership. The dynamic young leader worshiped Muhammad unquestioningly at first, believing his mentor had been chosen by God to lead the Nation of Islam.

Elijah Muhammad.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

During the mid-1950’s, Muhammad came under suspicion for adultery. During the next dozen years, several of his underage and unmarried secretaries became pregnant. During the early 1960’s, speculation began about who had been getting the girls pregnant. Many believed that Malcolm X was the father. One of the girls was notified that she must face “trial” for her violation of the principles of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X remained unaware of his reputed part in her pregnancy. Worried about the young woman’s lost reputation and thinking she had been seduced by an outsider, Malcolm X was shocked to find out that rumors held him to be the father.

Malcolm X began an investigation. Many Nation of Islam secretaries were friends of his, and he had recommended them for their jobs. He even found that his wife was offered a secretarial job by Muhammad two days before she and Malcolm X eloped. He was horrified to think of the number of girls and young women he had exposed to an adulterer—he even considered himself little better than a procurer for Muhammad. He confronted Muhammad, suggesting that the congregation be told about the pregnancies so that faults could be acknowledged and addressed. Muhammad was sympathetic to Malcolm X’s suggestions but said that he was conforming to prophecies that allowed for sexual transgressions, such as those of the biblical figures David, Noah, and Lot. Muhammad declared that he was following in the path of other biblical prophets. In the end, Muhammad did nothing to calm the rumors, continuing to visit two of his mistresses and former secretaries regularly.

Malcolm X found that the more he discovered about the rumors, the more complicated the problems became. The Federal Bureau of Federal Bureau of Investigation;and Elijah Muhammad[Muhammad] Investigation (FBI), which had a strong interest in investigating and discrediting Muhammad, had been conducting its own investigation of Muhammad since early 1960. FBI agents visited Lucille Rosary, one of Muhammad’s former secretaries, who had had more than one child with her employer, to attempt to get more information on Muhammad. Rosary told Malcolm X of the visit, and Malcolm grew alarmed, rightly fearing that the FBI intended to use Muhammad’s transgressions as a chance to discredit the Nation of Islam as a whole.

In April, 1963, Warith Deen Muhammad, one of Muhammad’s sons, told Malcolm X that his father had made six of his secretaries pregnant and that two were filing paternity suits against him. The two women, whose lawsuits were filed in a Los Angeles court on July 2, 1963, told Malcolm X later that Muhammad had frequently derided and spoken against him in their presence.

Heartbroken at the betrayal, Malcolm X believed he had no choice but to acknowledge the scandal, before the congregation as well as the press, and to withdraw from the daily happenings of the church. When Muhammad heard of Malcolm X’s break from the church, he barred him from preaching for ninety days. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X formally announced his resignation from the Nation of Islam. Days later he formed his own group, Muslim Mosque, Incorporated, then formed the more secular Organization of Afro-American Unity[Organization of Afro American Unity] Organization of Afro-American Unity, which stayed close to some of the tenets of the Nation of Islam but modified others, such as advocating the politics and economics of Black Nationalism.

Angered by Malcolm X’s actions and words, Muhammad began to speak out against his former friend and colleague. A member of the Seventh Temple of the Nation of Islam then confirmed to Malcolm X what he already knew—that his life was in danger because of his break from Muhammad. FBI investigations continued to plague Malcolm X as well. In January, 1965, he visited the two young women who had filed paternity suits against Muhammad. The women eventually would drop their suits out of frustration; they had been unable to secure subpoenas on Muhammad.

On February 14, Malcolm X’s house was fire-bombed. One week later, on February 21, he was shot to death by multiple assassins, all affiliated with the Nation of Islam. One of the assailants had rushed toward him at a gathering at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem and shot him in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun, and two others shot him with handguns. In all, he had been shot sixteen times and died by the time he arrived at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

Malcolm X’s funeral at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ in Harlem, New York, on February 27 was attended by more than one thousand mourners. The rumor that Muhammad had ordered the assassination plagued him until his death in 1975. Perhaps exacerbating the rumor were his words to his congregation at its annual Saviours’ Day convention, also in February. Muhammad said, “Malcolm X got just what he preached.” Later testimony suggested, however, that an FBI agent named John Ali, who had infiltrated the Nation of Islam and acted as its secretary, also had played a part in arranging the assassination. Any direct connection between Muhammad and Malcolm X’s assassination was never proved.


Muhammad was not a stranger to scandal. In 1942, he had been arrested under charges of sedition and violation of the Selective Services Act and sentenced to four years in a federal prison. In was in this prison that he met Malcolm X. In later life, one of Muhammad’s sons was arrested and convicted on a drug charge while another, Wallace Muhammad, succeeded his father in running the organization. Louis Farrakhan, Louis Farrakhan, a member of the Nation of Islam who had initially called for Malcolm X’s death, broke from the younger Muhammad when he instituted some of the reforms Malcolm X had suggested.

Even after Muhammad’s death, scandal would continue to plague the Nation of Islam. Under the guidance of his son, Warith Deen Muhammad (who died in September, 2008), the Nation of Islam moved closer to the model of Sunni Islam and even accepted white people into its congregations, changing its name to the Muslim American Society. Numerous splinter groups, such as such as the Five Percenters, whose beliefs were even more radical than those of the original group, arose as a result of the mainstream move of the Nation of Islam. Paternity suits;Elijah Muhammad[Muhammad]
Muhammad, Elijah
Nation of Islam;and Elijah Muhammad[Muhammad]

Further Reading

  • Evanzz, Karl. The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad. New York: Pantheon Books, 1999. Explores and analyzes the life of Elijah Muhammad and the events that led to the scandal, making use of FBI documents and previously unused sources on Muhammad.
  • Fredrickson, George M. Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Discusses the political movements surrounding issues of race throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • Lomax, Louis E. When the Word Is Given: A Report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Black Muslim World. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. Focuses on the relationship between Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, and how their falling out affected the Black Muslim movement.
  • Walker, Dennis. Islam and the Search for African American Nationhood: Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, and the Nation of Islam. Newcastle, N.S.W.: Clarity Press, 2005. Traces the history and development of the Nation of Islam from its inception to its transformation to the Muslim American Society.

Boxer Jack Johnson Is Imprisoned for Abetting Prostitution

“Scottsboro Boys” Are Railroaded Through Rape Trials

Jesse Jackson Calls New York City “Hymietown”

Subway Vigilante Bernhard Goetz Shoots Four Black Youths

Sex Scandal Forces Dismissal of NAACP Chief Benjamin Chavis

Civil Rights Leader Jesse Jackson Fathers a Child Out of Wedlock