Nation of Islam Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Nation of Islam, a religious organization, worked to inculcate black pride and help elevate African Americans’ social and economic status.

Summary of Event

The Nation of Islam (NOI), also known as the Black Muslim movement and the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America, is a religious organization that has successfully melded orthodox Islam, black nationalism, Black nationalism and a set of social and economic principles to produce a highly structured way of life for its African American membership. A religious sect founded in 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, the NOI borrowed from earlier movements as it crystallized around three leaders: Wallace D. Fard, Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm X. [kw]Nation of Islam Is Founded (Summer, 1930) [kw]Islam Is Founded, Nation of (Summer, 1930) Nation of Islam African Americans;organizations Black Muslim movement Religious movements;Nation of Islam [g]United States;Summer, 1930: Nation of Islam Is Founded[07630] [c]Organizations and institutions;Summer, 1930: Nation of Islam Is Founded[07630] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;Summer, 1930: Nation of Islam Is Founded[07630] Fard, Wallace D. Malcolm X Muhammad, Elijah

Orthodox Islam was started in the city of Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, by the Prophet Muḥammad (570-632 c.e.). A major world religion, Islam may have arrived in the Americas with the Spanish explorers. In 1888, Alexander Russell Webb established an Islamic community in the United States. Members of the Islamic religion are known as Muslims. To distinguish between orthodox Muslims and members of the Nation of Islam sect, theologian C. Eric Lincoln Lincoln, C. Eric coined the term Black Muslims. Although the NOI considers itself a branch of orthodox Islam, the majority of the organization’s earliest members were affiliated with Christianity.

The Nation of Islam embraces the essential teachings of orthodox Islam: prayer five times daily; belief in one God, named Allah; acceptance of the sacred Islamic book, the Qur՚ān; the coming of the “guided one,” known as Mahdī; and pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Both groups stress cleanliness and a strict moral code, and both shun alcohol, drug abuse, and the eating of pork. Early NOI leaders, however, expanded orthodox Islam because of the historic oppression of African Americans. The Nation of Islam is orthodox Islam customized for the African American experience, with membership solidarity and racial pride being key added features. Black Muslims are required to drop their European last names, which are associated with enslavement, and adopt the “X” until they earn an Islamic surname. Additional elements, such as advocating a separate nation for its members and teaching about the racist deeds of the “white man,” were the source of much outside criticism and prevented the NOI’s acceptance into the official fold of orthodox Islam.

During the first half of the twentieth century, African Americans were treated as second-class citizens in the United States. Institutionalized racism made it difficult for many African Americans to rise above poverty and oppression. In the midst of Great Depression woes and the past specter of slavery, many African Americans were disillusioned and susceptible to philosophies and leaders who promised improvements. Consequently, a number of black nationalistic and religious movements developed during this period. The Nation of Islam includes principles that were embedded in two of these movements: Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple, Moorish Science Temple founded in 1913, and Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Universal Negro Improvement Association

Timothy Drew, known as Noble Drew Ali, Ali, Noble Drew introduced Islam to African Americans. He and his followers adopted the Qur՚ān and called themselves Moors, after an ancient North African people. Ali’s church had thousands of members in northern U.S. cities before his unexplained death in 1929. Subsequently, many of Ali’s followers joined Wallace D. Fard’s group, which emerged a year later.

The Nation of Islam espoused the political nationalism of Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey, Garvey, Marcus who amassed thousands of followers in the United States from 1916 until his imprisonment in 1923 and subsequent deportation. Garvey advocated a separate African American nation, economic and political solidarity, and racial pride. When Fard appeared on the American scene during the summer of 1930, the conditions that fostered the acceptance of the ideas of Garvey and Ali were still present, although the original founders were not. Consequently, Fard soon filled a void that, after setbacks, developed into a viable religious sect. The Nation of Islam grew out of informal visits Fard paid to the homes of African Americans in Detroit, where he peddled silk products and discussed orthodox Islam, the African heritage, and the misdeeds of the “white man.”

The first prophet of the Nation of Islam is shrouded in mystery. Although he is believed to be from Mecca, his national origins, his real name, and the circumstances of his 1934 disappearance are not known. In addition to being known as W. D. Fard, Wallace D. Fard, and Wallace Fard Muhammad, he is referred to as Wali Farrad, F. Mohammad, and other names. Fard’s achievements, however, are well documented. In four years during the Great Depression, he established the church’s basic philosophy, created a security force known as the Fruit of Islam, Fruit of Islam opened the University of Islam, built its first temple, and amassed about eight thousand followers. Many of his followers, including Elijah Muhammad, thought Fard to be Allah reincarnated as well as the promised Mahdī. After Fard’s sudden disappearance, Elijah Muhammad became the group’s leader.

Elijah Muhammad, born Elijah Poole in Sandersville, Georgia, was respectfully known as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. His parents had been slaves and sharecroppers. His father was a Baptist minister. While a teenager, Muhammad moved to Atlanta. He married Clara Evans in 1919, and during the 1920’s he and his family migrated to Detroit. It was in Detroit that Muhammad met Fard and became one of his most devoted converts. He was rewarded by being chosen as Fard’s successor, and he transformed Fard’s sincere project into a thriving organization.


After Fard’s disappearance, rivalry caused some factionalism and a sharp decrease in NOI membership. Muhammad, often the victim of harassment and death threats, was imprisoned. Consequently, Muhammad moved the NOI headquarters from Detroit to Chicago. Although still confronted with adversities, Muhammad was able to rebuild and strengthen the organization. When Muhammad died in 1975, the Nation of Islam had temples and schools from coast to coast; owned a string of restaurants, apartments, and other businesses and real estate; operated a major printing press; and had a membership of more than 100,000. Much of Muhammad’s success, however, can be attributed to one of his ministers, Malcolm X.

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents, Earle and Louise Little, were organizers for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Because of their views, the Littles were forced to move away from Omaha. They eventually settled in East Lansing, Michigan, where Earle apparently was murdered and Louise had a breakdown. Malcolm then lived with his sister and foster families. Later, he wandered between odd jobs and engaged in petty crime. He was imprisoned from 1946 to 1952, and he married Betty Shabazz in 1958.

In prison, Malcolm became self-educated and converted to Islam. After his release, he met Elijah Muhammad, received his X, and trained for the NOI ministry. He headed temples in several cities before becoming the primary spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. His frank speeches and numerous public appearances catapulted the NOI into the national forefront. Membership swelled because of Malcolm’s visibility, but the number of his enemies increased as well. For unauthorized remarks he made about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Malcolm was suspended from the NOI. Around that time, he changed his name to El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. He left the NOI in March, 1964, and formed two new organizations, the success of which was curtailed by his murder on February 21, 1965.

After Elijah Muhammad’s death, his son, Warith, also known as Wallace, became the NOI leader. Warith’s changes forced another NOI split, spearheaded by Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan, Louis The NOI expanded under Farrakhan, a controversial figure in part because of his adamant and at times incendiary statements. In October, 1995, the nondenominational NOI-sponsored Million Man March in Washington, D.C., added immensely to Farrakhan’s visibility and to some extent mitigated his controversial image. Nation of Islam African Americans;organizations Black Muslim movement Religious movements;Nation of Islam

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carson, Clayborne. Malcolm X: The FBI Files. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1991. Extracts data from Federal Bureau of Investigation files and provides information on Malcolm X, his family, and the Nation of Islam from 1919 to 1980. Arranged in time-line format.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clark, John Henrick, ed. Malcolm X: The Man and His Times. Trenton, N.J.: African World Press, 1990. Collection of essays by scholars as well as personal acquaintances of Malcolm X and a chapter in his own words. Includes documents in an appendix.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Church in America. 1963. Reprint. New York: Schocken Books, 1974. Reprint volume also includes Eric C. Lincoln’s The Black Church Since Frazier. Together, these works provide critical background on African American religion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lincoln, C. Eric. The Black Muslims in America. 3d ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994. Revised and updated edition of a classic work, the first complete academic analysis of the Nation of Islam, which was published in 1961.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lippman, Thomas W. Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World. 2d rev. ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. Useful introduction to orthodox Islam. Includes glossary, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Malcolm X with Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 1965. Reprint. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992. Classic work tells the story of the African American revolutionary and Black Muslim leader.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Muhammad, Elijah. The Supreme Wisdom. 2 vols. Brooklyn: Temple of Islam, 1957. The Nation of Islam’s founder explains the organization’s tenets.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walker, Dennis. Islam and the Search for African American Nationhood: Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, and the Nation of Islam. Atlanta, Ga.: Clarity Press, 2005. Examines the history of the Nation of Islam and the organization’s standing among African Americans. Written by an expert on Muslim minorities.

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Great Northern Migration

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Harlem Renaissance

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Categories: History