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Warith Deen Muhammad

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Warith Deen Muhammad

    1933 – African American Muslim leader

    Warith Deen Muhammad (originally named Wallace Delaney Muhammad ) is an internationally recognized leader in the African American Muslim community. His father, Elijah Muhammad , headed the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975 . This African American religious and political organization flourished under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad and spokesman Malcolm X. Elijah Muhammad called on African Americans to convert to Islam as he envisioned it. This included the belief that white people were evil and that black Americans should form a separate nation, teachings alien to mainstream Islam.

    Warith Deen Muhammad joined the Nation of Islam after completing high school in the late 1950s. Sent to jail for resisting the draft, he studied Islam in prison and realized that some of the principles of the Nation of Islam contradicted those of the traditional faith. After being released from prison, Warith challenged his father's teachings. Elijah Muhammad suspended him from the Nation of Islam twice for his views.

    When Elijah Muhammad died, Warith took over as leader of the Nation of Islam. He made major changes in the organization, moving it away from the militant black nationalism of his father and toward mainstream Sunni Islam. Warith opened up membership to people of all races. He became involved in American politics and placed more women in positions of power. He also changed the name of the organization to the World Community of Islam in the West, and later to the American Muslim Mission.

    In 1977 a group of black Muslims led by Louis Farrakhan split off from the organization. These people strove to uphold the spirit of Elijah Muhammad, which they thought Warith had corrupted. The following year, Warith transferred leadership of the American Muslim Mission to an elected council of six imams. In 1985 he replaced the organization with a coalition of mosques called the Muslim American Society. Although Warith Deen Muhammad no longer heads a national organization, he remains a leader of African American Muslims. In 1992 he became the first imam to offer morning prayers in the U.S. Senate. In 1996 Pope John Paul II invited him to the Vatican. See also Elijah Muhammad ; Farrakhan, Louis; Malcolm X ; Nation of Islam.

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